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Posts Tagged ‘Grace’

FranzeseThis past weekend, our church had a guest speaker, Michael Franzese, a former Mob Captain (just below an UnderBoss) with the Colombo Crime Family. His testimony included many memorable moments but among them this was the most memorable for me, “Don’t ever let your past be a deterrent for what God will use it for in the future.” There was nothing in Michael’s former life that would make him a candidate for ministry, he was a thug and a criminal, a truth to which he confesses. And yet, he is now even more passionate about the things of God.

A person’s steps are made secure by the Lord
    when they delight in his way.
Though they trip up, they won’t be thrown down,
    because the Lord holds their hand. [Psalm 37:1, CEB]

In another part of Michael’s story, he shared how gradual the shift was from one life to another. He did not hear an audible voice of God or experience a single epiphany that turned him by 180 degrees, not in a minute or an hour or a day, but over years, many of which he spent incarcerated. His other strength came from his wife who endured his years of vacillation and uncertainty, not to mention the pressures of both the government for his cooperation and his former mob family who had put a contract out on him. This was the atmosphere in which he engaged a pursuit of God, challenging God the whole way to prove Himself worthy.

What message does this story amplify within me? Steadfastness. Patience. Grace. Forgiveness.

Photo by Chris VenHaus

Photo by Chris VenHaus

I was not a criminal, but I walked a dark line and toyed with a downward spiral back in my twenties. Sure, that’s a long time ago and although I had a more lightning conversion that Michael, the way has not been straight. A passionate believer, I have missed the mark many times all the same. I have been less than loving, judgmental, assumptive, and intolerant. I have been narrow-minded, inconsistent, and untruthful. I have manipulated the faith for my own desires and put on a veneer of holiness.

But I am still here. And God is still God and sovereign. And there is still a way I am to go.

If me, then you. If Michael Franzese, then me. Today, we can choose to walk worthy of the life God lays before us. We can respond to the circumstances in a confidence of faith that God never forsakes a heart intent on growing in Spirit.

Today and now. Let tomorrow be what it will. For “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. 13 When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.” [Jeremiah 29:11-13, CEB]

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listentogodIf it’s true that God commands at all, then it would behoove us to know what that would be like. How do we hear or see God’s commands?

Yet he gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens . . . [Psalm 78:23, NIV] ; And he [Jesus] continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! [Mark 7:9, NIV]

On a recent NPR broadcast, they were discussing the evolution of hearing in medicine. For so long, all diagnoses were based on what a physician or healer could see in addition to the report of the patient. However, with the advent of some basic technology (the stethoscope), a doctor could not “hear” inside the body. In fact, they posited, that sight is like a movie screen, ever before us, but sound is like a swimming pool, all around us. The trick is to learn to discern what we are hearing.

Sounds are everywhere. We tend to tune out most of them. Even in the “silence,” there is sound. And certainly, inside the body, there are a multitude of noises and vibrations.

In the midst of all the clamor, we are told, there is also the “still small voice” of God.

There are many recorded commands of God in the Bible. For this reason, this book guides believers. But I believe there have been interpretations and assumptions about the commands: which are truly the commands of God and which are the fabrications of humans? Which are culturally grounded and which are unbound by time or space or geography?

We are also faced with the mystery of the law articulated through the Jewish history and God’s commands in the Old Testament and the power of grace with the appearance of the Messiah in the New Testament and Jesus’s commands.

It is for this reason that we must look within and without. We must read and contemplate and engage in conversation. But we must also pray, meditate, and spend time within the secret places of God alone.

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Photo of Graced with Light art installation by Anne Patterson

Photo of Graced with Light art installation by Anne Patterson

It’s a big deal, the blood of Jesus. The shedding of this particular “lamb’s blood” became the ultimate conciliation of humankind to God.

We had blown it again and again. Symbolically, through the Old Testament stories, one failure after another, whether it was Adam & Eve, or the generation of Noah, or the forty years wandering in the desert. People continued to kick against the ways of God, the very path laid out for them through the Law. But we humans could not follow without failure, missteps, selfish choices, and lies. We had a lousy track record.

So overflowing is his kindness toward us that he took away all our sins through the blood of his Son, by whom we are saved; and he has showered down upon us the richness of his grace—for how well he understands us and knows what is best for us at all times. [Ephesians 1:7-8, Living Bible]

God sent many human prophets to warn the people. And for a season, they would straighten up and fly right, but within a generation or two, we took the stubborn road. God changed his tactics: he went for an inside/out method since the outside/in method did not work.

Change the heart and the actions and righteous behaviors would follow; renew the inner man/woman and they might willingly surrender to God’s way. For this reason, I suppose, we were all offered grace abundantly. Jesus was grace. Jesus is grace personified. Grace is our salvation.

How can I be anything but grateful for this covering? Oh yes, I am grateful for grace.

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Stock PhotosBelieve it or not, but I’ve only recently gotten into the budget business (now, when I say recently, I’m referring to the last two years). And I say that because my husband had no interest whatsoever in managing money. It was either feast or famine at our house: we had money (so we spent it) or we didn’t (so we charged it). Eventually, we dug ourselves in a pretty big hole. About two years ago, we did the Dave Ramsay workshop and Mike actually agreed to go. I was so grateful that the first session spent a lot of time on the importance of married couples working on budgets together. As a result, for a season, Mike and I actually talked about money and PLANNED how we would spend the money we expected to have that month. It was not easy. But we discovered this: we had to prioritize. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, writes that we all have a choice, either we can choose to prioritize our lives, or someone else will.

offeringBut you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. And there rejoice before the Lord your God . . . [Deuteronomy 12:10-12a, NIV]

Actually, everything we have is God’s, we are simply using the resources while we’re here.

Mike and I had to really look at our lives, our habits to decide what was most important and how would we spend God’s resources. We also had to confess that we had squandered much along the way. Oh, the grace of God. It’s never too late. What all of this soul searching meant was an examination of lifestyle.

Like the parable of the talents [Matthew 25:14-30], we are each given the responsibility to use what we have and to give thanks for it, whether big or small. How should we divide them?  “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” [Luke 12:48b, CEB]

In the case of most Americans, particularly compared to the world’s population, we have been given much. Forgive us Father, for the abuse of your bounty, for our wastefulness, and our pride. Forgive me for still holding too tightly to possessions, for surely, in the face of death, they mean very little.

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blessingToday I have decided to memorize a blessing of words and love for anyone in need. I discovered this passage today in Colossians.

Because of this, since the day we [I] heard about you, we [I] haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. We’re [I am] praying this so that you can live lives [a life] that are [is] worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; and by giving thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. He set us [you and me] free through the Son and forgave our sins. [Colossians 1:9-14, CEB]

So often, people ask for prayer, at the conclusion of a meeting or on Facebook, or even in the hallway at work. Please pray for me and I, being the dutifully believer, say that I will. But how often do my good intentions slide by and I forget that name or that circumstance. This short prayer covers so much and if I am able to put it to memory, it can be in my mind and in that moment. It’s a complete blessing, full of the riches of promise and good will, grace and hope. And so, even right now, whoever may read this post, know, that I offer these same words to you.

All of these things I pray , in the name of Jesus, who is “the image of the invisible God” [Colossians 1:15].

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Everyone Forever, painting by Minako Abe

Everyone Forever, painting by Minako Abe

I am reading through the Bible in a year. I’ve done it before. Sometimes, it feels a bit of a drudgery, particularly I Chronicles. But in this chronological plan, I get to mix up some of those dry passages with the Psalms, thoughts that always move me, either to my knees or to gratitude. Today, these words resounded deeply:

But the Lord’s faithful love is from forever ago to forever from nowfor those who honor him. . . . [Psalm 103, 17a, CEB]

Forever — endless — infinite — eternal. These are God words. In fact, it is only God who can calmly say, “always,” and mean it. And because I am devoted to this forever God, I can surrender my irregularities and my sometimes and my good intentions. I can trip and fall and rise again. I can start over again–and again–if I have to. I can claim a grace that only an infinite God can give freely. I can fail and I can succeed.. I can weep or laugh. I have been loved since the beginning and I will be loved until the end. I am a child of God and beloved.

Both Psalm 103 and 104 begin this way: “Let my whole being [soul] bless the Lord! . . . ” [CEB] That is my prayer today.

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lead by exampleIs this cultural or simply part of human DNA? We seem to continually repeat our mistakes over and over again. And unfortunately, I see this both on a national and international level as well as in my own micro-world.

When that whole generation had passed away, another generation came after them who didn’t know the Lord or the things that he had done for Israel. . . . [And] then when the leader died, they would once again act in ways that weren’t as good as their ancestors’, going after other gods, to serve them and to worship them. They wouldn’t drop their bad practices or hardheaded ways. [Judges 2:10, 19, CEB]

The learnings from one generation to another are not happening. Parents are not telling or did not tell their children about the work of God in their lives in an authentic way; instead, they pass this job to Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Weeks. In my mind, not only do we fail to tell the Bible stories, we a) water them down to make them PG and b) we don’t personalize them. Every story has a message for humanity. Every story has a message for me and my family. The Bible is not Disney World.

Miracles require effort and devotion, faith and trust. They require accessibility and openness.

I know some people have disagreed with me about telling our children about my past, particularly the darker side, but I have always felt  it was important for them to know that I am a different person today because of my faith, and that essentially, my lifestyle before Christ would have led very quickly to illness and death.

But I also think about our church and how we depend so heavily on our charismatic pastor and we are not raising up leaders to serve with him so that we don’t follow the footsteps of the Israelites who only succeeded while a particular leader was in place. It is everyone’s responsibility to tell the story, to walk the walk, to lead and train and grow. As the pastor tells his story, we must also tell our own.

authenticityOne of the ways to do this is mentoring (or discipleship). I have generally avoided this practice because it sounds so daunting, to take on a tenderfoot on the journey, to help someone else grow, to embrace him/her as family. I’m already struggling with my own adult children after all, how can I take on another, and what if I fail? But here’s the truth: all I have to do is “bring them along” when I go and do. I can’t pretend to be more than I am (nor should I assume I am less). New believers learn by being around old believers. New leaders step up when they watch old leaders in every day life, every day challenges, every day decisions, every day blunders.

Jesus didn’t turn on the leadership persona or the faith role just when the disciples were around. He lived and breathed what he knew. He healed because he could. He told stories because they meant something to him. He expressed mercy and grace because that was part of his genetic code.

We do not have to be infallible to demonstrate love and grace. In fact, authenticity goes farther. Mistakes confessed give hope to those who believe they are not worthy or that they are “too late” to change or that they can’t change. Our frailty revealed is courage demonstrated.

Generations ahead are depending on us now.

 

 

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