Posts Tagged ‘grace’

The Only Thing That Counts

November 9, 2016

You know the type. We all know the type. Unless you are that type, then maybe you don’t recognize it at least in yourself.

One kid like this exists in every classroom. At least one kid. And in church… sometimes an entire church is filled with them. And in other organizations, as well. And in families.

That is the person who knows all the rules. And follows them. To the letter. Other kids in school hate that kid. Or, at least they don’t like them too much. These people love to point out to everyone else what the rules are. “You’re not supposed to do that.” Or “I’ll tell the teacher.” Or “You’ll roast in hell for doing that.”

The Apostle Paul started some fellowships of Jesus-followers in what today we call central Turkey. These were loving, joyous, givingĀ  communities.

Then some strangers rode into town. They taught that these people needed to follow the law before they could be so joyous and loving. In fact, maybe it breaks the laws to actually be joyous and loving.

The particular law that those ancient teachers brought to the people in Galatia was the law of circumcision. They taught that first you had to earn the right to know God, and only then could they call themselves followers.

Paul told his friends that listening to that teaching would end their freedom in Jesus. He said that as soon as you follow one law, then you have to follow all the laws. Except he had already taught them that following all the laws in order to earn God’s favor was impossible. That’s why Jesus came–lived, died, and then lived again.

Paul said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith made effective through love.”

Paul just taught what Jesus taught, “You’ll know my followers by their love.”

We need fewer “Church Ladies” and more followers. Can we ditch the rule following bias we have and just open ourselves up to finding the freedom to act in love? “Against such there is no law.”


Compassion and Confession Go Together

August 23, 2016

We read in the letter of James to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another so that we may be healed.

Confession–a spiritual discipline I may never have discussed. It consists of the admitting to trusted others and to God the thoughts we have dwelled upon or actions we have done or not done that brought us farther away from God and others.

If we confess, then we are healed. Before we confess, we must recognize. When we see ourselves in those things and realize it, then we can tell others in a trusted atmosphere and seek healing. Just ask a therapist. Or an experienced pastor.

What started this line of thinking, believe it or not, was the serious lack of compassion that I see in our society. I hear or read so many callous remarks describing other people. It is so easy to dismiss people who are not like us by grouping them together and then trying to sound either funny or wise by describing them in sometimes very nasty terms.

This, by the way, is not an American phenomenon. I’ve seen it pop up in many cultures. It’s a human problem.

I’m not a “welfare state” liberal who believes I can absolve myself of responsibility for compassion by passing it on to the government. Can you imagine the power in society if all the congregations that call themselves Christian lived out Jesus’ teachings about compassion and helping the poor? Wow!

Some can be found helping others while remaining with a superior attitude. “I’ll toss them a couple of dollars,” they think. This is arrogance and condescension. Not compassion.

Compassion is not “bleeding heart liberalism” like many conservatives used to label people (or maybe still do, I don’t know). Compassion is controlled emotion. It begins with recognizing our own shortcomings. Realizing with gratitude the grace that has come to us. Wanting from the heart to share that grace.

Confession and compassion–a lifestyle of grace turned outward.

Just Me First, Alone

June 14, 2016

I’ll never learn to be just me first, by myself. — Carly Simon

There was a young man. He had never seen a picture of himself. Obviously this story takes place long before selfies when we broadcast our pictures to the world ad nauseam. But really, he had never seen himself. Then, looking into a still pond, he saw a young man so beautiful that he had to meet him. He could not, of course. He fell in love with his own reflection. His love for himself killed him. His name was Narcissus.

I guess this selfie craze reveals much about us at this time. Of course, it’s partly because it’s new technology. But, do you know anyone who seems overboard with pictures of themselves, by themselves?

Have you ever been around someone who talks on and on about themselves and the people and events that affect them? You try to interject–even just words of understanding or acknowledgement–and then realize that they aren’t listening to you. They are wrapped up in themselves.

Have you ever been in a group when two or more talk about themselves and their lives–at the same time? And they don’t seem to notice that no one is listening?

None of us lives to ourselves alone. — Paul, Romans 14:7

The ancient Greeks were excellent observers of personality types. The myth of Narcissus lent the name to a current personality disorder–Narcissism. Popularly, the term broadens to those who perhaps don’t qualify for diagnosis but are still annoying.

Paul, no stranger to those Greek myths himself, knew that there is a danger lurking in the depths of our hearts when we focus too much on ourselves.

He was teaching us at that point in Romans after he had built up the argument to the introduction of grace and then answered the question, “So, what?” His teaching was that now that we are living in grace, we don’t live for ourselves. We live for God. We also live for others–look at his words of having empathy for others in the same chapter.

Paul never stopped with the self-centered thought–It’s all about me and my salvation. That was only the beginning. Life is what happens next. And that is about how you love and serve others.

Know That You Need To Ask For Help

May 25, 2016

The Lord helps those who help themselves.

That is not in the Bible. Sorry. Grace is not dependent upon our works. It is dependent upon our attitude–the attitude of turning to God and asking for help.

Henry Cloud’s new book, The Power of the Other, is all about the power relationships–good, bad, indifferent–hold over our lives.

He was talking about his work as a consultant and coach. He has sufficient track record and fame, that boards of directors of companies, even large companies, send their failing CEOs to him to turn them around.

A man came to him one time who had failed terribly. It was a personal failure, but the results bled over into every aspect of his life–marriage, family, business, volunteering. Being a highly successful and driven person, he came with a list. He asked for help, but then he laid out the plan that he had devised to correct the situation.

Cloud said it was sad. Every point depended upon the man’s action. There was no place for relationship with another.

Cloud said that he’s reached the point of life that he really doesn’t want to waste time with people who are sent to him to be fixed but who think that it all depends on themselves.

I understand. In my consulting and coaching career, I have met several people who only wish for outside reinforcement. They don’t understand why nothing changes.

At some point, you must come to the realization that it’s not all dependent upon your own effort.

Ask someone for help–and then listen.

Ask someone close to you how they feel about the situation–and then listen.

Humble yourself (that means be willing to not be the person in charge) and realize that others will help if you ask.

Thank people for helping.

Remember God gives us grace. It’s there for the asking. Be open to receiving it.

You ultimately are not in charge; stop acting as if you are.

The Lord helps you, and so will others, if you ask and are willing to listen and absorb.

Can We Work Hard Enough To Earn Salvation?

February 23, 2016

I have a friend who is greatly concerned with faith versus works.

Jesus constantly picked on those Pharisees who placed priority on following the letter of the law. It’s really a matter of attitude. The Law essentially takes the place of God. In their view, they could only approach God by perfectly following the Law.

And they tried. They tried hard. It was a stress. It was also a source of pride. When it’s all about you and what you do, then you can point fingers and compare. You can say, “I’m better than you.”

That doesn’t sound very spiritual, does it?

Jesus picked on those people.

Paul addresses this in his letter to the Romans. He takes a long way to the argument that there is no way we can possibly follow the laws so perfectly that we can be made right with God.

It is only through grace freely given by God alone that we can be made right with him.

So, there are the Spiritual Disciplines or Spiritual Practices.

My friend worries at times that I am falling into the works side of grace / works. Certainly one could look at the Disciplines as works. If I pray every day, worship at every opportunity, serve when I can, study daily, and so on, then I am right with God.


A study of 17,000 Christians who had drifted away from church and faith and then returned was quite revealing. Overwhelmingly they said that what brought them back were spiritual practices–mostly reading the Bible daily.

Dallas Willard says, “The disciplines are activities of mind and body purposefully undertaken to bring our personality and total being into effective cooperation with the divine order.”

A key word–purposefully. Another word is intentional. We are intentional that we’ll practice certain spiritual disciplines in order that we will be brought closer to God. The goal is not the practices. They merely are used intentionally to draw us close to God.

Intention and attitude determine if we are mired in works or actively participating in grace.

From Theology to Practice

January 19, 2016

Andy Stanley last weekend talked about putting some motion in your devotion.

He captured it well.

Every time I dig deeply into either the Gospels to see what Jesus really teaches, or into the letters which were advice to the new disciples, I come to the same conclusion–the preponderance of the teaching focuses on how we live day-by-day, minute-by-minute.

I’ve been reading, studying, and contemplating on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Some scholars think Paul didn’t write it because the tone is a little different from the rest of his letters. It sure sounds like Paul to me. I go with some scholars who say it was probably more of a sermon than a letter. After all, Paul was firmly in the rabbinic tradition.

Some scholars dissed the letter because they thought it was used to justify the power of priests 1,700 years ago. Maybe so, but I don’t see that today.

Paul begins where he always begins, with the history of God’s relationship with the Jewish people, the breaking of the relationship, and then, most importantly, Jesus coming to teach, die, and be resurrected. Paul’s theology begins and ends with the resurrection. That changed everything for him.

Just as in Romans, though, Ephesians teaches that once we settle on God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus and our acceptance through faith, then the most important thing is how we live. Romans ends with practical advice; Ephesians ends with practical advice.

Part of our spiritual discipline, or spiritual practices, involves how we act. By the way, James who writes from a different tradition supports this thought. Be ye doers, he said (in 16th Century English).

But I digress. Today when you get dressed and head out to work or wherever you go, how are you going to act? What will you do? Will people see what you do and say, “There goes a disciple of Jesus”? Or, will they say, “There goes another one of those Christians who can preach belief but acts as if they’re the only people on Earth.”

I wrote yesterday about how I was once (?) book smart and common sense stupid. How hard it is for us to translate what we know into what we naturally do! But that is our task as set out by God. We may know. We may believe. But could anyone tell by watching?

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. 

What Is Love

September 16, 2015

The word love is used often in the New Testament. John’s writing is filled with the word. Jesus said that he left two commandments–Love God and Love our neighbor. Jesus also said that people in general would know his followers by their love.

It makes me wonder–what is love.

We are taught that Greek has three words for love–eros, frater, agape. New Testament writers don’t refer to erotic love all that much. There are talks on agape–a selfless type of giving.

But Paul–that guy covers a lot of material while he tries to explain Jesus’ words to his new converts (and us old ones).

I’m wishing that more people would teach from the 12th chapter of Romans. Paul cites 29 synonyms for love in that chapter. 29!

If anyone thinks you should pull out Proverbs and read it once a year–and I do–then we need to put Romans 12 on our annual reading list. We should take a lot of time with it. Think about each word.

  • Let love be genuine
  • Hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good
  • love one another with mutual affection
  • outdo one another in showing honor
  • do not lag in zeal; be ardent in spirit; serve the Lord
  • rejoice in hope
  • be patient in suffering
  • persevere in prayer
  • contribute to the needs of the saints
  • extend hospitality to strangers
  • bless those who persecute you
  • rejoice with those who rejoice
  • weep with those who weep
  • live in harmony with one another
  • do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly
  • do not claim to be wiser than you are
  • do not repay anyone evil for evil
  • so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all
  • never avenge yourself
  • do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good

What a world it would be if Jesus-followers actually did what he taught! If only I could follow all those attitudes and actions!