Tag Archives: Grace

Contentment and Thanksgiving

“A Grateful person is rich in contentment.” -David Bednar

Writing about ThankfulnessOne of my favorite parts in the Bible is where Paul is writing back to one of the churches that he has planted. Apparently they had started to argue and create factions within their church, some of them had started to consider themselves better than others, in fact, when they would all gather for a meal each week, some would go ahead and eat,  gorging themselves before the other people (the poorer ones who had to work on Sundays) could get there.

And Paul tells them not to receive the Grace of God in vain.

In other words, Paul says, “Don’t be entitled.”

The Most Dangerous Time of The Year

Sunday at Highland, I mentioned that I think this week is the most spiritually dangerous time of the year.

Because on Thursday we will stop to give thanks for what we have. Then we rush off on Friday, almost breaking the doors down at stores just to get a little more.

There is this time in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is about half-way to Jerusalem. His journey is interrupted by ten Lepers who stood at a distance, and screamed to this man they had heard so much about, “Have pity on us!”

And Jesus does. He makes the whole, and then tells them to go show themselves to the priest (the expert back then on whether someone had been healed) and they would discover they could re-enter their old lives.

Now you probably already know just how much these men had lost at this point. They had been cut off from their families, their vocations, their home. Everything, and in an instance, Jesus gives it all back. But what happens next is really the point of this story.

Ten men are restored, but only one comes back. He’s not a Jewish leper, he’s a foreigner, and he’s thankful.

But what’s interesting to me is the story that is right before it. It’s some of the most difficult words that Jesus says:

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Now this almost seems out of character for Jesus. Where is all this love and grace stuff? “We are only unworthy servants? We have only done our duty?”

Bu’t what if Jesus isn’t getting rid of that whole Love and Grace thing with this paragraph? What if this is one of the many loving things he could says. And what if Luke puts these two stories together on purpose?

I am a BUICK, a brought up in church kid. And I”m very thankful for that, but one of the dangers that comes with growing up worshipping the LORD is that it can become old hat. Familiarity can breed indifference, or worse, it can breed entitlement.  In the words of Randy Harris, “Many of us were born on third base and think we’ve hit a triple.”

Maybe this is why Jesus says this hard word to us.

Maybe that’s why it’s only the Gentile Leper who comes back to thank Him.

There’s something about familiarity with God that makes us less grateful for His actions in our lives. I think Jesus says this hard word because He knows the toxic kind of life that is void of gratitude. It’s good for us to remember who we are and who God is. We forget that with every rise and falling of our chest we are breathing in oxygen that is a gift. With every sunrise and sunset God gives us another day.

This is a story about being grateful for all of that.entitled

Having Nothing, Yet Having Everything

So back to 2 Corinthians. Paul is frustrated with this church because they had started eating without people. And we can understand their logic can’t we? They probably had brought most of the food, they were wanting to start on time, and if people couldn’t make the party that’s on them.

But Paul knows the toxic nature of this line of thinking and so Paul tells them about his life:

I’ve had glory and dishonor, bad and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;  sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

There’s one of the best verses in the Bible. Having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul’s answer to entitlement and selfish hoarding is to remember that everything belongs to God, and every meal is a gift.

You know I wonder how often those nine lepers thought about this?  I imagine they followed the Jesus news of the day. They heard about him being killed and raising from the dead. They heard about this group of disciples that actually started going around the world doing the very things he was doing, and they had walked away from all of it.

They had been healed but it could have been so much more. They could have taken part in the healing of the world. Starting with themselves. They might have lived a life of radical graditude filled with the joy of knowing how generous God is.

May this be a season for you to step back and appreciate how good God is. May you come to recognize the shoulders you stand on in life. May we fight entitlement with gratitude. Materialism with contentment, and selfishness with generosity.

May we be rich in all the ways that count.

Changing Resolutions

IRS LETTER TO NEW PARENTSThere is something about the first couple of weeks in January that make us want to try and become someone better. So you set your goals, get your memberships, or buy the patch.

You want to be a better person.

For the past ten years I’ve set pretty ambitious New Years resolutions for myself. I’m not a Type A personality, but I’m close. Like a type A- or something. I love to work hard toward accomplishing a goal, and the thrill of having done something difficult. So in the past I’ve started rigorous work-outs or planned to read through the Bible in a year, or combine the two (B90x) or whatever it was.

But not this year.

This year Leslie and I didn’t have any goals, we had a baby.

And for the past few days our little family has just been living life through the baby fog.

I saw the above picture sometime last year, and I loved it. It’s an actual return letter from the IRS. A couple apparently was being audited because there was some discrepancies in their tax report. And the couple gave as their excuse that the human brain turns to Jell-O when having a baby.

And the IRS accepted it!

Which makes me feel better about where we are at in life. Because if the Federal government accepts this line of reasoning then we are at least somewhat in a normal frame of mind.

Hannah Grace has already gained a couple of pounds, along with her daddy, (generous church members and no resolutions don’t mix well). She’s already growing taller, doing new things, and making new faces. And if our experience with the other kids holds true, these days are long and the years are short. She will one day become a toddler, then an adolescent, and then a woman.

She’s born to change.

So I’m thinking about change, and resolutions and becoming a better person, all while I hold our new little baby that can’t really do anything, and I realize that this season just might be a word from God for my life. And maybe for you too.

We Americans love to do. We are constantly going and producing and resolution-ing. Most of us know the Christian story says that you can’t be saved by works, and then we jump to talking about how we are saved for works.

But maybe it’s important to remember before we are saved for works, we are saved from work. Continue reading Changing Resolutions

A Graceless World

So I’ve been thinking and writing the past few weeks about the need for Christians to be able to “judge” each other in healthy ways. It seems to me that we have reacted so much to the condemning, judgmental things that we’ve seen and experienced, that we’ve lost being able to see the value in allowing the people we share life with to speak an occasional hard word into us.

We need people in our lives who love us enough to speak these words, but not only those words.

One of the things that is so central to Scripture but so foreign to our church cultures, is the idea that we create with our words. The Bible starts off with the famous lines, “In the Beginning God Created the Heavens and the Earth.” God said “Let there be Light.” And because God gets what God wants, light had no choice but to exist.

Now we use this story a lot to argue with science, as if Genesis was trying to have a conversation with Darwin. But the point Genesis wants us to pay attention to is that God creates with language. He creates a world with words.

The Bible tells a story in which the words we use with each other matter a lot.

And that’s important because we talk quite a bit.

Did you know that the average person has, on an average day, 30 separate conversations? 1/5 of our day is talking. An average year of your talking fills 132 books with 200 pages. You are a walking annual encyclopedia.

The University of Denver recently did a study where they discovered that language was the biggest indicator of a healthy marriage. The most accurate predictor of whether or not a marriage was going to stay together was if the couple used a lot of negative language. They found that if a couple had 5 negative comments per 100 comments, than it was almost guaranteed that they were going to stay together, And If it was 10 negative comments per 100, then it was almost guaranteed that they would eventually split up.

We grew up saying that Sticks and Stones can never hurt us, but does anybody really believe that? Our words create, they name, they can heal and destroy.

There’s another part of the Bible that talks about the power of words, a letter written by James says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

The tongue leads to life and it can lead to death. Continue reading A Graceless World

The Symphony of Grace

So there is this one time where Jesus is talking with some religious leaders about their view of God. They have taken offense at Jesus for the way he is ministering, and more specifically the kinds of people he is ministering to. They are criticizing him for spending time with the “sinners” of their day. And so Jesus tells them a story.

Unless you live under a rock somewhere,  you’ve heard this story before.  It’s the one about two sons and their dad. And the younger of the two sons goes off and blows his inheritance on the same things that most young men blow their inheritance on. And eventually, after he hits rock bottom, this young man decides to finally come home. And the entire way back he’s working on his apology speech. Because when you’ve blown it as bad as he has, you need to have a pretty impressive apology.

Now you know this story, the Dad runs as soon as he sees him a long way off. Which means the Dad never stopped looking. He doesn’t let him even finish the apology speech before he starts going into party planning mode. They throw a party with music and dancing and roasted calf. And then dad notices that another son has gone prodigal on him.

So, like before, the dad who is always watching out for his boys, goes to him and tries to get him to join the party.

And If we just knew this about God, we would understand how He feels about the Human Condition.

He’s trying to get us all to join the party.

I’ve been writing the past few weeks about the deep need for Christians to live in community with each other. It seems like Christians in the West have such an allergy to all things related to judging, and maybe rightfully so, but we still have this deep need to be able to hold each other accountable and speak the redemptive and hard words into each others lives.  And last week, I wrote about one passage in Galatians that seems to be get at the heart of our objections to judging others, but hold on to the heart of what it means to live in God’s community. Here’s what Paul wrote:  Continue reading The Symphony of Grace

More Than a Fish

So I love this version of Jonah!  This girls got some fire in her bones, and a little Shirley Temple. The whole thing is 8 minutes, She embellishes the story a quite a bit, Jonah has a collection of farm animals, and as you might see she does voices for Jonah’s inner dialogue. It’s brilliant, but my favorite embellishment if you watched it to the conclusion, is how she ended it.

I just finished a series on Jonah at Highland, and it’s one of the most surprising series I’ve ever done. We’ve developed all these ways to keep Jonah at arms length, we pretend that it’s a story about a guy and a whale, and try to reduce Jonah to some Veggietales story, but it’s not. It’s a story about national idolatry, and racism, and arrogance, and unforgiveness, and a story about people who speak for God but don’t really like God.

And if you read Jonah, you’ll find that he’s the most unlikable character in the entire book. He’s the jerk of the book, who whines and complains and runs from God and refuses to pass on forgiveness that God had just given him. But the truth is while we might not like Jonah, I realized that I was a lot more like Jonah than I cared to admit.

And that’s what so problematic about Jonah, Jonah’s ending stinks. Like so many of the Bible stories, the ending comes way to fast. Jonah is having an argument with God, and like always God gets the last word, but the word is a question. God asks Jonah:

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.  And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

And that’s it. No pretty bow, or resolution. Jonah fades to black with this little question just floating in the air.

But maybe it would be helpful to remember that Jonah is written to the religious people of the day. It was written to God’s people, and that’s our place in the story. Which means, if you are a Christian, this question is directed at us. Should God not forgive them just because you don’t like them?  Continue reading More Than a Fish

Second Chances

After all the fanfare has died down, and the confetti was cleaned up, the greatest event of this NFL’s season is still in progress. And it has little to do with touchdowns.

I’ve been following Michael Vick ever since he was the quaterback at Virginia Tech. I can’t say I’ve always liked the teams he’s played on (especially Philly), but I’ve always liked him. He’s a phenom on the football field, with that rare combination of speed to evade the rush, but with also the ability to make some difficult throws. But like most people these days with extra-ordinary talents, there was some dangerous stuff lurking just beneath the surface.

And in 2007 it came crashing down on him.

Now, I’m no Public relations expert but it seems like making money off of dogs killing each other has got to be one of the stupidest things someone can do for their image. I grew up on a farm, have always had and loved dogs, and while I’m not about to join PETA, I like millions of others were angry and disappointed by what this Multi-millionare was doing with his spare time.

But I have a friend who saw this whole thing differently. He grew up in the projects too, and as soon as he heard about Vick’s conviction he took it personally. He saw it as more a snapshot of the human condition than just a stupid mistake.

Because here is a guy who seems to have everything, and now in a moment he is losing all of it.

Vick epitomized the tug of war that all of us feel inside of us. He later admitted that he knew he was making a series of mistakes, but he felt a profound sense of loyalty to these friends he had known forever.

It was inevitable that Michael Vick’s career was over. If Vegas was placing odds on a comeback it would have been up there with the Montreal Expos’ winning the World Series…next year.

But nobody counted on Andy Reid. Continue reading Second Chances

Jonah Serves Chicken Wings

I remember as a kid, watching baseball phenom Darryl Strawberry play. I had a few of his cards, and had the opportunity to follow him somewhat through his career. Unfortunatly, that was not so much because of his raw talent (which was certainly there), but because of his off-field exploits. Watching Strawberry’s life unfold was kind of like a real-life exposition of Romans 7.

You were seeing a man, who did what he didn’t want to do, and just couldn’t seem to do what he wanted to. And maybe that’s why I was always so interested in him. I think Darryl Strawberry’s life was kind of a snapshot into the human condition. And I believe, that most of us who are honest would admit that we know exactly what this kind of failure feels like. Continue reading Jonah Serves Chicken Wings

Professional Prodigals

Friday night, the Texas Rangers defeated the Babylon of the Major Leagues. Poetically, ARod strikes out looking (and sweet justice rolled down like rolling rivers). And nothing was left but the celebration. Everyone was celebrating (except the Yankees). But not everyone was celebrating the same way. Most players were drinking Champagne, but not Josh Hamilton. He was drinking Ginger Ale, and that was okay. Continue reading Professional Prodigals

Love Never Fails

So there is this one time in the book of Acts, where Paul is in the middle of this kind of sham trial. He’s in front of the Sanhedrein, the Jewish religious leaders of his day, and he’s facing the death penalty. It’s got to be a stressful situation to say the least. And to make the situation even worst, at one point, Paul gets unfairly slapped in the face. Continue reading Love Never Fails

The Morality of Acceptance

For most of this week I’ve been wrestling with the book of James. It’s one of the best sections in the entire New Testament…you’ve got the actual brother of Jesus talking about how to live out this thing that his brother started. And one of the main ways James says to do that is to be a part of a community that doesn’t show favoritism.

Most of the run in with celebrities that I have had, have been disastrous. I met Houston Nutt one time, and I think he almost called security on me. But the worst (and I’m really tipping you off to how nerdy I can be) was when I met the theologian, Walter Bruegemmann. We were both at a conference, and I went up to him, shook his hand, and said something like:

“You’ve given me the capacity to dream again.”

Our conversation didn’t last very long. There’s not really many places it could have gone from there, other than talks of restraining orders.

I’m telling you this because I think James has a word for me, and probably you too.

In Donald Miller’s classic memoir “Blue Like Jazz,” he’s got a story tucked away in the end of the book about his friend named Nathan he met a Reed college.

He says that Nathan was this short, stocky kid with a speech impediment. Miller said that he actually sounded a lot like Elmer Fudd, and that his initial response when he heard Nathan talk was to laugh. He suppressed it, and tried to listen to the person behind the voice, and found out that Nathan was brilliant. He researched Nuclear chemistry, was actually kind and descent. He was, in other words, more than his voice.

A few weeks later, Miller was speaking to some preachers in California. They were asking him about how hard it was to live at Reed college (a college notorious for immoral behavior). And Miller’s response has stuck with me for years. Here’s what he says:

“I have never thought of Reed as an immoral place, I suppose it’s because somebody
like Nathan can go there and talk like Elmer Fudd, and nobody will ever make fun
of him. And if Nathan were to go to my church, which I love and would give my life
for, he would unfortunately be made fun of by somebody somewhere, behind his
back and all, but it would happen, and that is tragic….What I love about Reed
college is that there is a foundational understanding that other people exist and
they are important, and to me Reed is like Heaven in that sense.”

Here’s what James is saying. This is just as important as any other moral that you’ve got. Go back and read what he says. That caring about people, without showing favoritism, is just as important as not committing adultery.

One of the more frustrating things about churches, the thing that James is putting his finger on here, is that we tend to define much of our ethics based on what happens, or doesn’t happen, below the waist. God knows those kinds of ethics are important, but just as important, James is saying is how we treat others.

James is showing that Christian ethics is not only based on what you don’t do. It’s based on how you treat others, and the way people can tell what you think about God is by looking at how you treat people.

And so preachers, deacons, Sunday-school teachers, listen up…Those people, the Extra-Grace-Required members of your church, you need them, just as much as they need you. The ethic of James is to treat them just as well as anyone else. Because there is a morality of acceptance that you are showing, or not showing, to those you are leading.

And if we don’t treat those people well than our faith may be holy, righteous, and whatever other word you’d like to put there, but it’s not Christian. We treat people better than others because we’ve seen Jesus’ Glory. Not just in the tomb, but in the manger, in the dinner parties with hookers and religious elite, talking to the thousands, and to the promiscuous woman at the well.

We’ve seen his Glory, and so we look for it in others.