Grace

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August 21

Friday, August 21st, 2020

Have you ever been hurt so deeply you wanted to strike back? You know…give them the old one-two punch. Hit them with the left jab of “love,” then hit them (i.e. put them down) with the right cross of power. The full punch will always be more powerful than the left jab that either keeps a person at a distance or sets them up for the power punch.

More often than not that power punch is the result of the desire to get even, to defend my rights. An illustration: several years ago I was hurt deeply. I’ll not say how or when or where. It hurt my family as well. That happens when a member of a family is hurt by another. Tami was really hurt and said some things to me about this person’s actions. I told her she has to let it go. So she wrote a letter of apology asking for forgiveness. (I was so proud of her). Instead of a letter of grace acknowledging and offering forgiveness, she received a letter of defense-one justifying that person’s actions, taking more shots at me and adding fuel to the fire. She was hurt all over again; I was livid. We moved away and over the course of time God dealt with my own anger. How could I help her process if I myself couldn’t handle it? In time, and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life, I was able to lay down my “rights” and forgive.  I wrote a letter explaining my feelings and asking forgiveness, but I never received a reply. But God’s grace allowed me to move on-stronger, more mature, and able to help others do the same. In fact, it was after that when I was working at a non-church related job that I was able to help someone else.

I was working the other morning on a sermon from Ephesians 4: 25-32. Paul tells us there are certain things we are to put away. One of them is clamor. Clamor is the cry of passion railing against another.  To get rid of that I/we must give up my right to be right.

“Father, You got this. You have in your hand all that happens to me at the hands of others and will deal with them. Help me to give up my rights to always be right.”

August 17

Monday, August 17th, 2020

Several years ago Jo and I went to see a movie with some friends. It was called Seabiscuit and it was based on a book by the same name by Laura Hillenbrand. (She also wrote Unbroken, the story of POW Louis Zamperini). Seabiscuit was a horse case aside by it owner and handlers and used primarily as a training horse for the “cream of the crop”-horses which were supposed to bring home the roses.

But in my mind, it was about so much more than a small horse.  Here’s why:

  • Seabiscuit was a cast away horse. Too small. But Tom Smith saw what he could be.
  • Tom Smith, a cowboy whose way of life changed with the introduction of barbed wire fences and an out-moded way of life.
  • Charles Howard, a bicycle mechanic, turned car enthusiast, turned tycoon, turned divorcee’ after his son took off in a car to fish and died in an accident, to a broken man. His life was turned around by the love of a woman and a horse named Seabiscuit.
  • Red, the privileged, rich kid turned destitute by the stock market crash, turned bitter fighter, turned jockey who rode “Biscuit” to victory.

There is so much more. I’d say, “Watch the movie” but beware it has some rough language issues. But it’s real (and probably nothing you or I have not heard more than we care to).

Several statements in that movie stand out to me:

“Though she be small she is mighty.”  Red quotes Shakespeare when describing Seabiscuit to adoring fans and press.

“You don’t throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a little.” Tom on Seabiscuit’s future.

That latter applies to all of us. I can guarantee you after 67 years of life, I am banged up. I’m glad God didn’t throw me away because of it. No, His forgiveness was/is real. I must do the same with others.

“Father, thanks for not throwing me away or giving up on me. may I be the same with others you place in my world.”

August 14

Friday, August 14th, 2020

Yesterday on my other blog, Cycleguy’s Spin, I posted this thought. It was so important to me (and I wrote it yesterday morning) that I thought I would post it here.  Jo picked up Braden, our grandson, yesterday and we are taking him home tomorrow, so I thought I would post this just in case I failed to find the time to post a new devotion. 

There are a few things I simply can’t stand, the thought of eating them just curls my stomach. (Pun intended). When I say them some of you will say, “Seriously?” I can’t stomach to taste cinnamon, coconut and parmesan cheese (the kind that smells like dirty socks that people like to sprinkle on spaghetti and pizza. **gag**. Talk about ruining pizza!!). It is a joke around here for some to tell me they made chocolate muffins, but added coconut or cinnamon. They ruin chocolate. 

But as much as I can’t stand those ingredients (and probably a few more), there is one thing I hate. I despise with a passion. And that is legalism. Legalism by my definition is ordering the Christian life by a list of rules and regulations, of do’s and don’ts. For way too many years I was in that camp. Tithing (you have to).  Church attendance (no Christian skips). Bible reading (every day buddy). Baptism (by immersion only for the remission of sins). Communion (every week). Prayer (I let some slack on this one because I was sketchy myself). Alcohol consumption (tee-total it without exception). Tobacco use (seriously you would put cancer in your body?). You name it; I probably had a rule for it. Now, in all honesty, I wasn’t trying to be mean. I was trying to legislate the Christian life. Salvation was based on what I do; not based on what Christ has done.

Paul faced that. We see it was an issue in the early church (Acts 15). Paul squared off against it in Galatians 2. The issue was so encroaching and so powerful  it even took down Peter. But Paul was not about to back down from that challenge either! (You can see what he does in Galatians 2: 11-14).  The Judaizers were the culprits, men who said you had to abide by the Mosaic law, especially circumcision. But Paul is very clear in Galatians 2:16: “A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…by the works of the Law no one will be justified.”

Case closed. There would be no wavering for Paul. He didn’t care if you were Peter or not. Or Bill. I’m so glad I learned about grace and faith and freedom and God brought me out of that ugly jungle.

“Father, thank you for grace. Thank you for the rescue from legalism. Thank you for the introduction to and embrace of freedom. May I always be a messenger of grace.”

August 3

Monday, August 3rd, 2020

I met and talked with someone in the past who has much to be thankful for. This person, even though he/she may not know it, or can put words to it, is one who has seen God’s magnificent grace in action. Rescued from a past that included addiction, abuse, shame and other ugly things, this person is in ministry to help others be free and learn freedom in Christ.

Grace has been shown to this person in a special way and their life’s desire is to help others experience that same grace. That is as it should be. Shown grace; give grace. It is unmistakable: we have been given grace to be grace givers.

That comes with an important element: forgiveness. To see God’s grace in all its fullness and richness we must forgive ourselves. I think-and this is me speaking personally-this is one of the toughest things to do. We often find it easier to forgive others-and even tell them they need to forgive themselves- BUT then struggle to practice that in our own life. I often wonder about the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Jesus told her He did not condemn her and go and sin no more. I’d love to know how she did. (Maybe my question will be answered when I see her in heaven).

Grace. Forgiveness. Two absolutely connected words. For me to someone else. For me to me. “Father, help me to receive Your grace and forgiveness and then show the same to others…as well as myself.”

July 6

Monday, July 6th, 2020

My reading from John MacArthur’s book One Perfect Life covered Jesus’ time on the cross (6 hours). Several events stand out to be:

  • His first words were “Father, forgive them…” Not a complaint or a cry of agony or of unfairness. Words of forgiveness.
  • The soldiers unwittingly fulfilled prophecy by gambling for His robe. Check out Psalm 22:18.
  • The chief priests didn’t like what Pilate wrote on the inscription he put on the cross.  He wrote “This is”; they wanted “He said He was.”  Answer: “What I have written I have written.”  Pilate-1/ Priests-0
  • Two robbers were crucified with Jesus. I’ve always wondered about the one.  Did he originally join in the antagonism? Did he see and hear Jesus and come to his senses? Did Jesus talk to him as He hung there? (Remember John 21:25). Did he know at one time and return? Answers I will will never know until I see the thief or Jesus.
  • The utter agony of Jesus the last 3 hours on the cross seen in His words: Forsaken. Thirsty. Finished (task completed). Giving up (committal to His Father).

All for me. Undeserved.  Not asked for. Unmerited. All for me. And you. Sinners. To the core. Unlovely, yet loved.

“Father, how can I say thanks enough? How can I find the words? They fail me. Accept my heartfelt gratitude for your undeserved love and mercy and grace.”

June 4

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

My apologies for not entering a devotion yesterday. We were in Ohio and conditions were not very conducive to meditation, journaling and then typing. For some of the thoughts I had yesterday, check out my post on my other blog here.  Now…for today:

There has always been one parable of Jesus that stuck out to me.  Maybe it was due to the fact that I didn’t understand it very well until someone took the time to explain and illustrate it. Now I relish it. Backstory first.

I grew up in a Christian home. My mother’s desire was to follow Jesus. She married a man who did not have that same desire for the long haul, but she tried to make it happen. My dad went to church but his passion was not hers. But I can remember that from an early age my heart sought God. As I got older, I learned there were those who didn’t think as I did. (Imagine that). But when you are young you just don’t think of eternity. As a pastor I saw people at different stages of their faith journey. And I saw those who rejected it. I used to reject death bed confessions as being legitimate because of my “baptism obsession.” But then I led someone to the Lord who (quite literally) was on his deathbed. He died within hours of his confession.

Enter the parable in Matthew 20:1-16 of the laborers who receive equal wages. One group had worked all day; another part of the day; another part of the day; and another like maybe the last hour or so. When it came time to pay them, they were all paid the same. Of course, those who had worked all day saw a major payday when those who worked only an hour or so were paid what they had agreed to. They were upset that those who worked a small portion of the day received the same as them. It was explained that they had agreed to a certain pay.

When it comes to eternity, whether someone is a “lifer” like me; or a young adult conversion; or a 40 something conversion; or a deathbed confession (like Dan), the reward of eternity in heaven is the same for all. I’m glad God makes no distinction of when. He only says, “Come.”

“Thank you, Father, for ‘equal opportunity.’ Thank you that no matter when a person comes he or she comes knowing you will accept him/her and give eternal life as a gift.”

May 1

Friday, May 1st, 2020

WOW! May 1 already! Time flies when you are having fun. Okay…onto the devotion.

I wish it wasn’t true. But it is. I’ve seen it. Been a victim of it. You’d think it would be limited to those outside Christ, to those outside the church, but it’s not. I was reminded of it today. Here’s what I’m talking about.  It is in this statement:

THE CHURCH IS THE ONLY ARMY THAT SHOOTS ITS OWN WOUNDED.

One of the characteristics of the Marines is “No man left behind.” Too bad many churches don’t have that philosophy. It would change our whole idea of target practice. Instead of shooting at our wounded our focus would be on our real enemies: gossip, division, jealousy, envy, vindictive speech, dissension, judgmentalism, and other sins which seem to get a free pass. But let someone stumble! Then it almost appears to be an all out feeding frenzy.

David knew that. Take a moment and read Psalm 109. Just the first 5 verses give you a glimpse of his predicament. But to get an even deeper description check out verses 16-20. What a sad psalm as David laments his treatment. Was David perfect? Of course not. But he was the victim of vicious attacks.

People need encouragement not attacks. Even if they have sinned royally. Do they need to repent? Yes! But that is God’s department. He did not make me judge, jury, and executioner.

“Father, may I be an encourager not a judge.  Help me to remember a hurting person needs a helping hand not an accusing finger.”

 

April 13

Monday, April 13th, 2020

I took last week off. No, I don’t mean from work. I don’t mean from my Quiet Time. I diverted my attention from where I had been reading about the life of Jesus to read about the last week of His life. It started with His ride into Jerusalem and culminated (not ended) with His resurrection. So this morning I was back where I left off. The Sermon on the Mount (SoM).

One of the most compelling passages in the teachings of Jesus and a standout in the SoM is the section that starts in 5:21 and goes until 5:48. I say compelling because it is here where Jesus lays out His approach. Let me explain. Each teaching begins with “You have heard” and follows up with “But I say to you.” Here you go:

  • 5:21- “You have heard you shall not murder…But I say to you…”
  • 5:27- “You have heard you shall not commit adultery…But I say to you…”
  • 5:31- “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces…But I say to you…”
  • 5:33- “You have heard you shall not swear falsely…But I say to you…”
  • 5:38- “You have heard an eye for an eye…But I say to you…”
  • 5:43- “You have heard to love your neighbor and hate your enemy…But I say to you…”

The point I see is Jesus was always taking it one step further. Whereas the Law taught “this;” Jesus taught “this.” His teaching was always counter to what had been taught in regards to limits. The Law required such-and-such but Jesus’  idea was to go beyond the letter of the Law and check the motive and the heart.

I believe He still expects the same today. We could live our lives in such a way that we keep the letter of the Law but miss the boat. We could possibly never see the love behind our actions, actions born out of a desire to follow  Him with His kind of heart. 

“Father, help me to see that life is more than keeping the Law. Love goes beyond the letter to the heart of it all.”

April 7

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

It is common when we are challenged to lash back. It might be in an attitude. It might be in words-spiteful, mean, caustic, sarcastic-you name the adjective. What if, instead of those kinds of adjectives-we chose words that were (for lack of a better one) winsome. Sort of like Jesus.

Here’s my thought. I began reading Scriptures yesterday that deal with Jesus’ last week-the Triumphant entry to His resurrection. Much of the Scripture involves challenges from the religious elite. One I read today is from Luke 19 and Mark 11. They ask Jesus about His authority, i.e. where did He get off teaching what He did? Jesus could have blasted them but instead he asked a question: “The baptism of John-was it from God or from men?” Consider what Jesus could have said and consider what He asked. Was that not a winsome question/answer? Talk about disarming! And look what it did to them!! It got them so flustered-it got their undies so in a bunch-they had no answer. “Neither will I tell you.”

Oh, but Jesus isn’t finished. He tells a parable with a question. A man had two sons… (See Mt.21:28-32). And if that wasn’t enough, He tells another parable of the landowner whose renters killed his servants and then his only son. (Mt.21:33-46)

Jesus’ words were so pointed, so disarming, they walked away. Verse 46 is telling: “And although they were seeking to arrest Him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.”

Jesus’ words disarmed them. And, at least for now, defeated them. Imagine if we chose to use the same approach when challenged! Cooler heads could prevail. Loud mouths would be silenced. Heated situations defused.

“Father, help me to be a voice of reason and calm by my words and actions when things are seemingly out of control. Help me to ask winsome questions and use wise words.”

February 17

Monday, February 17th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Essential vs Nit-Picking.

There is an old adage that I learned in college and has been reinforced in me lately: “In essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; but in all things, love.”

I read recently of two struggling churches in a small town who decided a merger was needed. They talked but it never happened. Why? They could not agree over a phrase in the Model Prayer. One wanted “Forgive us our debts” while the other wanted “Forgive us our trespasses.” Seriously? The local paper reported one church returned to their debts and the other went back to their trespasses.

I once read awhile ago about two churches in a small town on opposite street corners. One had the name “The Original Church of God” and the other had the name “The Original Church of God #2.” Again. Seriously?

There are certain essentials we must all agree on. God: Almighty; Creator of all; Omnipotent; Omniscient; Omnipresent.  Jesus: God’s only Son; Born of a virgin; Fully God/Fully man from birth. Savior of the world who died on a cross and rose physically from the grave. The Holy Spirit: third member of the Trinity; Christ in me, the hope of glory; purpose is to draw attention to Jesus not Himself. We are all sinners and need salvation. We are saved by grace through faith.  Jesus is returning someday. That is a scaled-down version.  Those are essentials.

Opinions are those things which are not related to salvation. Clothing. Music. Tattoos. Many others. Those things the Bible does not speak for or against directly. People pick fights over the silliest and often the stupidest things. Things that don’t and won’t amount to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things. “In opinions, liberty.”

But to split and leave a church or a friendship or to split over an opinion? To pout and whine and rally the troops over an opinion? “In all things, love.”

It is one thing to hold to the truths and major issues set forth in Scripture. It’s another thing to pick fights over every jot and tittle or personal preference. Maybe its time we look deeper inside our heart and see if we are one of those who majors in minors and minors in majors. Maybe it is time for us to revisit the words in Ephesians 4:1-3: “I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

“Father, help me not to be one who nit-picks. Help me to know what is true in Your Word-an essential. Help me to allow for different opinions. And in that, to always show love.”