Grace

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May 16

Thursday, May 16th, 2024

There are a lot of ways to destroy a church, a business, or even a friendship. Since my job is the pastor of a church, let me focus on that.

First, it is really important to clarify a term. By church I am NOT referring to any physical structures. A physical structure can be destroyed any number of ways (like many around the world are today), but the church can go on…and does. A natural disaster.  A mob bent on destruction. A vengeful act. An act of hatred. Houses of worship can be leveled.

But a more insidious type of destruction is one from within. A wolf in sheep’s clothing can sneak in and spread false teaching. A leader can “ride herd” on a church and bring it to its knees (check out 3 John 9-10 and the story of Diotrephes). There is one type I think that brings more churches to its knees (not in a good way) than just about any other. This verse from Proverbs 16:28 says all that needs said: “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.” (NLT)

It’s easy to see. You want to destroy a church? You want to destroy a company? You want to destroy a friendship? Gossip. Be a troublemaker. Or let them go unchecked. Let it go unchecked and watch the dominoes fall. Little by little. Piece by piece. All that will be left is a pile of ashes or rubble. If the enemy can get the people inside bickering, talking smack, spreading poison or something as ugly, he will have found the way to bring the church down. It is the most effective way and he didn’t need a bulldozer to accomplish his feat.

Don’t be part of the problem; be part of the solution. Stop the gossip and the gossiper.

May 7

Tuesday, May 7th, 2024

Today is “Get out and Vote!” day. Surprise! I have no interest in writing about politics. Instead, I’d like to write about something else: CLOSETS.

Closets you say? Yes. We all have them. If not, our house would be a mess of clothes strewn everywhere. We also have closets in our lives. For many of us, we want to keep them hidden and closed (preferably locked). We would prefer no one see them. Just as some closets are so crammed full of stuff that to open the door spells disaster, so it is with the closets of our lives. We have stuffed them so full of garbage that the spill would be disastrous.

The worst thing in the closet? Skeletons. Not the Halloween kind. Skeletons we want to keep buried (no pun intended) or pushed to the back so they don’t see the light of day.

And those skeletons? WOW! Adultery. An addiction to alcohol, porn, or some drug. Lying. Cheating on an exam. Murder by hatred. Plagiarism. Immorality. A loose sexual past. An abortion. The list in endless.

The sad part is that as long as that closet remains closed and unemptied, and the more we think we have fooled others, the sadder it is for us. That junk in the closet becomes a chain slowly dragging us down and holding us back.

In John 8 the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery (by the way, where was the man?) and threw her at Jesus’ feet. After writing in the sand and watching her accusers leave one by one, He stands and asks her where they are. After she says, “Gone,” he sets her free with a few simple words: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” {emphasis mine} He was not excusing her sin but He did clean out her closet and set her free.

He will do the same for us. For you. But you must unlock and open that closet door.

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i recently wrote a review of a friend’s book called Sober Cycle.  It is the story of Sherry Hoppen’s battle with alcoholism. Her closet, once locked, was opened wide and exposed. You can find that review at my other blog, Cycleguy’s Spin. You can find that review here. Please visit and comment. But more, I’d encourage you to buy the book.

March 25

Monday, March 25th, 2024

This week is called Holy Week because it is the last week Jesus spent on earth. Palm Sunday was celebrated yesterday. It is tied to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem riding on a donkey while the people waved palm branches and even laid them on the ground, all the while yelling, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

All of what took place that last week ultimately had its sights set on the crucifixion and resurrection. With that in mind, I want to share with you something I read this past weekend and shared with the church on Sunday morning. It comes from a new devotional book called Overflowing Mercies by Craig Allen Cooper. I leave it with you to ponder:

Christ sacrificed His perfect life to secure our eternal life. Jesus’ love is everlasting, eternal, unceasing, unchanging, steadfast, and unrelenting (Jer.31:3), and it has nothing to do with your own performance, your own good works, or your own achievements. It has everything to do with His one great love, wholly and completely unmerited, unearned, and unalterable, laid down for you.  (p.20-21)

Sounds a whole lot like grace. Just sayin’.  🙂

March 12

Tuesday, March 12th, 2024

Forgiving ourselves is one of the hardest hurdles we have to need to get over.

When it comes to forgiving others, I have often shared that the failure to forgive others; the desire to hold a grudge; the unwillingness to move on; holding onto hard feelings or even feelings of hate, makes me a slave to that person. They own me. They control me.

But what about that which I consider possibly even harder-the ability or willingness to forgive ourselves? I have seen way too many people able to forgive others, but then wreck their own lives because they can’t or won’t forgive themselves. Big or little sin (usually a whopper) just will not let go. It’s like an albatross around the neck, choking the life out of us.

David’s psalm-known as Psalm 51-deals with this straight on. His adulterous affair with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah, to cover it up, is exposed by the prophet Nathan (full story in 2 Samuel 11). David is convicted of his sin and his guilt is palpable. One can feel his anguish as he lays it all out. “Have mercy. Wash me clean. Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Forgive me for shedding blood.” One can not read those words and not sense David’s pain and agony over his sin. But one can also see David is moving on. He wasn’t going to allow his sin to define him, to hold him down.

Neither should I. Neither should you. There is nothing you or I have done, there is no sin you or I have committed, that is beyond the reach of God’s grace. Confess it. Repent of it. Now…walk away in freedom being sure of God’s limitless grace.

February 15

Thursday, February 15th, 2024

“Lest we forget…”

I woke up this morning with that phrase running through my mind. “Lest we forget…” It’s not uncommon to hear that spoken at a commemoration service honoring men and women who have served our country. And we never should forget.

In I Corinthians 10 a phrase very similar to that is used not once, but twice. In 10:6 it says, “These things happened as a warning to us…” In verse 11 it says, “These things happened as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.”

The gist? Lest we forget.

As a follower of Jesus, I must not forget the lessons learned or to be learned. I need to recall the lessons others learned and shared lest I fall into the same pit they fell into or possibly avoided. Nor should I forget the lessons I have learned from past experiences.

I say all this because of an incident people just won’t let go of. All the “rage” this week has been the Travis Kelce dust-up with his coach, Andy Reid. I didn’t watch the Super Bowl. I could care less if Travis was telling his coach about his latest escapade with his overly-hyped girlfriend. I don’t care if he was telling Coach Reid that he had heartburn from his pregame meal. I. SIMPLY. DON’T. CARE.  But since I wasn’t born yesterday nor is my head buried under a rock, I cannot escape hearing or reading about the pundits, especially other overly paid football players. I read an article where several of them said, “If that had been me I would have been…” Then one of them pulled out the race card (Isn’t that getting kind of old?). It is my understanding these players quickly forgot the grace shown to them by the NFL just a few years ago. One was convicted of choking his girlfriend in college and yet…wait for it…he is given a second chance and drafted because he can catch an odd-shaped ball.  Did he forget? Obviously.

My point is this: “Lest we forget.” As a Christ-follower we must never forget what we deserved versus what we received. The Israelites were given the examples in I Corinthians 10 (I encourage you to read the first 12 verses for reference and context) so they would not forget. They must not forget the damage and tragedy of sin and disobedience. But they also must not forget the goodness of God.

Good words for me to remember lest I forget.

February 13

Tuesday, February 13th, 2024

On my mind this morning when I woke up; when I rode my bike on my inside trainer; as I took a shower and dressed; and now as I sit and read my Bible at the table is a task-something I will do today…

I will attend a visitation and funeral of the friend of one of our new young ladies in the church.

She drank herself to death. That is harsh to say, I know, but even though only 30, her body said, “Enough.” It came to that point of her liver and kidneys failing due to alcohol abuse and past cancer treatments.

She is not alone. It is almost like an epidemic. People who lose hope. More specifically, young people who have lost hope. I guess we expect it more from an older person who can say, “I’ve lived my life. It is time for me to go.” But a young person? That cuts. Losing hope knows no age limits. It knows no status (Hollywood stars for example). It knows no financial acumen (the rich or the poor).

When did people lose hope? Please don’t fall back on COVID, although I am convinced it may have exacerbated it. Isolation. Loneliness. But I ask again: when did people lost hope? When did they lose sight of what David wrote: “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!”? (Ps. 139:17-18). Maybe a better question is, “Did they ever know they were valuable to God?”

There seems to be no doubt that we are living in a hopeless generation and it is tragic that so many are living in such despair that they either want to end it all, give up, or in the case like this just simply say, “What’s the use?” and stop fighting for life. If we could only get back to what David wrote earlier in Psalm 139: “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.” (verses 7-10). Those aren’t words of lament, of complaining about God’s presence. They are words of triumph. Of joy. Of hope.

Something there is just too little of these days. But something offered to us by the One who gave and gives us life.

January 24

Wednesday, January 24th, 2024

I’ve been thinking…about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an important aspect of everyone’s life, whether one is a Christ-follower or not. It comes into play seemingly in about every relationship we have. For the Christ-follower is it important to know we have God’s forgiveness. On the human side, it is important for us to either forgive or be forgiven.

One vitally necessary component of forgiveness with God or with another person is knowing unconditional forgiveness. None of us want to hear, “I’ll forgive you if…” We certainly feel unloved or, at best incompletely loved, if say a spouse says to a partner, “I’ll forgive you for the affair if…” or a father says to a child, “I’ll forgive you for the breach of conduct or break of trust if…” How disheartening that is! Why? Because that type of forgiveness has strings attached to it.

The story of the prodigal son is unusual because it is not the father who puts the conditions on the relationship, but the son. Check out the story in Luke 15. The son says, “I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned and am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as your hired servant.'” (Verses 18-19). Basically, the son says, “If I do this and this then…If I show adequate repentance, become a servant then maybe my dad will forgive me.” It wasn’t the father but the son who put conditions on his love and acceptance. And what happens? The son doesn’t even get out his whole spiel before the father is bending over backwards to forgive and welcome him home and basically say, “My son! Welcome home!”

Do you see it? The father (God) is not the one with the conditions.  It is the son who hamstrung himself. How many times have we not seen and accepted God’s complete and absolute forgiveness because we don’t think we are good enough or done enough or repented sufficiently enough or been sorry enough? It’s not God; it’s us!

Stop putting conditions on God’s love and acceptance of you. Instead, bask in the glow of unconditional love and forgiveness.  Thinking done. 🙂

January 18

Thursday, January 18th, 2024

As one reads the Bible, it is not unusual to read of someone and think they must have always been like that. Case in point: the Apostle John. We read today from the vantage point of 2000+ years later and we see an apostle of love. We see the aged John-respected, loved and depicted as one full of grace and truth.

But he wasn’t always like that. John had a temper. He also had a vengeful streak. We might even call him sectarian to some degree. Mistreatment of Jesus led to he and his brother, James, wanting to call down fire from heaven to consume the city. In another incident, he and James wanted Jesus to promise they would get preferred seating in the kingdom-one on His right and one on His left. Jesus was not fond of that idea. They wanted Jesus to rebuke a man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name but because he was not with their “tribe” they wanted him silenced. (Mk. 9:38).  That didn’t work out too well either.

Over time, John was changed. That’s what happens when people spend time with Jesus. John reminds me of those who are committed to the truth, who “tell it like it is.” But that is all you see. Love? What’s that? All truth. No love. Over time John became known as the Apostle of love. Shall we say “more balanced”?

I read the following:

John was always committed to the truth, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but it is not enough. Zeal for the truth must be balanced by love for people. Truth without love has no decency; it’s just brutality. On the other hand, love without truth has no character; it’s just hypocrisy. (40 Lives in 40 Days-MacArthur-p.19)

I’ve heard it said that “all truth and no love is legalism; all love and no truth is mere sentimentality.” True that.

There needs to be a balance. We may take pride in being a “tell it like it is” kind of person, but honestly, what good is it if we turn everyone off?”

Find the balance. Truth AND love go together.

December 27

Wednesday, December 27th, 2023

I had totally planned as I sat down for my Encounter Time this morning to write about the aftermath of Christmas. What’s it like? Why do we feel let down? How can we overcome this “down” affect?

But then I read a psalm this morning. Psalm 51 to be exact. For those who don’t know, Psalm 51 was written by David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, her husband (and his subsequent cover up). Having his sin exposed to him by Nathan, the prophet, David fell to his knees. Psalm 51 is the result of that guilt and repentance. You can read the whole sordid story of David and Bathsheba and the surrounding events in 2 Samuel 11-12.

I thought I would hit the highlights of Psalm 51. This is, by no means, exhaustive. Please just keep in mind that David was living in guilt and shame for his actions. His words speak to all of us:

“Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.” David knew where and to Whom He needed to go. He relied on God’s unfailing love.

“Wash me clean from my guilt.” There it is! The albatross around his neck and heart.

“Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Sin had left its crimson stain as an old hymn says. He needed the stain removed. He needed to be cleansed as white as newly fallen snow.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit in me.” A clean heart wasn’t enough. His whole “self” needed cleansed and redirected.

“Restore to me the joy of my salvation.” It is important to see that sin didn’t cause him to lose his salvation, but he did lose the JOY of it. One can’t enjoy something if guilt is hanging around.

“Forgive me for shedding blood.” David realized there was more than just adultery involved. Murder was too. He needed forgiven and cleansed for that.

He ends with a statement: “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”

The road to healing; the road to forgiveness; the road to a renewed and restored relationship with the Father begins with a repentant heart. I don’t know if you needed this today or not. If you don’t then please feel free to pass it along to someone who may. If you do, may you have the restored joy which comes from a renewed relationship with God. End the old year and start the new year with a clean slate. 

All Scripture is from the New Living Translation.

December 13

Wednesday, December 13th, 2023

The past two days of devotions here and here, I have written about 4 women who were in the lineage of Jesus.

  1. Tamar- a deceiver
  2. Rahab- a Gentile and a prostitute
  3. Ruth- a Gentile and a Moabitess
  4. Bathsheba- an adulteress

The conclusion has been that the lineage of Jesus has some sketchy people in it. The 5th woman mentioned is none of those. She is a Jew. A virgin. And one unlikely individual to be spotlighted. I call her an outlier because she is so different. You know her as…

Mary, the mother of Jesus.

We have to be careful with her. Some put too much emphasis on her and revere her. Some say we have to go through her to get to God. Others, perhaps as a knee-jerk reaction against both of those ideas, write her off as unimportant.

Mary is special because she realized the dream of every Jewish girl: to be the mother of the Messiah. To me, Mary stands out head and shoulders above the rest of the other mentioned. Besides the obvious moral and ethnic differences, when presented with the truth that she was pregnant (“How can this be since I am a virgin?”), and after receiving Gabriel’s explanation of the process, she didn’t ask for an instruction manual; she didn’t ask for his credentials; she didn’t ask for his driver’s license and Social Security number; she didn’t ask, “Are you absolutely, 100% sure?”; she didn’t ask for proof that he wasn’t joshing her. No…she said the “magic” word, the same “magic” word God wants to hear from each of us when called: “YES.” Her exact words were “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38)

God wants to hear those same words from us.  He heard them from Isaiah: “Here am I. Send me.” (Is. 6:8). He heard them from Samuel: “Speak, your servant is listening.” (I Sam. 3:10)

Will he hear them from me? From you?

{Note: All Scripture quotations from New Living Translation}

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I’d like to remind you to check out my review of Glynn Young’s 5 book series on the Dancing Priest on my other blog. You can find it here.