The Protection of Grace

chainlink-690503__340

We live in a world that can be graceless! We are told that “You get what you deserve” and “There’s no such thing as a free lunch!” There is also a sense of entitlement that rears its head as well. It can become easy to think that because of who we are or what we have accomplished that we have certain privileges that others do not. After all, we have earned it.

It can be dangerous to live amidst gracelessness as we can slowly become “discipled” into being merciless. Instead of people who are give grace, we become people who demand more from others and are quick to judge when they don’t do their part. We forget about our own short-comings and only look at the faults in others.

So what do we do? I think we have to continue to immerse ourselves in the truth about ourselves and the reality of how much we need grace. If we don’t, we will end up like the Pharisee who went to the temple to pray. “God,” he prayed, “I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12)

How righteous this man was. Much more righteous than the poor tax collector that happened to be in the temple praying at the same time (notice his allusion to him in his prayer: “even like this tax collector”). This religious leader had earned his right standing before God and others. And he had worked hard for it. But he had become blind to his own need. He was good at comparing himself with others, especially this tax collector, but he had forgotten his own need for grace and as a result, became graceless.

We do well to realize that we are in daily need of God’s grace and mercy. We must become like the tax collector in this story who when he came to the temple to pray, he stood in a corner, cast his eyes downward, beat his breast, and cried out to God for mercy. He knew he was not fit to stand before God and pray. And yet we find that he, not the religious leader, was the one who walked away “justified before God” (Luke 18:14).

It is when we understand who we are as people in need of mercy, and then dive into the grace of God, that we protect ourselves from becoming graceless people. In fact, I think understanding our daily need for grace protects us. Specifically, it protects us from at least three things…

Grace protects us from being judgmental

Our world is quick to judge others. In fact, when it comes to first impressions, scientists tell us that in takes only a tenth of a second for us to determine in our minds who that person is and how we will treat them. Like I said, we are quick to judge!

Being judgmental also carries with it the attitude that communicates that we are better than others. Remember the Pharisee and how he viewed the tax collector? If we are not careful, we can become like him, look down our nose at someone else and say things like: “I can’t believe he would do that.”

I believe that self-righteousness is the most dangerous sin. And it’s probably why Jesus addressed it so often with the religious leaders of his day. As we come to think that we are beyond the grace of God, we become people who wonder why people can’t live up to our level of goodness. And we judge them for not doing so.

Grace protects us from being separated from others.

When we think we are better than those around us, we generally don’t associate with them. Or if we do, we have such a “holier than thou” attitude that no one wants to be around us. The reality is that we have just as many problems as everyone else. Just because we sin differently than others doesn’t mean our sin isn’t as serious. It’s amazing how I am quick to notice others with huge sin problems while only viewing myself as struggling with a few bad habits.

The danger of being separate is that you can’t love people from a distance. And they can’t see that you, too, are human. The reality is that we are like everyone else in that we all want to be loved and accepted for who we are. And our deepest need for love can only be met by God Himself who created us in His love.

Grace protects us from ungratefulness.

When we understand what God has done for us in and through Christ, and how wonderful our salvation really is, we become grateful people. I like the words of Martin Lloyd-Jones when he wrote:

Do you habitually think of your own salvation as the greatest and most wonderful thing that has ever happened to you? I will ask a yet more serious question: do you give your neighbors the impression that you have found the most magnificent thing in the world? I have a terrible fear that many people are outside the Christian church because so many of us give them the impression that what we have is something very small, very narrow, very cramped and confined. We have not given them the impression that they are missing the most glorious thing in the entire universe.

Paul, at the end of Romans 11, after he has expounded quite profoundly in all the previous chapters about the salvation we have that comes from God alone, seems to get caught up in all that he has written and can only conclude by writing:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

How amazing is the grace of God? We can’t speak enough about it and yet we must swim in it daily lest we forget our greatest need and become judgmental, aloof, and ungrateful people. Let’s continue to have the heart of the tax collector.

Quote of the Week

books-1163695__340

Service is the greatest act humans can do, as it imitates the self-giving life of God. If Jesus is the most deserving recipient, then denying ourselves and serving Jesus is the most satisfying thing we can ever do. The road may not alway be easy, but have you ever met anyone who regretted taking up their cross and following Jesus? I’ve never heard an older saint say, “You know what? I wish I had lived a little less committed to the Lord. If I had to do it over again, I would have been a bit more selfish with my time and money, especially when I was establishing my family and career. I would be better off if I had served Jesus less.”

(taken from Becoming Worldly Saints by Michael Wittmer p. 83)

What’s Forming Us?

seville-926241__340

Blaise Pascal wrote, “All men seek happiness, this is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” If this is true, then it means that we will do whatever it takes to find happiness. But our search within the creation, according to Pascal, is to no avail. We seek and seek only to come up empty. Why? Because we are searching in all the wrong places.

“The infinite abyss,” writes Pascal, “can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object.” Augustine more famously stated the same type principle when he wrote, “God, You made us for yourself and our soul will not find rest until they find rest in thee.” We were created to be loved by God. And not only were we created to be loved by Him, but we were created in His love as well. We were not designed to be apart from God.

You know the story, however. Our first parents made the decision to go it alone. And we have followed suit ever since. Now I know we know this (or at least I’m assuming most of those who are reading this do), but it seems we still seek after those things that only bring fleeting happiness. Why is this?

I have recently been reading some of James K. A. Smith’s work. In You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, he writes that we are unconsciously being lured into loving ultimately those things which in themselves were never meant to be loved so strongly. Notice that he said “unconsciously.” We are not even aware of how we are being shaped.

For Smith, our formation as humans is bigger than what we know. We are more than just cognitive beings. It’s what we love that forms us. “We become what we love,” he writes. “And you might not love what you think.” The world around us does really well at molding our hearts without us even knowing it.

One example for Smith of how the world forms us is in the area of consumerism. Consider the mall experience or the commercials we watch. These things go after our heart, not just our minds. They show us that to have the good life you need to own this product or buy this experience. And it’s all so subtle. Personally, I think we know that having the new iPhone won’t lead us to the promised land, and yet we have to have it (not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with getting a new phone…I think).

So what do we do? Smith argues that we need to see through the “liturgies” of the world around us. And how do we do this? One way is through story. Though the “consumerism story” can be quite appealing, there is a better story. A story that brings ultimate fulfillment. We know it as God’s story. And we must let it rewrite the story that our world tells us.

To have our story rewritten according God’s story, however, involves more than just our minds. It involves our bodies. Smith writes that the “practices of the church are a spiritual workout, inviting us into routines that train our heart muscles, our fundamental desires that govern how we move and act in the world.” Our days must be spent adjusting our lives to God’s word in obedience. It is the actions of obedience that move our hearts and cause greater belief.

I’m still thinking through much of what I’ve written in the paragraphs above. As a result, you may read more of what I’m plodding through in later posts. But until then, let’s dive into The Story and let it redirect what we do and therefore, change what we love.

4 Thoughts About Everyday Evangelism

meetings-1149198__340

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth, when Christ asked Peter and Andrew to follow Him, he told them that as they did so, He would make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Later on, near the end of Jesus’ time on earth, Jesus told his disciples that “just as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21) He would also pray to His Father that “as you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

I think we understand what Jesus was telling His disciples about what it means to follow Him. We know that we are a sent people into the world who are to be “fishers of men.” We can quote the “Great Commission.” We get this stuff! Knowledge is not our problem (or at least it’s not mine). Ed Stetzer, commenting about the Transformational Discipleship study he helped to conduct, writes:

We asked 3,000 protestant churchgoers how many times they had personally shared with another person how to become a Christian. Sixty-one percent said that they had never shared their faith. Zero times. Forty-eight percent said they hadn’t invited anyone to church during that period of time.

Again, it’s not a knowledge problem, it’s a problem of praxis. Somehow we need to move what we know to do and become to the area of daily living. The key is that we just have to start doing it. We have to develop the practice of sharing the gospel with others (more could be written about this in regards to developing habits and virtue). So where do we start? I believe it needs to begin in your ordinary everyday life. Therefore, consider these four things…

Prayer

I hope you realize the importance of prayer. Consider the following quotes by N.T. Wright in his book Simply Good News:

Prayer is standing between the one true God and his world, becoming a place where the love of this God and the life of this world (and especially the pain of this world) are somehow held together.

Prayer is part of the larger vocation in which we humans are supposed to be bringing God’s love to bear on his world.

Do we see prayer as a part of our “vocation?” Do we really understand that prayer is where we battle for the souls of those around us to connect them to the love of God?

So who are you praying for? Are you praying for those around you? Do you have a list? Do you write down names daily of people you encounter? If not, start today. Buy a small notebook or start plugging in names into your phone. Regardless of how you do it, begin praying specifically for those around you. And pray that God will awaken them to His love and grace!

Presence

Wherever you are, be all there. Practice the presence of people. Turn off technology and realize who is around you. Don’t be in such a rush everywhere you go. The reality is that you probably come into contact with many people each day that you might not even be aware of. As I’ve written before, we see people as either scenery, machinery, or ministry. So how do you see those around you?

Being present is being incarnational. In our hurried up world, can you imagine how refreshing we could be to others if we slowed down to be present among them? Can you imagine how life-giving we could be if we slowed down enough to listen to people? I believe people are starving to be heard.

Proclamation

You have to speak! Now I’m not talking about preaching at others. What I mean is that you have to converse about the gospel. But if you are praying for others and if you are present among them with a listening ear, you might find more open doors to begin talking about God than you thought imaginable. But you do have to be willing to speak.

The key is to be who you are. Talking with others about Christ is not about having a certain type of personality. Don’t turn into your pastor when you start sharing the gospel. I’m sure there is nothing wrong with your pastor, but you are not him. Be yourself. Be honest. Be caring.

Perseverance

Keep going. Be faithful. Don’t stop praying for those around you. Don’t stop caring for someone. Don’t give up. It might be years before you see something happen in a particular person’s life, but keep trusting that God is working. Stay committed. I think this is especially hard for us in our world of having everything “on demand.” But stay the course!!!

Begin today! Don’t put it off. Start praying now. Make a list. Pay attention to who is around you. And be open to where God is working. Start a conversation. Take a risk. And keep going.

Quote of the Week

 

books-768426__340

The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even to know the sun has set at all), to whiz through our obligations without time for a mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life.

(quote from Sabbath by Wayne Muller found in The Power of Full Engagement, p. 39)

5 Things Churches Can Say To High School Graduates

hats-657140__340

It’s graduation season which means it’s time for graduation speeches. Many of them sound the same. “Pursue your dreams!” “Don’t ever give up…EVER!!!” And of course, Winston Churchill is quoted often using a quote from a graduation speech he gave in 1941. “Never give in,” he said. “Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

The similarity in each one is really okay with me however. Granted, there are a few speeches each year that are noted for their peculiarity (consider Joss Whedon’s speech to Wesleyan University where his opening was “What I’d like to say to all of you is that you are all going to die.”). But even in the ones that seem strange, the message continues to be one of inspiration. And rightly so.

I’ve never been asked to give a graduation speech. And if I am ever asked, I’m not sure what I would say, but it would be short. I realize that people who attend a graduation are not that interested in the graduation speaker. They want to see their son, daughter, grandchild, brother, sister, or friend walk the stage. I would not want to delay that process any longer than necessary.

However, though I have not given a graduation speech, I have spoken several times to high school graduates in a church setting. “Senior Sunday” is fairly popular in churches where I live and I’m glad it is. Any time we can encourage others to continue in the faith is a good thing. And “Senior Sundays” are those type events where we can do so.

I always wonder what to say at “Senior Sundays”, however. Or maybe I should say that I have problems finding what not to say. Since I work on a college campus and meet hundreds of high school graduates each year, I have a lot of thoughts, but I have realized that not everyone cares about the things I think they should care about. So what do I say? Well, this year, in order to be concise, I have come up with a list of just 5 things. Here they are…

  1. Let THE STORY continue to write YOUR STORY!!!!

THE STORY is the gospel. It is the story that God created you for His love, by His love, and in His love. And that love never stops. It didn’t stop when Adam and Eve disobeyed. And His love is most evident when we look at the cross. It is by the cross that we see that God seeks us, forgives us, and reestablishes our relationship with Him so that we can once again be who we were created to be. This is THE STORY.

2. Remember that your faith in God is a journey.

Life is pretty daily. And it can also be mundane and even boring at times. But it’s all part of the journey. Your walk with God will be a series of ups and downs. There will be times when God seems so present that you think you can reach out and touch Him and there will also be times when you wonder where He went? There will be times of happiness, joy, grief, and disappointment. This is life on this earth. But continue the journey and remember THE STORY.

3. Don’t go it alone!!!!

Enter a group that will encourage, challenge, equip, strengthen, and spur you on to keep THE STORY central in your life. This involves attending church, but it’s bigger than just attending. It’s allowing people to push you as you walk through life. It’s about being discipled by others while learning to make disciples yourself.

4. Wherever or whenever you are, be all there!

It’s easy to keep looking to the next big thing. We must remember however, that life is lived in the “meantime.” It’s today!” What you are doing today, though it might be preparation for the future, is still a moment to be lived in the now. Don’t rush. Wake up to see where God has you. Remember to live in God’s Story!

5. Love people!

This was the mantra of my grandfather. He loved people! And others knew it. Love is the most powerful force in the world. It’s what everyone is craving. Everyone wants to be loved for who they are regardless of what they have done.

So that’s it! Pretty simple and probably not unique compared to all that will be said in the next few weeks during “Senior Sundays.” But that’s okay and good. We continue to need to encourage everyone, not just High School graduates, with these words!

Are You Ready To Be A Neighbor?

row-houses-196105__340

“Who exactly do I have to be nice to? I do want to be obedient to God and treat others right, I just want some confirmation as to who all this includes. And by the way, I think I’m doing pretty well at being kind to others, I just want to hear it from you. Bottom line: Who is my neighbor?”

And so with the question “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told a story (Luke 10:25-37). For us it’s a familiar story, but for the lawyer who was seeking to prove to Jesus how good he really was, it was shocking. This lawyer, who was hoping to trick Jesus, was wanting a simple answer. “Just tell me who my neighbor is,” he most likely thought, “so I can show you how loving I really am.” But Jesus’ story didn’t exactly offer the affirmation for which this young lawyer was looking.

“There was a man who was going from Jerusalem to Jericho,” began Jesus. “As he was walking, he fell among robbers who stripped him, beat him, stole his money, and left him almost dead. A priest happened to be traveling by and when seeing this man, he passed by on the other side. A Levite also was traveling on this road and when he saw this man, he did the same as the priest and passed him by. BUT A SAMARITAN, when he saw this man, he had compassion for him. He helped him up, began to take care of his wounds, put him on his mule, carried him to the closest inn, and paid for him to stay there until he regained his strength. So who was the neighbor?”

We know from Scripture what the lawyer said (see Luke 10:37), but I wonder what he was thinking. He had to be shocked that a Samaritan was actually the neighbor. How could that be? The Samaritans were not respected at all by the Jews. They were the outcasts and the outsiders and yet in this story, it was the Samaritan who satisfied the requirements of the law.

Plus, this lawyer might have thought that what the priest and the Levite did by passing by was not that bad. After all, they didn’t know who this injured man was. Was he another Jew? They really couldn’t tell since he was all beaten up and stripped naked. And so it probably wasn’t their responsibility. Neighbors are only other Jews, not Gentiles. Plus, what if he’s dead? To touch a dead body would mean defilement. It would be too risky to get involved. They had temple responsibilities.

The problem this lawyer had, along with the rest of us, was that he was more interested in who his neighbor was than in being a good neighbor. He wanted to draw a circle around those in whom he had “neighborly responsibility.” He was ready to help those in whom he was willing to help. There were parameters. Not everyone is a neighbor, right?

The point of Jesus story is not “Who is your neighbor?”, but “Are you ready to be a neighbor?” Helmut Thielicke writes that “we cannot go and do and love, if we stop and ask first, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ The devil has been waiting for us to ask this question; and he will always whisper into our ears only the most convenient answers.” Instead, he writes, “we need to ask ‘To whom am I a neighbor? Who is laid at my door? Who is expecting help from me and who looks upon me as his neighbor?'”

So who’s around you? Do you see them? This is the the starting point. It begins with the eyes. And don’t just look for people stranded on the road. They are easy to spot. Look for those we tend to overlook. What about the person at the drive through window who is rude? What about the check-out clerk at your local grocery store who seems lethargic about moving you through the line? Maybe they need a neighbor.

The reality is that we all need a “neighbor.” We talk about loving others, but until we realize that we have the greatest of all neighbors, our love will be short-lived. It is Jesus who has found us. He is our greatest neighbor. He saw us abandoned and half-dead on the side of the road. And yet he picked us up. He healed us. He brought life. He loved us. And so we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). All our love for others is found in the love that God has for us. This is where being a neighbor begins!

So are you ready to be a neighbor today?

Quote of the Week

books-1163695__340

God is at work in all the places we already inhabit. He is bigger than the arena of our own immediate church programs and ideas about evangelism. He is a prodigal God recklessly working in people and situations of all types. If we truly believe God is at work in the world, we must take the time to pay attention, listen, and discern what God is doing in the lives of those around us.

( taken from Prodigal Christianity by David Fitch & Geoff Holsclaw, p. 29.)