Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Grace - the last best word

I know I suggested reading as many as four books by Philip Yancey recently! Like you all have that kind of time on your hands! The more I thought and prayed about what God has been revealing to me lately, the more I realized that for most of us, (and the church), What's So Amazing About Grace is probably the most important of the four I suggested reading. Granted, the others can be very important for certain people or in specific situations during our lifetimes, (I'll elaborate in a moment,) but the Grace book is . . . well, as Yancey says, "The last best word."

For those of us who are in the depths of despair stemming from physical, emotional and spiritual pain, clearly Where Is God When It Hurts and/or Disappointment With God are a balm for our hearts and souls. And, The Jesus I Never Knew is good for reminding us or depicting for us for the first time, who Jesus was and is in a true sense. But, it is the Grace book that reminds us of our Lord's command to every one of us who calls Him LORD and Savior.

Someone once said, "The greatest cause of atheism today are Christians who profess Christ with their lips, then go out and deny Him by their lifestyle." Christian - adj., belonging to Christ, adherent to Christ; noun, one who belongs to Christ, one who adheres to or abides in Christ. If we call ourselves Christians, do our lives tell others who Jesus is? Do our words and actions bring honor or shame to His Name? This is truly a heavy burden to carry! We bear it (our crosses) by being yoked, (abiding in), the One who promised His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

So, the Grace book is filled with practical stories and illustrations of how we are to live out our lives in Grace, AND, how we are not to. It is full of conviction, but also full of encouragement. It is, in my opinion, the last best word for us as we actively await our Lord and Savior's coming to make all things new. I hope to include some excerpts below which really touched my heart, and spoke God's Truths for me as His child. I also hope and pray you will be inclined to investigate for yourself these truths. Of everything we try to do as Christians, dispensing Grace in love to this broken world . . . to friends and "enemies" alike is the most important outward expression of our faith. You know as well as I do that Christians are often seen being cruel and angry in settings of social controversy; gay rights issues, abortion and more. Somehow, we have to be able to honor Christ by showing love and grace in the midst of these prickly issues that the media loves to make their "front page" news.

In no specific order here are some excerpts that really rung true and often "stung" me as well:

"Grace is Christianity's best gift to the world, a spiritual nova in our midst exerting a force stronger than vengeance, stronger than racism, stronger than hate. Sadly, to a world desperate for this grace the church sometime presents one more form of ungrace."

"Grace comes free of charge to people who do not deserve it and I am one of those people. I think back to who I was -- resentful, wound tight with anger, a single hardened link in a long chain of ungrace learned from family and church. Now I am trying in my own small way to pipe the tune of grace. I do so because I know , more surely than I know anything, that any pang of healing or forgiveness or goodness I have ever felt comes solely from the grace of God. I yearn for the church to become a nourishing culture of that grace." [only by Grace, yep, I get it]

" . . . C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. "What's the rumpus about?" he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity's unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, "Oh, that's easy. It's grace." . . . "The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law -- each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God's love unconditional."

"Aware of our inbuilt resistance to grace, Jesus talked about it often. . . . Yet he never analyzed or defined grace, and almost never used the word. Instead, he communicated grace through stories we know as parables." [And, of course, he lived a life of perfect grace.]

"Ungrace plays like the background static of life for families, nations and institutions. It is, sadly, our natural human state."

Yancey states, "It grieves me that mailings from conservative religious groups read, in tone, much like mailings from the ACLU and People for the American Way. Both sides appeal to hysteria, warn against rabid conspiracies, and engage in character assassination of their enemies. In short, both exude the spirit of ungrace." I agree, and further, people on both sides of the various "culture war" issues take on the same tone. Sadly, those who call themselves Christians and should rightly look "different", can be at least as caustic as the "other side".

"If my activism, however well-motivated, drives out love, then I have misunderstood Jesus' gospel. I am stuck with the law, not the gospel of peace. . . .Jesus declared that we should have one distinguishing mark: not political correctness or moral superiority, but love."

" . . . I believe that dispensing God's grace is the Christian's main contribution. As Gordon MacDonald said, "The world can do anything the church can do except one thing: it cannot show grace." In my opinion, Christians are not doing a very good job of dispensing grace to the world, and we stumble especially in this field of faith and politics."

I'll end with this last excerpt which quotes C.S. Lewis and gets to the "heart" of the matter on a very personal level:

"Christianity has a principle, 'Hate the sin but love the sinner,' which is more easily preached than practiced. If Christians could simply recover that practice, modeled so exquisitely by Jesus, we would go a long way toward fulfilling our calling as dispensers of God's grace. For a long time, C.S. Lewis reports, he could never understand the hairsplitting distinction between hating a person's sin and hating the sinner. How could you hate what a man did and not hate the man?

"But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life -- namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I love myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things."

Christians should not compromise in hating sin, says Lewis. Rather we should hate the sins in others the same way we hate them in ourselves; being sorry the person has done such things and hoping that somehow, sometime, somewhere, that person will be cured."

I am only too aware that I cannot do this by myself. Only as Christ is formed in me, only as His Spirit is at work in me, only as my "flesh" is denied each day, can I even begin to be a vessel of Grace. To be His light and love to the world, to His Father's children, requires a constant abiding in Him. This Christian life can only be lived out in the Power of the Holy Spirit, thank God in Jesus Christ for this gift. We fight this spiritual battle one person at a time with Christ's love and grace, it's the only way we "win" the lost back for His sake. Without Grace we alienate the world from His love . . . think about it . . . that is a terrible thing for those of us who have been saved in and of that same Grace.

only by Grace . . . (it rings more true each time I write it),


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

an old cracked pot


Yes, I've said it before and many of you have probably noticed that I often sign my messages, "only by Grace." That simple act of signing off on messages and notes conceals (or maybe reveals?) a truth that becomes ever more luminescent to me as the years go by. God truly is the "God of Grace", and I capitalize Grace for the emphasis it deserves here. Patti and I have experienced God's outrageous Grace in our lives . . . we have been given what we didn't deserve, and what we deserved has been withheld by a loving Father in Heaven. We have chosen 2 Corinthians 4:7 for our touchstone verse on our little "business cards" as a constant reminder of our brokenness and God's almighty power manifested in Grace and Love.

If there is one thing I want my children to know beyond a doubt, it is that God loves each of them more than any of us can comprehend. And that that Love doesn't depend on what they do or don't do in their lives. Grace . . . it is an outrageous concept from a worldly point of view, but it is the Heart of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit . . . it best describes how that relationship at the center of the universe . . . full of Love . . . imparts that Love to each and every one of us! It is the reason I yearn to have every person I know and care about grasp that knowledge in their own mind and heart.

Recently, I have taken the time to read several books by Philip Yancey. Yancey writes with honesty and out of his own brokenness, including that which came from a dysfunctional family and church in his early years. Because of a tremendous amount of pain and suffering in lives that Patti and I have been praying for, including those in our own family, I wanted to search God's Word more intentionally for answers . . . for Grace. I went to the book of Job and others, then read Yancey's "Where Is God When It Hurts" and "Disappoint With God" for his reflections on those subjects. Then I went back into God's Word again, searching for more "answers". Always, the "why" questions are never answered in Scripture, or in honest authors reflections. For the most part, we are assured over and over again of God's omnipotence and omniscience . . . in a word, his "bigness"!

Then, I read "The Jesus I Never Knew", again by Yancey. And I discovered again, or was properly reminded that this very big God, chose to become one of us, experience all that we experience and feel . . . and then some! I was lovingly reminded that "For God so loved me that . . ." Finally, I read "What's So Amazing About Grace", which brought it all together, and which also lead me full circle back to the first book, "Where Is God When It Hurts". Where is God? He IS near, He is in our hurt, He feels our hurt . . . whether we feel Him or not, He is there. It is what we cling to when we can't "feel" Him, when we are depressed or suffering so much physical pain that we feel He has abandoned us, and yet, we just hang on doggedly to the notion that He never leaves us nor forsakes us, no matter what our minds or bodies are telling us. He is, as many bright theologians have distilled down to in their intellectual musings, the God Who loves!

When we finally come to this "knowledge", this wisdom of heart and soul . . . when we finally come "face to face" with this One Who loves us so extravagantly . . . well, it makes all the difference. We can surrender all our concerns, worries, misgivings, lack of confidence and more to this One in total Trust, and expect His Love and Grace in return. It IS what He desires for us, it is what He created us for . . . to be loved! My God You are the most beautiful Mystery!

When we come to it . . . this knowledge, this love . . . our natural, our created response is to love in and of ourselves! We desire to become like Him . . . the Father reflected in His Son . . . patience, kindness, goodness . . we desire to "reflect Jesus" to a broken world, to a broken people. We desire to be Grace in human form! It is what this world needs more than anything else, it is what is lacking in government, corporations, organizations and yes, even in, or especially in, the church! We can do it . . . by the Grace of God . . . and in the strength of the One who saves us! To be sure, we cannot do it in or of ourselves, for we too often tend to be people of ungrace. But you can be sure if you "ask" for this Grace to be manifested in your own life, if you seek it with all your heart and mind, God will be pleased to answer that prayer!

only by Grace,


P.S. I know in this "season" of my life God has granted more time to read, a passion I had as a child and am now rediscovering. And, I know many of you don't have the luxury of that "time" to engulf books by armload. However, I can recommend attempting this diet of four books by Yancey to feed your soul and spirit. I wish there was a "Reader's Digest" condensed version or package . . . .hmmm, perhaps I could do a "Cliff Notes" version myself?! May God bless you in this "season", and give you a new and fresh sense of His immense Love for you, may you know this Amazing Grace.


Wisdom and the “law” of Love . . . in the world, but not of it / an essay by Anon E Moose
Sometimes God speaks to me about holy things that are difficult for my feeble mind to grasp. I do trust His Spirit (the Spirit of Truth) to reveal things to me, but quite frequently it does not “flow” in typical human terms or structure. Forgive me if this seems disjointed or confused, but I trust as I write and put things together with his help, it will become clearer by the end.
During quiet times lately the topic of wisdom has continued to be opened up to me, (and coincidentally Patti too.) Scripture passages have led us also to other writers who have attempted to define Biblical wisdom and truth, and how we can live in the world, but not be of it. So, bear with me as I attempt to put to paper these thoughts of mine and others as prompted by the Holy Spirit.
Where to start? Probably at the beginning, that is, with the original prompting or opening, then, perhaps, it will come together as God intended? I have been reading through the Bible this year using Eugene Peterson’s version The Message. I am not “studying” inductively or otherwise, just reading it as a narrative and trying to grasp the overall “message”, (to use Peterson’s title language.) Seeing the Bible as a whole can be enlightening, giving us the broad picture or tapestry God so intricately weaves in the lives of His people and His creation.
Having recently finished Kings and Chronicles, (and having become fairly depressed and disgusted with our forefathers behavior described there,) I am finally to the “wisdom” books, and none too soon! Peterson’s introduction to this section of The Message Bible is excellent, and the following excerpt really touched my heart.
“It is fairly common among people who get interested in religion or God to get proportionately disinterested in their jobs and families, their communities and their colleagues – the more of God, the less of the human. But that is not the way God intends it. Wisdom counters this tendency by giving witness to the precious nature of human experience in all its forms, whether or not it feels or appears “spiritual.”
I have known or believed for some time that knowledge, (that is “head knowledge”), is not necessarily wisdom. In fact, it has become clear to me that the two are very different things. To put it bluntly, I have known many very intelligent people, full of incredible “head knowledge”, but lacking wisdom, or what some might refer to as “common sense”. Not that “wisdom” in the Biblical sense is merely common sense, but the reference serves to illustrate simply that there is a difference.
Jesus’ brother James was full of this Biblical wisdom, enabled by the Holy Spirit once Christ ascended and sent the Spirit to reveal all truth. While some of us think of James letter as good direction for churches, it is also an example of wisdom in action. As Peterson puts it in his introduction to James letter, “Deep and living wisdom is on display here, wisdom both rare and essential, it is skill in living.” Douglas and Tenney in their Bible Dictionary further comment that, “James’s letter is wisdom literature at its best, a clear mirror of the teaching of Jesus.” So, it seems that wisdom is not just knowledge, (although it requires knowledge, especially of God in a deeper, not carnal, sense,) but also ability and technical skill for daily living as godly people.
Please, bear with me, there are some wonderful, redeeming truths in all this. Truths that help us understand how we can live our own lives as “personal sacrifices” in response to God’s love and Grace in Christ Jesus, becoming more like Him each day. While I love to read the many classic Christian authors, including those from past centuries, some of the most profound truths have come from unlikely sources, simple people trying their hardest to live as Christ would have them do. Often, it is simply their lives that speak the Truth, not any flowery words or intellectual musings. Somehow, God beautifully weaves His wisdom into intimate relationship with His love, they are inseparable, and their fulfillment is seen in Christ Jesus.
We know that God is love, and have 1 John 4 to make that fact clear to us. So when Biblical wisdom acts, it acts in love. My, my, wouldn’t the world be different and more peaceful if people acted out of God’s wisdom rather than fleshly (carnal) knowledge and emotion?! Hmmm, are you seeing anything yet? So, how do we get this knowledge? How can we feeble humans expect to have and exercise this Wisdom from God? The answer is simple, but does require our participation, our cooperation with our beloved Abba Father.
So, when we are confused about life, or looking for satisfactory answers to our questions where should we turn? The Bible – yep, getting older has some good advantages to it, not the least of which is finally realizing that God will speak to us and guide us in and through His written Word.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow his precepts have good understanding.” Psalm 111:10
This is where knowledge comes in. We must know God to fear Him, (where “fear” means awesome reverence.) When we understand how indescribably large and mighty God is, beyond our ability to comprehend, but also how much He loves us, then we will “FEAR” Him. This “knowledge”, which resides in our hearts and souls, (not just our minds), is truly “the beginning of wisdom.” There are many examples of how this wisdom innate in Jesus the man, was acted out for the entire world to see.
John 8
1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
11"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
That is wisdom and love acting together, inseparable. I used to hate reading the Old Testament, and still don’t like all the death and destruction contained in those texts, but I have come to see them in the Light of Christ as I’ve grown older and “wiser”? Christ as the fulfillment of the law is perfect. And, love is the key aspect in that perfection . . . sacrificial love. It is this wisdom-love, this love-wisdom that can enable us to live in the world, but not be of it. Allowing us to reflect Christ in our words and deeds, in our lives, bringing light to a dark and needy world.
Recently for Valentine Day Patti gave me a little book titled, “Life’s Journeys According to Mr. Rogers – Things to Remember Along the Way”. Yes, Mr. Rogers, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” Mr. Rogers. Some people may not know that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian Minister, but his ministry was to kids and families through television. I was struck by the simple truths in that book, all affirmed by Holy Scripture, but presented in little stories of life and lives of people Mr. Rogers met “along the Way.”
Here’s one example; “My friend asked one of the monks why he felt that over the years the community had dwindled from sixty to twelve. And his reply was, “We did everything right, but somewhere in all that living and praying and successful working, we lost he most important thing of all, the thing that was so contagious and attracted people to us. We lost the naked love. Little by little the success replaced the love.””
Hmmm, 1 Corinthians 13 – love first, love conquers all, love wins! Somehow, this wisdom/love enables us to live Kingdom lives in a broken and dark world. But, it requires us to be continuously connected to that Love and Wisdom. Ah yes, now some of you are getting it, you are saying along with me . . . “Abide”! “Abide in me because apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15 – the vine life. That is how our lives become “hidden in Christ” . . . as we abide in Him – surrender, relinquishment, total dependence on Him . . . then we will become all that God intended us to be, in this world and forever.
That finally brings me to somewhat of a conclusion on this topic. And, I hope you have gained some insight from this meandering, something to encourage you along the Way. I will be the first (however reluctantly) to confess that I don’t get this Christ life right often or most of the time. I stumble too much, but the Lord is faithful to pick me up, dust me off, and set me on the Narrow Road again. It is in the daily things we encounter that we have the greatest opportunity to shine Jesus, to reflect our Savior to the world around us. In our workplaces, schools, stores, restaurants, etc. where we meet the lost and needy of His flock. Each one of us has a tremendous ministry right under our noses! But, it will take all the wisdom and love we can be filled with to be that light of Christ . . . it cannot come from ourselves.
For me, practically speaking, it is often a “hard place” to live . . . this walk along the Narrow Road. I am compelled to be righteous and just, while also loving. There is a constant tension in this world as a Christian, a Christ follower. People expect us to take sides in all kinds of debates and controversies; abortion and homosexual issues at the top. We are called to be loving even as we hold to the Truth which the Spirit has imparted to us. How we abide in Christ, exercising wisdom love makes all the difference. For sure, we will be persecuted for our beliefs one way or another, but we cling to a truth, a love, greater than any of this world. “Christ in us, the Hope of Glory.” Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, in Him we have that “abiding” provided for us, we just need to exercise it . . . that training that Paul often talked about. Spiritual disciplines; prayer, worship, service, etc. all help us stay connected to the Source of wisdom and love.
Well, I have come to the end (at least as I sense it for this writer), and I am not sure if I have conveyed any truth to you who may read this. But, I trust God, as always, to prompt you to seek Him further in your way and time. May He speak encouragement to your heart.
Only by Grace,
Pat (aka Anon E. Moose)
20But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.[d] 21I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. 23No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
24See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.
26I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. 1 John 2