MORE TRAGEDY IN HAITI

The news today tells of yet one more catastrophe in a country so close to our shores, a country with which I am familiar after many years of visits and ministry by our church.

A friend from Haiti wrote this morning and said, “We can’t take anymore.” But they will because the news tells us of an approaching hurricane ironically called ‘Grace’. Our friends there are becoming more hopeless.

I read an online comment this morning where someone wrote, “There but for the grace of God go we.” Not helpful and not correct. It sounds like God specially favors us because God spared us and not them.

My question is, “Where IS God in the midst of the calamities in Haiti?” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from a prison cell before his execution, “Who is Christ, actually?”. He was asking what about the Jews and others who were killed by the Nazis. The same question could be asked for our Haitian friends. Does it mean the salvation of their souls as their homes tumble down on them and their children die of disease and hunger? That’s not God’s will. That’s evil against which Christ fought and for which he died. And it’s a battle to which we are called.

We are the hands and feet of Christ to reach out to those in dire straits. We are his body and we must show that to the world. There once was a leader who called Haiti a  _____hole. But Christ calls them his beloved and God’s word says that the Lord is close to the needy and broken. And yes, of course that means anyone, anywhere. And I believe that our supernatural God takes every one of those souls into his eternal care, doing for them what we have not been able to do to give them life.

At this moment all I can do is offer my sympathy and prayer for those who suffer there and in so many parts of our world. And I know that Jesus weeps with everyone of those who hurt. He suffers with them. He dies with them. May we all offer ourselves to God in these moments.

When I first heard the song below, my heart broke. I wept.

Who Will Save The Children (Randy Stonehill)

Cry for all the innocent ones born into a world that’s lost its heart,
For those who never learn to dream because their hope is crushed before they can start,
And we shake our fists at the air and say, “If God is love, how can this be fair?”

But we are his hands, we are his voice,
We are the ones who must make the choice,
And if it isn’t now, tell me when?
If it isn’t you, then tell me who will save the children?
Who will save the children?

We count our blessings one by one, yet we have forgotten how to give,
It seems that we don’t want to face all the hungry and homeless who struggle to live,
But Heaven is watching tonight, tugging at our hearts to do what’s right.

But we are his hands, we are his voice,
We are the ones who must make the choice,
And if it isn’t now, tell me when?
If it isn’t you, then tell me who will save the children?
Save the children.

As we observe them through our TV screens, they seem so distant and unreal, but they bleed like we bleed and they feel what we feel.

Oh, save the children,
Oh, save the children,
Save the children.

Now we decide that nothing can change and throw up our hands in numb despair,
And we lose a piece of our souls by teaching ourselves just how not to care,
But Christ would have gone to the cross just to save one child from being lost.

And we are his hands, we are his voice,
We are the ones who must make the choice,
It must be now; there’s no time to waste,
It must be you; no one can take your place,
Can’t you see that only we can save the children?

READING THE BIBLE WITH GRACE-FILLED EYES

The violent character of God as presented in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, has always troubled me.  I grew up having been taught that the whole Bible is the word of God without any errors. This idea of inerrancy became sort of a doctrine one had to subscribe to within the evangelical church.

Some people raised in more fundamentalist homes and churches were taught the Bible says it and I believe it, only to discover how untenable some of that ancient stuff really is. So when God commands the slaughter of people, well we just know that God had his reasons. He was purifying the world by getting rid of the bad people. Some say that God’s ways are mysterious and we can’t know God’s will. We just accept the printed word.

People leave the faith because of answers like that. I believe we CAN understand the violence in the Old Testament but it will require a certain grace to read the scriptures differently than what we might have been taught.

Let me write this cautiously because some will be offended even though they might not know why: Not every biblical event in those ancient times was specifically from God. Much that was written interpreting God’s intent and actions was actually the way a tribal society amidst other tribal societies interpreted what God was saying and doing through them.

I know that ‘all scriptures are inspired by God,’ but not all of them are accurate portrayals of God’s character. How do we know God’s character? Through Jesus, the Christ. He was the very WORD made flesh so that we can know God. Jesus himself says at one point, ‘if you see me, you see the Father’.

So I came to a conclusion late in life that if I see something from the old stories that don’t conform to what I know about God in Jesus then at the very least I say now that the old stories are problematic and probably not accurate. I feel under no pressure to believe differently now because I have come to know the living eternal God through Christ. God’s character never changes. He is love, once and for all time. The cross is the place where love and justice meet in Christ. Our God is a merciful and forgiving God. Christ shows us that time and time again in his acts of forgiveness, healing and Godly love.

 As one evangelical writer put it, “Some biblical writers got the message wrong.” Jesus even corrects some old sayings when he speaks what we now call the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5,6, and 7. (C.S. Cowles) For example: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.” – ( Leviticus 19:18) But Jesus goes on to say, “43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” ESV.

Or take Saul, for another example. (1Samuel 16) The Bible says that God sent an evil spirit into Saul. Then look at Jesus…. He never put evil spirits in anyone he encountered but rather removed them.

So I am not troubled any more by the misunderstandings I read. Although I must be forthright and say that many churches wouldn’t want such an evangelical as me. But I want to be honest to God and I want to seek truth. And the only one who really had the truth was Jesus who himself said that he WAS the truth.

So I am reading the Scriptures with grace-filled eyes these days so I can model my life on the God I know in Jesus who gave me life and life eternal. On the Mount of Transfiguration God said to Moses and Elijah, about Jesus, “This one is my son. Listen to him.” That’s who directs my ways these days.

One more thought. A man approached a monk one day and asked, “Why does the Bible contain so many bizarre, offensive and un-Christlike depictions of God?” The monk replied, “Because God let his children tell the story.”

And so it was. The children continued to tell the story progressively until the WORD became flesh and dwelt among us and we now get to behold his glory.

So, enjoy the Scriptures. We learn much about God. And when your friends tell you they can’t believe some of the violence in the Old Testament, feel free to say, “It’s ok, I have the same trouble with it.” Then get to Jesus.

PANHANDLERS AND GRACE

I’ve been reading online comments about the people who stand on street corners asking for donations. Often it’s a family with a sign pleading for some help. The online comments usually list all the reasons why we should not give these panhandlers money.

Some say ‘they drive BMWs’ or ‘they live in nice homes’. People have actually followed them to their supposed houses. ‘They are ripping us off’, or ‘they are part of a scammer gang’, I read. ‘They use their children to play on our sympathies,’ one person suggested. ‘They should get jobs, like the rest of us’, or ‘we shouldn’t reinforce their behavior.’ And there are some good-hearted folks who suggest that people give to a rescue mission where one can know the ‘needy’ are being taken care of. Good idea.

I recall Jesus words, ‘Give to everyone who asks of you.’ (Luke 6:30). I like the MESSAGE VERSION: ‘If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.’ How many people ‘used’ Jesus for their miracles? Remember the lady who stole a miracle when she snuck up and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment? And there are still people using Jesus like a vending machine. ‘Cheap grace’ is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it.

I am embarrassed to recall an incident in NYC when a street person asked me for money and I took to the time to explain to him how he would probably use the money for drink or drugs and such. Was I a jerk or what?

Here’s what I think. Giving is good, not just to help someone but for the building of our own character of grace. It’s probably why Jesus said, ‘Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.’ (Sermon on the Mount) It means that we are not to keep track of how we give money. Certainly stewardship is a good thing. But grace is even better and it may cost us a dollar or two. Grace has even cost people their lives. That’s what happened to our Lord. If he had been more earthly sensible he would have moved to Galilee and set up shop for the rest of his life.

I’m thinking of a scene in the final judgment when God looks over my life and says, ‘George, you were so wasteful for giving $10 to that so-called family on the street corner or that supposedly homeless man who begged some money from you.’

I know that we can find some creative ways to help those in need but remember that grace comes in the giving, not in any form of judgment on our part. Listen, God knows how wasteful I have been in spending money for myself. And while I am not deliberately trying to be wasteful on ‘panhandlers’ it is a good lesson for my soul to just give ‘without asking for anything in return’.  And please let’s not judge the people who are asking. In this past year those people have been some of us.

Just maybe, out of all the money we give away in such instances, someone’s life is touched by the love of God we show. And by the way. Offer a blessing of God to those in need. You are the one who will be truly blessed.

THE WATER AUTHORITY: A PARABLE

A few weeks ago the City Water Authority where I live came to my home at my invitation. They came to inspect all my sprinklers to make sure they were efficient and they programmed the system that turns the water on and off at correct intervals for conservation and effectiveness. All this was done for free.

The whole experience was wonderful. What happened next was the best. I shared my experience with my neighbor. He was overjoyed because he was having problems with his own system. He made the call. Then I overheard him sharing the news with another neighbor and then another. The water folks are going to be busy in our neighborhood.

You could say that this was GOOD NEWS, a proclamation of what the City was doing for us. Now, here’s the thing. Let’s say my neighbor Phil listened to their recommendations, read their follow-up email….  and did nothing; told no one. Ah, but that’s not how it works.

It got me to thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if we shared the Good News of what God is doing for us with those around us? I could sound something like, ‘Guess what God is doing in my life?’ ‘Can I pray for you?’  ‘Hey, if things are going so wrong let me share where I have found some help.’ An understated, subtle comment is often more effective than a forceful evangelical approach. Heck, you could even write a little blog on the Good News. And if you are reading this and not a person of faith, then invite God into your life perhaps not knowing what to expect at first. You can discover who God is by reading one of the Gospels in the beginning of the New Testament. Listen, I never knew that the City provided their service until I read about it on a neighborhood website.

The second thing I thought about was how sometimes we receive the Good News about God and do nothing with it. God is always about reconciliation, reform, renewal and I am sure a whole lot of other ‘r’ words. The Good News is about changing the world for good by God’s grace. Grace changes everything: the way you see yourself, the way you see others and best of all the way you see God through his Son Jesus, the Messiah. God coming into our lives as Good News changes the earth… not the way we care for just our lawns but all of creation. The Good News changes the ethic, the worldview by which we live.

Now I would have loved the water authority folks to stay with me and help me day to day cause something always is going wrong with my sprinklers, but of course they can’t.. But the Good News of God is that God stays with us to repair and renew everything in our lives. Oh, sometimes the system of this world might not be able to be repaired at the moment, but the Good News is that something good can come from the brokenness.

So make the call, accept the invitation and live into the change that the Good News of God can make. A change not just in you not but also in this world that God loves so much.

I welcome your thoughts.

A REASON FOR HOPE FOR ALL- A POSSIBILITY

There is a significant amount of conversation these days about Hopeful Christian Universalism, meaning that the Bible gives us reason to believe and hope that through Christ all people will be restored and saved and enter the Kingdom. Most Christians are fine with thinking this is NOT the case and would rather trust the research and theology that has come to us mostly since the Reformation of the 1500’s.

Let’s consider the idea of judgment for a moment. I recently read a blog written by a friend from Long Island on this point: (This following is a paragraph from the blog.)

The message is clear. No matter who you are, rich or poor, known or unknown, cleric or laymen, artist or Pope, we all have the wonderful opportunity to look up and consider God in His marvelous creation. But if we do this, we must all also consider that we will all face Him in his judgment – and that is the part that many people want to forget. It is one thing to look at creation and think that God may have had a part in it, but it is quite another to think that we all are accountable to this same God.

Christians of the Evangelical sort make much of judgment, particularly final judgment which, depending on what verses we read, can be based on faith or faith and good works done in the body or how we used the talents God gave to us. This judgment, especially for unbelievers, is dark and filled with images of hellish eternal torment rendered unto us by the loving God who in Jesus told us to love our enemies.

I want to consider a passage that is most appropriate for this Holy Week. I believe it’s an alternate view. It is a Palm Sunday scene that takes place after Jesus had raised Lazarus to life. He is now in Jerusalem and at one point reflects on his imminent death. I will pick up the scripture from there: John 12:27 ff.

 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiahremains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

Now, here’s how I understand what is happening in this conversation. Jesus is speaking about his death on the cross and concluding that his death will bring about the judgment of the world. His death will bring the world into a crisis by which the love of God expressed by Jesus on the cross IS the judgment of the world that Jesus is taking into himself. Evil, sin and Satan will be defeated on the cross. Read Colossians 2:13-15 [NRSV]:

13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, Godmade you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

See, this is the work of Jesus on the cross. To forgive us all, erasing all the legal punishments against us, and disarming Satan. Some will say it’s only true for those who believe. But in verse 32 of John 12, Jesus says that he is going to draw, pull, or drag ( Greek) all people to himself.

Now we can still say that this drawing does not save, only attracts more people. But left over from my Calvin days is the idea that such drawing is a work of irresistible grace on God’s part that will ensure that all people will come to Christ. It may be in this life and it may be that it happens after this life. I picture Jesus from his throne opening his arms of love to enfold the entire world for which he died. He didn’t die just for believers. Read I John 2:2: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world.

Having written this I need to say that there are scriptures that signify a severe punishment for unbelievers (in whatever way such people are determined) but there is much in scripture that leads us to conclude that God will restore his whole creation back to himself, even through penalty after death that lasts for a season or eon. See Colossians 1:20. But many Christians don’t want to study those passages or dwell on them lest they be led astray, they think. But we want to consider the whole counsel of Scripture. The early church Fathers did. Read what they thought of hopeful universalism before the 6th century. (Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, Clement, St. Jerome and others anyone can look up.)

My point is to say that God loves his whole world and wants the salvation of all to take place; and restoration of all creation is possible through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. I believe Jesus even puts an exclamation point on that possibility by forgiving the men who crucified him. So judgment may have taken place on what we call GOOD FRIDAY, only to be affirmed by the SUNDAY RESURRECTION.

I am hopeful that the God of love revealed in Christ will do more than we think or imagine in restoring all people to him. Paul writes that God is not counting the sins of anyone in the world against them (2Cor. 5:19). To me, that’s the Good News we can proclaim in Christ. That’s the kind of love that changes peoples’ hearts.

Grace does matter.

By the way, a wonderful book to read in the above vein is THE EVANGELICAL UNIVERSALIST by Gregory MacDonald.

WE NEED A PHYSICIAN

The coronavirus has changed the way most of us think. Some didn’t pay attention when it was first announced. But most of us have now heeded the warnings and cautions and we have adjusted life accordingly. People seem to be more caring for one another. They are finding ways of making connections. Many are sacrificing their own safety to serve others.

So I got to thinking – when Jesus came into the world his message was ‘change your way of thinking because God has come into your midst to create new hope-filled life instead of the fear and enslavement you’ve been used to’. Jesus came to say that he was providing a way to God’s life. You might remember the exact wording: “Repent for the kingdom of God is here.”

Now we’ve got scientists and health providers, ‘messiahs’ if you will, telling us how to get better, stay well and enjoy life. I’m sure they soon will let us know they have figured out the way to the ‘kingdom’ of healing and wholeness. And most of us believe what they are saying is true and we are willing to follow.

As in the days of Jesus, some of our leaders turn a blind eye to these ‘messiahs’ and insist their way is best. This got me to thinking that when Jesus says he is the only way to God’s life, he wasn’t being exclusionary. He was stating a fact – that his life, death and resurrection were providing for the whole world a way of healing, hope and eternal life. He provided this for everyone.

I personally think everyone will receive, by God’s grace, the antidote to hopelessness. But a lot of folks just won’t appreciate or trust the giver of the gift and thus they will miss the very conscious new life that is being made available to them.

So when Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom is here”, he is telling us to change the way we think about love, hope, justice, forgiveness and even death. For God is healing this creation by his personal involvement. He’s changing hearts and minds. He’s on a rescue mission to show that there is a better way to live – with him.

The Sermon on the Mount is our health guide. There is a reason we call Jesus the Great Physician. He came to begin the process of healing, of reconciliation of heart and mind with God. And around the world there are emergency clinics – churches, synagogues, temples – where ‘paramedics’ are trained to care for the least.

Two-thousand years after Jesus we are still in need of the Great Physician. Maybe that’s why Jesus told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane to ‘keep an eye out and pray so that you are not distracted from the One who is able to do for you more than you can even imagine’.

 

 

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?”

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.