Grace Matters Episode 9- Grace in a Stolen Miracle

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Most all of us have heard the saying, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes.’ I personally don’t believe there are atheists anywhere. God has implanted in every soul just enough light or awareness to know that somewhere, somehow God or even ‘a god’ exists. Paul writes in Romans 1:19-21: “But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is!” By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So no one has a good excuse.

 

What happened was this: people knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, and refused to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. The reality of God is present to everyone everywhere but people, though they know God, choose not to honor God. Some people even worship or honor themselves, which is sort of what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. And since the world we live in is one large foxhole you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t look for help outside of themselves.

 

From the Scriptures we learn there is something of God’s life in every part of creation. “Everything was created through him (the logos – universal divine reason); nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.” John 1:3

 

In Acts 17 Paul is speaking to the philosophers in Athens. They wanted to believe in something and he explained to them that the ‘something’ was actually a ‘someone’. 22-23 “So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know whom you’re dealing with.”

 

Somewhere there is a source of justice or people wouldn’t say, ‘it’s just not fair’. Some even ask how a ‘good God’ could allow evil? These are all questions pointing to a ‘higher power’.

 

1-2 “God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.” Psalm 19

 

“God has not left himself without some witness to his being, and his goodness.” Acts 14:17

 

Even astrologers searched the skies for the Messiah and thus found him before the religious leaders did. Expressions such as ‘knocking on wood’, ‘the man upstairs’, ‘oh my God’, ‘thank God’ or even ‘thank goodness’, are all tied to a sense of someone outside of ourselves.

 

And so I would like to suggest that the lady who touches Jesus’ garment in Luke 8 actually ‘steals’ a miracle provided to her by God’s grace. Perhaps ‘steal’ is a bit too strong; we might say that she clandestinely finds a way to God through her touch.

 

A friend of mine says that every person on earth has some point of contact with God in his or her life. For the woman in Luke 8 the hem of Jesus garment was that point of contact, getting just close enough to the ever-present grace of God. Here’s her story from vs. 43-45: “In the crowd that day there was a woman who for twelve years had been afflicted with hemorrhages. She had spent every penny she had on doctors but not one had been able to help her. She slipped in from behind and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe. At that very moment her hemorrhaging stopped. Jesus said, ‘Who touched me?’ When no one stepped forward, Peter said, ‘But Master, we’ve got crowds of people on our hands. Dozens have touched you.’”

 

God causes his sunshine and rain to fall upon the evil and good folk alike. Jesus referred to God’s care for everyone in the Sermon on the Mount. In William P. Young’s book, The Shack, Papa (God) says to the protagonist Mac, ‘God is particularly fond of you, you and everyone.’

 

For the woman in our story in Luke 8 the hem of Jesus’ garment was just enough. She made the effort to receive that which had been waiting for her, as orchestrated by God the Maestro. In Matthew 9:21 the words are recorded that she really wanted to touch this healer, this Messiah, and she wanted to do it discreetly, for her problem was probably a chronic menstrual bleeding which would have made her too unclean to touch Christ, the holy man. A point of contact. A miracle stolen. Or the grace of God just hanging there for the taking.

 

As a pastor there were many times I was asked to perform a marriage, a funeral or a baptism by people who were looking secretly for some good luck, a good start, some comfort, all being points of contact to touch the sky as it were. I suspect for many the motive was to get closer to God; and for many it was a matter of doing ‘the right thing’. But either way these were all points of contact. Sometimes a hospital visit for a non-believing patient, a telephone call, a prayer are points of contact. Who knows how the point of contact will bring life? Because life is what God is about and God is everywhere at every moment.

 

“Am I not a God near at hand”—God’s Decree—
“and not a God far off?
Can anyone hide out in a corner
where I can’t see him?”
God’s Decree.
“Am I not present everywhere,
whether seen or unseen?”
God’s Decree. Jeremiah 23:23-24

 

Now here’s the thing. Christians are the body of Christ, clothed with Christ at all levels of maturity but the grace belongs to our strong loving God. We may not even have faith enough but even that’s enough for it was the faithfulness of Jesus that impacted the lady. But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.” Galatians 3: 25-27 

 

That’s what people touch, the unseen faithfulness of Christ at work in us. Sometimes we know it and sometimes not but God knows and loves so well.

 

And now, the rest of the story. This beautiful thief is ‘caught’. Not by the disciples. They are still learning the extent of the master’s grace. They are bewildered by Jesus’ question, ‘Who touched me?’ because everyone was jostling the disciples and Jesus, pressing in against the Messiah. But in the melee there was a secret desirous touch of an unclean woman. She wanted to remain anonymous but the miracle was so evident in her body and her life that she confesses to why she touched Jesus.

Now I think Jesus is thrilled that this ostracized woman would dare come close enough, risking her reputation, but her story is meant for every soul that thinks itself unworthy of God’s grace.

 

Sometimes I wonder if Christians might sense the pressing in of a neighbor or loved one or a social outcast who wouldn’t darken the doorway of a church. A word, a touch, a whispered prayer may just activate the power and grace that is all around us.

Grace Matters Episode 8- Where Does it Hurt?

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Recently I listened to a podcast from Renovare which is a great ministry/organization concerning Spiritual Formation. The podcast was a conversation with author Philip Yancey led by Nathan Foster.

 

Yancey has written a new book titled Fearfully and Wonderfully: ‘The marvel of bearing God’s image’. In the book he makes the analogy between pain in the human body and pain in the Body of Christ, the church community. HIs writing comes after working many years with Dr. Paul Brand, the late surgeon specializing in treating Leprosy in India. Leprosy is an infectious disease within the skin and peripheral nerves leading to a disastrous consequence for those, who because of this illness, cannot feel pain.

 

Pain is important because it’s real and it signals that something is wrong with the body. It can be physical or emotional and can include such discomforting feelings such as anger, sadness, depression and much more.

 

Pain causes us to pay attention to our bodies. And for the Body of Christ, as the analogy goes, pain is a sign that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

 

These days there seem to be a lot of division and hurt in the church over such issues as exclusivity and inclusivity, liberal and conservative, sexuality and doctrine. Rules, standards, grace and love are in conflict and people on all sides are hurting. I know this personally.

 

So let me continue the analogy by saying the church needs to know the pain is real and then go to the Great Physician who can diagnose the pain and help each of us to care for those in pain.

 

Jesus told his disciples that the signal of a healthy community is loving one another. He prayed for us to be one even as he and the Father are one.

 

We are all in some fashion broken, sick, or lost but within the community, the Body, we can recognize and address those circumstances that underlie the pain. We need to stop being against each other and instead be with and for one another. Let’s listen to each other out of love. Let’s bee attentive to the pain we often hide beneath a veneer of doctrinal faithfulness, social activism and success just to name a few methods of denial.

 

Read the way the Apostle Paul puts it in 1Corinthians 12.

‘If one part of the body suffers then every part suffers with it.’

 

Maybe the questions isn’t ‘what do you believe?’ Maybe a better question is the one we often have asked our children, “Where does it hurt”.

Grace Matters Episode 7- Grace in Imperfection

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No one who is born of God continues to sin (1 John 3:6). ‘Be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:48)

 

We don’t strive for imperfection. It is a natural occurrence. Imperfection is our failure to succeed in our goals or it may be the undesirable qualities in our character such as flaws or inadequacies or such.

 

We tend to think of our imperfections as failings or even sin but in truth they are part of the maturation process that God is working in our lives. We may be made righteous in God’s judgment when we are in Christ but for the rest of our lives remains the process of sanctification. Becoming more like the God, in whose image we are made, is an ongoing process.

 

The image of God is not completely erased in humanity though it has been defaced sometimes to the point of being unrecognizable. It is under the shadow of sin whereby we see dimly as in a dirty mirror. Yet, by placing our confidence in Christ, we are ‘new creations.’ (2Cor. 5:17) Accordingly, the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that God remembers our sin no more under the new covenant. (Hebrews 8:12)

 

In the Fall of humankind creation has distanced itself from the creator, but through Christ we are finding our way back. And the Grace of God in Christ back sustains the way.

 

I think of Christians as slightly imperfect in their walk, in that sin is still a part of our lives. However, God doesn’t see us as our sin but through the work, the sacrifice of his Son Jesus. Slightly imperfect means we don’t have it all together, we are not as mature as we could be. We are a work, God’s work, in progress, ever moving forward. In some respects our lives might even be a mess but we are God’s mess delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s son. (Colossians 1:13)

 

While some people might not find value in us, God does. He loves us immeasurably. Even the hairs on our head are numbered. That’s his intimate value and knowledge of us.

 

But here’s the thing. Our flesh, our ego, that natural part of us, still sometimes deeply affects our relationship with God. We say we trust God but we worry. We are greedy. We are fearful and rebellious. But by God’s grace we are ever more steadily making our way into the rightful Kingdom. Luther once wrote that we are sinners and saints at the same time. Jesus tells us to be perfect. Our life’s work is in understanding that maturity and living into it.

 

Let’s take a modern example to illustrate what this all means. If we have an addiction problem we go to the ‘rooms’ where others are dealing with the same struggle. And the only requirement to be there is the desire to stop the addiction, the behavior that is ruining us. One can actually go to an A.A. meeting intoxicated if he or she really wants to stop drinking.

 

Now I figure it is no less meaningful for the sinner who goes before God, to be able to say, ‘I want to stop sinning and follow Jesus more closely. That’s my greatest wish. I desire forgiveness and new life’. That is an imperfect Christian on the right path to God’s perfection. Much as Paul meant when he wrote ‘work out your salvation in fear and trembling because God is at work in you to bring about the best according to God’s will.’ (Philippians 2:12,13)

 

The imperfect Christian is allowed by GRACE to struggle without shame and doubt but is transparent about these issues before other trustworthy brothers and sisters. They believe their sins are forgiven but their memory of their sins is better than God’s memory of their sins.

 

The imperfect Christian is willing to engage in the disciplines of the Christ life. Prayer, reading scripture, worship, loving others and more are exercises that will help the follower. Jesus will strengthen his or her faith, trust and confidence. The imperfect Christian will seek knowledge not for its own sake but so that such wisdom will help them grow. Christ’s gracious call is to take his yoke upon ourselves for the purpose of training us to live our lives with him, by him and through him. There is a bumper sticker, which proclaims ‘Not perfect just forgiven’. That is a loophole for not trying our best. It is a statement that we are forgiven and going to heaven; but there is a lot of life to be lived in the meantime.

 

Recall Jesus words in Matthew 5:48. ‘Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Jesus spoke those words with regards to loving our enemies, those who annoy irritate or even abuse us. Being perfect means being the best we can be. For example, if you are a carpenter just starting out you want to frame a house as best you can. Taking shortcuts is not an option. And while you may not be as good as a 30 year veteran you still do your best. That is if you are going to stay in business. The same would go for a teacher, a mom or a dad or anyone with any integrity. And as Christians we strive for our best but do not feel shame when our best might not on par with say, wait for it,… Jesus.

 

We are on a path, following the Son of God who has called us to place our confidence in him. It was late Christian songwriter, Keith Green, who sang the words, ‘you give God your best and he’ll take care of the rest’. The Christian is called to strive for the prize. (Philippians 3:14) We are urged to press on. And when we fall we pick ourselves up and get back in the race. (Thank you, Frank Sinatra)

 

But we don’t beat ourselves up. We don’t live in guilt and wallow in shame. And if our fall is, in our own mind, a sin- then we confess that to God and know, really know, that we are forgiven and thus freed to live for Christ.

 

I want you to imagine a relationship between two people in love where neither has expectations for the other, where neither keeps score of any wrongs that occur. This is the state of the person who is ‘in Christ’ and thereby in union with God. And this position of salvation and life is sustained and maintained by the grace of the Father. The Bible says that we are already seated with Christ in the heavenly place. (Ephesians 2:6) which I take to mean, ‘out of harms way’ in terms of any kind of judgment. So we are truly freed from having to ‘feel’ like we should be better than we are trying our best to be.

 

Let’s consider the analogy of an electrician who is mentoring an apprentice. The mentor states that all that is needed is the apprentice’s trust and best effort. At their first meeting it is agreed that the degree and job are guaranteed. Of course there will be direction and even correction and warnings here and there but the covenant has been established and will not be broken. So too God is not breaking his covenant with us because it is Jesus who has sealed that covenant in his own blood.

 

All this gives us the freedom to live for Christ because at the heart of it all is the truth that it is not we who are living this life, but it is Christ who is living it in us. (Galatians 2:20)

 

Grace Matters Episode 5- Deep & Wide

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As a pastor I have always made it my goal to help others draw closer to God through faith in Christ. Theologically I would self identify as an evangelical Calvinist through most of my ministry but now am more Arminian. I am even coming closer to an Evangelical Universalist meaning that Christ is the only means of atonement and salvation but that God has His own ways of applying that salvation to folks who don’t quite get it. More on that later.

 

So in years gone by I have used the word ‘grace’ quite loosely, never quite sure of the depth of it’s meaning except that it has to do with the activity of God in our lives (believers or not).

 

If you have read the book THE SHACK, you will recall Mack, the dad who ends up talking with God about an unimaginable tragedy in his family’s life. If you haven’t read the book, stop here and go order it. Good. Now. At one point Mack reflects on his faith and that of his wife. He says, “My faith is wide and hers is deep.”.

 

I want to dig deeper in my relationship with God through His word. At the same time I would like to think that he inspires some of my thoughts and even my questioning about his love for His creation and me. This is my journey. I think of the words of the singing group U2: “I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR”.

 

And I guess that’s good because searching is good. Anselm, an old wise philosopher and theologian around once wrote :”Theology is faith in search of understanding. ”At the age of 70 I sometimes feel like a kid in college again taking classes, this time from the Master on what the purpose of life really is. Yes, I know the great commandments: to love God and to love my neighbor as myself. But there’s a whole lot of meaning within those words. Depth.

Life is not just as simple as some folks make it out to be. Come to think of it, most honest to God people don’t really think that life is all that simple, nor is love and faith and figuring out the will of God or just wanting the will of God over and against our own wills.

 

 

Back around 1647 over in England a group of smart clergy and scholars got together. They wanted to write up articles of faith to define themselves, mostly over and against the Roman Catholics. They wrote a Westminster Confession of Faith and from it came the Westminster Catechism, a series of questions and answers about Christian faith mainly used in training people within the church. The first question is: ‘What is the chief purpose of humanity?’ And the answer is: ‘To glorify God and to enjoy him foreve. Ah, to enjoy God and to radiate his person would be wonderful indeed so let’s explore issues around faith, love, God, suffering, and a whole lot more that is on my mind. I call this little book, GRACE MATTERS. And it will become obvious why.

 

And I won’t be afraid to push the envelope concerning God’s love because I think that grace is a whole lot more than we could even imagine. It comforts us and challenges us. It challenges our collective ego as Christians to think we could ever put God in some kind of box or within a formula that excludes a whole lot of other folks. I am more interested in taking down walls rather than building one.

Grace Matters Podcast Episode 4- Grace in a Nutshell

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I am a hunter, of sorts. I like to find things that I want or need. Google search and Amazon are my favorite sites. I have also searched for people, mostly girls- in my youth. I would pretty much go to any length to secure a date with someone I was attracted to. I’d sit in classrooms writing notes to pass to the object of my affection. I’d find ways to meet up in the hallways. I’d join the same clubs or music groups just to be near them. Hey, who really understands young love? Then I met Gigi, my wife of almost 48 years now. As I like to say, ‘I chased her till she caught me.’

Back to the GRACE.

Grace, simply put, is God’s pursuit of you and me out of God’s love for the creation and us.

The FIRST instance of grace in the Bible takes place after our ancestors ate the ‘forbidden fruit’. Genesis 3:8,9 (NIV)

   Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

That’s a great image. God taking a walk on the earth to find humanity that somehow thought they could hide from God. And God, who knows everything, actually calls out to his hidden rebels as though he wants them to know he’s searching for them. They had shared a beautiful intimate relationship from which they broke and their God is not giving up on them. God wants their hearts to know that God’s heart is still in love with them. And God takes the initiative to find them. (That’s grace.)

God will find them and rescue them and keep them in relationship with God come hell or high water, through countless rebellions and acts of idolatry until God completes the plan of salvation through Jesus.

One might say that grace actually happened long ago in eternity because we read that Christ actually was slain, sacrificed, from before the foundation of the world. (See Rev. 13:8 and 1Peter 1:18-20).

There’s a magnificent purpose statement of Jesus in Luke 19:10 in which he states that the Son of man came to seek and save that which was lost.

God’s action to find, save, reconcile and redeem all creation is the meaning of grace. There’s that ‘nutshell’. In 2 Corinthians 5 we read that God was in Christ reconciling the world to God.

God is the great lover of our souls. The Bible affirms that ‘God is love’, not anger, judgment, or enmity. Evil is God’s only enemy and God will go to any lengths to save us. And when the objects of God’s affection get lost, run away or hide, God will pursue them through all eternity and welcome them back home, as marvelously illustrated by the parable of the Prodigal Son. (See Luke 15.)

So no matter what difficulty you might be having with faith and obedience there is no need to hide from God. God’s love will embrace you. God will love us always. God’s love is eternal. As Paul writes in Romans 8, there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love in Christ.

And… God’s love will change us. That’s grace.

By the way- Gigi’s love has changed me. I haven’t always liked the process but I can tell you that it’s all good.

GOD’S NOT MAD AT US

Many folks think that talking about hell and God’s judgment will bring non-believers to faith. That might be good psychology but not good biblical theology. The scripture teaches that God is love. While there is talk about wrath, the presupposition with which I begin is knowing that God’s central essence, around which God creates and sustains his whole creation, is love.

God’s anger is really against the evil to which humans succumbed. Sin is the result of idolatry. Idols have been empowered by human worship, and God in Christ is out to destroy the power of that evil and thus allowing you and me to worship God. Look at the second commandment. In Exodus 20 God says that we shall not bow down and worship any idol. Worship is reserved for the one true God. When the Israelites were freed from Egypt they were to go and ‘worship’ God, not just take a nice trip to the Promised Land. We are created to worship and love God. That’s where the only real life is to be found.

Now let us realize that after all the idolatry God has made peace with his creation through the Son’s victory over death. In Colossians 1:19,20 we read ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross’ (ESV).

Christ rescues us from the dominion of darkness. ‘He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (Colossians 1:13 ESV). Christ has disarmed all the powers and authorities against us.

The Bible doesn’t say that God was so angry with the world that he sent his Son (John 3:16). Rather it says that God loved his world so much. It was love –  God wanting the best for his wayward children.

See, the God we know is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. And that revelation is Love. It is the self-giving of God for God’s creation in order to reconcile us with him. And we know that the Christ on the cross is there because of LOVE. So if we start with the presupposition of a loving God we will then look at all God’s revelation in Scripture through that lens. Certainly there are passages about wrath and anger and God being sorry that he created this world but those scriptures are ‘the dark side of love’, a side that while expressed is not enacted but through the pain of the cross.

Theologian Kazoh Kitamori, in his book ‘Theology of the Pain of God’, wrote that God’s love becomes the wrath of God in his response to sin. God is sorely against sin because it alienates his creation from him. And if I may be so bold I would compare this to a human father loving his child who is bent on living a life in opposition to the love the father has for them. Take for example when my son was little and insisted upon playing in the street. After three times of telling him not to, I resorted to what he might have considered my wrath as he felt the sting of my hand on his butt. But I prefaced my action by saying, ‘Son, this is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you.’

So when the Bible speaks about the wrath of God, it means that WE experience an alienation from God when we worship idols. God has left us to our own devices but God has always been about redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. Read the book of Hosea.

Let’s look at a few passages about the wrath of God. In Ephesians 2:3 we are told we are objects of God’s wrath. But read carefully and you will notice that God loves these objects of wrath (some translations say children of wrath). You will find God’s love expressed in verse 4: ‘Because of His great love for us.’ In the MSG Version we read, ‘It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.’

In John 3:36 we read that, ‘whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains upon him.’ I believe this means that outside the Son there is the darkness of an unconscious life, which is then subject to the evil in this universe. And who really wants that kind of life? ‘All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that’ (John 3:36 MSG).

Now one more verse – Ephesians 5:6. After a litany of the bad things humans do, Paul writes: ‘because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.’ But there again it is the darkness of being apart from God that is experienced as wrath because remember, we were all disobedient to God, enemies of God and alienated until by grace through faith we stepped into the light of life. See Ephesians 2:4.

There are other passages but these will suffice to say that wrath is NOT the nature of God. That’s good news for all. God is not out to ‘get us’ but rather his purpose is to reconcile us to himself. As Jesus proved through the cross, this work of love pained him more than we can even imagine. That’s ‘costly grace’ that yearns for a response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace in a Stolen Miracle- Scriptures from MESSAGE VERSION

Most all of us have heard the saying, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes.’ I personally don’t believe there are atheists anywhere. God has implanted in every soul just enough light or awareness to know that somewhere, somehow God or even ‘a god’ exists. Paul writes in Romans 1:19-21: “But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is!” By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So no one has a good excuse.

What happened was this: people knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, and refused to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. The reality of God is present to everyone everywhere but people, though they know God, choose not to honor God. Some people even worship or honor themselves, which is sort of what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. And since the world we live in is one large foxhole you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t look for help outside of themselves.

From the Scriptures we learn there is something of God’s life in every part of creation. “Everything was created through him (the logos – universal divine reason); nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.” John 1:3

In Acts 17 Paul is speaking to the philosophers in Athens. They wanted to believe in something and he explained to them that the ‘something’ was actually a ‘someone’. 22-23 “So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know whom you’re dealing with.”

Somewhere there is a source of justice or people wouldn’t say, ‘it’s just not fair’. Some even ask how a ‘good God’ could allow evil? These are all questions pointing to a ‘higher power’.

1-2 “God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.” Psalm 19

“God has not left himself without some witness to his being, and his goodness.” Acts 14:17

Even astrologers searched the skies for the Messiah and thus found him before the religious leaders did. Expressions such as ‘knocking on wood’, ‘the man upstairs’, ‘oh my God’, ‘thank God’ or even ‘thank goodness’, are all tied to a sense of someone outside of ourselves.

And so I would like to suggest that the lady who touches Jesus’ garment in Luke 8 actually ‘steals’ a miracle provided to her by God’s grace. Perhaps ‘steal’ is a bit too strong; we might say that she clandestinely finds a way to God through her touch.

A friend of mine says that every person on earth has some point of contact with God in his or her life. For the woman in Luke 8 the hem of Jesus garment was that point of contact, getting just close enough to the ever-present grace of God. Here’s her story from vs. 43-45: “In the crowd that day there was a woman who for twelve years had been afflicted with hemorrhages. She had spent every penny she had on doctors but not one had been able to help her. She slipped in from behind and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe. At that very moment her hemorrhaging stopped. Jesus said, ‘Who touched me?’ When no one stepped forward, Peter said, ‘But Master, we’ve got crowds of people on our hands. Dozens have touched you.’”

God causes his sunshine and rain to fall upon the evil and good folk alike. Jesus referred to God’s care for everyone in the Sermon on the Mount. In William P. Young’s book, The Shack, Papa (God) says to the protagonist Mac, ‘God is particularly fond of you, you and everyone.’

For the woman in our story in Luke 8 the hem of Jesus’ garment was just enough. She made the effort to receive that which had been waiting for her, as orchestrated by God the Maestro. In Matthew 9:21 the words are recorded that she really wanted to touch this healer, this Messiah, and she wanted to do it discreetly, for her problem was probably a chronic menstrual bleeding which would have made her too unclean to touch Christ, the holy man. A point of contact. A miracle stolen. Or the grace of God just hanging there for the taking.

As a pastor there were many times I was asked to perform a marriage, a funeral or a baptism by people who were looking secretly for some good luck, a good start, some comfort, all being points of contact to touch the sky as it were. I suspect for many the motive was to get closer to God; and for many it was a matter of doing ‘the right thing’. But either way these were all points of contact. Sometimes a hospital visit for a non-believing patient, a telephone call, a prayer are points of contact. Who knows how the point of contact will bring life? Because life is what God is about and God is everywhere at every moment.

“Am I not a God near at hand”—God’s Decree—
“and not a God far off?
Can anyone hide out in a corner
where I can’t see him?”
God’s Decree.
“Am I not present everywhere,
whether seen or unseen?”
God’s Decree. Jeremiah 23:23-24

 

Now here’s the thing. Christians are the body of Christ, clothed with Christ at all levels of maturity but the grace belongs to our strong loving God. We may not even have faith enough but even that’s enough for it was the faithfulness of Jesus that impacted the lady. But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.” Galatians 3: 25-27 

That’s what people touch, the unseen faithfulness of Christ at work in us. Sometimes we know it and sometimes not but God knows and loves so well.

And now, the rest of the story. This beautiful thief is ‘caught’. Not by the disciples. They are still learning the extent of the master’s grace. They are bewildered by Jesus’ question, ‘Who touched me?’ because everyone was jostling the disciples and Jesus, pressing in against the Messiah. But in the melee there was a secret desirous touch of an unclean woman. She wanted to remain anonymous but the miracle was so evident in her body and her life that she confesses to why she touched Jesus.

Now I think Jesus is thrilled that this ostracized woman would dare come close enough, risking her reputation, but her story is meant for every soul that thinks itself unworthy of God’s grace.

Sometimes I wonder if Christians might sense the pressing in of a neighbor or loved one or a social outcast who wouldn’t darken the doorway of a church. A word, a touch, a whispered prayer may just activate the power and grace that is all around us.

WHERE DOES IT HURT?

Recently I listened to a podcast from Renovaré, a great ministry/organization focused on Spiritual Formation. The podcast was a conversation with author Philip Yancey led by Nathan Foster.

Yancey has written a new book titled Fearfully and Wonderfully: ‘The marvel of bearing God’s image’. In the book he draws an analogy between pain in the human body and pain in the Body of Christ, the church community. His writing comes after working many years with Dr. Paul Brand, the late surgeon who specialised in treating leprosy in India. Leprosy is an infectious disease within the skin and peripheral nerves leading to a disastrous consequence for those, who because of this illness, cannot feel pain.

Pain is important because it’s real and it signals that something is wrong with the body. It can be physical or emotional and can include such discomforting feelings as anger, sadness, depression and much more.

Pain causes us to pay attention to our bodies. And for the Body of Christ, as the analogy goes, pain is a sign that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

These days there seem to be a lot of division and hurt in the church over such issues as exclusivity and inclusivity, liberal and conservative, sexuality and doctrine. Rules, standards, grace and love are in conflict and people on all sides are hurting. I know this personally.

So let me continue the analogy by saying the church needs to know the pain is real and then go to the Great Physician who can diagnose the pain and help each of us to care for those in pain. Jesus told his disciples that the signal of a healthy community is loving one another. He prayed for us to be one even as he and the Father are one.

We are all in some fashion broken, sick, or lost but within the community, the Body, we can recognize and address those circumstances that underlie the pain. We need to stop being against each other and instead be with and for one another. Let’s listen to each other out of love. Let’s be attentive to the pain we often hide beneath a veneer of doctrinal faithfulness, social activism and success (just to name a few methods of denial).

Read the way the Apostle Paul puts it in 1Corinthians 12. ‘If one part of the body suffers then every part suffers with it.’

Maybe the question isn’t ‘What do you believe?’ but rather the one we often ask our children, “Where does it hurt?”

Grace Matters Blogcast Episode 3: “Enough”

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“ENOUGH”

Once upon a time a couple came in to see me for marriage counseling. I asked them, on a scale of 1 to 10, how good they thought their marriage was, 1 being terrible and 10 being wonderful. The husband responded ‘9’. The wife responded ‘3’.  The husband was rather shocked. He said, “I think it’s all good. I have a good job and help on occasion with the children. I took you and the kids fishing on your birthday.” And on he went. I asked the wife why such a low number. She replied that their marriage was a disaster; that the guy’s heart wasn’t in it and they were drifting apart. The husband couldn’t see it.

The man in this story was operating out of left brain thinking: logic, some objective measurements and his own ego. The woman was working with right brain thinking. She just knew that everything was a mess. From her creative and more artistic side she could see that the “picture” was all wrong. He could argue but she understood the relationship.

The thing is this. There may be some objective successful measurements with our current leader but the picture is all wrong. The relationship between the leader and this nation is broken. Division is apparent to some, including this writer. I am sure the leader has some logical reasons for his comments, twitters and racist statements. His allies in the government stand by him and there are many people who like him and might give him a ‘9’. But those of us who understand relationships and right brain thinking know it’s all wrong no matter how strong the base support. Trust has been broken. The leader should be a healer but this leader brings sickness to the body of this nation. There is no character. Oh similar to the husband in my marriage-counseling illustration, our leader would probably give himself a 10. But some ‘right’ thinking people just know this ‘marriage’ can’t be saved.

Enough. Let me quote part of a statement from the leaders of the National Cathedral in Washington:

As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over. We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation. We must say that this will not be tolerated. To stay silent in the face of such rhetoric is for us to tacitly condone the violence of these words. We are compelled to take every opportunity to oppose the indecency and dehumanization that is racism, whether it comes to us through words or actions.

There is another moment in our history worth recalling. On January 21, 2017, Washington National Cathedral hosted an interfaith national prayer service, a sacred tradition to honor the peaceful transfer of political power. We prayed for the President and his young Administration to have “wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.”

That remains our prayer today for us all.

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar BuddeBishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Dean of Washington National Cathedral
The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas
Canon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral

I want to add my voice to these ministers. And while I do pray for our leaders I cannot follow them.

Grace Matters Blogcast Episode 2: “Free at Last”

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Or Read Here

‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’ (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

Religion of any stripe is too heavy a burden to bear. There are too many thousands of ‘Christian’ organizations in the world, thousands of religious sects plus countless doctrines, dogmas, laws, rituals and such.

I suppose some folks need all those rules, boundaries, and dare I say ‘chains’ to feel safe. There are people even willing to give up their freedom for security, safety and a place to belong. Some folks enjoy other people making all the decisions for them.

Maybe Adam and Eve got nervous with all their freedom, just loving God and each other. Perhaps they needed more order to their lives. Maybe they wanted to start their own religion. Maybe the intimacy with God made them fearful. So they traded love for the chains of sin. And ever since, humanity has chosen slavery over freedom with Christ. Maybe we find more security in our chains.

There are certainly risks with freedom. Shame and guilt just, to name a couple of self- inflicted consequences when we go it without rules. Jesus gave his life to do away with all rules and regulations and any bondage to the law.

His grace has set us free to love intimately, deeply and widely. Just love. Simply love. Enjoy Christ today under no compulsion or compunction but rather because you have a friend who wants to give himself to you.