Posts Tagged ‘Grace’

cross with notesYesterday at our Ash Wednesday services, the people were invited to write on a post-it note and stick it to the cross on their way up to communion and ashes. They could put whatever they wanted, but in general, the idea was to write something that might be hindering the way to the cross: a sin, a habit, an attitude.

At the end of the evening, we hadn’t really discussed how to handle the slips, but I felt they were important and so I gathered them up as gently as I could and carried them home. I wanted to pray over them, yes, but I confess, my analytical self was curious. What had people written to Christ. What had they asked about. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be drawing from these confessions for many mirrored my own: there is nothing new under the sun.

yokeIs not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke? [Isaiah 58:6]

We are all hoping to be set free from the yokes that bind us, the repetitive scripts in our heads, the damaging attitudes that habitually frame our responses.

Naturally, there were notes that rendered their sins of the flesh as getting in the way of their journey to the cross and there were individuals named specifically or by relationship: mother, father, mother-in-law, son, daughter, and so forth. But most of the words that were placed on that cross, that symbolic torture chamber, came from within.

Anger was repeated over and over and over again. Unforgiveness came next.

I can almost hear the cry of the heart saying, how do I find you Jesus when my mind and heart are filled with such rage, when I can only playback the injustice or the betrayal or the damage done to me.

anger-blocks-a-miracleLast week, I was in a workshop in which the facilitator reminded us that there are four primary emotions: Fear, Joy, Sadness and, of course, Anger. And really, I’m guessing that unforgiveness is rooted in anger.

The good news is that no anger is greater than God’s love. That sounds cliche and yet it’s true. People seem to think that their emotions are stronger than anything anyone else can handle. I remember being in a counseling session and telling the therapist that felt as though I would explode, literally. Of course, I didn’t and couldn’t. How often has a person said, “If I start crying, I’ll never stop.” Again, not true. And so it is with anger. It will not win. Love wins.

Lent begins in earnest today. Was I angry today? I was. Did I harbor a grudge or two or pull up an old exasperation about some behavior or another by this or that family member? I did. I see that. Now what?

Confess, accept, move on. Wash me Jesus in the water of grace.

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freedomInteresting. In today’s world, how often does a person use as their defense, “I didn’t know” or “Nobody told me.” And as a result, they believe this lack of knowledge absolves them of the crime. You’d think we’d get over it. After all, the “I didn’t see the stop sign” defense does not work in court, nor does “I didn’t know the speed limit” prevent an officer from giving us a ticket. And yet, we still say it and claim it and believe it.

 If anyone commits a sin by violating the directives I have given you—even if he was unaware of it—once he realizes it, he bears the guilt and must still accept the consequences. [Leviticus 5:17, The Voice]

The law works differently than grace. The law is immutable and enduring. The law has not gone away because of grace, it still exists; it is only our relationship to the breaking of law that has changed through Christ. For this reason, “. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:23] Sin still exists. Intentional or unintentional, blatant or secret, repeated or isolated, sin happens. Mistakes happen.

mercy on meInitially, I wasn’t fond of the centuries old Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” because I didn’t see myself as a sinner. I saw myself as foolish perhaps or selfish, but honestly, it wasn’t like I had killed anyone. (Why killing seems to be norm for being a sinner, I don’t know, but most people who say this phrase, use that act as the litmus test.)

During Jesus’s ministry, he called his disciples to the highest plateau of faith by telling us to walk the paradox line: love enemies, go the second mile, enter through the narrow gate, turn the other cheek, and so forth. And then, he tops these off with the ultimate impossibility: “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect!” [Matthew 5:48] What? Absurd. That’s inaccessible. No one can do that. No one can be even close to the perfection of God. And I can just imagine Jesus smiling: “Yep. That’s the point.” And apparently, anything less than perfect is sin.

Sin is part of life. But how do we respond to it? Do we yield to sin and its backlash (as they say, “Karma is a bitch”) or do we call on the power of the Cross of Christ to stand between? It is the point.

sacrificePeter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” [I Peter 4:8] But Christ’s love covers ALL sins. We are encouraged to model our behaviors after Christ and practice love so that we can learn to be more generous of heart to one another. But there is only One who covers them all, from small to large.

Own up to the sin. But even better, own up to the sacrifice of blood that protects us all from the kismet of life’s choices.

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Hope Floats by Lori McNee

Hope Floats by Lori McNee

For the first Sunday of Advent, churches all over the world are lighting a single candle and speaking of HOPE: essentially the hope is of Christ whose coming has been promised and whose coming, we know, did happen. But then, if that Christ came, what is our hope today? Merely for His coming again or something else?

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? Romans 8:24 [NIV]

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”– Isaiah 7:14). Matthew 1:23

Today and tonight, our church also began this Advent season with a cry for hope but with much more power. Jess Bousa announced “It is time for us to stop thinking of the Christmas story as a baby shower.” Yes, it’s sweet that Jesus is depicted as coming among the poor, entertained by mild cows and sheep, and witnessed by the outcast shepherds of the day. But what of the other point? That God sent Spirit into a human woman to create a Savior, someone who could both live and die for us, fully human and fully God, sacrificing all, in order to deposit the Holy Spirit into each one of us : Emmanuel, God with us (in us).

So, if we have Emmanuel. Tonight, one of our worship leaders, Dale Woodring, shared: “If we have Christmas inside us every day and every month, then there is no need to fear holiday commercialism or misplaced focus, God is bigger than all that. God is not worried about the point of Christmas being missed because we have Emmanuel inside of us.”

We don’t have to hope for Emmanuel, if we have accepted the truth of the work of Christ to re-establish our relationship with God, then the Spirit is within us.

So, what dHopeo we hope for? Manifestation of Emmanuel in us. We hope for an explosion of a unified Spirit in humans, the ultimate human who lives and breathes and walks in the power of grace and mercy and love, fully trusting the Presence within, accepting the ongoing paradox of a life in Christ, for to live, truly live, is Christ [Philippians 1:21].

Hope is a word of confidence, an expectation of a good result, with or without evidence, hope remains. Hope is active, not passive. Hope can be regenerated. Hope loves. Hope sees. Hope is born in Emmanuel.

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“How long, O daughter, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?”  [Psalm 4:2; NIV 1984]

Miniature by Lori Nix

Miniature by Lori Nix

It’s not a cozy message, this psalm. Instead, I hear a strong admonishment. All along, I skimmed over this verse and relegated it to someone else’s state of being. After all, I’m not delusional. Am I? Am I?

Clearly, I have been quick to sugar-coat my own spiritual condition. How can I ignore that I am still grappling with serious issues that color my world dark: judging others, selfishness, lying, just to name a few and more than likely, not that foreign to any of us.

As a follower of the Christ, I have the opportunity to know God, to dwell in the light of God’s countenance, to change up my response to the challenges of life. I am promised that every prayer will be heard and every prayer answered.

However, am I abusing this grace?

If I continue in the old ways which dig me into a deeper hole, is there wonder that I am complaining that God is not relieving my distress and seemingly not giving response? Perhaps the delusion is my own inability to accept the answer already given. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, am I kicking against the goads (the inevitability) of God’s plan? Am I trying to go one way when God is leading me another?

I am reading a rather frivolous fantasy book right now but the basic story line is relevant. A young man grapples with the “gift” of magic versus his own desires and expectations within his society. In his culture, he is expected to be a soldier and follow the dictates of his father’s line. But the magic is directing him elsewhere and is literally fighting for a place within him.

So I wonder if I don’t do the same thing. I invited the Spirit to dwell within me but then fight the very direction given. While fighting, I may be missing the very best part of my life. I have struggled for so long alone. I made my way. I made things happen. I was intentional and ambitious. I was determined. But the Spirit is slowing me down. I know it but I fight it.

I can’t keep asking God to help me do the very things I have been called to stop doing, right? It is a delusion. Here is a place for prayer to begin. Here is a place to truly understand what it means to “Search your heart.”

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It all started with Noah’s sons, this leaving business. After the ark, they spread out and started creating their own civilizations and communities. They were nomadic at first, searching for a fertile place to settle. Generations passed and eventually, Shem’s great, great, great (who knows) grandson, Terah, also had three significant sons: Abram, Nahor, and Hanan.

Genesis 11:31
Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.

But after Terah lost his one son (and even then, fathers assumed their children would outlive them), he left the land of his development and headed toward Canaan with his other son, Abram (his wife, Sarai), and grandson, Lot. But they didn’t get far, finding some peace in the neighboring community that Haran had built.

So, perhaps Abram had already been primed for leaving, perhaps he was ready to hear the call to travel.

There are many reasons people leave home. As a teenager, I married young predominately to escape my home life. I was fleeing home. Others leave because they have overstayed their welcome. Sometimes people go far to distance themselves from family while others stay close. Some choose job over family or adventure.

Abram left home for a promise. Many times we are reminded that Abram left because God called him to come out and make a new community, a great nation. And that is true. But this was not the only reason. In 12:2-3, is a list of the reasons and although greatness is one of the carrots dangled before him, there is something even more precious: blessings.

There is nothing more powerful than the promise of blessings, both to receive them and to give them. A blessing is a gift, like grace, it does not need to be particularly merited. And one of the key elements of a blessing is that it brings happiness. That is its very nature. It’s a kindness.

And so God promised to bless Abram and even more, to make Abram a blessing to others. Wouldn’t you go too?

Oh Lord, bless me this day but even more, may I bless others because of the presence of the You within me.

I have struggled for years wondering what do I really want! From gurus to motivational speakers to “blab it and grab it” preachers, you have to know what you want before you can go after it.

And today, I see it in sharp relief: to bless others and to be blessed. To live in the cycle of blessings.

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Painting by Frank Wesley

It was not a quick departure from the ark at all. Depending on the counting system one uses and the assumptions about the calendar, it was a good year that everyone was on the ark. A full year in a small space. A full year in which a whole set of norms were created. When the door opened, everything changed, again.

Genesis 8:15-16a; 9:6
Then God said to Noah,“Come out of the ark. . . . And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

The implication of a couple of verses seems to be that there was not a lot of animal eating on the ark. That makes sense since the there were a limited number of animals that could be there. Was the situation more like the exodus when shoes did not wear out and people survived on manna? Who knows. But one thing is clear, once they left the ark, Human was given, once again, full authority over all living creatures and could eat of them (as long as the lifeblood was not in them – a somewhat anti-vampire mandate).

But even more important, along with the promise (and subsequent covenant God makes with and to Human), God also announces a required  accounting from each and every living creature, including Human, on earth. In essence, if “you” (living thing) are going to live on this earth, if I (God) am going to give you a fresh start, then you have to report out on how you used this gift of life.

I wonder if I had a stronger sense of this in my own life if I would make different choices?

Instead of worrying about “not” sinning or avoiding “bad things,” wouldn’t it be better to be more conscious of the good use of time, the strong ROI of my investment of time, money, and energy.

They say that many people who have a near-death experience often view life differently from then on. And depending on their foundation, they either become lackadaisical (what’s the point) or they become keenly focused on making each day count. It is a question one hears, “What if you had x amount of days to live, how would you live differently? . . . or would you?

Becoming a follower Christ, is a little like coming out an ark. It, too, is a fresh start. As a new believer, it is so much easier to see and feel the renewal. But, as we grow older in the faith, I think we lose touch with the wonder and worse, we lose touch with our accounting.

I think it’s daily actually. It should be part of our prayer life. I would like to bring it into my own prayers, my evening prayers, my review of the day. Oh Lord, this is what I did with this day, your gift to me. Forgive the missteps; rejoice with me in your moments; and thanks for the grace when I was afraid.

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Photo by Guy Tal

Blah, blah, blah: Cain settles down and makes babies (including Lamech); his kids go polygamous and they make more babies and I guess, the implication is that they are creating a “civilization” of sorts. And then, back home near Eden, original Human (Adam & Eve) have Seth. And what is the wrap up of of this quick summary?

Genesis 4:26b
At that time people began to call on [proclaim]  the name of the Lord.

They finally remember God in the midst of them.

How often do I get so busy in the making and building and creating that I forget the God part of it? How often do I get caught in a momentum that seems to whoosh me along before I realize that I have lost my center, lost my anchor, lost my conscious connection to the Holy Spirit?

I am an enthusiastic person by nature and when I get hold of an idea or a project that intrigues me or challenges me and pushes me beyond my day-to-day life, I am “all in.” Unfortunately, that kind of all-in leaves out the Christ. I’m on my own fuel and because I am who I am, I can go like that for quite awhile, months even.

And then it stops. I stop. Either my body betrays me and I’m in the bed for several days with a nasty virus or I simply make a huge mistake and look to my God for a little help.

The human part of me fears that God will say, “It’s about time. I’ve been trying to get your attention!”

Instead, I am wrapped in the warmth of grace. I am reminded of a better way. I am seduced by the wonder of God’s presence. And I get it.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that Lamech and his crowd ever got it. After all, we all know the story, Noah was next in birth order, maybe even the baby of the families. Perhaps he had a mother who proclaimed God. Perhaps, instead of being known for the poem, Song of the Sword (which typified Lamech’s strength and bravery and personal power), she was teaching her young son about God. But clearly, we learn later, he heard God.

We’ll never know for sure. Everyone has crossroads in their lives. They can choose to follow any number of roads. I am grateful to a God who transverses them all, at one point or another, and is able to woo us back toward the original design, human empowered and led by the Holy Spirit.

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