Grace

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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.”

March 3

Thursday, March 3rd, 2022

“May I never boast except in the cross of Christ.” So the Apostle Paul says in Gal. 6:14. What does that mean?

The title of this blog is “Living in the Shadow.”  Shadow of what? We all know what a shadow is. “A dark area of shape produced by a body coming between rays of light and a surface.”  It’s also used in reference to proximity.  Think “me and my shadow.” My idea for the title was “what is it like to live in the shadow of the cross?”

Well, for one, we learn who we are. At the foot of the cross there is no rich or poor, black or white, male or female, slave or free (to borrow Paul’s words). Someone has said, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” The cross reminds us who we are-sinners in need of God’s grace. There is no need-no, there is no warrant for us to think we don’t need to be there or that we are not as bad off as someone else. At the foot of the cross there is no way we can or should think more highly of ourselves.

As we learn who we are, we also learn who God is. As we become more and more aware of our sinful state, we should also become more and more aware of God’s unrelenting grace. No need for me to clean up first; God does that for me.

“May I never boast except in the cross of Christ” is good advice for all of us.  Come to think of it; I have no reason to boast except in the cross. I certainly can’t boast about anything I have done. That is a losing game.

March 2

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2022

Just a short thought this morning.

Today is what is called Ash Wednesday by the religious world.  It is considered the “kickoff” to Easter. 40 days lie between today and Resurrection Sunday.  This 40 day period is called Lent. I was raised in a church tradition that did not observe, teach or practice Lent. I remember being in a high school study hall and seeing a teacher, Mr. Bano, with a smudge on his forehead. I was clueless and almost- ALMOST- said something to him about the smudge of dirt on his forehead. Yeah…like I said…clueless.

Fast forward many years. Probably 35+. I was still fairly clueless about Lent. A little study showed me it was more than 40 days of doing without. My first foray into that fray was doing without Diet Dr. Pepper. I thought I would try it. I succeeded. Some do without coffee. Some do without pop. Some do without sugar (candy). Some do without (fill in the blank). I’m still not sure why doing without meat, etc is a sign of “spiritual awareness.”

Lent is supposed to be 40 days of reflection on God’s holiness and grace. It is supposed to be a time when we focus on the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus. Whether you do without something or continue as is, may the next 40 days bring you and me a new awareness of all Jesus did for us, culminating in the cross and His resurrection.

You may be wondering what I am going to be doing without over the next 40 days. Doing without sin would be really nice, but that would be an effort in futility.  🙂  I have no plans to do without anything in particular. I just want the next 40 days, the rest of my life really, to be a testimony of God’s goodness, forgiveness and grace.

March 1

Tuesday, March 1st, 2022

Have you ever noticed that sometimes simple is best? You go into a restaurant and you are hungry for a cheeseburger. But many restaurants don’t have just a cheeseburger. They have a double cheese with bacon, avocado, onion, BBQ sauce…okay the whole kitchen sink. Its so sloppy you spend more time wiping your hands and mouth and beard (if applicable), or your shirt that you can’t even taste the cheeseburger.

I like wings-boneless- thank you very much. I don’t like them hot. I know one restaurant with so many sauces one can’t make up their mind. And to top it off they have a 3 or 5 alarm sauce. No thank you. I want to enjoy my wings. Carolina Gold with some Ranch on the side sounds really good about now.  Oops its only 5:15 a.m. 🙂

The book of Philemon-which I read this morning- is like that. Simple. To the point. People love Romans and the prison epistles that Paul wrote. I do too. But sometimes a simple message is enough. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who ran away.  Somewhere along the line he was converted under Paul’s ministry and Paul wanted to honor Philemon by doing what was right-he offered Onesimus back to him. He could have ordered Philemon to take him (v.8), but instead he appealed to him as a friend and a lover of Jesus (v.9). If Philemon didn’t want Onesimus, Paul did!  But he wanted Philemon’s consent (v.14).

Simple. Direct. Loving. Respectful. Paul shows us how it is done. Friendship is worth preserving no matter your lot in life. No matter your likes or dislikes.

“Father, friendship is so important. Thank you for this postcard by Paul to show us how it is done. May I be a friend who is loving and respectful in all things.”

February 24

Thursday, February 24th, 2022

I’m a little late getting here this morning. An icy night slowed down some things. But here I am! 🙂 🙂

“Not me.” “Not me.” “Not me.”

If she heard it once she heard it a thousand times. My mom raised 4 boys. There was 10 years difference between me and the youngest brother so he was too young to get in on the “not me” party.

Something happened. Mom found out. She would line us up and ask which one of us did it. “Not me” three times. Then she would look at one of my brothers and say, “Why did you do it?”  The weeping and gnashing of teeth would appear and the different reasons out of their mouths, but she had found her culprit. My brothers were guilty and she exposed their lie.

As it was, so it still is. Not with them. I’m not that aware of all that is going on in their worlds to be the “action police.” No, I’m talking on a daily basis. The “not me” was an attempt to shift the blame elsewhere and not take responsibility.

We all tend to think we are more righteous than we are. We don’t like to think we are messed up as we are, as in need of God’s grace as we are, as sinful as we are. I’m good (maybe you too?) at throwing out the excuses and looking for someone else to throw under the bus.  Making excuses seems to be easier than admitting fault.

I was in a meeting yesterday with some area folks where accountability was brought up as something missing in a certain organization. And that is what all this is about. Accountability before a God who knows all, but wants us to admit our sin, confess it and seek His grace.

It is time for an honest reckoning of our need for God’s unlimited and forgiving grace…as we are honest and accountable to Him.

“Father, the ‘not me’ doesn’t work with You. You want and need me to be honest with You and with myself.”

P.S. As you probably noted, I highlighted their guilt in the “not me” scenario.” It stands to reason I was guilty…once or twice or….

February 10

Thursday, February 10th, 2022

Over the past two weeks here at “Shadow” I have been posting some thoughts on Colossians.  This will be my last post from the book.

Yesterday I went to Methodist Hospital in Indy to visit a man who had a terrible accident at work this past Sunday. To enter the hospital you had to go through one of two kinds of doors, both automated. One was wide enough to walk through as well as for a wheelchair to go through. The other was like a carousel. It was constantly moving and you just had to get in the open space. That was fine except it was going so slow I felt like I was taking baby steps as I walked through it.

There are other ways to enter a building, like a house, for example. You can ring the doorbell and be let in or you can bust the door down. The former is the preferred method. 🙂

But way too often when it comes to telling the story of Jesus people want to bust the door down. That is not what Paul wanted. In Col. 4: 2-3 He encourages them to pray BUT to also ask God to open a door for the Word “so that they may proclaim the mystery of Christ.” No door-bashing, but an open door would be great! A further prayer is that he would be able to clearly present the truth. You can also tie in verses 5-6 to these verses:

  • Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders.
  • Have speech that is always with grace.

Presenting the Gospel in this day and age is a challenge. So many forces are pushing back. When we present the message of Jesus we must do it with winsomeness and grace, with a right attitude and heart, and with speech that is covered in grace.

Let’s pray for open doors and not break the door down. And when the opportunity comes, to approach the person with grace.

January 31

Monday, January 31st, 2022

For my communion thought yesterday I shared the following:

Paul David Tripp in his book, New Morning Mercies, wrote this: “Face it, your most brilliant act of righteousness wouldn’t measure up to God’s standards; that’s why you’ve been give the grace of Jesus.” (January 30)

He goes on to write;

The more you understand the magnitude of God’s grace, the more accurate will be your view of the depth of your unrighteousness; and the more you understand the depth of your unrighteousness, the more you will appreciate the magnitude of God’s grace.

To understand God’s grace we need to understand sin. Sin in a condition of the heart which affects us all. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” It might be easy for us to deflect attention from our sin by placing more blame on someone else’s sin, but that doesn’t work with God.

God didn’t leave us in this sorry, helpless, and hopeless state. He sent His Son to do what we could not do. We can stand before a holy God-perfect in every way- broken, imperfect, weak and frail and be unafraid because Jesus stands in our place and says, “He’s mine.” (Or she’s mine). When God looks at us He sees Jesus and sees perfection, Christ’s perfection.  What is really cool is that Romans 6 says, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid.” God’s grace is always greater than my sin. That is not a license to sin, but it does give thought to the greatness of His grace.

Can there be any better news than that?

“Father, thank You for the sacrifice of Jesus. Thank you for His willingness to stand in my place. And than You for the magnitude of Your grace.”

LOVE GOD DEEPER…WORSHIP HIM MORE

 

January 27

Thursday, January 27th, 2022

Have you ever realized you needed something but didn’t realize you needed it until…well…you really needed it?  You are probably reading that again trying to figure out what in the world kind of double talk is that or simply what am I trying to say.

it is not uncommon to not know you need something until a situation arises and then you see that “Oh man, I’m missing something.” It could be a certain kind of tool, for example. Or this has happened to many: you or someone is cooking and they go to reach for an ingredient and its not there-a spice, a flavoring, or some essential ingredient. I mean…mac & cheese is definitely not the same made with water because you had no milk or it was sour.

Okay…so here’s what I think (I know you are waiting with baited breath): mercy is like that. We talk about grace a lot and when it comes to salvation we know we need it. But mercy is a bit different. Someone has defined it this way: grace is getting what we don’t deserve; mercy is not getting what we do deserve.

But let’s look at mercy differently for a moment…outside of salvation. We talk about showing mercy (Mt. 5: 7) or being shown mercy. But even as we know we need it, we often fail to show it. We celebrate God’s mercy but scream at our children when they mess up. We are grateful for God’s mercy in our relationship but harbor anger, bitterness, even a lack of forgiveness for others.

See what I mean? We need mercy but often fail to show it so we lose sight of needing it. I wish I could express it better.  Maybe it comes down to this: maybe to the degree I have been shown mercy is the degree to which I ought to show it. Only when I realize I need God’s mercy will I show it to others.

“Father, thank you for your mercy. Help me to show it to others.”

LOVE GOD DEEPER…WORSHIP HIM MORE