Grace

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January 17

Tuesday, January 17th, 2023

I could be wrong but I think one of the hardest things followers of Christ have trouble with is knowing AND REMEMBERING that God’s grace is good for all time. I mean, we will relish God’s forgiving grace when we initially come to Jesus for salvation and be grateful for that grace. We will appreciate His forgiving grace when we mess up big time and see how important it is.

But…

But often we forget that forgiving grace in the harsh reality of life. For example, consequences. We want to accept God’s forgiving grace, but we kinda sorta expect the consequences to be erased too.

Or the other end happens. We can’t totally forgive ourselves. Yes, I accept God’s forgiveness. Yes, I have (if necessary) gone to that other person seeking forgiveness. But applying grace to ourselves and to our own ongoing battle within…now that’s another story.

What we must realize is that God’s past grace to us is also God’s present grace. And it will be a future grace. Past grace allows us to see God’s work in our life. And we cherish that work. But it is also important to see God’s present grace at work in us. Yes, we were made new, forgiven of everything (or that “big one”). But God’s grace doesn’t stop with that initial work in us.

God’s grace is at work within us, daily remaking us into the likeness of Christ. Don’t just leave grace as an act of the past. See grace as an act of the present-forgiving and setting us free.

Do yourself a favor: Take a moment and read Romans 8:31-34. You will be glad you did.

November 8

Tuesday, November 8th, 2022

I hope to answer Ryan’s comment on yesterday’s post tomorrow. I had planned it for today but something else is on my mind. (And my other mind would be upset if I didn’t write this).

A dubious anniversary.

That is what I would call it. Usually anniversaries are celebratory occasions. We call them birthdays. We call them golden and silver (speaking of weddings. Fun fact: Jo and I will celebrate, Lord willing, #50 this coming June 16th).  We call them holidays. All days or moments of celebration. A highlight. A star.

So why do I write “a dubious anniversary?”

Yesterday, my daughter, Tami, texted me early in the morning to tell me I had an anniversary. More specifically, her memory feed on FB said it was the 6th year anniversary of my hit-n-run accident. Not me hitting and running, but someone using me as their personal practice dummy by using the mirror of their SUV to see if they could hit me and put me down. They succeeded. (Yay for me). Then I laid on the road watching him drive on, not even slowing down or using a brake light. November 7, 2016 around 1:15 in the afternoon. Clear day. Sun was out. Bright clothes. Day ruined. A trip to the ER. It was followed by a couple of weeks of pain and a huge hematoma on my left hip. A trip to a clinic about a week or so later due to a swollen leg. Gradual healing.

The first time out riding after that I was very cognizant (translated: highly alert) of every vehicle that went by me. Still am to this day. In the summer of ’17 I was buzzed by a car and when I stretched my arms as if to say, “Why?” he made a not so nice gesture out of his window. Yeah…it was on purpose. It happened a year or so later when a Jeep got real close, gestured and sped along. But it wasn’t so funny when two days later I was coming on an intersection, saw that same Jeep, pointed and he took off like a “bat out of you-know-where.” (Sorry for the rabbit trail).  Anyway, that first ride past where it happened, I rejoiced and prayed a prayer of thanks. Even to this day, I remember it when I ride past it.

It is a dubious anniversary. But it was also an awakening time. A realization that my life could been snuffed out that quickly. A spiritual awakening that began that day, was reinforced 3 months later when I went over the handlebars while going downhill (I still don’t remember what happened).  I broke my collarbone, 3 ribs, and split my helmet in 3 places.  That accident was like the exclamation point on the spiritual awakening which had begun on November 7.  It climaxed in spiritual awareness, repentance from drifting and taking things for granted, relaxing boundaries, and a new appreciation for life.

It is a dubious anniversary, but one I look back on with gratitude. My life was spared. A 16 pound bike with a 205 pound rider has very little chance against a 3000 pound machine at 60 mph.  That is simply no contest.

More importantly though, God used it to say, “Wake up Bill! You are relying to much upon yourself.”

“Thank  you Father, for your gracious heart toward me. For the lessons taught (and hopefully learned) I thank you. Take whatever days I have left and let me use them wisely for You.”

October 4

Tuesday, October 4th, 2022

As I have grown in my faith, and matured as an adult, I’ve come to believe that one of the toughest stumbling blocks Christ-followers have to deal with is their past. Of course, there are the few who have done nothing really horrendous of which they should feel shame or guilt. Yes, we are all sinners and should feel guilt over that, but this is different.

I’m talking bigger than normal, everyday sin. The whopper. The life choice that rattles the bones. The choice that makes the insides turn over. The choice which hangs on and keeps coming back again and again. The choice of which nightmares are made of.

Simply put: shame-inducing, joy-robbing, strength-sapping shame.

Like Peter’s. Pledge your love and devotion but then deny at the first opportunity of the temperature rising. You know the story. “I’ll follow You. I’ll never turn my back.” “Before the cock crows,” He said. It happened as He said.

What now? What will Peter do? Wallow in his shame? Get sidelined? Cast out? None of the above. He will be invited to a breakfast by the sea where Jesus will call him Simon-which means “listen”-and find restoration and release from shame.

I’ll be honest: if not for God’s grace, forgiveness and restoration, I’d be on the sidelines. My failures, unbelief and meager attempts at righteousness would have me wrapped in a cloak of shame or pacing the sidelines or sitting on the bench with my head between my legs, if not for God’s patience and “Bill. Get up. Get back in the game.”

It’s called second chances and I serve a God of second chances. Shame? Sure it’s there. But I also know that it has been defeated by the grace of a God who specializes in taking broken people and making them new.

I can attest to that.

September 21

Wednesday, September 21st, 2022

The final principle is here. But before I give that to you, let’s stop here for a moment to think. Whenever the will of God is talked about, many tend to lean toward the mystical. They look for a “sign” or an “open door” or a “word of knowledge” (cringe), or a dream. Something. Anything.

Meanwhile, many figuratively sit in a chair, put their feet up on the desk, and say, “OK God. Lay it on me.” You know what I mean with that picture. It is way too common for people to simply “hold out” for God to WOW them. Rather than go about their daily business with a heart open to God’s leading, they just sit around and expect it to fall into their lap. It has been my experience that doesn’t happen.

Is that saying God doesn’t surprise us sometimes? No, not at all. But to sit and rely on that is wrong. Unless we are Zechariah who receives a visit from angel in the Temple; or a Mary who receives a personal visit from Gabriel to give her some phenomenal news; or a Paul who had an angel appear in his room and tell him he was to go to Jerusalem; or a Joseph who was warned in a dream to hightail it to Egypt, God simply shows up in our daily activities, a timely word while reading His Word, or some good advice from a friend.

Principle #8 is the final one:

All is grace; put one foot in front of the other.

I’m going to close out this study on God’s will tomorrow. See you then. Until then, remember: All in grace; put one foot in front of the other.

September 6

Tuesday, September 6th, 2022

The long weekend is over (Labor Day) and I’m back! I know that just has you jumping for joy!! 🙂  I had a nice weekend. Relaxing. A great meal with friends on Saturday (since we “rained out” for a bike ride. In quotes because it never rained like they said it was supposed to). So, I rode 21+ miles yesterday with Ryan S. instead of Saturday.  (It is the longest I have ridden since my surgery on June 14th). Then, he went home and rode 30+ more. He da man! I remember when I used to do those kinds of things. These 70 year old legs would protest that kind of feat these days and wouldn’t think of doing something like that…unless I don’t want to move the next day…and the next…and the next. 🙂

Okay, now for the devotion based on The Trail by Ed Underwood. Before I give you Principle #5, which will include a recap of the first 4 principles, I want to take a side road based on #4. #5 will come tomorrow.

When we talk about intimacy, I think one of the hardest things to do is to be honest. My mate must feel safe (enfolded if I may use that word) in a cloak of warmth and protection and security that comes from me.  After being a pastor for about 50 years, I have seen precious few marriages where safety and security were evident. If you have one, you are blessed.

With that intimacy comes the ability to forgive. No marriage is perfect because no person is perfect. Intimacy is a rare commodity anyway, but when the inability to forgive crops up…forget it!! I have seen marriages blow up over the littlest thing which became a great thing all because of the inability to forgive. Big or small offense, forgiveness is not an option. Someone has said, “To err is human; to forgive divine.” It seems like I have heard something on the order of “We are most like beasts when we sin; we are most like God when we forgive.” (If not, I lay claim to that! 🙂 ) Whether I heard it or made it up, it is true.

So before  I move on to Principle #5, let’s make a stand right here right now to forgive others-from the smallest to the largest offense. It starts with us, whether there is an apology or not.

I don’t remember there being an apology when Someone I want to model said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

July 19

Tuesday, July 19th, 2022

Life is a series of firsts.

One would think that at my age (69) and my years of experience as a pastor (50), I would have experienced about all there is to experience.

Nope.

Take that statement. I recently experienced a first- a first which will come to fruition tonight.

Saturday morning: Cell phone rings.

Me: Hey Darin! How are you? (Darin is one of the local morticians who will sometimes call if he has a family with no clergy but want someone).

Darin: Hey Bill! Doing well. How about you?

Me: Fine. Thanks.

D: Gotta favor to ask. Have a family who needs a pastor to do a funeral for them. The man’s name is __________ from Freedom. The funeral is Tuesday. They had a pastor who they thought was doing their father’s funeral but he backed out citing “family issues.” They think he ghosted them. Their father was gay.

Me: So they think he ghosted them because of that?

D: Yes.

Me: Tell them I’ll be glad to do help them out.

D: Thank you. They will be glad to know that is taken care of.

Further conversation ensued via texting names and numbers. I met with the 3 adult siblings (and the son’s wife) on Sunday afternoon for about 1 1/2 hours. We talked. Planned. I gained some insight into their father and them. We parted. I’ve received several texts from the two sisters.

The funeral is this evening. I have absolutely no qualms about doing the funeral. As one of my elders put it when I informed them: “My dad used to say, ‘Funeral are for the living, not the dead.’ ”

Hurting people are hurting people. He did die of HIV diagnosed back in the 90s. So should the family be punished? I think not. Was this man’s sin wrong? Yes. So is mine. A wedding I would never do. A funeral I would and will. If I can offer some type of comfort; if I can offer some type of hope; if I can offer Jesus to hurting people, then I will take every opportunity to do so. Am I compromising? No. I’m not being asked to put a stamp of approval on his lifestyle of choice (which he had given up years ago). My purpose is not to preach him into heaven or hell. My purpose is to offer Jesus.

So…say a prayer for me today please.  The funeral is at 7:00 tonight and if you think about it, saying a prayer for me about that time would be much appreciated. Pray that I offer the comfort of Jesus to siblings who loved their dad and now have a void (their mother passed away about 2-3 years ago).  Thanks.

Yep…life is a series of firsts.

June 30

Thursday, June 30th, 2022

The other day during my Encounter Time, I read the following-and familiar-passage: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Pr. 25: 21-22 NASB)

I hear and have used that passage to teach not seeking revenge. It is human nature to want to defend ourselves, to put up a fight if we feel we have been wronged. “An eye for an eye.” “Don’t tread on me.” “Stay in your own space and we will be okay. But DO NOT cross the line.”

And if they cross us in any way, shape, or form. LOOK OUT!

Today I read the story of a woman who was a student at Cambridge in the 1940s and decided to join the Communist Party (CP) as a secretary. The winter of 1946-1947 was brutal, causing water pipes to freeze, thereby causing a water shortage. They were allowed one shower a week and not even the secretary of the CP could avoid the long lines that developed in the ladies dorm at Cambridge. The jockeying and grumbling were intense. But this woman could not help but observe the actions of one. She had direct access to the bathroom but never asserted her rights and responded gently to the selfishness of others. Upon investigation, this secretary found out the girl was a Christian who was practicing and living what the Communist claimed but did not do. That observation led to a conversation, which led to a conversion, which led to a new missionary in the Far East.

And just think this through with me: if that Christ-follower had reacted in kind to the way she had been treated?  I don’t need to tell you the result.

She chose to act as Jesus would. She chose to live Proverbs 25: 21-22 in real life.

Just imagine if we would do that as well. Go ahead. Do it! Imagine. And now what?

April 12

Tuesday, April 12th, 2022

After yesterday’s interlude, I’d like to come back to my series of posts based on some thoughts from Wisdom Hunter by Randall Arthur.

Here is a really powerful and thought-provoking quote:

Remember: Jesus compares evangelism to sowing seeds, not swinging swords.

For the longest time it was “assumed” by some that beating others over the head with the Gospel would “convert” them or “win them to Jesus.” I know I have, and I’m sure others have as well, known some evangelists who would sing all 900 verses of Just As I Am until someone comes forward. They dragged it out for that one soul. I cynically wondered if someone finally came forward to stop the endless singing and pleading.  And yes, beating over the head with guilt.

But that is not nearly as bad as the street corner preacher or the college campus preacher who stood and screamed at people as they walked by. The ones on the college campus would yell out at the top of their lungs “sinner” or “fornicator” or “cheater,” etc.  while pointing a finger or looking at someone. Adversarial in nature, they swung swords instead of planting seeds.

Paul once wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” (NASB2020) Simply put, it was not and is not our responsibility to convert people. Nor is it a one-man/one-woman job. And no one should take credit for it. It takes time for people to hear, accept, absorb, and respond.  Pounding it in does not work.

Seeds are sown in love not hate. Seeds are sown with deftness, not brashness. Seeds are sown with a heart of compassion for the lost soul, not a heart of coldness reveling in calling out their sinfulness and lostness.

Speak the truth. But speak the truth in love not yielding a swinging sword. You just might cut off their ear so they can’t hear at all.

“Father, help me to be winsome in my approach to others. Help me to sow seeds not swing swords.”

March 17

Thursday, March 17th, 2022

One word. That’s all it takes is one word and watch the reactions. Eyes glaze over. An eyebrow will be raised.  A hand will go the chin. Or you might even get a sigh, an exhale of air, and a judgmental look.

The word? Depression.

Disclaimer: I have never suffered from depression. I’ve have some down days, as have had all people from time to time. But I’ve never been one who suffers from it days, weeks, months, or even years. My first real exposure to it was in 1974 right after I had graduated from college. I visited a woman named Jane (not her real name) Doe in a psych ward. I could not understand how this woman who laughed a lot and called herself a Christian could be there.

How little I knew. Time. Maturity. Almost 50 years in ministry has shown me Jane is not alone. Some deeply spiritual people have suffered from depression. Some I know. Even pastors! (Charles Spurgeon being one of them). Some have clinical depression (it is in their DNA). Some have seasonal depression (they head south for the winter). Some have it from a past event or action. Some from guilt and shame. Some have it worse, like bi-polar. Medication is often prescribed for depression and should not be seen as a testimony to a lack of faith or a failure in their walk with Christ.

David suffered from depression upon occasion. Please stop right now and read Psalms 42 and 43 and tell me he didn’t. I soon learned depression was no laughing matter and certainly not something upon which to judge another person. I don’t always understand and may not always understand, but I must always have an understanding heart, a soft shoulder and a spirit of empathy.

“Father, teach me to be more caring. Help me not to judge a person’s closeness to you by his mental state. You are the One who knows all. Help me to be more loving.”

March 15

Tuesday, March 15th, 2022

“My dad can beat up your dad.”  “My dad is smarter than your dad.” “My mom is prettier than your mom.”

Remember those days? (I have a hard time because they were so long ago. 🙂 ) That game is still played by kids…and adults. The comparison game.

It never stops. Sports. Academics. Opposite sex attraction. Jobs. Friends. Physical stature (“I’m taller/stronger/faster than you are now.”) Church size (“We had x number of people this past Sunday.”) Sin.

Sin? Back the truck up!! Yes sin. When was the last time you heard someone say, “My sin is so much greater than yours so I deserve a much greater punishment”? On rare occasions…maybe…you might hear someone who is truly humble and will admit their sin. Most often it is more common to hear someone say their sin is not as bad as that person over there. “I don’t do this or that.” “I haven’t committed adultery.” “I haven’t left my spouse.” On and on the “I haven’t” goes.

Only when we see our sin in light of God’s unrelenting grace and the sinless Son of God will we see a more truthful picture of who we really are. When I think I am more righteous than I am I become a Pharisee like the one in Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18: 9-17.

God sees me for who I am. He is infinitely smarter than me. It would be much better for me to approach Him as a tax collector than a Pharisee. Comparisons pushed aside.

“Father, may I see myself as You see me…as I really am.”