Tag Archives: Jesus

Embracing Your Daughter’s Killer: The Freedom of Radical Forgiveness (Betwixt Podcast)

21 May

I am so thankful to my friend Deb Gregory for the wonderful podcast she created, Betwixt.  I encourage you to subscribe, listen from the beginning and learn about the wonders of liminal space.

I am also thankful that on her most recent episode, Deb featured my story!  You can listen to the episode here I would be glad to talk with you further about it.  Just comment below.

We really need grace

17 May

Image result for we all need grace

Do you or anyone you know go by a nickname?  I love the band U2, and both the lead singer Bono and lead guitarist, The Edge, go by the nicknames.  Bono has said on numerous occasions that even The Edge’s mom calls him “The Edge”.

But I wonder how many people with a nickname refer to themselves by their nickname?

As we learned last week, Saint Peter, whose first letter we are studying at Faith Church, had a nickname,   The Rock. Check our 1st Peter 1:1, and look how Peter starts the letter.  With his nickname!  The Rock.  Fair warning…you won’t see the words “The Rock.”  You’ll see the name “Peter”, but in Greek that name means “Rock.”  Peter’s actual name was “Simon”.  Does anyone else find it interesting that Peter used his nickname rather than his actual name?

Sometimes nicknames stick!  After 30 years of Peter being the leader of the church, he was The Rock.

Peter also calls himself an Apostle of Jesus Christ.

So far I have called Peter a disciple of Jesus.  What is this word “apostle”?  It refers to someone who is carrying a special message.  Generally, the 12 disciples became known as the 12 apostles.  These guys who followed Jesus became special messengers of Jesus.  The word we would more commonly use in English for an apostle is ____________.  Can you guess it?  Missionary.  That’s what Peter was. You can read about his mission trips in the book of the Bible called Acts.  Peter was a missionary, a special messenger, an apostle of Jesus Christ.

But who is he writing to?  Look at verse 1 and 2. He uses numerous phrases to describe the recipients of the letter:

To God’s elect, Strangers in the world, Scattered throughout Asia, Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God, Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.

In that short description of these people, Peter packs a lot in.  Did you feel you just jumped into the deep end of the theological pool?  Geesh.

Remember how last week the religious establishment guys in Jerusalem looked down on Peter calling him an unschooled man?  Now listen to Peter.  He is starts off his letter laying on some thick theology.

And what’s more, Peter gets into one of the most divisive theological issues of our time.  Do we choose God or does God choose us?

For Peter that question is easy to answer.  God chooses.  “Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.”  That’s pretty clear.  “God’s elect” means God elects them.  God chooses them.  What is not so easy to understand is what Peter meant by all this talk of choosing and electing.  There are two main ways that Christians through the ages have used to help us understand.

One is the deterministic way.  God determines everything and we don’t.  We might think we are choosing him, but determinists say that our feeling of choice is basically a mirage.  God gives faith to some and not to others.  That is the deterministic view.

The other way is the free will view.  God gives us free will to either choose him or not.  We think we are choosing him, free will says, because we actually are.

Each method has its difficulties.  Take the deterministic view.  If God chooses us, then how can he punish those he didn’t choose?  Doesn’t seem fair, right?  And it also really doesn’t seem like my act of choosing is a mirage.  I feel like I am making my own free choices.  I see very little evidence of God controlling everything.

The free will view seems to answer those problems nicely.  If God gives free will, it makes a lot more sense for him to punish sin, right?  Because the sinner doesn’t have to sin.  The sinner can choose God.  Also, free will seems to fit our common experience of life, right?  We feel like we are doing the choosing.  But free will has a problem too.  Peter just said God chooses, God elects.  Peter did not say God gave us free will so we could choose.  And Peter is not the only writer of Scripture to teach this.  The problem free will has is that it seems like the Biblical writers teach God as doing the choosing, not us.

So what do we do?  Do we choose God or does he choose us?

I am going to give you the wonderfully satisfying answer of: “I don’t know.”  That’s just a horrible answer, isn’t it?  You want to me to take a side, right?  At least give my opinion, right?

Well, okay, if you say so.

I think Peter is teaching both actually.  I think the other writers of Scripture are teaching both.  What I mean is this.  God gives us free will and he chooses us. That seem impossible?  A logical fallacy?

Here’s what I believe is the best way to make sense of this:

God chooses corporately, not individually.  Usually the determinists, those who hold to God as chooser, God as elector, believe that God is choosing individuals.  God chooses one person to be saved and go to heaven.  And he decides not to choose the next person, so that person will go to hell.

My denomination, the EC Church comes from a wing of the Christian Church that views God, not as choosing individuals, but God as choosing corporately.  In the Old Testament, God chose a whole people group, the nation of Israel, to be his chosen people.  People from outside Israel could choose to become part of Israel.  In fact, from the very beginning, in his covenant with Abraham, the grandfather of the nation of Israel, God said to Abraham, “I have a mission for your family.  I want you to be a blessing to the whole world.”  God envisioned Abraham’s family, part of which would become the nation of Israel, to be a missionary nation, a nation that actively sought out the rest of the world to join Israel in following God.  Sadly, Israel would go on to do an incredibly poor job of fulfilling that mission.

God gave Israel many, many chances to do better, and after eventually God decided to create a new covenant with a new group of people.  But the mission stayed the same for the new group: reach the whole world with the message of God’s good news.

Who is the new group of people that God chose?  The new group is all those who are in Christ. I believe that is what Peter is talking about here.  God chooses not individuals, but instead he gives us free will to choose to be in Christ.  We cannot choose to be outside of Christ and still expect to be in God’s family.  Why?  Because God chooses only those who are in Christ.  One way to put it is that God does not choose individuals, instead he chooses the method by which individuals of their own free will choose him.  And that method is in Christ alone.

Here’s where Peter’s greeting and conclusion are really powerful.  Just because we have free will to choose Christ, it doesn’t mean that God is totally standoffish, wondering what we will do.

Peter talks about another key factor at work helping us to understand this.  Grace.  Look at verse 3, and Peter’s first message in his letter is this: Grace and Peace.  Keep your finger in 1 Peter 1, and flip a few pages to the end of the book, to 1 Peter 5:12, and notice some of his final words of the letter: “stand fast in God’s grace.”  Peter bookends his letter by referring to God’s grace.  Why?  Because God’s grace is at work in the world and in our lives.

The official word for this is Prevenient Grace.  Prevenient simply means “that which comes before.”  Use it as an adjective to explain grace, and Prevenient Grace means “grace that comes before.”  But what in the world is “grace that comes before?”

The United Methodist Church summarizes well when it says that our evangelical forefather John Wesley, “understood grace as God’s active presence in our lives. This presence is not dependent on human actions or human response. It is a gift — a gift that is always available, but a gift that can be refused. God’s grace stirs up within us a desire to know God and empowers us to respond to God’s invitation to be in relationship with God. God’s grace enables us to discern differences between good and evil and makes it possible for us to choose the good. God takes the initiative in relating to humanity. We do not have to beg and plead for God’s love and grace. God actively seeks us!”

So we don’t have a standoffish God.  We have a God that seeks us, that woos us, that desires to be in relationship with us.  That is grace.  Grace is undeserved favor.  We don’t deserve a God who so actively chases after we who turn away from him.  And yet, Peter says, look at what God did in Jesus!  Jesus gave his life so that the sin that made it impossible for us to be in relationship with God could be dealt with.  God made things right, out of his gracious desire to be with us.  That is amazing.

We can bank on that, Peter says. More on that in just a minute.  Because I have skipped over something important.

Who is Peter writing to?

Look at verse 1, he calls them strangers, scattered people from many places.  With this opening description, Peter begins a theme that will be very important for him.  Christians need to see themselves as strangers who were scattered.  Peter wrote this letter not to one person or one church, but to Christians at the time who had been scattered around the world.  They were Christians living their lives as strangers in foreign countries, scattered away from their homeland.  Many were refugees.

Why? Because it was a difficult time for the church.

As we will see throughout our study, Peter addresses the fact that the Christians are being persecuted.

Peter is their leader. He lives in Rome. The Roman Emperor Nero lives in Rome.  The historians tell us that Nero, at the end of his life, persecuted Christians.  It is likely that both Peter and the apostle Paul died at Nero’s bidding.  But what we don’t see in the time period Peter is writing is Empire-wide state-sponsored persecution of Christians.  Our best guess is that Nero did not try to wipe out Christianity.  So the persecution that Peter refers to throughout his letter is more likely happening to Christians in the localities where they are scattered. The persecution is not in every town and city.  And it is not like they are all being burned at the stake. The persecution varies.  But it is still persecution.  Many Christians have been disenfranchised or displaced.

You can bet Peter hears the talk wafting through the Christian community.  Christianity is only 30 years old at this point.  That’s not a lot of time to develop a rock solid foundation.  If the persecution continues or gets worse, people could easily turn away.  Peter knows he needs to write the Christians who might be feeling like this Christianity thing is no longer worth it.  And that leads to the letter we are reading now.

Peter is not writing to people who are citizens of one national country or city. Peter wants to give them a higher vision.  He says they are strangers in a strange land.  Why?  Strangers?  They are citizens in heaven, and they should live for a purpose, which he describes in verse 2.  Their purpose is “for obedience to Jesus Christ” no matter what is going on.

That is our purpose.  Are we ready for obedience to Christ?  To get ready, we need to see ourselves not as citizens of a country on earth, but as strangers here.  We need to see our citizenship in heaven.  Our citizenship in heaven is the true citizenship, and we are actually strangers in a nation here on earth.  That can be a very hard reality for Christians to grasp.  We are strangers here.

As strangers here, though we aren’t facing persecution like the people Peter was writing to, we need to be ready.  Jesus talked a lot about this.  Be ready for his return.  Persecution may never arrive.  I hope it never does.  But Jesus taught, and the book of Revelation reminds us, that Jesus’ return could be preceded by persecution.  I know many teachers teach that there will be a rapture, meaning that all Christians will be removed from the earth and escape persecution.  Maybe.  But maybe not. Scholars are VERY divided in how to interpret that.  Persecution could come.  And we need to be ready.  We are called to follow Jesus no matter if life is going really well or if life is terrible.

I also encourage you to remember that there are many Christians being persecuted NOW.  The church is being persecuted around the world. And we need to remember that, pray.

In our church fellowship hall, we have copies of Persecuted magazine.  They send five copies every month.  I encourage you to pick it up and read it.

In my prayer time, I use an app called Prayer Mate, and one of its features you can choose is to bring in a new prayer request each day for someone around the world who is being persecuted for their faith.  I love that.  Imagine thousands of Prayer Mate users praying for the person.  How that must feel to be that person?  I hope and pray they can feel God at work answering the prayer of his people, encouraging that person by his Holy Spirit.

And we return to what Peter’s first message is 1:2 “Grace and peace to you.”  And then we look at how he repeats that message in 5:12-14 when he says “Stand fast in the grace of God…[and]…Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”

Grace and peace.

God’s prevenient grace is at work in the world, wooing us to find peace in him.  We can’t control God’s grace, and we don’t want to!  It is his loving choice to shower grace on us, that we might find peace in him.

And what Peter says is that our response is to obey and stand firm in that grace.  Peter, The Rock, knows who the real firm foundation is.  Not him.  He surely knew that.  Peter, the Rock, found a firm foundation in God’s grace.

If you feel like life is anything but firm, I get it.  I talked about my own struggles with anxiety a few weeks ago.  When anxiety hits, when stress rises, when life gets complicated and difficult, it feels like our lives are built on quicksand.

We all seek a firm foundation in life. If our core relationships are not solid, we can be so tempted to betray those core relationships and find other ones that are rock solid.  If we feel an unsettledness, a dissatisfaction, a struggle, with work, with our homes, with our finances, we often go looking for other things in life that we feel rock solid.

Peter, The Rock, says we have a rock solid firm foundation in the grace of God.  The pursuing, loving Grace of God.

This past week I had an anxiety day on Thursday, and as I walked back the hallway of the church, I saw one of the signs the kids made.  I have walked by that sign hundreds of times.  Never struck me before. You know what it says?  Be still and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10.  I hadn’t been still.  The previous few days were filled and busy and I hadn’t spent time with God, basking in his grace, knowing that his grace is the solid foundation.  I needed that reminder.

Choose to rest in his grace.  That means actually opening up space and time in your life to be with God.  To rest in him.  To be quiet before him.  It might take practice.  To be silent before God is super hard, especially when it feels like life is falling apart all around you.  In those moments the last thing we want to do is stop and be quiet and listen for God.

Standing firm in God’s grace, no doubt about it, is an act of faith in God, right smack in the moment of our struggle, when it seems like God is not there.  Standing firm in God’s grace in that moment means believing that God is who he says he is, and then choosing an action, or more likely a persistent ongoing series of actions, that show we are placing our faith in him.  That is the obedience that Paul is talking about in verse 2.

What will it look like for to stand firm in God’s grace today?  This week?  I encourage you to have someone like Peter, The Rock, in your life.  Someone who has seen firsthand through the years that they can build their life on Jesus.  Sure, Peter was nicknamed The Rock.  But he knew that Jesus was the real  rock of his life.  Who will that be for you?  Who will help you build your life on The Rock of Jesus?

Can you smell what The _____ is cooking? (When Jesus give you a nickname and changes your life.)

11 May

Image result for can you smell what the rock is cooking

Can you tell whom I’m thinking about?

Read the title of this post.  Look at the picture.

The Rock!

That is Dwayne Johnson’s nickname from his days as a professional wrestler.

There seems to be a specific kind of person whom we nickname with the word “Rock”. Think about Rocky Balboa. Remember the character Sylvester Stallone is famous for playing in how many boxing movies?  20?  Rocky Balboa is a prize fighter.  Dwayne The Rock Johnson is a professional wrestler and action movie hero.  These guys are intense!

At Faith Church last week we began a series talking about The Rock. Not Dwayne Johnson or Rocky Balboa, but a guy named Peter.  How is Peter like The Rock?

We first meet Peter in Mark 1:16.  Peter was a Jewish man from the town of Bethsaida in Galilee, which is the northern part of Israel. People from Galilee had a bit of a different accent, and were considered to be…well…kinda backwards.

As Mark tells us, Peter’s Hebrew name was Simeon, often shortened to Simon.  So why do we call him Peter?  The name “Peter” is actually a nickname Jesus gave him! Right around the same time as the events of Mark 1:16, we read in John 1:42 that Jesus calls Simon a nickname, Cephas, which is the Aramaic word meaning “rock.”  “Peter” is our English version of the Greek word “petros” which means “rock”.  Why would Jesus give Simon the nickname, “The Rock”?  In this post, we’re going to tell Simon Peter’s story to find out what Jesus was thinking.

Jesus would invite Peter, Peter’s brother Andrew, their friends and some others to be his followers, most commonly known as Jesus’ 12 Disciples.  Among the disciples, Peter quickly showed his potential.  He is often depicted as speaking first, or in the lists of the disciples’ names, Peter’s is first.  One time in Matthew 17:24 tax collectors come to Peter to ask a question about Jesus.  There is no doubt that he was considered a leader. Furthermore, Peter was bold. Neither afraid to speak nor to ask questions.  He was rock-like.

But, like so many bold people, Peter knew how to put his foot in his mouth. In Matthew 15:15 right after Jesus tells the disciples a parable, Peter pipes up, “Explain the parable to us.” Jesus’ response is classic: “Are you still so dull?

In Mark 9:5 we read the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah, two towering figures from Israel’s history, appear beyond the grave, and Jesus’ clothes turn brilliant white.  We are told that Peter, “…did not know what to say, they were so frightened.” But that didn’t stop him. He said stuff anyway, making a fairly offbeat comment to Jesus that perhaps they could build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  God the Father responded this time.  Or was a it a rebuke to Peter’s big mouth?  God says, ”

Also in John 13:4-9, during the account of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus gets up from the table and, showing them how they should serve one another, washes their feet.  Peter is aghast.  The servants should be washing their master’s feet!  But Jesus warmly tells Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.  Guess what Peter comes out with in response to that? “Then, Lord, not just my feet, but my hands and head as well.”  Huh?  Can you see the other disciples looking at each other thinking, “Awkward…” Even in Ancient Israel, grown men don’t wash each other.

Peter was passionate.  Yeah, sometimes he said crazy stuff.  Other times he said amazing things.

In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus asks the disciples a question in private, a question he could not ask in the presence of a crowd, and especially in the presence of the religious leaders who already wanted his head.  He asks his disciples about his identity, “Who do people say that I am?”  Well, word on the street was that Jesus was special, and there were a number of options for who he might be.  One of the famous prophets maybe.  People in the crowds had speculated wildly.  Jesus knew that.  But he wanted to hear what his closest followers thought.  He wanted to know what was going on inside their hearts and minds.  Guess who pipes up right away?  Peter.  And as much as Peter could put his foot in his mouth and say really inappropriate stuff sometimes, he could also come out with some amazing truth.

Peter is right on the money when he says, “You the Christ! The Son of the Living God.” Jesus looks at Peter with great approval, and says, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my father in heaven.”  What a moment!  Jesus is saying that Peter received a revelation from God of the truth that Jesus is the Messiah!  That is amazing!

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  Here Jesus tells a joke, a pun to be precise when he says to Peter, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Peter, Jesus says, is The Rock.  It wasn’t just that he was bold in what he said.  Peter also had a bold faith that took action.

There was the time that the disciples saw a mysterious figure walking on the water out to their boat.  As it gets closer, they realize it is Jesus!  So guess what Peter does?  He walks on water right out to Jesus!  And yet, when the wind and waves spray in his face, Peter the solid rock, crumbles, becomes afraid, turns away from Jesus and starts to sink.  You know the rest of the story.  Jesus grabs his hand, steadies him and says “You of little faith…why did you doubt?”

Then just before Jesus was arrested, as the soldiers surround him, Peter whips out his sword, and he cuts off the ear of high priest servant in Garden.  He was bold!  Has his faith become rock solid?

Jesus surprises Peter, telling Peter to put down his sword.  Peter is shocked and confused.  His Lord who he loves, who Peter has committed to follow, seems to be giving up.  Jesus even reaches over and heals the servant’s ear!  What is Jesus doing?  Isn’t this supposed to be his big moment?  Instead Peter’s Lord is now being taken away.  Peter gets scared.  What seemed like a new movement of God appears to be falling apart right in front of his eyes.

With Jesus in chains, Peter follows at a distance, curious, and frightened.  Suddenly, Peter is spotted.  People outside the high priest’s house where the trial is taking place call him out: “You are one of Jesus’ followers!”  Now Peter is really worried.  If Jesus is going down, Peter and the other disciples could easily being going down with him. So Peter, as boldly as he had confessed his allegiance to Jesus just a few hours before, now boldly denies ever knowing Jesus.  And he does it again.  And one more time.  Three times Peter denies knowing Jesus, then the rooster crowed.  From his position, Jesus turns and looks Peter in the eye.  And Peter runs away in bitter, bitter shame.  Peter seems to be anything but a solid rock.

We know what happens next.  Jesus is beaten severely, then crucified, died and is buried on Friday.  Sunday morning, a couple of the women who were Jesus’ followers report to the disciples hiding out in a room in the city that Jesus was alive.  Peter’s head jerks up and he on his feet in a flash.  He sprints out the door, John at his heels.  They run to the burial place, and John overtakes him, gets there first and looks in from the outside.  Peter arrives and rushes into the tomb.  It was true!  Their Lord was no longer there!  Soon after Jesus began to appear to them.  It was true! He was alive!

A few days pass.  The feast of Passover, for which Jesus and his disciples had originally traveled to Jerusalem, was over so the disciples returned home to Galilee in the north.  What do you do when your world is turned upside down?  They went back to work.  I bet Peter needed to go fishing, to clear his head.  The disciples, from their boat, notice a man on the beach making a fire, and it was Jesus.  Peter again jumps out into the water to go to him.  After breakfast Jesus does something remarkable to Peter. Read John 21:15-17, and you’ll see.

For each one of Peter’s three denials, Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to say, “I love you,” and he directs Peter to feed his lambs.  This is Jesus restoring Peter.  Peter, the one who was so boldly committed to Jesus saying, “I will die for you,” had actually turned out to boldly deny Jesus.  But Jesus knew what was deep down inside Peter was not a coward.  Peter was not a failure.  Jesus loved Peter, and he knew Peter loved him.  So in this amazing moment, Jesus lifts Peter back up. Peter truly would be The Rock.

Now let’s continue Peter’s story in the book of Acts. Very quickly we notice something.  The first 11 verses of Acts chapter 1 are all about Jesus.  But in verse 11 Jesus returns to his father.  Starting in verse 12, the focus then turns to Jesus’ disciples.  How would they react to this astounding turn of events?  In the span of 50 days their master had gone from national hero to criminal to dead to risen again!  And now…Jesus is gone.  The disciples and other followers, which verse 14 tells us number about 120, do what Jesus said they should do: go back to Jerusalem and wait in prayer.

One of them stands up.  Starting in verse 15 Peter stands up and speaks.  Skim through the next five chapters of Acts, these critical early moments of the life of the church, and one name appears over and over and over again.  Peter.

  • In chapter 1 Peter leads the discussion about who will replace Judas.
  • In chapter 2 Peter preaches the first sermon.
  • In chapter 3 he heals a crippled man and preaches again.
  • In chapter 4 Peter is arrested and boldly proclaims Christ before the Jewish leaders.

Look at Acts 4:13 and what it says there is just amazing: “When the Jewish leaders saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

When you spend time with Jesus, he will transform your life.

In Acts, the story of Peter just keeps going.  He takes the lead in confronting sin in chapter 5.  And how about this verse in 5:15: “People brought the sick in to the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.”  What?  Peter’s shadow had power?  Just his shadow?  That’s crazy wild.  And the dude was catching fish just a few years before?

At this point in the middle of Acts 5, the new church in Jerusalem is enjoying amazing favor.  Tons of people coming to faith, following Jesus, becoming part of an amazing new community.  Miraculous healings.  Amazing generous gifts of sacrifice to help those in need.

Until Acts 5:17. The religious establishment guys don’t like what they are seeing. The new church is encroaching into their territory, as people are following Jesus.  The Jewish leaders are filled with jealousy, they round up the apostles, these uneducated men who hung out with Jesus, and bring them in for questioning.  They flog the apostles and tell them to knock it off.  And you know how Peter and the other apostles respond?  They rejoice because they were counted worthy of suffering for Jesus!  They do not knock it off.  They keep preaching.  The church keeps growing.

In chapters 6-7 we get a brief pause in Peter’s story.  We meet some of the other leaders in the church, Stephen and Philip.  But in chapter 8, Peter is back, now going on missionary trips to Samaria.  For the rest of chapter 8 and halfway in chapter 9 we meet Philip again and Paul makes his first entrance in the story.

Halfway through 9 we’re back to Peter, who is making more missionary trips.  Then in chapter 10 something momentous happens.  Peter has a game-changing vision from God.  At first, the vision seems really weird.  In the vision Peter sees a sheet dropping from heaven, and in the sheet are unclean animals, and God is telling Peter to eat these animals, that they are no longer unclean.  The meaning of the dream was that Peter was to lead the new Christian church to reach the Gentiles, the non-Jews, with the message of Good News in Christ alone.

Reach the Gentiles?  Peter is Jewish.  Born a Jew, always a Jew, Peter followed Jewish laws all his life.  The thought of eating unclean meat, and of reaching out to the unclean Gentiles is repulsive to Peter.  So once again, put your foot in your mouth Peter comes out when he says, “Surely not Lord!”  But yeah, God wanted to reach the Gentiles too.

Peter obeys and the book of Acts starts to take a major turn as God wants the message of Good News in Jesus to be conveyed to the Gentiles. In chapters 11, therefore, we read about Peter explaining and living out this newly expanded understanding of the mission of God to include all people.

In chapter 12, things get crazy.  The local King Herod is getting lots of political heat from the Jewish religious establishment about these Christians.  So Herod rounds up a couple leaders, intending to persecute them.  He actually puts the Apostle James to death.  That was James who years before was fishing partners with Peter.  Peter gets jailed too.  With James dead, it seems like Herod wants to take down the new church’s leadership, hoping to destroy the church.  Peter is public enemy #1.

But God has other plans for Peter. The night before his trial, chained in prison, praying, Peter is miraculously freed by God’s angel.  Peter then travels away to share more about Jesus in other places. That is the last full story featuring Peter in the book of Acts.  He pops up again in chapter 15, at a major church council.  By that time, Peter has become a missionary.  James, the brother of Jesus, is the new leader of the church in Jerusalem.

Historians tell us that Peter eventually traveled to many places in the Empire, including Rome. He is believed to have been the leader of the church in Rome.  He is also said to have died on an upside-down cross. Just before his death, Peter wrote two letters which we call 1st and 2nd Peter.  But also the Gospel of Mark was likely influenced by him.  Mark was not a disciple, but a traveling companion of Peter.

That’s Peter’s story of life change.

I suspect Peter was always a bold, brash guy.  But I doubt he ever expected life would take him much beyond the shores of the Galilee.  He was a fisherman.  That was a good business to be in.  Feeding his family, feeding many others in his area.  Making a living.

He meets a guy named Jesus one day.  Jesus is remarkable.  Different.  There’s a spark.  Jesus says, “Follow me, Rock, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Only three years later, what do we see?  Fisherman Peter is now the Rock of the Church preaching a sermon in Jerusalem to a huge crowd.  And 3000 of them respond to his sermon.  What. The. Heck?  What happened in those three years?

What happened during those three years were lots of ups and downs.  It didn’t seem like Jesus’ nickname was working out so well.  Peter often seemed more like quicksand than The Rock.  But Jesus continued reaching out to Peter and set Peter up to lead his followers.  When Jesus returned to his father, Peter was ready to be the Rock of the church.  The Holy Spirit empowering the church, Peter was ready to lead this small group of 120 followers of Jesus.

Peter was a changed man.

I think Peter would understand the life that most of us live, because he lived it too.  The crushing realities of life seem insurmountable.

We hear ourselves saying things like “I’m just a lowly worker with no hope for a meaningful future.”

But Jesus comes to us and says “Follow me. I will make you…something you never could have imagined.  I’ve got a new name for you.”

We hear ourselves saying, “I feel like I’m sinking in the raging waters of life, and I don’t know how to swim and no one cares.”

But Jesus reaches out to pull us and strengthen our faith.

When life gets really hard and scary and God seems nowhere to be found, we hear ourselves saying “I don’t know you God, I don’t know you Jesus, I don’t know you!”  And we can’t believe we denied our Lord, and we wonder if we’ve lost it all.

But Jesus comes to us with forgiveness and says “Do you love me?”  And we really do love him, and he says “I have a plan for you.”  And we think “Really?  Me?  But Lord, I turned away from you.”  And he says a second time “Do you love me?”  And we really do love him, and he says “I want to use you.”  And we think, “But I’ve screwed up so many times.  You can’t possibly use me, Lord.”  And he says again “Do you love me like a brother?” And we know where he’s going with this.  We know he is right, and we respond “I really do love you like a brother.”  And he confirms to us “Yes, I have a job for you.”  He really does want to use us.

To follow Jesus we need to do what Peter did.  Peter left fishing behind.  Peter said “Ok. I will make a change and follow you, Jesus.”

What change do you need to make to follow Jesus in a new way?  During my April sermon series, what I learned on sabbatical, I told you some changes that I needed to make.  I was feeling trapped by some elements of life.  I got rid of them in order to make space to follow Jesus.  I encourage you to do the same.  The time has come.

Jesus wants to restore you, to transform you.  He loves you.  That is our amazing Lord.  Merciful, gracious, patient.

He doesn’t always turn a fisherman into the leader of the world-wide church.  But he obviously can do that if he wants.  More likely, Jesus wants to do in you what he did in Peter.  Transformation.  Transformation of the heart, transformation of the mind, of the soul, of the body.

How is Jesus at work in your life?  What does he need to restore in your life? How is he calling you to serve him?

He doesn’t call everyone The Rock, but I suspect he has a nickname for you too.  His name for you might surprise you.  It might take you a while to feel it suits you.  But in time you find it will fit perfectly.

 

What to do when life is hard and filled with tears

19 Dec

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A friend of mine has graciously allowed me to borrow his tiller each year to get our garden ready for planting.  It is a monster of a tiller.  You have to grip that thing with all your might, lower your center of gravity, and hold on for dear life. I am not kidding.  It is a workout.  Then if you hit a patch of hard ground, where the tiller blades might not be able to dig deep, the blades bounce off the ground, and the tiller lunges forward dragging you along, like the guy in the photo above.  It is a scene.  But as you muscle the machine back around for another pass, and another pass, that hard ground eventually gets broken up into smaller and smaller pieces.  Until finally, the tiller runs through earth smoothly, the dirt ready to be planted. And I’m sore for a few days.

Gardening and farming, done well, usually involves hard work, doesn’t it?

In my previous post, I talked about how our next Advent psalm of lament is a psalm of ascent.  It includes uplifting songs of joy, but it also talks about the hard work of growing produce.

We can see both of those emphases in the two sections of the psalm:

  1. Verses 1-3 Joyful Memory
  2. Verses 4-6 Tearful Lament

There is a phrase at the beginning of each section that serves as a marker, helping us know that there are in fact two sections.  That marker is the similar statement “brought back captives” or “restored our fortunes”.  In the original Hebrew these are nearly identical.

So let’s look at each section.

Section 1, verses 1-3 – Joyful Memory

The word “captives” in verse 1 reminds us that the psalmist is referring to the Babylonian exile.  The powerful Babylonians had attacked and defeated Israel, and carted them off.  They lived in Babylon for 70 years.  Then the Persians attacked and defeated the Babylonians, and Cyrus king of Persia allowed some Jews to return to Palestine.

My seminary prof, Dave Dorsey, taught that likely only 5% of the captives returned to Israel, 95% remained in Babylon.

But those 5% who returned, the psalmist tells us in verses 1-3, were like men who dreamed. One alternate translation I read says that this could be saying “Men returned to health, given new life.”

Imagine the wonder of that moment.  For 70 years they were in captivity.  You are taken into captivity.  If you were about 30 years old when you are taken into captivity, you probably have a young family in captivity.  Think about what happens in 70 years?  Likely you pass away, and it is maybe your kids, or even more likely, your grandkids, who return.

We talked about this last week.  The kids and grandkids have been hearing stories of the glory of Jerusalem and the temple and how wonderful the Promised Land was.  And now they get to return.

And they are laughing and singing.  They are praising the Lord!

You can see why this would be a great Pilgrimage song.  Just as the original exiles returned excitedly to Palestine and Jerusalem, singing songs of joy, each year as people all over Israel journeyed to Jerusalem for the various feasts, they would re-enact the original pilgrimage of those first captives who returned from exile.

So the psalmist is excited.  But his joy turns to lament.

Section 2, verses 4-6 – Tearful Lament

He laments because there is much yet to be sorrowful about, much restoration yet to take place.  In this lament, he uses the image of farming, talking about how sorrow leads to joy.

Planting is hard work, which is why he calls it tears of sorrow.

We have a garden in our back yard, and we like to plant some vegetables each year.  When gardening, the first thing you have to do might be clearing away old growth and weeds.  And then there might be the tilling, as I described in my experience with my friend’s monster of a tiller.

But tilling is only the beginning.  Next you do the work of planting, and then you do the work of protecting your plants, putting up fences to keep out the rabbits and groundhogs.  Then there is weeding, and then regular watering, and more weeding.  Day after day after day.  Week after week.

To be fair, we are spoiled here in Lancaster.  Our soil is astoundingly rich.  And we get regular rain.

In a dry climate like some parts of Israel, farming can be extremely difficult, and could even appear to be pointless.  How do you know if rains will come?  Will this be a waste?

That is possibly what is going on in the minds of the exiles.  They will not only be doing physical, real farming.  They will also be tending the figurative land, seeking to rebuild the city, the temple, and in a more important way, seeking to rebuild their nation and their relationship with God.  For the psalmist, the idea of planting tears, with the hope of reaping a harvest of joy, has deep, deep meaning.

That’s where we can take a look and examine our own lives.

What is the hard work of planting tears that you are doing in your life? What ground are you tilling?

It could be parenting.  Grand-parenting.  Reaching out to neighbors and friends.  You are investing time and energy in people, especially in your family and friends.

It could be a ministry in church, serving, teaching, using your gifts.

What other kinds of planting are you doing in your life?  What is hard?

Think about what you are praying for.

Is it a broken relationship, healing from physical pain and illness, financial hardship?

When you are praying, and when you are waiting, you are planting seeds of sorrow. That is lament.  Lament is prayer in which you are planting seeds of sorrow.  You are crying out to God, saying “Lord, this is hard work!  I need you to intervene.”

Israel was crying out to God for salvation, to send a savior.  The land was in bad shape.  They wanted God to come and save them.

That is what Advent is all about.  Advent means “the coming”.  In the season of Advent we remember the first coming of the savior, the Messiah, Jesus.  And we examine our lives and seek to make our lives ready for his second coming.  He came once and he said he is coming again.

In the midst of the difficulty, the darkness, in the midst of the hard work of planting tears, God entered the world.  Do you need God to enter your world?  Perhaps you’ll consider lament.

Surprising ways people come to know God (and never hear about Jesus!)

25 Oct

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Is God fair?  Will he send people to hell who never had a chance to know about salvation in Jesus?  Yesterday we looked at some options for how Christians try to answer this difficult question.

Today we seek for any other biblical passages that might give us some help.  Thankfully there are some.

Last week I talked about how God speaks through nature. Remember these verses?

In Isaiah 6:3 we read that the earth of full of his glory.

In Psalm 19:1, we read that the heavens declare the Glory of God.

And in Romans 1:19-20 we read this:

[S]ince what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Scripture teaches, therefore, that God speaks through Creation.  Of course God speaks a lot more through Scripture, but in Romans 1:19-20 Paul tells us that what God speaks through creation is enough that men are without excuse.  Meaning, when people stand before God one day, and God says to them, “Why did you not choose to believe and follow me?” those people can’t say, “Well, we never had the Bible in our language, we never heard about Jesus.”  There is enough, rather, in Creation, in nature, in the universe to point to God, without the need for people to hear the story of Jesus.

Some Christians say tribal people like the Yanomami in Brazil can know God just by nature.  It seems Paul was saying something like that.

Additionally, many reports have come out of Muslim nations in the past few decades, where God has come to individual Muslims in dreams, telling them the truth about Jesus.  Google it.  There are loads and loads of reports of these occurrences.

But what about those that mentally incapacitated?  They cannot look at nature and perceive God.  To respond to this question, many Christians fall back on God’s love and say that he will still accept the mentally incapacitated into heaven.  There is one story in the Bible that many Christian parents who have lost babies and infants look to for hope that they will again see their child in heaven.  King David lost an infant son and in 2 Samuel 12:23 he says “”Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me”.  That makes it seem like he, David, will one day go to where his son is.  We presume that David, a man after God’s own heart, as he is often described, will go to heaven one day, and that David himself believes he will go to heaven, so thus his son is already there.  That view is also in line with God’s love and mercy.

At this point you might say, “Wait a minute, don’t those views conflict with Solus Christus?”  Solus Christus means “Christ Alone”, and as we have seen this week in our continuing study of the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation, the reformers taught that we are saved by Christ alone.  If we can see God in nature and if God allows babies or mentally handicapped people into heaven, then neither of those situations need Christ.  The same could be said of believers in the Old Testament.  Any believers before Christ’s death and resurrection.  On what basis were they accepted into heaven?  Were they accepted into heaven?

These are good complex questions, but the general answer is that when Jesus died on the cross and came back to life, this act of God was sufficient for all people, for all time.  Those true believers before Christ are accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s anticipated death and resurrection. Those true believers after Christ are accepted by God on the basis of Jesus completed death and resurrection.

We might not be able to answer all these questions, but we know this: we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  I am not telling you what to believe today.  You have to search the Scriptures and decide for yourself.  But I urge you to search the Scriptures.

There is something is even more compelling to me in this discussion.  And we turn to that tomorrow.

How to hear God speak through the Bible

20 Oct

 

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Many people say they do not hear God.  Many others say they do hear God speak.  I believe them.  God speaks through dreams, visions, audible voices, etc.  I’m sometimes jealous of that because I do not believe I have ever heard God speak to me in an audible voice, or in a whisper in my mind, or in an inner impression.  But I have heard God speak extremely clearly through the Bible.  God speaks in many ways, and one is not better than the other.  They are unique and different.  A person who hears God speak one way should not say they are more close to God than a person who hears God speak a different way.  The point is that God does still speak!

All week long we have been talking about Sola Scriptura, trying to understand why it was so important to the Protestant Reformers.

One important misconception about Sola Scriptura is when people say that God speaks only through Scripture.  Is that what Sola Scriptura means?  The Bible’s take on Sola Scriptura is not SOLO Scriptura.  Solo Scriptura means Scripture ONLY, that God would not speak any other way.  Those who hold to Solo Scriptura are reacting quite strongly about the possibility that God might speak through other means, usually because they have seen abuses of power.  The Reformers spoke out strongly against those abuses of power in the Catholic Church during the Medival age.  But is it right to go so far as Solo Scriptura?  Well, let’s take a look ate what Scripture itself says about how God speaks.

God speaks though his creation.

In Isaiah 6:3 we read that the earth of full of his glory.

In Psalm 19:1, we read that the heavens declare the glory of God.

And in Romans 1:19-20 we read this:

Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Scripture says that God speaks through Creation.  Of course God speaks a lot more through Scripture, but in Romans 1:19-20 Paul tells us that what God speaks through creation is enough that men are without excuse.  When people stand before God one day, and God says to them, “Why did you not choose to believe and follow me?” those people can’t say, “Well, we never had the Bible in our language.”  There is enough in Creation, in nature, in the universe to point to God so that men are without excuse.

Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through creation.

God also speaks through his Spirit. 

I’ve already mentioned 1 Corinthians 2:12 where Paul taught that the Spirit of God helps understand the things of God.  I also encourage you to read John chapters 15-17, where Jesus talks a lot about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  There Jesus teaches that the Spirit speaks in many ways.  In fact, Jesus said to his disciples that at some point in the future, government officials would take them into custody, and when questioned, the Spirit would help them know what to say.  Throughout the Bible, God speaks by his Spirit in dreams and visions.

Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through his Spirit.

God also speaks through his people.

The Bible is loaded with instances where God spoke through prophets and teachers.  Ephesians 4:11-13 is possibly the most important verse that talks about this.  There Paul essentially gives the job description of pastors and teachers.  But it is not just the fivefold gifts listed in Ephesians 4 through whom God speaks.  We all have the opportunity, Paul goes on to teach in Ephesians 4, to speak the truth in love to one another.

Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through his people.

Look above at the three points.  We see that God speaks through Creation, through his Spirit, through his Church.  That means Scripture is not ONLY.

So if God speaks in ways other than his word, why is Sola Scriptura so important?

Sola Scriptura is important because it reminds us that Scripture is the foundational way we hear God speak.  In scripture alone do we learn the truths of Jesus.  Through Scripture, alone, we learn what the church is to be like.  Not the other way around.  Everything we think or hear must be in line with Scripture.

In other words, “Sola Scriptura,” one scholar says, “is the statement that the church can err.”

Here is another summary of Sola Scriptura that if found so helpful: “Scripture comes into its own when read by God’s people in God’s way for God’s purposes.”

And what are God’s purposes for when we read Scripture?

James 1:22 says “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”

Jesus himself said in Luke 6:46-49 that the difference between a wise and foolish person is all about whether or not we do what he says.

We are so, so blessed in our day with access to the Bible, and with access to the many, many tools to understand it.  We can read it, dig deep into its meaning, review what scholars have studied about it.

But our approach to the Bible should not just be academic, not just reading it to learn trivia facts about the Bible. Instead, God wants us to read the Bible to know him, to know his purposes.  We read prayerfully asking God to speak to us through his word.  And then we actually make choices to live his way as taught in his word.  When we read Scripture we should determine ahead of time, humbly, teachably, to do what it says.

This requires a couple important tasks:

First, we actually need to read Scripture.  

How about you?  How often do you read the Bible?  I’m not talking about the Verse of the Day from a Bible app.  That is good and can be very encouraging.  I’m talking about something more.  We need to read more and longer sections of the Bible.  My wife and I love watching Netflix, as do many of you.  Discovering new and great TV and film on Netflix has become a cultural fascination. How many of you have participated in conversations online or in person around the topic “What should I watch next on Netflix?”  I love those conversations!  Discovering hidden gems on Netflix’s vast catalog is so fun.  In other words, many of us sit in front of a screen watching hours and hours of media content.  Is it possible that would could increase the amount of time we give to reading the Bible?

I was listening to a podcast recently where the interviewee noted that those who say the Bible is boring or irrelevant probably haven’t really given themselves to truly read and study it.  Will you?  If so, you will find it to speak powerfully, creatively and decisively to our situation in 2017.  I’ve been reading the account of Saul and David in 1st Samuel, and I feel like I am watching the 11 o’clock news.  It is amazingly relevant.

Second, we need to learn how to read Scripture.  

Let me provide a disclaimer.  You can open up any contemporary English translation of the Bible, and you’ll be able to understand it.  I use the New International Version.  But we also need to remember that the Bible is book written by 40+ authors, 2000+ years ago, in different languages, in a very different cultural setting.  As I said, we can be so thankful that scholars through the ages have studied those languages, that historical/cultural setting, as well as the genre and structure of the many books of the Bible.  What I’m saying is that there are wonderful works by people who love Jesus that can help us read between the lines and understand the Bible much more as God intended it.

Do you want to learn how to read and study it better?  I would be glad to point you to some resources that can help you.

Finally, and most importantly, whenever we read the Bible, let us determine beforehand to do what it says God wants us to do.

As we conclude this week of looking at Sola Scriptura, be encouraged by the words of Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

How to become more gracious

6 Oct

Image result for responding graciouslyHave you ever had an encounter with someone who was less than gracious?  Have you been accused?  Confronted?

Or maybe you’re in the store, waiting in line at checkout, and right in front of you is a family with young children.  Just then one of the kids start freaking out because the parent won’t let them have candy.  Is it hard for you to be gracious?

What if the parent is you and the kid is yours?  Are you able to graciously stand firm while your offspring is throwing a tantrum?  What if the other customers around you start acting frustrated with you, as if it is your fault your child is losing it?  So you’re being hit with your child’s poor behavior on one hand, and the poor behavior of adults on the other.  Are you gracious then?

What if your boss cuts your hours?  Gives you a poor performance review?  It can be very hard to be gracious.

I use the app IFTTT on my phone.  “If this, then that.”  It is an app that automates your phone to do tasks.  I have found it to be amazing.  For example, IFTTT helped me set up my phone so that I send myself a text message reminding myself to take out the trash on Thursday nights.  It sends me a text each 1st of the month to remind me that the mortgage is due.  IFTTT can do so much.  One interesting feature it can do is a rescue call.  And by “rescue”, I don’t mean rescue from danger.  Instead IFTTT will rescue me from one of those conversations when I badly need to go, but the other person won’t stop talking.  Or maybe they’re talking about something awkward, maybe politics, and I want to get away, but I don’t know how to do so graciously.  All I need to do now is tap the IFTTT phone icon on my home screen, and within seconds, IFTTT makes an automated phone call to me.  All I have to do at that point is say to my conversation partner “I’m so sorry, I need to go and take this call.”  Gracious!

There is hope!  Not only can we use technology to graciously rescue us in difficult situations, we can learn to become more gracious.  If you know there is bitterness or a habit of poor responses coming out of you, then you can be changed from the inside out.  You can become a more gracious person.  Read on!

This week we’ve been talking about grace.  When we accept God’s gracious gift, we are not only taking on a whole new family name, but we are also saying that we will live like a child of grace, to live like Jesus lived.

If you want to know how to live a life of grace, study Jesus.  In 1 John 2:6 one of Jesus closest friends, John, says “Whoever claims to live in Jesus must walk or live as Jesus did.”  Accepting God’s gracious gift, then, is not just saying “I believe in and receive the gift of God’s grace”.  It is living a life that looks more and more like the gracious life of Jesus.

But a life of grace is not always easy.  In fact, when calling us to a life of grace, God calls us to something that can be difficult.

I recently read the book, Messy Grace, by Caleb Kaltenbach, and I highly encourage you to read it as well.  Caleb is a pastor who parents are gay.  They were married, divorcing when he was 2yrs old.  Soon after the divorce, his mom started a lesbian lifestyle, and she raised Caleb in that community.  To him, therefore, it was normal.  His dad remained single, though years later Caleb learned that his dad was gay.  So Caleb grew up in a family environment, mostly with his mom and her partner, that normalized the lesbian lifestyle and felt the pain of hate and discrimination from less-than-gracious Christians.

But something unexpected happened.  Caleb, through friends, a youth group, and reading the Bible, learned about and received the gift of God’s grace.  As he studied the Bible, he changed his mind about same-sex relations.  Caleb then had to come out to his parents.  But it was a very different coming out.  Instead of announcing to his Christian family that he was coming out as gay, Caleb announced to his gay parents that he was coming out as a Christian and he no longer agree with their lifestyle.  It was brutally difficult for Caleb to live out the gracious life of Christ in his family.

Living in families is like that.  We all know this.  Sharing life together as a church family is like this.

Grace is not easy.  Grace can be very difficult when people are unkind to you.  Grace can be difficult when people make bad choices that affect you.  Grace can be difficult because people can be difficult. But as we learn from Jesus how to live the gracious life, we’ll notice how, time and time again, he chose grace when people were being extremely difficult to him and others.

Another difficult aspect of living a gracious life is that it doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want because, “God is gracious, and he’ll forgive me.  His grace covers it all anyway!”  One of the writers of the New Testament, Paul, referred to this thought process in Romans 6.  There he asked, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace will abound?”  Have you ever thought something like that?  That you can do something sinful “just this once” because God will forgive you anyway?  If we’re honest, I suspect most of us have thought that about God’s grace.  Guess how Paul answers his question.  “Should we go on sinning so that grace will abound?  By no means!”  Accepting God’s gift of grace means that we surrender to our way of doing things, and we give our lives to do things God’s way.

In another writing, Paul says to Titus who was a pastor friend of his, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

What this means is that we respond to God’s gift of grace by living lives of grace.  A graceful life is one that pursues self-control, purity, and treating others with grace.  That’s where this grace thing gets messy.  Imagine what it is like for God to be gracious to us when we are regularly thinking, doing, and saying things that are not self-controlled and pure. Imagine how he feels. He was so gracious to us, to the point of sending his son to give his life for us.  And how do we respond to that grace?  We choose to ignore it by sinning.

And just as we can messy to God, others can be messy to us.

So what will it look like to be gracious to people in your life? Sola Gratia means that we are children of grace, and we should be known not only for receiving God’s grace, but also for showering that grace on those around us.

I want you to think.  Who do you have a hard time being gracious to?  Remember that grace is undeserved favor.  Who rubs you the wrong way?  Who do you need to be actively gracious to?  Have you allowed yourself to develop a less than gracious attitude to people in your church family?  What about in your own family?  Is there anyone for whom grace is very messy for you?

What will you do to show more grace?  What will you do to demonstrate that you are a child of grace?

  1. Evaluate yourself. Have people ever told you that you are less than gracious?  That you are intimidating or difficult or argumentative?  Have someone who is able to speak the truth in love to you evaluate you.  Don’t trust yourself to give yourself an accurate accounting.  Some of us are too hard on ourselves.  Some of us are too easy.  Get a true perception of whether or not you are living as a child of grace.
  2. Learn to live graciously. Study Jesus’ life in the Gospels (the four accounts of Jesus’ life, recorded in the Bible), Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  And as you are reading, ask God to help you to learn to be gracious from Jesus.  Write down the ways you see Jesus being gracious.  Then seek out someone in your life who is known for being gracious, and ask them to teach you.  Get the book Messy Grace.  It is excellent.
  3. Practice. Are their people in your life who you have been less than gracious to?  Do you need to go to them and ask forgiveness?  And to show that you are seeking a new gracious pattern with them, what is a gracious act you can to do to start treating them differently?  Maybe a small gift, maybe a nice card, maybe a compliment?