Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

Watch Out For Pointing Fingers

April 20, 2017

Our pastor somehow worked the evils of sex into every message. Then one day, he ran off with the wife of the chairman of the Board of Deacons. — Told to me by a friend years ago.

A “Mr. Morality” on TV is now looking for a job after years of sexual impropriety become public.

Madam, how like you this play?

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Gertrude says that Player Queen affirms so much as to lose credibility. Her vows are too elaborate, too artful, too insistent.


Yes, sometimes we seem to affirm morality so much that others begin to doubt just how moral we are.

Have you ever looked deeply within? Just as Paul describes early in Romans, I have looked and discovered that within me, I am capable of many sins and immorality.

I’d rather spend my energy focusing on me, and my path. It is not for me to point out everyone’s wrongdoing. That is too easy.

As Jesus pointed out,¬†“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” [Matthew 7, but also Luke 6]

Or Paul in Romans [2] who is more prosaic and less poetic, “You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on another. For on whatever grounds you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

Like yesterday’s thoughts on an angry mom who tweets, it’s too easy to take shots at others. Better is to take care of our own spiritual house.

God’s Kindness Leads to Our Changing Our Life

January 18, 2017

Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? — Paul, to the Roman church

If you judge other people as to the things they do that are wrong, you judge yourself as well.

Paul was very clear. He listed all the moral wrongs that people do. He must have realized that when people heard that list, they would immediately assume that the list applied to other people. Then he hits them, hard, by saying in essence that you also do things morally wrong. How is it then that you can sit there with righteous face on condemning others? You also are condemned.

But Paul doesn’t leave us just hanging out there condemned. He offers an alternative.

Already in the letter he hints at the theme. God’s grace.

Is repentance one of those words that triggers images of mean-spirited men or women with frowning faces, pointing fingers, shouting at you that you’re going to hell?

Actually all it means is that where once your life journey took you to places with people that you should not have gone to and with. Then you decide, with God’s help, to turn in a different direction and live life differently.

Instead of following our passions, our emotions, our “friends”, we start acting according to the many examples we can find from Jesus and Paul and others.

We put God first.

We help those in need.

Our lives reflect the fruit of the spirit–love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

(Me, I’m working on that forbearance part. What about you?)

We practice the spiritual disciplines–study, prayer, meditation, living simply, quiet, celebration, worship, and the rest.


What If We Lived Everyone Had A Soul

January 10, 2017

Yesterday I was a little philosophical. But not really if you digest the thought that we are all souls that have a physical body.

What if we took care of our souls like we took care of our bodies? For some of us, that’s not so good. On the other hand, checking out most of the advertisements on TV, magazines, interspersed in your social media “news” streams, and so on, you’d think that we devote hours of thinking about how to get our physical bodies beautiful.

What about our soul?

While I was meditating this morning, I was hit by this vision–what if we treated everyone we meet as a soul loved by a God who dearly wants to draw it (him/her) close?

What if a politician, instead of making an object of an opponent and says things like “it’s just politics”, actually considers that even opponents are human souls loved by God? Maybe despite differing opinions they could work together to solve problems that a government can solve.

Once again while meditating, The Autobiography of Malcolm X came to me. Have you not read that? As a Christian reading it 50 years ago, I was grieved that a black man in the 50s and 60s could not find acceptance within Christian circles but the followers of Islam welcomed him as a brother. Even when he traveled to Mecca.

What if, instead of sitting in our seats in church judging others who come into the room by their clothes or appearance or race, welcomed them as brothers and sisters. Fellow human souls loved by a God who wants to draw them close?

Would that change the way we live each day?

Certainly we must evaluate people and not be led astray by manipulators and people consumed by evil. But how many of those do you meet in a day?

Maybe today I will look at everyone I meet and think about just a little differently.

A Change Of Scenery

August 17, 2016



Sometimes a change of scenery is just what you need. This is looking over Green Bay from my lodge in Door County, Wisconsin. I grew up where there was no water. No stream. The lake was 20 miles away. A little stream we called a river was 7 or 8 miles away. When you’re a kid on a bicycle, that is a long way.

It’s 6 am and no one is out save the crows. Last night’s thunderstorm cleared the air and left a little mist rising from the woods.

I seldom read the Psalms. Don’t know why. I like poetry–even published some a long time ago.

But you get the feeling like David must have. In the still of the morning or evening after one of his high-tension days, he sat and meditated looking over the landscape. And his thoughts focused on God.

He thought about his needs and worries. Then he thought about God’s graciousness. How if you just trust God, it’ll work out somehow.

And whatever will be good for the soul.

I have projects piling up. Need to wrap up about three of them before Labor Day.

But for today. It’s just you and me, God. Right?

Receiving Grace, Giving Grace

August 16, 2016

It was the end of a group meeting. It’s where we pray for each other and go home.

The study for the day was the part of Ephesian 4 where Paul is describing Christian life. About speaking the truth in gentleness and love. About focusing on others.

Then out of nowhere someone erupts in anger, “The church is going to hell. It accepts homosexuals.”

I thought, “Huh? Where did that come from?”

Well, it came from the depths of the things he dwells his thoughts in. He’d never admit hatred, but the tone of his voice betrayed him.

It was a shocking end to a study of grace.

It just shows the distance between your head and your heart. You can “learn” things but it may not change your heart.

I was affected by John Fischer’s latest Catch newsletter:

Grace doesn’t just stop with my receiving it; it goes on in the way I give it out. The way we are treated will affect the way we treat others.

This is an important part of receiving from God; it changes us. You can’t receive God’s grace without giving it out to others. You can’t receive what you don’t deserve and then go out and make everyone else pay.

I know it’s hard to live a life full of grace. And it’s hard to offer grace to other people. And I know that anger is an honest emotion. But anger also often betrays the condition of our heart. It reveals insecurities, prejudices, ignorance.

Those are the moments when I am grieved. What hope is there when people who receive grace refuse to give it on to someone else.

And, wow, our society could use a big dose of grace right now! From everyone.

Welcoming or Blocking

August 12, 2016

While researching for yesterday’s post on humility, I spotted this teaching of Jesus.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.”

John Fischer at The Catch talks often about welcoming Christianity, about grace turned outward. I think about those people who call themselves Christians who stand in the marketplace and in the political realm and shout out a message very  like the one Jesus condemned.

Yesterday in Fischer’s email he said:

There is a mean-spiritedness prevalent in our society today and we need to counter it as Christians in the marketplace. Donald Trump’s success is not because of Donald Trump, it’s because his message and bullish attitude has connected with a large number of people who are not happy with the way things are and feel powerless to do anything about it.

First, we need to cultivate an overall graciousness whenever we are operating in the public square.

Second, we need to cultivate compassion – not only caring for the needs of the disabled or the less fortunate because their needs are often so obvious, but for everyone.

And finally, we need to cultivate an overall attitude of respect for every human being no matter who they are or what they represent. Our enemy is not flesh and blood. Our enemy is the evil one, and when we make people or groups of people our enemies we are playing right into his hand. Learn to see the image of God in everyone.

That attitude, and just listening to his podcast, makes me glad that two of my friends told me about him. Yes, as Christ-followers, we really need to bring grace and compassion into the marketplace and general discourse.

This song resonated with me 40+ years ago, and still does.

Noel Paul Stookey (Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary)wrote this song, “Hymn.” The times are different, but there is a similarity. We sometimes still talk theory rather than people.

I visited some houses
Where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving

They passed a basket with some envelopes
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was I believe in You

Passing conversations
Where they mentioned Your existence
And the fact that
You had been replaced by Your assistants

The discussion was theology
And when they smiled and turned to me
All that I could say was I believe in You

The Discipline of Asking for Grace

July 14, 2016

You know how a well-timed and appropriate joke can break tension and get people to relax and work out things?

Well, I was sitting here at my laptop with a bowl of cereal contemplating today’s post. I was thinking about how somber I’ve been. The deep sadness caused by all this division and hatred in the world. Not just the United States, but seemingly everywhere.

Suddenly I had to cough. Too quickly to stop. Mouth full of cereal. The joke’s on me. Now I have to stop, run to the kitchen counter for paper towels, and clean off the computer.

Time for a different perspective.

Don’t ask why. I suddenly thought about Romans 1 and Romans 8. Paul’s great work on spiritual formation. He begins his argument in chapter 1 talking about how bad we all are. There are none who are good. Not one of us.

Had a conversation one time with a guy with Reformed (or a version of) background. He thought it all ended there. We are all bad. Nice guy, but he never seems happy. I wonder why.

I replied, yes, but. Paul was great at those transitions, too. He used a lot of “however” or “but”. Yes, but, there is Romans 8. Another of Paul’s great transitions–“therefore.”

Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Chapters 8-10 take us into grace.

This I know:

While there are many in the church who think they are saved and thus perfect and free to hold these evil thoughts, there are also many who are there to learn about grace acknowledging imperfection and praying to grow.

We need Romans 1 people in the church. Better there where they can be taught about and experience God’s grace.

There is evil in the world. We must live with it. The first Christians did. Read about it in the Acts and the letters.

But there is grace. God help us when we fail to show it.

Discipline of Knowing Our Spiritual Gifts

June 30, 2016

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. –Paul, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

Do you know your spiritual gifts?

We know through research and maybe just by paying attention to ourselves that people are happiest when doing something that they enjoy and that they know contributes something good.

That is where knowing our spiritual gifts is important. Maybe we got talked into teaching little kids. But we have no gift or desire for that. Maybe our gift is leadership, or giving, or serving.

Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Community Church recently spoke on this topic. By the way, Willow Creek has a Web-based personal survey that will evaluate your answers, suggest what may be your spiritual gifts, and (and here’s the step most churches don’t take) it suggests ministries in the church that could use volunteers that match your gifts.

Hybels said that you need to try these things on. You tried teaching. It just wasn’t you. That’s OK. Try missions. It is only through trying that you really discover your gift, your joy.

Pursue love and strive for the Spiritual Gifts.–Paul, 1 Corinthians 14:1

While Paul is discussing gifts, he puts them in context. That context is love. Remember chapter 13? Without love, I’m (fill in the blank). If what you do is done without love, then it is of no value. This echoes Jesus who said that people will know his followers by their love.

Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this. — Mordecai to Esther, Esther 4:14

Who knows? You might just discover your spiritual gift at just the time when such a gift is needed.

Lost In The Futility Of Their Minds

January 7, 2016

Have you ever met someone who is so smart that they are actually ignorant? They have so many ideas rattling around inside their skull that often nonsense comes out of their mouth (or computer)?

These people are not only atheist philosophers. I have met people who call themselves Christians who live entirely in their heads. Religion is intellectual, ideas, agreements with propositions.

Sometimes people study things to overcome their own deficiencies. Perhaps I’m that way. For a couple of years at the university, especially the year I wasted in graduate school studying political philosophy, my goal was to be an intellectual. University was all about ideas. In fact, some philosophers who were really all about spirit were labelled “idealists” meaning they thought ideas were real.

Now, I often observe that people think too much. They read too much into other people’s writings.

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God. They have lost all sensitivity. (Ephesians 4:17-19 excerpted)

After the era of Freud, people seem to like to psychologically analyze other people. They think about others problems. Sometimes they explain away evil acts by saying it’s all their mother’s fault or some other such nonsense. (OK, I like Jung and James far more than Freud from that era, I’ll admit.)

We read the Bible and try to dissect every word as if we were scholars who had lived with the nuances of the language for a lifetime.

Jesus basically said it’s all about the status of our heart. It’s how we live out love. Paul emphasized grace. He also was concerned about how we live out love–but he was worried that people would return to being legalistic about it instead of living in the freedom of grace.

But freedom didn’t mean thinking about whatever you wanted to until you slowly went insane. Thinking that leads to understanding of God is good. Better is getting up every day and deciding to once again live out God’s grace by sharing it with others.

Stop sitting around thinking; start reaching out to others in love.

God’s Grace Is Better Than Rules

January 5, 2016

One thing about rules–everyone can have their own set. And feel good about it. A set of rules that we say we’re following places us apart from other people. And at a higher plane. We feel closer to God.

When I scan the news of the day, I see self-described “Christians” or people the news media enjoys calling “Christians” doing all manner of bad or evil things all justified by saying that they are following their set of god-given rules.

Maybe that is a reason Andy Stanley likes to say that calling yourself a Christian is pretty meaningless since it’s so hard to define. Jesus-follower, though, that is very well defined and hard to do.

I’ve been deep in study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He shows his anger and disappointment in those early believers because they slipped back into being rule followers instead of grace accepters.

Very early in the journal of the Acts of the Apostles, Mr. Jewish Christian himself, Peter, is shown by God that the Gospel and God’s Grace are available to all. Forget the rules that set Jews apart from everyone else. The Gospel breaks that all apart.

Grace is sufficient.

My heart breaks when I see people who think that they are following Jesus overcome with anger and hate and drawing up rules that set them apart from others.

That is the very attitude that has driven so many people I know away from the church and made them suspicious of the Gospel.

It’s easy to see why. Would you rather join a group that is suspicious of outsiders, bound up with rules, and shuns or even hates people who are different–or join a group that is welcoming, laughs and smiles a lot, sings, helps people in need whoever and wherever they are?

Every once in a while step back and look at the groups you are a part of–church, small group, service organization. See it with the eyes of an outsider. Is it welcoming? Is it helpful? Does it reveal God’s grace to others?

If not, it’s time to either work to change it or to say good-bye and find another group.

We teach new soccer referees that the profession is the only one where you are expected to be perfect from the first minute you set foot on the pitch and then improve!

Sometimes we treat people coming into church the same way. You need to be perfect according to our rules before you come–and then get better!

Grace says, join us first. Discover grace. We’ll get better together.