new look, new podcast, & Rory MacNish

Want to give a shout out to my friend and Photographer Rory MacNish who took the photo you see on the new podcast opening. The sunshine coming through the tree on a misty North Fork Long Island morning is a fitting expression of God’s grace breaking into our world showing God’s mercies new every day.

I hope you will get to listen to the Podcast. It’s a work in progress but is happening thanks to Rory, my son Josh, and my wife Gigi. I show up in a small way. But most importantly Grace always shows up.

Please check out Rory’s site. Just google Rory MacNish photo. Maybe I can get Rory to mention his own work, modest though he is.

Grace Matters Podcast, Episode 1

After several years of sharing my thoughts through the “Learning Jesus” blog, and enjoying the conversations with you that have resulted, I have decided to venture into the world of podcasting, with the help of my son, and producer, Josh!

What will be taking place in the coming weeks and months are a series of podcasts based on the latest writings, “Grace Matters: Thoughts on God’s Amazing Life in Us”.

I value my relationship with you, my readers and listeners, and so, I welcome your feedback on both the matter of grace and the matter of this new venture.

Just remember: Grace matters, and so do you.

Grace and peace,

George

THE TIME HAS COME TODAY

The church and individual Christians, including yours truly, has for too long lived by law, exclusion, judgment, and even punishment. The time is right and the opportunity is now for inclusive love, barrier breaking and yoke removing love. The love of Christ knows no limits, sets no boundaries.

 

“God’s love is meteoric

His loyalty astronomic

His purpose titanic

His verdicts oceanic

Yet in his largeness

Nothing gets lost

No human, not even a mouse

slips through the cracks.” Psalm 36:5-6 MESSAGE VERSION

 

ONLY LOVE CAN LEAD THE WAY TO CHRIST

THE FALL

There are leaders in this world and in our own country who have elevated pride above all other character traits. Now, let me be clear. There is a kind of pride that is good as it celebrates compassion, kindness, justice and even achievements in line with virtue.

But there is also a PRIDE that elevates us above others, that boasts in success and pushes for might and power at the expense of goodness and truth. There is a pride that sees no fault of its own, sees no need for forgiveness or even humility before God. There is a pride that provides spacious habitation for evil to roam and thrive. Pride can accomplish much on the world’s stage but in the words of King Solomon:

‘Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.’ (Proverbs 16:18,19)

While Christians are bound to pray for their leaders they are not called to give allegiance to any but God.

Let us pray. Let us be vigilant.  Let us not be led into temptation.

 

LOVE HELD HIM THERE

Christ did not die to remove us from evil by taking us to heaven. Christ died to destroy the power of evil within us. When Christ came to earth he brought the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In the death of Christ the power of evil was defeated. As the Gospel of John explains:  ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:3,4 (ESV) Paul writes similarly in Colossians 1:13; 14: ‘God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’

Jesus did on the cross what Israel of old could not do- be faithful to God and to God’s project of redemption for all creation. Israel had succumbed to evil inclinations and rebellion against God. And so God in Jesus comes to defeat that evil, not Israel but the forces and principalities of darkness. Romans 8:3: ‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh’. God wanted a relationship with God’s people. They wanted something more and so they got the LAW through which evil was happy to exert its powers. And then God in Jesus lured evil to its demise and stripped it of its power. Now through Christ the relationship of love has been established for good.

At the cross of Christ all the political and religious forces as well as the power of evil converged upon Jesus to rid the world of God’s saving love. But there on Calvary those forces of evil were led to defeat by God’s love. In the words of theologian N.T. Wright, Jesus bears the taint of evil, taking it away by exhausting its power.

It brings to mind the tactic of a boxer who allows himself to be pummeled by his opponent until his opponent is so exhausted that he is able to be defeated.

Evil tries its best to destroy our relationship with God like it did to Jesus in the Temptation in the Wilderness. God’s love gave Jesus and us a free will to love God or resist God and give room for evil. And the number one tool of evil is PRIDE. It is the living space in which evil thrives. But we need to know that evil cannot ‘take’ power. It can only be given power. Oh, it may whisper in the halls of Congress, on the battlefield, in relationships and in the courts of justice. It may utter a quiet invitation to walk away from God but the real power resides in the weakness of our surrender to Christ, trusting in his faithfulness. And that surrender in this world is necessary every day. It is a surrender to love, a love that never fails.

IT WAS LOVE, NOT THE NAILS THAT HELD JESUS TO THE CROSS. (Anonymous)

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GRACE TO KEEP GOING

Philippians 2:12-13 ‘What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.’ (MSG)

The only reason or way we can live faithfully is because of God’s grace at work in us. That’s what Paul is writing in this passage. We are saved by grace and enlivened daily by grace. It’s all grace.

Even at a time when Paul was hindered by some infirmity God kept reminding Paul that God’s grace was all Paul needed to keep going. (See 2Cor. 12) Then I saw this quote on an Internet chat.

‘Happiness keeps you sweet

Trials keep you strong

Sorrows keep you human

Failures keep you humble

God keeps you going.’  (K. Lawrence)

Grace is the energy and motivation of God that keeps us moving in an eternal direction. Paul describes this motivation. ‘ And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’ (2Corinthians 9:8) Peter tells the church to keep growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2Peter 3:8)

John Newton penned this phrase in his hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’:

‘T’was grace that brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me home.’

So never fear about your own frailties and even failures because the Lord will keep us going even as he did Peter when he was about to deny Christ.

“Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.” (Luke 22: 31-32 MSG)

How great to know that at every moment our God is with and within us working in us, completing his will in our lives. And that’s all grace.

So for this day receive the benediction from the letter of Jude (found just before the book of Revelation):

 And now to him who can keep you on your feet, standing tall in his bright presence, fresh and celebrating—to our one God, our only Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Master, be glory, majesty, strength, and rule before all time, and now, and to the end of all time. Yes. (Jude 1:24,25 MSG VERSION)

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES

I’ve worked for several farmers during my growing up years on Eastern Long Island, moving irrigation pipes in the mud, picking cucumbers and strawberries. I stood on potato combines for hours sorting the good spuds from the bad. The worse job I had was hoeing the weeds around brussels sprouts. I was overjoyed at the end of the day when the boss’ truck pulled up to pick up us laborers.

My younger brother sometimes worked with me and we would often compare our pay. Believe me. If I found that my brother made more than me I would have been furious.

One day I began work at 6 a.m. Hard work it was. At 4:30 that afternoon the boss comes to me and says, ‘Hey, think your brother could work from 5 to 6 this afternoon. ‘Sure’, I replied and thought to myself, why the heck you want him at five? We’re done by six. Anyway, my brother comes and works till the boss’s truck shows up and he calls us over for our wages. I get $12. Yeah, farm work, when I was a kid didn’t pay all that much, but it was a job. And my brother comes over to the boss’ truck and, say what? He also gets $12!!

I’m stunned. So are some of the others and quite rightly. But there it was. I saw it with my own eyes. A ten dollar bill and two ones in my brother’s hand. My shock turned to a righteous indignation or self-righteous indignation.

The boss notices my red face and says, ‘George, you have a problem?’ Ah, but he knew and before I responded the boss said, ‘George, it’s my money and I am a gracious guy. Don’t worry. It all works out.’

I was going to report him but I got paid off the books. So my brother and I walked away. He was smiling and I was perplexed. Grace can do that.

 

For the Biblical parable of this story read Matthew 20:1-16.

 

 

GRACE IN A NUTSHELL (A LARGE NUTSHELL)

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.

GRACE-THE NEW DEFAULT

Whenever I turn on my T.V. the screen displays ‘CNN’. That’s the default channel (much to the dismay of certain folks).

Grace is like that. It’s the first thing on which we want to set our minds in our everyday lives. Think of it. Grace is God’s love at work, in action. It’s God being active and moving in our lives at every moment. The purpose of that grace is to keep us connected and reconciled to God and enabled to love as God loves.

Sometimes and perhaps too often the first thing on our minds’ screen is worry about something going on in our lives like how to pay bills or get along with someone or how our children are faring, and even our own health. That default screen might be anger about someone or something that has caused our blood pressure to rise. The first thing we think about in a crisis or upon waking up isn’t always God’s grace.

But the more we get to know God and what God thinks of us and has done for us we will discover the GRACE will come into focus on that default screen of our mind. Oh, sure, sometimes we have to do that ‘reboot thing’ to get the default working. And being smart and faithful we can do it.

I love the word ‘grace’. Among all the words that might describe God, grace is my favorite. It’s the unrelenting pursuit of God for the good of God’s creation. God is eternally at work to restore all things and all people.

“Love” just doesn’t cut it. It’s too much about sentimentality and feelings whereas grace means self-giving, sacrifice, and relationship.

Love may be the essence of God but grace is that essence at work in us.

So take a moment. Turn on the screen of your mind and watch ‘grace’ displayed.

I like to start the day with the free app, PRAY AS YOU GO. Give it a try. God bless.

A PRAYER IN OUR CRISIS

This prayer was on my heart today during our struggle as a nation to find our way.

Lord God,

It is you in you that we proclaim our trust as a nation, as a people under your providence.

We come to you as the Almighty God but also as the suffering God who knows our sin and pain.

We pray for the leaders of our nation especially the President and the Congress.

We ask that you may soften all their hearts. Turn them from stone to flesh that with charity and wisdom they may reason together what is good for ALL people within our nation, and at our border. Please let them see that in weakness YOU are strong and that YOUR grace is sufficient.

This whole crisis seems to be about money, safety, survival and power but we know O God that it is to you about faith and love.

Teach faithful people how to love one another and to love the ‘least’ in our world.

And it’s not just our leaders. It’s all of us O God who with our pride, greed and arrogance have wandered away from the Christ who died for us. He made a way for us to you and said that ‘our love for one another’ will show the world that we are yours.

In this immigration crisis O Lord we have been less that loving to the sojourners in our midst. And we do not love each other.

Oh God of suffering let our hearts be broken for those without work and health. Let our souls be restless until they find their rest in you, not in power or personal victory.

Lord we have all sinned, this supplicant no less than any other.

Please forgive us and heal our land and the lands at our border.

We are humble and weak and need YOU ALONE above all earthly powers.

In the name of your Son Jesus, Amen

MARANATHA