I CHOOSE GRACE

Why does God choose to work in our weaknesses rather than in our strengths? Does God want to show us who is boss? Does God have a pride problem? Does God perhaps want to humiliate us for our sin? Is God himself weak?

No. It’s because God cannot develop a relationship with his creation if we think we are strong enough to succeed by ourselves. That’s what happened in the Garden a long time ago. And it’s what happens whenever and wherever humans build their own egos (their territorial walls) against the love of another, in this case God.

God wants to love us and love is best enjoyed when neither lover is a bully or egotist.

God has already demonstrated his own weakness and vulnerability in Jesus. That’s what the incarnation is all about. Not only does God live with us but God loves with us and suffers with us in order to give love a fertile ground in which to thrive. See, God’s grace can only flourish in weakness. It’s the law of God’s universe and God’s salvation and restoration of humankind. And while much suffering is unthinkable and unbearable it is the only path of love in this world and God wants love enough that God gives freedom even to evil and greed on this journey. Certainly God can work all things to the good for those who understand this but unfortunately not many do. And God will not force his love on us or coerce us to love him. That would be abusive and meaningless.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God tells Paul that God’s love is sufficient/enough for Paul’s needs in the midst of Paul’s own suffering. And through it Paul will develop more understanding of God’s love in this world. It will be the kind of love that will develop community and form a bride for the living Christ. And through Paul’s own suffering God will develop a character that God can trust with his powerful love and restoration of this creation.

It’s as though God is letting the EGO of this world be ‘lost’ in order to be ‘found’ again.

There are a great many trees in our contemporary Gardens of Eden. And if we could we would choose them over God and make our own way. But creation doesn’t work that way. It is been arranged that we NEED each other. We love each other. We care for each other. And without suffering there would be only self-sufficiency.

Fortunately the tree is now inaccessible and unavailable try as we might to find it or grow our own.

Before the tree there was only love. Now through Christ love, eternal love, has been restored. Through the poverty of Christ our lives have been enriched. There is a choice now: self-sufficiency or grace. I CHOOSE GRACE.

Where Are the Forks?

I find that I often have the same difficulty Paul experienced when he writes in Romans 7 that the good he wants to do he doesn’t do and the bad that he doesn’t want to do is what he often does.

He goes on to say that it is the sin within him that is causing this problem. This is not to say as the comedian Flip Wilson once remarked, “the Devil made me do it.” No, Paul has something more serious in mind. It’s Paul’s own willingness to sin that is the problem. It’s his own ego, his territory that is getting in the way. Once you have set the boundaries on your particular territory you have created a playground for sinful behavior, selfish behavior that may evidence itself in anger, jealousy, pride and worry.

Paul is writing that the only way out of this dilemma is through Christ and the formation of Christ within us. See Galatians 4:19.

Paul even comments at the end of chapter 7, ‘but in the sinful nature I am a slave to the law of sin.’ Or as the Message paraphrase has it, ‘ but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.’ (Vs. 25)

What I prefer to say is that all territory belongs to Christ. I have no King but Christ. I cannot let me ego dictate to me what is right and wrong. All I want is Christ in me and then I can do what Christ would do in my body.

Now last night is an example. I was getting ready for dinner with my wife and noticed there were no forks in the drawer where day by day I would normally find forks. So I mentioned it and my wife said that all the silverware happened to be in the dishwasher. The understanding I got from that, after 45 years of marriage, was that it might be a good think if I, for once, took care of that little issue. Yeah, I got annoyed, thinking that maybe she could have asked me nicely to unload the dishwasher. See, I have my territorial issues. Don’t make inferences about my ineptness when it comes to helping out around the house.

So there I was, wanting to do good but not able. The good, in this case, was just having a nice attitude about the whole thing. Now I could say that some ugly demon was living his life in me but no, that’s not the case. I am my worst demon sometimes. Another word perhaps is ‘selfish’. So I have to enlarge my territory by making it all belong to Christ and then nothing can take me from God’s love not even subtle inferences about my responsibilities.

 

 

For Skeptics and Believers: What draws me to Christianity

At the outset I admit, without being trite, that it’s Jesus who attracts me to the Christian faith. The most attractive quality of Jesus is the way he shows us the character of God that is loving, and forgiving. God, through Jesus, has told me I am loved and God has told that nothing can separate me from God’s love. Not even my own stupidity, negligence or sin. God in Christ pursues me until he brings me back into God’s wonderful embrace. This is for me the essence of Christianity in my being and worked out through my life and the community of faithful believers.

It’s difficult to imagine that Jesus is just an imaginary figure created to satisfy the human need for a god or a crutch in life’s hard times. The character of Jesus is not the sort you would, on your own, invent. I will admit that the church has been guilty over the years of producing a version of Christ that takes the form of power but those powers are hard pressed to find the Jesus they affirm from the scriptures of the New Testament particularly the Gospels.

There we find Jesus, the wisest and most loving teacher who ever lived, instructing his followers to ‘love one another’, to ‘love their enemies and bless those who curse them.’ In Christ we discover a religious master who seeks all who feel lost and left out and find themselves as society’s outcasts. His harshest condemnations are reserved for the proud, the self-confident and judgmental.

Jesus taught his followers to engage the world through ‘weakness’ not ‘strength’. He said they should take up a cross and be willing to die for one another and that behind such ‘foolish’ talk was the love of the Father, God. That kind of teaching goes against the grain of our ego but aligns itself with the Creator. And Jesus not only teaches these principles. He lives them, taking upon him, servant-hood even to the point of death.

I am currently watching all the political posturing of the possible candidates for the office of President and all I witness is self-aggrandizement, judgementalism, pride and power. Maybe I need to look harder and elsewhere.

A skeptical view of Christianity usually addresses the failures of the church, the institutional and individual sins and while it could be made abundantly clear that the church has done more good on this earth than any other institution let’s admit that the church has had its share of failure and sin.

Skepticism does have its place for they wonder if the church didn’t invent this Jesus within the pages of history of the course of the first few centuries C.E. And skeptics do well to question Jesus role today especially in matters of evil, suffering and injustice. These are valid queries into Christianity as long as those asking are willing to do the appropriate searching into the person and work of Jesus. And those of us willing to believe them must be willing to bear a healthy investigation.

To dismiss Christianity because of perceived contradictions in the Bible is not sufficient because most skeptics have seldom read the Bible. And contradictions that might be found are to my mind evidence of the veracity of the witness accounts. Eyewitness accounts rarely find total congruence. We would be even more suspicious if they did.

I think a bigger problem is that Christianity has been around for 2000 years and has been put up on our mental if not physical shelves to be disregarded and a dust collector at best. Many people have simply not tried to place their confidence in everything Jesus did or said. And we are part of a society, which is pretty self-absorbed whereby life, the way we decide to live it, is just fine. THAT would be a religion created in our own image, a religion that we take off the shelf every once in a while, blow the dust off and look for the self-help section.

But not so with Jesus. In every aspect of life Jesus claims Lordship and he calls for our devotion not because he is an egomaniacal dictator but because as God he knows what’s best for his creation.

People say that Christianity is a ‘weak’ religion. I say that dying to self takes more ‘guts’ than to live by any other code. And what is so incredibly reassuring about it is that we don’t have to go it alone.

Grace and Peace

george

WE HAVE BEEN LIED TO

 

Call it Satan, evil, powers of darkness or even ‘the secular world’. There is a lie out there that says God doesn’t intimately love or care for his creation particularly his children. It is a lie initiated in the ‘garden’ when Adam and Eve were told there was something more, something better than God. It is a lie perpetuated by people today who point to events in the world, atrocities, natural disasters, disease and humanity’s inhumanity to one another and say this can’t happen under the watch of a good God or a powerful God. It is a lie that would turn our eyes away from God and turn our hearts to the affection of others and other things. It has all the markers of the ‘accuser’ who wants to thwart God’s people away from confident, trust and praise to God. It is an evil from the pit of hell that tried even to distract Jesus from his purpose on Earth when he was in the wilderness faced by satanic forces, tempted to think that God some how doesn’t know how to restore earth, or has left earth on its own.

God’s greatest power is love and he will do anything to convey that love to his creation. He will even allow his creation to groan in order that people will seek and find him. He is near to the brokenhearted not the proud. The lie tells us to be strong in ourselves, to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, to do it our way because we can’t trust the one we can’t see. Jesus says blessed are you who do not see and yet believe.

God is faithful, loving, gracious, kind and every other characteristic we see in Jesus. God is also holy and God knows God’s plans for us and he will not be thwarted to change to accommodate humanity’s egoistic desires. God is happy with his creation because he knows how this whole thing is turning out for our good and his glory. God is saddened by the death of his creation for God’s loving heart is the origin of the love we feel for those who suffer, for a creation, which suffers.

God is good which means that his virtue is impeccable, without sin. Jesus came to prove amidst suffering and sinfulness that God intends good for his creation and will go to any lengths to bring us into community with him now and for all eternity. In some respects we can no more understand the goodness and love of God than a child in the womb can fathom what a parent’s care will be like. The Apostle Paul writes to one of the churches saying that he longs for Christ to be formed in them with all the pains and groaning of a mother giving birth to a child. (Galatians 4:19)

It’s like that with suffering. Until we grasp Christ ‘in us’ we cannot know the complete love of the Father. When Christ dwells inside of us we will know God like Jesus knew his Father, even when Jesus was in agony and felt forsaken and was dying. There is a verse in Colossians which says that Christ being in us is the hope of glory.’ Colossians 1:27.  That means that the life of Christ in us will allow us to see the radiance, splendor, joy and salvation of God.

Now, don’t expect that such revelations happen easily. It is a journey of a lifetime to discover the Christ in you and me. It is a journey worth the taking. We have seen others take that journey, a path that often leads through suffering, that of our own or watching the agony of loved ones or even from a distance seeing it in the world but it is a journey that God places us on when we place our confidence in him. He is doing the work of forming Christ in us as our own will allows. He will not force. His love is patient and long-suffering and there will be times when we feel left alone, angry, shamed but He promises to allow us to see the glory, maybe a glimpse here and there, maybe a flash of insight, a moment of forgiveness, maybe a radiant burst of light that overcomes all darkness. But it will come. He will not leave us nor forsake us. The history of faithful Christians bears that witness. And when the life of Christ grows ever more present in us we will become like him, we will live his life in this world. We will say like the Apostle Paul, ‘it is no longer I who live this life but Christ living in me.’(Galatians 2:20)

It will be sometimes a tortuous journey, sometimes exhilarating but it moves forward, onward, and upward. It is an eternal journey, which begins now.

 

ANGER ON THE HIGHWAY (second in a series on Road Grace)

Recall that Jesus told his disciples that not only were they NOT to commit murder they were further instructed to NOT be angry with those who were close to them nor were they to insult their neighbor. See Matthew 5:21,22.

So come with me as we get into our 3600-pound car and learn something about anger on the highways of life. Because out there on the streets you will have plenty of opportunity to observe anger even, your own which is what we are here most concerned about.

Let’s do some defining of this word anger. It means to be indignant or enraged. It is the ego’s reaction when anything outside threatens to trespass on the property of the self. It is a kind of contempt for another person’s words or actions. Oh, you can be frustrated because you can’t do a job and be said to get angry but the anger we are discussing here is a reaction to another’s actions or words. See it’s YOUR car, YOUR right to drive, YOUR space that needs to be respected and YOUR power that no one should attempt to thwart.

You are riding down the road doing the speed limit but some big ole SUV comes up behind you to infer that you need to ‘move it buddy’. Oh, yeah, that can provoke some contempt and words like ‘jerk’, ‘idiot’ and worse might come to your mind.  And because of your pride, if you have a friend riding with you, you might say, ‘watch how I deal with these kind of people’, at which point you brake suddenly for the imaginary moose that just ran out in front of you. There, that will show him or her not to fool with me.

Then there are the times when a person might cut in front of you provoking your thoughts to be, ‘people like that really make my blood boil.’ That’s anger, and revenge might just seem justifiable. And the list of similar experiences goes on.

Now, you might be thinking, what does all this have to do with following Jesus’ words, his commands about anger? Good question. The answer is that rage on the highway translates into rage in relationships. If we are the kind of people who get angry with someone on the road we might well have our tempers flare up at other provocations. Think of what causes you to get angry with your spouse, child, co-worker, and neighbor.

What I am suggesting is that out there on the highway, down the streets of life is the opportunity to address this anger, be more conformed to the life of Christ that is already in you.  Remember Paul wrote that is it no longer we who live this life but Christ who lives in us. See Galatians 2:20.

So the first thing we will have to do is recognize our egos, our prideful selves, our power and the temptation to easily be angered.  Identify that inclination even before you get on the highway. Review in your mind’s eye the times you have been angry on the roads of life and never mind justifying those incidents. Instead say to that ‘self’, that ego: “You are not helping me”. “You feel good but you are no good.” ‘Now get outta here, go away.’ See you can talk to your ‘self’. You really can. As a child of God, a follower of Christ and a spiritual person you have the power to stand back and address the self that inside of you, a self that needs power and prestige. A self that does not like humility does not see humility as an answer to anything. Watch some of the FAST AND FURIOUS movies and see how good revenge and power feels. These movies are meant to feed the ego. They sell better that way.

Secondly you, and I, are going to want to pray that as we use our one ton, two ton vehicle or more if you are an over the road truck driver, pray that you will have a calm spirit. You might want to write Psalm 46:10 over your visor, BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD. The ‘I’ there is not referring to you or me. How about Psalm 37:8 ‘refrain from anger’.

See getting rid of anger takes discipline, spiritual disciplines.  Even taking a defensive driver course can be a spiritual discipline of saying, ‘Lord, I am doing this to be more like Christ out there on the highway and thus more like Christ in every daily living situation.

You might need a mentor, someone with whom you drive that lovingly holds you accountable. “George, you need to calm down. Let’s pull over here and take a break. George, you really don’t need to keep blowing your horn. Uh, uh, the one finger wave is not the way to go. George, keep your eyes on the road while I pray for you. George you really are a great guy. You don’t need to prove anything out here on the highway.’

And finally, relax. Jesus isn’t giving us new laws so that we can declare how righteous we are by how little we get angry on the highway. Work with him, drive with him. If you fail then forget it and get on with the next situation that will present itself for your improvement.  Eventually you and I will be less angry out there and in other circumstances and relationships as well.

So start your engines.

GRACE ON MAIN STREET

For a long time I have wanted to write a book or a study guide called ROAD GRACE. It’s a counter title to what is otherwise known as Road Rage. I am thinking that my life on the roads and highways of life can actually be a training ground for my life with Jesus. Stay with me now. I believe that most of what Jesus told us to do in living the life of a disciple can be practiced out there on the streets of my town, the interstates, and just about anywhere my car can travel. So I have decided on this blog to begin my writing in hopes that maybe some of you will respond, offer suggestions from your own experience, or make a critique of the content.

Let me give you one example of what I am thinking. There is a little road in my village called Love Lane, aptly named for this experiment. Remember that Jesus told us not to make a show of our good deeds and not to let our right hand know what our left hand was doing. These are his instructions for having a humble attitude about our works and our giving. You can find this in the Sermon on the Mount. So I am riding down Love Lane and this person starts to cross the street in front of me. Mind you, there is no crosswalk where he is but I stop and gesture to him to go ahead and cross. I want to be kind. I then wait for some type of response, some acknowledgment or thanks for my kindness. And then it hits me. Was I doing my good deed to be kind or to be noticed? Why do I need to feel rewarded? Jesus said to do things in secret and my heavenly Father would reward me in secret. It is sort of between God and me.

That day on Love Lane I learned a valuable lesson about my ego, my pride, my need for attention. I confessed my sin and made a vow that from now on when I come to a similar situation I will simply do what I think is a kindness and not wait for any response. I am not owed that. See? In relationships of caring for another I want to do my best to love without thinking the person owes me anything for my action or words. I do what I do because I love God and want to love my neighbor, the one who is crossing the street or the one I live with. I want to empty the dishwasher in my house without needing a pat on my back for my kindness. God loves me. Jesus walks with me and I am doing just fine. Ok, there are times when I look to see if someone acknowledges that I let him or her cross the little street. Hey, I fall. But I get up and try again by the grace of God. And I will get it right eventually. So there you go. Road Grace. Every day there is some opportunity to practice the Christ life on the highways of life. More to come. Thanks for reading.