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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Read Here

“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.

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.