Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

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You had been replaced by Your assistants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.

Base or Grace

November 30, 2015

Kick ’em when they’re upKick ’em when they’re down

Kick ’em when they’re stiff

Kick ’em all around

Dirty little secrets

Dirty little lies

We got our dirty little fingers in everybody’s pie

We love to cut you down to size

We love dirty laundry

Don Henley – Dirty Laundry

Someone asked the small group if there had been any progress made in society since Jesus.

“We’re still Romans 1 people,” replied the resident Reformed follower. “People are still sinners and commit the worst of sins.”

Don Henley’s 1982 scorching put down of mass media came to mind. All the newspeople you see on TV and read in magazines (of a type anyway) and newspapers seem to delight in Schadenfreude–taking pleasure in other’s problems and misfortunes.

However, that sort of news would have died away long ag0 instead of lingering into this century only because there are plenty of people who drink at that fountain.

Maybe we have not progressed beyond our base instincts as Paul so accurately described in the opening of Romans.

I don’t know how accurate the description is, but my view of the worldview of Reformed and Fundamentalist  theologies is that they are always looking at the downside of humans. Followers seem to be more dark and dour. While acknowledging grace, they focus on the bad. They are Romans 1 people.

My response–looking at society in general–focused on the great advances of society because of the influence of followers of Jesus. Hospitals and education to name a couple. Even though evil still exists in the world (as it will always until the “new earth and new Jerusalem”) much of the world is much more “civilized” than ever. And many areas are struggling to break free of the past.
Romans 1 people? Yes, we all start that way. Many stay there. However increasing numbers of people are now Romans 8 and 10 people. We live under grace. And many of those are following Jesus’ commands about loving our neighbors. And this draws more people into grace.

I live in grace and in the hope that it brings. Rather than focus on “dirty laundry”, I rather focus on the hope of changed hearts under grace. 

Give Them Grace

August 25, 2015

Aunt Bethany keeps asking “Where’s Grace” as a recurring line in Christmas Vacation. To which Uncle Lewis keeps replying, “Grace is not here.”

Sometimes our churches are like that. You observe members and listen to conversations and you wonder, “Where’s Grace?”

My wife and I were discussing Andy Stanley’s current series in his “Your Move” videocasts. It is entitled “Christian” and discusses how that word is not defined in the Bible, so you can make it mean whatever you want it to. He points to the word Jesus actually used for his followers–disciple. That is a word with well known meaning.

He tackles straight on the opinion of most outside the church, and even many within, about “Christians.” Quarrelsome, disputatious, judgemental, homophobic–and sure that they are the only ones going to heaven and you are going to hell secretly happy that you are going to hell.

Where is grace in all that?

I was recently talking with some leaders who in turn have a leader who is a non-leader. They handle it with grace. Better than I would, for sure. But I’m learning.

They say he has too much grace to make a decision. I see that as more of a failure of maturity as a leader. But they give him grace. And life goes on.

That is challenging to most of us–giving grace. 

We all have daily dealings with people who seem to require extra grace. They probably don’t even know it. But, it is better to suck it up and give grace than live with the results of not living in grace.

Quarrelsome, judgemental, disputatious, mean, bitter.