Tag Archives: grace

Swooping or Lurching?

“I’m doing it! I’m doing it!”  The child sits atop his first bike, exploding with joy and excitement.  No more trike for this guy; he’s graduated into the “big kid,” two-wheeler world.  Except, he really hasn’t.  There’s training wheels back there, firmly holding him upright.  He may think he’s “doing it” but he really isn’t.  He’ll find that out when he tries to take a corner at speed and topples over.  Training wheels are poorly named.  They give a false sense of security and make learning to really ride impossible.  Really riding requires learning to develop and control a sense of balance.  Really riding means gracefully swooping through the curves, not lurching back and forth from one training wheel to the other.

Like the kid who thinks sitting on a bike with training wheels is riding, are those who think being a Christian means being held upright by a strict set of rules.  But that isn’t it at all.  Rules give a false sense of security that fails when you hit the tight curves at speed. Real “riding” with Christ is about gracefully swooping through the curves, leaning on faith, not lurching back and forth from one “thou shalt not” to another.  That common misperception causes some to reject Christianity as restrictive and boring. It causes others to think “I’m doing it” when in fact they are not. 

The analogy breaks down here because, when someone places their faith in Jesus, a mysterious and powerful change happens.   The Holy Spirit comes alive within their soul. A living Presence, He gives guidance and strength.  The initial act of faith in Jesus becomes a dynamic, continual process of trusting and following His Spirit.  It’s a learning process, one which may be a bit tentative and jerky at first.  Swooping comes with practice. But, just like learning to ride a bike, it does come.

That is, if you don’t put those training wheels back on. That’s why this reminder is given in the “handbook:”

Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh [That is, by following the “training wheel” rules]? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? ( Galatians 3:3-5 – with my explanation in brackets)

No Small Thing

If I told you how God intervened in my life a couple of days ago, you might think I was gullible or naive.  It was a simple little thing – (OK, it had something to do with hubcaps) – nothing like parting the Red Sea.  But I know Who pulled it off.  I call those brief encounters with God’s grace, winks.  He winks at me and lets me know He’s there and He cares.

Have you ever thought a situation you faced was too small to trouble God with, too silly for prayer?  Consider: Is there anything you face that isn’t small to God?  Check out these words of Jesus:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.   So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  –  (Matthew 10:29-31)

God invites us, through Jesus, into an intimate relationship, in which we walk together through the circumstances of life. As we do, we are humbled to discover God cares about how we are doing – even about the “little” things

Knowing He cares makes the tough experiences more “doable.”  Jesus spoke those words as He told His followers not to be afraid to tell people about Him, even in the face of physical violence.  Because God cares and He intervenes or not, depending on what is best.

A Greeting and Blessing

When someone is hurting and you do not know what to say, there are two good words that work pretty well.  They were commonly used as greetings in Bible letters but were filled with sincerity and deep meaning.  I’m talking about “grace” and “peace.”

Like this: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father.” (Colossians 1:2b, and more than a dozen other places)

The first word, grace, is a prayer that God would bestow upon you, by His grace, all the things that in your heart would really help. The second word, peace, is a continuation of that prayer, that God’s grace will have its full effect on your inner being.

The problem with knowing what to say when someone is suffering is we don’t really know exactly what will help.   If we say, “I know how you feel,” it is frequently received by the person who is suffering as yet another wound.  They silently protest, “How could anyone possibly know how I feel when I can hardly work it out myself?”.  But God truly knows  and also how to help.  By His grace He can restore peace.  The heaviness of heart is lifted. Anxious thoughts are soothed away.  Sorrow is held and gentled.  Fear is replaced with hope. And all this by God’s perfect grace and peace.

So, try saying, ” Grace and peace to you from God.” And mean it.

Powerfully Gentle

“He could pick a scab off a baby’s bottom with that thing!”  The guy was talking about a skilled heavy equipment operator on the highway crew where I was working for the summer.  It really was impressive to watch how he controlled the massive power of that giant machine with precision and such a light touch.  In his hands, that great power was gentle.

That sounds like an oxymoron to say powerfully gentle.  We tend to think, powerfully destructive.  The most powerful thing humans have created was anything but gentle.  It was the Tsar Bomba, a nuclear bomb, tested by the Russians in 1961.  It’s power was 1500 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  Anything but gentle.

How much power does God have?  The sun puts out 1800 million times more energy than the Tsar Bomba – every second!  How many other suns are there? Scientists say around 400 billion, billion others.  That’s not a typo.  400 billion, billion suns, millions of times more powerful than the Tsar Bomba.  And that’s just in the observable part of the universe…   The Creator of all that has power surpassing the sum of all of them.  And yet, God controls His power with amazing delicacy, gentleness and precision.

“See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:10-11)

That’s a description of God’s unlimited power, unleashed with tenderness.  For sure, God has the power to lay waste to whole nations.  He could smash you flat with His fist.  But when we open our hearts to Him, His power is shown to us with gentleness.  If you let Him, God can pick the scabs off your heart with amazing precision and tenderness.

PS:  Check out this sermon from Charles Spurgeon, published in 1916: (Click Here)


Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Working for a Living

When you die, what’s going to happen to you?  Most people answer, “I hope I go to Heaven.”  If asked why they would, most will say, “I’m a pretty good person; I’ve tried to be good all my life …  well, most of my life…  there was that one period there when things went a bit haywire, but really, for most of my life I’ve lived by a pretty good standard of right and wrong.”  But when Jesus was asked straight out what it would take, asked by a guy who had really worked hard to follow God’s laws, Jesus told him he wasn’t qualified, at least not yet. (Matthew 19:16-22)

In fact, Jesus said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a guy like that to get into Heaven.  The disciples were bewildered.  They were asking, “If that guy doesn’t make the cut, who can?”  Same question each of us asks.  Will I make it?  Have I done enough?

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”” (Matthew 19:26)

Jesus freaked them out more by saying, many of the people you might think would be at the front of the line to get in to Heaven are going to find themselves at the back of the line.  He illustrated the point with a weird parable about a man with a large vineyard going down to “Labor Ready” to hire some guys to work.  He went early in the morning and then several more times during the day.  But at the end of the day, he paid everyone the same amount, even the ones who had only worked an hour.  And they got paid first.  He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like that.”

Huh?  That goes against everything we’ve learned about being rewarded for working hard.  The guy who had really been trying to do the right thing, who really wanted to know, “what do I have to do,” wasn’t fit to get in! And Jesus seemed to imply everyone who does make it receives the same reward no matter how much or little they have worked for it.  Does that leave you with any questions?

That whole section of Matthew (19:16 – 20:16) is connected.  Read through it and you will notice that Jesus invited the man to follow Him, something he was unwilling to do.  In the parable, every one of the workers got the same reward, not because they had worked the same amount but because they had each agreed to go with the landowner.  The landowner, Jesus said, gave each of them the same amount because he was “generous.”

Getting into Heaven is not about working for it, but rather agreeing to follow Jesus.  It’s about being welcomed in with Jesus by the generosity of The Father.  This runs counter to a deep conviction we have.  We think, “This doesn’t seem right; there has got to be some work involved.”

Quite right.  There was some work necessary.  Here is the next 3 verses in Matthew:

” Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”” (Matthew 20:17-19)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

When You’re Ready

My wife and I got mugged in Savannah, not physically but verbally, by a guy holding a sign and yelling Bible verses at us.  He literally followed us down the street, trying to “save” us by forcing Scripture on us.  He probably thought he was earning brownie points from God.  I was annoyed.  More than that, I was frustrated, wondering how many people he had chased away from God’s grace that day.  If you get accosted by someone shoving God or the Bible down your throat, don’t fight back; run away.  Because God doesn’t work that way.

It’s not that God doesn’t care; He really does.  Jesus’ brother, James, wrote of how God intensely yearns for His Spirit to live in us, just as He intended.  (That is my rough and loose paraphrase of James 4:5)  God is passionate that we be restored to the fullness of spiritual life by having His Spirit alive in us.  He wanted that for us so much He paid a terrible price to accomplish it.

BUT HE DOES NOT FORCE HIMSELF ON US!  He waits for us to be ready.  James continued his thought with this:

“But He [God] gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 – my explanation in brackets)

“The proud” in that verse are those who think they have life figured out on their own and who have no use for God.  He waits.  Stuff happens.  Sometimes “the proud” become “the humble.”  In the words of Bob Dylan (Like a Rolling Stone)

You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal

When “the proud” become “the humble,” when they are ready to receive Him, then God approaches.  With grace.  Not with loud, angry shouting.  He sent His Son to find you and rescue you.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)

Jesus invited people to come to Him and find rest, saying He was “gentle and humble in heart.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

I remember seeing a video on Facebook about a guy who rescued an abandoned, starving dog.  The dog was aggressive, unwilling for anyone to approach but the guy just sat there and waited him out.  After a long time, when the dog was ready to receive it, the man gave him “more grace” – care, nourishment, healing and a new life.  There was no yelling involved, no signs, no scolding.  It was very much like my own experience with God, Who waited until I was not so full of myself.  Then, when I was ready to receive His grace, without holding anything against me, He gave me the life of His Son, Jesus.

He waits for you, too.

Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Like a Rolling Stone lyrics: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/rolling-stone#ixzz3UwbEdylf

Woot, Woot!

The red and blue twirly lights came on just past Fort Donelson, as we drove down along the Cumberland River in Tennessee.  I eased our 25 year old RV to the curb, rolled down my window and waited.  As the officer approached, I said, “Is this a Colorado marijuana stop?”  “Not yet,” he said with a laugh.  “i clocked you going 40, coming down that hill into town.”  You know what always comes next: you hand over the paperwork and then sit there, drumming your fingers on the steering wheel and wondering what’s coming as this sick feeling begins to grow in your stomach. My guess was 4 points and 150 bucks.  After what seemed like a very long time, he came strolling back from his cruiser, hitching up his pants and adjusting his hat.  Didn’t look good…  “Well sir, I’m going to give you a warning this time.  Please drive more slowly and y’all have a nice day.”  Do you remember what that feels like?  The sudden, unexpected rush of freedom and joy?  Woot, woot!

Be honest: If you owed $150 for every time you drove over the speed limit in your life, how much would you owe?  How about for just last week?  Justice demands that we pay the full amount.  Grace, the kind of grace I received from a cop in Tennessee, treats you as though you had obeyed the law completely.  We all know justice is good.  But grace is better!   What if you had to pay the full and just penalty for everything you ever did that was not good?  Hmmm….

Psalm 32 begins like this:

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2)

The first phrase is grace.  God will let you off (with a warning!) and treat you as though you had obeyed the law completely.  But notice that the second phrase says our “sins are covered.”  By Whom? This ancient psalm foretells the sacrifice of Jesus!  He will “cover” the cost for our sins.  Having done so, He will also cover over our sins, as though we had never sinned.  Amazing!  And “blessed!”  Woot, woot!

But notice, the last phrase, which talks of the one in “whose spirit is no deceit.”   As you read further in Psalm 32, you discover that David is talking about one who openly confesses his sins to God, with no holding back, no deceit.  The process of surrender to Jesus, by which we are given the full pardon of grace, includes heartfelt, honest acknowledgement to God of our shortcomings and moral failures.  We don’t pretend that we deserve the grace He offers.  We come “without one plea.”  But that confession (which becomes a continual part of our relationship) clears the air.  We have no secrets and live, fully aware of just how much we need grace.

Woot, woot!

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

A Better Bargain

Budweiser is scaling back on Superbowl ads this year.  Me too.  At $8 million per minute, plus production costs (roughly a million per minute), we just felt it made sense to cut back.  I hope that those of you who were looking forward to the Fresh Bread of Life commercial will not be too disappointed.

But think about how much money must be made selling beer and chips if it is worth it for them to drop $9 million or so to tell you about their product for 60 seconds!  Lots, apparently.  I read an article in Forbes that said buying a Superbowl ad is a bargain.

Maybe so, but here’s a better one:

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Just Come

He was in the classic, dropped-a-contact-lens posture, kneeling with his hands on the ground but his face pressed into the dirt.  His lips moved as he chanted what I suppose was a prayer.  When he stood up, he took one or two steps and knelt back down to do it again.  Over and over.  We observed this man on the side of a road in India.  I was told he was making his way for many miles to the steps of a temple.  It was an act of penance and devotion.  This is a very common concept in religion – doing something to work your way to being good enough.  Jumping through the right hoops so God will accept you.  Some penitents go on pilgrimages.  Some make extravagant sacrifices.  Some repeat ritual prayers.  Some do painful things to their bodies.  The goal is always the same: doing enough to be accepted.  Measuring up.

Here’s what you have to do to be accepted by Jesus:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)


Revenge (or Not)

You would never have heard of the Hatfields and McCoys if either of those families believed Jesus. Lots of folks say they believe in Jesus; they just don’t believe Him, especially when He says things like this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’** But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

It’s understandable for people to doubt that teaching. The urge to get revenge is so deeply seated in us and feels so satisfying, that Jesus’ teaching seems preposterous. I would guess that no other theme has been more predominant in movies than the one in which the good guy finally gets tasty revenge over the bad guy. And yet Jesus says, don’t do it. Instead, make a decision to not resist.

Jesus isn’t talking about cowering in fear. He means for us to turn the tables on our adversary, by responding generously to his hurt or his need. He continued with this:

“And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:40-42)

These teachings go together; the same Spirit that governs and enables the second part, also informs and directs the first. Without that Spirit, they seem ridiculous and are impossible to sustain. With God’s Spirit, they fit together with beauty and grace. The best illustration I know of how powerful and healing such actions can be is in another movie: Les Miserables. If you have seen it, think about the gift of candlesticks to the thief, and all that ensued. In you have not seen it, there’s your homework! Do it today!

When a person recognizes Jesus as God, understands the depth and sincerity of the love He poured out on the cross, and fully trusts Him, God’s Spirit begins to live in his or her soul. As He begins to transform our minds, things like not taking revenge but responding to an evil person with grace and understanding, that made no sense before, now seem not only beautiful, but also possible.