Sunday, May 25, 2014

We would be free but on our own.

From Tim Keller's Commentary on Romans:

Yet it is very easy and common to think of our salvation only in terms of the first and not the second, only as the transfer off of our sins, but not as the transfer on of his rights and privileges. 

We tend to think only that Christ has pardoned us and removed our legal liability. When we do that, we are really only “half-saved by grace.” We can get pardon, but now we have to live a good life to earn and maintain God’s favor and rewards.

But this text shows us that not only did Christ remove the curse we deserved, but he also gives us the blessing he deserved. God’s honor and reward is just as secure and guaranteed as our pardon. To use another image. Jesus’ salvation is not just like receiving a pardon and release from death row and prison. Then we’d be free, but on our own. Jesus has also put on us the Congressional Medal of Honor. We are received and welcomed as heroes, as if we had accomplished extraordinary deeds.

Unless we remember this we will be anxious and even despairing when we sin or fail. We think our slate has been wiped clean, but now God’s opinion and acceptance of us is based on our record. That is not the case. When a son becomes heir, that inheritance is guaranteed. It is not a prize to be won. It is his. So is our salvation.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sheep or Goat

Rob Bell in his book, "What We Talk About When We Talk About God"

“Jesus told a story about a king who was making decisions about his subjects, separating people "as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." The sheep, we learn, are the ones who brought the king food when he was hungry and water when he was thirsty and clothes when he was naked and looked after him when he was sick and visited him when he was in prison.

The sheep are confused when they learn of their good standing with the king.

"Uhhhhhhh, king?" they protest. "When were you hungry or thirsty or naked or lonely or sick? We've never seen that!" They ask because of course they understand the king to be quite wealthy, not lacking in basic necessities like food, clothing, and friends.

He responds, "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

The king here makes the astounding claim that he is somehow present with and standing in solidarity with all of them, and that love and care and compassion shown to others is love for him.

Jesus tells stories like this one often, stories that speak to the divine presence in every single one of our interactions—a unity, power, and love present in all things, hidden right here in plain sight.

This story Jesus told raises the haunting question: What are we missing? Is there an entire world, right here within this one, as close as our breath, but we aren't seeing it because we're moving too fast, we're separated from the source, cut off from the depths, our eyes not as open as they could be?

Jesus comes to help us see things as they truly are, moving forward, with greater and greater connectivity, higher and higher levels of hierarchy leading to holism beyond even us as all matter is permeated by the redeeming energy and power of God.

The first Christians had a way of talking about this massive movement, bigger than any one of us, that's sweeping across human history: they wrote that God is in the process of moving everything forward so that God will be over all and through all and in all, and in another passage in the Bible it's written that God does what God does so that God may be all in all.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Punishment never has the power that forgiveness has.

Steve Brown tells a story that provokes thought on the subject of losing and finding:

The woman was washing dishes in the kitchen sink one day after the children had left for school. She looked at a particular plate. She stared at it a long time and asked herself over and over again, “How many times have I washed this plate? How many times have I dried it? How many times will I wash it and dry it again?” She then set down the plate, took off her apron, packed a few of her belongings and left.

That night she called home to tell her husband that she was all right, but that she just could not come home again. From time to time, over the next several weeks, she would call just to see how her husband and children were doing. But she would never tell them where she was, nor accede to the pleas from her family to return.

The husband hired a detective to search for her, and after picking up a few leads, the detective tracked her down. She was in another state, living in a small apartment over a coffee shop where she had a job as a waitress. Her husband set out immediately to bring her home. When he found the place she was staying, he knocked on the door of her upstairs apartment. She opened the door, saw him, and did not say a word.

She went into the bedroom, packed her belongings, and silently followed him out to the car. Then, in silence, he drove her home.

Several hours later when the two of them were alone in their bedroom he finally spoke, and he asked her, “Why didn’t you come home before? Over the phone I begged you to return. Why didn’t you come?”

The wife answered, “I heard your words, but it wasn’t until you came for me that I realized how much you cared and how important I was to you.”

Kent Hansen adds a nice commentary on the story:

This story is kind of upsetting, isn’t it? “What was she thinking to walk off like that?” We think that way, don’t we? The woman was selfish and irresponsible. She caused a lot of trouble and heartbreak to her husband and children. It’s tempting to want the husband to hold out on her and not just take her back until she has proven that she is really, really sorry.

What if the husband hadn’t gone to the woman, but instead divorced her and sued for sole custody of the children on the ground of abandonment. That would be his right, but that story line only goes so far before it dead ends. Punishment never has the power that forgiveness has. Have you ever wept for joy over witnessing a well-deserved punishment? Have you ever felt the thrill of getting in the last lick or last word in a conflict? Did that thrill last long? On the other hand, have you ever been amazed and moved by witnessing or receiving the mercy of forgiveness and restoration?

The power of the story is in the husband going to the trouble of finding the woman, going to her, and bringing her home. It is undeserved grace. We would pronounce judgment, but thanks be to God, “Mercy trumps judgment (Js 2:13). We are moved by the example of a love that doesn’t quit and restores to wholeness rather than destroys one who is alienated and lost and causing great hurt.

Oh, yes, the joy of the Lord is in the finding of what was lost and restoring it in love. That’s what Jesus came to do and the power of the Gospel is in forgiveness, not in the threat of punishment.

One day Jesus was standing in a group of tax collectors and sinners who came near to him to hear his words of grace. On the outside of the group were eavesdropping Pharisees and religious scholars who were outraged by Jesus’ indiscriminate kindness.  They grumbled, “This fellow welcomes sinners and sits down to eat in fellowship with them.” It was not a compliment and was far from the will of God (Acts 15:19; Rom 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9). Any group that depends for its identity on who it excludes rather than who it includes does not reflect the heart of God.

Jesus told the grumbling critics three stories in response to their judgmental complaint. He told them about a shepherd with a hundred sheep, who loses one of them. He leaves the flock in the wilderness and searches for the lost sheep. When he finds it, he picks it up and carries it home. He calls his friends and neighbors and says, “We have to have a party because I found my sheep that was lost.” Jesus told the critics, “One sinner returned home is more of a reason for God to be happy and throw a party than the fact that ninety-nine righteous persons stayed right where they are supposed to be.”

Jesus also told them about a son, who couldn’t wait for his father to die, claimed his inheritance and went out and wasted it. He came to his senses when he realized that he was hungry for the corn cobs he was feeding pigs, but he was really starving for his father’s love and graciousness. The lost boy stumbled his way home with a prepared speech to ask his father to give him a job. His father was waiting for him, ran to him, embraced him, clothed him, brought him inside and threw a big party. The father pleaded with the angry, judgmental elder son to come inside and enjoy the party too because his lost brother had been found and Jesus said it is the character and the compulsion of God to celebrate whenever that kind of thing happens.

Each of these stories has the same structure: Lostness, searching, finding and restoration.

This pattern is the DNA of the true Gospel of Christ. This God of ours, manifested in his Son, Jesus Christ, is a finder and a keeper. In his eyes there are no losers, only lost sheep and lost children who need to be restored to their rightful place at his side.

The stories of the lost sheep and the lost boy are the bookends. Right in the middle Jesus told them another story:

Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Lk 15:8-10).

The relief and joy when the coin was found led the woman to throw a party for her friends and neighbors. In this earthly scene, echoes of heaven’s excitement sounded and Jesus gained another way of explaining his mission. One lost sheep out of a hundred found again; a lost coin found; a lost son returning home to a heart-broken father–all of these were cause for celebration, Jesus said. In heaven they put on the music, fill the balloons, and break out the cake and ice-cream whenever a child of God, who has wandered off to loss and to shame, comes home again.
The sheep and the boy wandered off on their own stubborn and futile ways, but how did the coin become lost? We aren’t told.
 The story here is about finding what was lost and the God, who like the searching shepherd, like the woman diligent in seeking the return of what is precious to her, and like the heart-broken dad waiting for the return of his child, considers no loss acceptable. He sets aside every other consideration to make his search.

His sweep is comprehensive, his light is penetrating, and his search is careful, but this story isn’t about good housekeeping or loss control. You can search Luke 15 in vain for any indication that God wants to scrutinize and analyze how the loss occurred and how to prevent it from happening again before extending salvation.

No, the God revealed to us by Jesus is no conservative, stern nit-picker shouting, “I told you so” to the broken, defeated and shamed. God as the father described by Jesus in the parable of the two sons doesn’t even wait for his errant son to finish his groveling confession before hugging him to his chest and calling for the celebration to begin.

Jesus showed us that God forgives and forgets because he wants the largest possible guest list for his party. He risks all for love. The story of the lost coin is about the outbreak of joy in the heart of God when the lost is found. What gives God joy in his heart gives the Pharisees heartburn and therein lies the judgment. Think about it.

You cannot understand this story unless you put yourself in the role of the lost coin. God thinks of you with love and faithfulness for eternity. He doesn’t quit loving you. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:19). If God ever stopped thinking about you with love, he would cease to exist and that is not going to happen.

The Creator’s identity is revealed in his creatures. A parent’s identity is carried in the child. You bear the image of God and he delights in you (Gen 1:27). He says, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? . . . My heart recoils within me; and my compassion grows warm and tender” (Hos 11:8).

Jesus speaks of us, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:28-30). “Greater than all else”– you and I are that important to our heavenly Father.

God is dismayed and heartbroken to lose you from that relationship and overjoyed to find you again. You matter to God. He cares what happens to you. He wants you back. He finds you and puts you back where you belong.

People are fond of saying, “There are two sides to every coin,” to caution us not to expect much. That’s not what God thinks about you. He’s no spoilsport, harsh taskmaster or implacable critic. He loves you. He is proud and happy to have you with him.

You can expect everything of your God because he won’t disappoint you for eternity. You have his word on this: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:26). So enjoy the party! It’s meant for you!

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are they who find refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).

Thursday, May 15, 2014

May God bless the hell out of us all!

Erik Guzman of Key Life Ministries has a pretty provocative analysis of the Parable of the Vineyard Workers.  That parable is where I came up with the name of this blog.  Click here for that post.

From Erik's post at KeyLife:

God is not fair. He gleefully flaunts it too. He shoves it in our faces. Jesus’ version of reality is devoid of common sense. The Kingdom of God might as well be called “Crazy Upside Down Jesus World.”

Here’s an example.

Say I need some landscaping done at my house. So I go to the day-laborer place and I hire up all the guys standing around. We agree on $100 per guy for a day’s work. They work hard for a couple hours, but it doesn’t look like we’ll get all the work done by quitting time. So I go back to the day-laborer place and get some more guys.

A couple more hours go by. I need more guys. I go get ‘em. They work.

A couple more hours. More guys. More work. By this time my yard looks like an ant colony with workers swarming all over the place pulling bushes, planting trees, laying sod, hauling decorative rocks, building planters, etc.

Everything looks good, so I go get the guys some chicken and beers to show my appreciation. With about an hour of daylight left, I head back to my house and pass the day-laborer place on the way. To my surprise, I see some guys just showing up looking for work.

I think that these guys are slackers. You don’t show up at the end of the day looking for work. They probably slept all day after partying the night before. Now they’re here to hook up with their friends who actually got their butts out of bed to earn some money.

So I pull in and ask them why they’re standing around. They say, “Look man, you know...we been standing here all day and nobody hired us.”

I know they’re full of it, but I’m a good guy. I have plenty of cash and these hosers look like they could use a break. I hire the guys and haul them to my place. They get about an hour of work in before everything is done and we all sit around eating, drinking and BS-ing.

It comes time to call it a day and pay the workers, so they all line up. Of course the slackers step up first, beers in hand, licking their fingers clean of fried chicken. They’re delighted as I hand each a 100-dollar bill. Then the next group. They get $100 too. Same with the next guys...and the next.

About this time, the guys who showed up first think they may get more since they worked the entire day. They step up. All eyes are on me. They each get $100. They look at me like I’m the Frankenstein monster and they’re the townspeople ready to attack with shovels and pitchforks. They start shouting complaints.

I say, “Hey, you agreed to a day’s work for $100. That’s a good wage. If I want to give the last guys the same as you, it’s a free country. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Or are you giving me the evil eye because I’m good?”

Jesus tells a story just like this in Matthew 20:1-16. Then you know what he says? He says, “Let me tell all y’all somethin’. In the Kingdom of Heaven, the last are first...and the first are last.”

WHAT?!! You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s outrageous. It’s not fair. Who would pay good money to guys who don’t deserve it and then shove that fact in the faces of the guys who worked the hardest?  But there you have it, right there in the Bible.

That’s just one example. Go read about the rebellious son who squanders all his dad’s money on hookers and booze. You know what he gets for it when he comes home? His dad buys him new clothes and throws him a party while his brother works in the field. The religious folks get a tongue lashing from Jesus while the drunks, outcasts and whores get the Kingdom. The meek inherit the earth. The persecuted are blessed. It’s all simply scandalous.

In the real world, you work, you get paid. That’s reality. You study hard, you get an “A.” That’s the way of the world. You do bad stuff, you get punished. You do good, you get rewarded. However, God’s ways are certainly not our ways.


So what is he up to?

Why all of this insane generosity to the worst and weakest of us?

I’ll tell you. It’s the way that he chastens us. It’s the way he sets us straight.

“Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

There you have it. He doesn’t give us cancer or earthquakes. He doesn’t get us fired or wreck our car. He doesn’t take our children or our spouses. He doesn’t do any of this to teach us a lesson. That’s what you would expect. In fact, that’s how all the pagan gods do it, but not Yahweh.

If he were interested in punishing us for the evil in our hearts, death and destruction would be in order. Sure we’ve seen that kind of thing in the Old Testament, but that was all part of God setting the stage to come himself to take the punishment humanity deserved. Now, he’s not mad at us anymore. He spent all his anger on Jesus; there’s none left for us. God was never interested in wiping us out. He’s interested in getting us to turn around and come home. He’s interested in getting us to repent, and to do so, he blesses us. God literally blesses the hell out of us.

Listen to these words from Spurgeon:
“When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”
So while it’s not what we expect, it’s what the gospel is all about. That’s the good news. Jesus taught that it’s the way things work in the Kingdom of Heaven. You see, we can’t work hard enough to get God to owe us anything and we can’t be bad enough to get him to punish us.

“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5).

What’s more, grace through faith is not just how we get into the family of God. It’s how we live (Galatians 3:1-3).

All that isn’t to say that there aren’t consequences for the stupid things we do. On top of that, there’s the mess we all experience from living in a fallen world. But don’t confuse that stuff with God’s punishment. There’s no punishment left after the cross.

However, he does want to bless the hell out of us. This is obviously great news for the slackers who show up hungover to work for an hour and get paid just as much as the guys who worked all day. It’s great news for the prodigals who get to come home to a party after spending dad’s money partying. It’s great news for a jacked up guy like me. But for the older brother and the guys working in the field all day, this great news is a tough pill to swallow.

Robert Farrar Capon, in Between Noon and Three, expresses their thoughts on the gospel with style:
“Give us something, anything; but spare us the indignity of this indiscriminate acceptance. Lord, let your servants depart in the peace of their proper responsibility. If it is too much to ask, send us to bed with some few shreds of self-respect to congratulate ourselves upon. But if that is too hard, leave us at least the consolation of our self-loathing. Only do not force us free. What have we ever done but try as best we could? How have we so hurt you, even by failing, that you should now turn on us and say that none of it makes any difference, not even our sacred guilt? We have played this game of yours, and it has cost us. Where do you get off suggesting a drink at a time like this?”
It’s not fair, but that’s how the Kingdom of Heaven works. If you don’t like that, I bet you’ve been working really hard to please God. I also bet you can be a big pain. Lighten up. He’s already pleased.

As he loves us, we become more loving. As he indiscriminately accepts us, we become more indiscriminately accepting. As he blesses us, we become a blessing.

May God bless the hell out of us all!

Good News Indeed

The heart of most religions is good advice, good techniques, good programs, good ideas, and good support systems. These drive us deeper into ourselves, to find our inner light, inner goodness, inner voice, or inner resources.

Nothing new can be found inside of us. There is no inner rescuer deep in my soul; I just hear echoes of my own voice telling me all sorts of crazy things to numb my sense of fear, anxiety, and boredom, the origins of which I cannot truly identify.

But the heart of Christianity is Good News. It comes not as a task for us to fulfill, a mission for us to accomplish, a game plan for us to follow with the help of life coaches, but as a report that someone else has already fulfilled, accomplished, followed, and achieved everything for us.
                                             — Michael Horton

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

You have an "A"

From Tullian Tchividjian:

My friend Steve Brown tells a story about a time his daughter Robin found herself in a very difficult English Literature course that she desperately wanted to get out of.

She sat there on her first day and thought, “If I don’t transfer out of this class, I’m going to fail. The other people in this class are much smarter than me. I can’t do this.” She came home and with tears in her eyes begged her dad to help her get out of the class so she could take a regular English course. Steve said, “Of course.”

So the next day he took her down to  the school and went to the head of the English department, who was a Jewish woman and a great teacher. Steve remembers the event in these words:
She (the head of the English department) looked up and saw me standing there by my daughter and could tell that Robin was about to cry. There were some students standing around and, because the teacher didn’t want Robin to be embarrassed, she dismissed the students saying, “I want to talk to these people alone.” As soon as the students left and the door was closed, Robin began to cry. I said, “I’m here to get my daughter out of that English  class. It’s too difficult for her. The problem with my daughter is that she’s too conscientious. So, can you put her into a regular English class?” The teacher said, “Mr. Brown, I understand.” Then she looked at Robin and said, “Can I talk to Robin for a minute?” I said, “Sure.” She said, “Robin, I know how you feel. What if I promised you and A no  matter what you did in the class? If I gave you an A before you even started, would you be willing to take the class?” My daughter is not dumb! She started sniffling and said, “Well, I think I could do that.” The teacher said, “I’m going to give  you and A in the class. You already have an A, so you can go to class.”
Later the teacher explained to Steve what she had done. She explained how she took away the threat of a bad grade so that Robin could learn English. Robin ended up making straight A‘s on her own in that class.
That’s how God deals with us. Because we are, right now, under the completely sufficient imputed righteousness of Christ, Christians already have an A. The threat of failure, judgment, and condemnation has been removed. We’re in–forever! Nothing we do will make our grade better and nothing we do will make our grade worse. We’ve been set free.

Knowing that God’s love for you and approval of you will never be determined by your performance for Jesus but Jesus’ performance for you will actually make you perform more and better, not less and worse.  In other words, grace mobilizes performance; performance does not mobilize grace.

If you don’t believe me, ask Robin!

Children not slaves.

The Christian life is the life of sons and daughters; it is not the life of slaves. It is freedom, not bondage. Of course, we are slaves of God, of Christ, and of one another. We belong to God, to Christ, to one another, and we love to serve those to whom we belong. But this kind of service is freedom.

What the Christian life is not, is a bondage to the law, as if our salvation hung in the balance and depended on our meticulous and slavish obedience to the letter of the law.

As it is, our salvation rests upon the finished work of Christ, on His sin-bearing, curse-bearing death, embraced by faith.

— John Stott

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


God’s promises were never meant to be thrown aside as waste paper; he intended that they should be used. God’s gold is not miser’s money, but is minted to be traded with.

Nothing pleases our Lord better than to see his promises put in circulation; he loves to see his children bring them up to him, and say, "Lord, do as thou hast said." We glorify God when we plead his promises.
                                                 — Charles Spurgeon

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Score Keeping

"Grace cannot prevail...until our lifelong certainty that someone is keeping score has run out of steam and collapsed." - Robert Farrar Capon

Monday, May 5, 2014

Prayer in School

There is going to be a lot of talk about prayer in school and prayer in public forums after today’s US Supreme Court decision which held that public prayer before government meetings is not unconstitutional.

I believe in prayer because I believe in Jesus. He taught us to pray and he prayed often. Jesus prayed earnestly. He prayed in his toughest moments. We should too.

I also want everyone to know what I know about God. I want them to know that God loves sinners. That God is about mercy and grace and not about condemnation. That God doesn’t want to change your behavior, he wants to change your heart. God is not all about rules. He kept it very simple. Love God, Love others. Those are not a lot of rules. They are, however, two rules that are impossible to keep without his help. He knows we will fail at both and loves us anyway. Love God and Love others. I love how easy his yoke is for I am weary and heavy laden. I know you are too.

However, there are a lot of Christians who add a lot of rules and a lot of heresy to what I just described as my beliefs. They add things that are not in the Bible. They take away things that are. Many say they believe that we are saved by faith alone but actually add more to it in practice. Many believe the Joel Osteen philosophy that a strong faith can build good old American wealth. Many believe that God will save you through faith but you have to work your butt off to keep in his good graces after that. One misstep and you are out. I think some of that is blasphemy. I think it is wrong. You can disagree. I don’t mind. I love you anyway.

Here is the problem with prayer in school and prayer at city council meetings and prayer in courts. Whose prayer will we use? You see, I don’t trust some of my child’s teachers. You shouldn’t either. I trust them to teach him math and science. I just don’t trust them to teach him about God. I may not know a teacher well enough to trust him or her or I may know the teacher too well to trust them. It is probably not that they are bad persons. It is just that they may not believe what I do.

Young kids are impressionable. Suppose your child’s third grade teachers prays: “Dear God, please let these little children know that you will love them if that do X, Y and Z.” That is wrong and I don’t want kids thinking that God only loves them if they do something to earn it. What if the prayer is: “Dear God, have these kids know that if they work very hard and do your will that they can then be saved.” That is wrong in my book. We don’t add a single thing to salvation except our sin and the need for a savior. What if the prayer is: “Dear God, help these kids to know that if they use alcohol they will go to hell?” You think I am kidding. But I am not. I have heard these and far worse come out of the mouths of Christians.

Kids are impressionable. What they hear from a teacher will matter.

Jesus also taught about how, when and where to pray. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:6) He also warned in Luke 18: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus knew that there would be those who used prayer in the wrong way and at the wrong time. I agree with him.

I think this applies to our elected officials at governmental meetings as well. None of us trust politicians anymore. From both sides of the political spectrum, we are misled and misinformed. I can’t even imagine a worse group to decide who, what or when to pray. When lawmakers on both sides use public forums to grandstand and politicize almost every issue, do we really want them in charge of prayer? Do we really think politicians leading or picking prayers or those who lead them is a good idea? Is it a good idea when the Democrats control the prayer and the Republicans do not? Is it a good idea when the opposite party is in control? I don’t think so.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

An instrument of your peace.

Prayer of St. Francis:


Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

We’ve got to go where he goes

From William Willimon:

One reason that Christians tend to move toward those on the boundaries, tend to feel responsibility for the hungry and the dispossessed is because we worship the sort of God who has moved toward us while we were famished and out on the boundaries. God looks upon us all, even us fortunate ones, as the hungry and dispossessed who need saving. 

This is just the sort of God who commands, “when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed” (Luke 14:13-14). Here is a God who, for some reason known only to the Trinity, loves to work the margins inhabited by the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed; the alien and sojourner; the dead and the good as dead in the ditch. It is of the nature of this God not only to invite the poor and dispossessed but also to be poor and dispossessed, to come to the margins, thus making the marginalized the center of his realm. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it unto the least of these . . . you did it unto me” (Matt 25:40).

The story “I once was lost but now am found” is the narrative that gives us a peculiar account of lost and found, a special responsibility to seek and to save the lost. If we want to be close to Jesus—and that’s a good definition of a Christian, someone who wants to go where Jesus is—then we’ve got to go where he goes. Christians go to church in order never to forget that we were strangers and aliens out on the margins (Eph 2:19).

“You know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exod 23:9). We were lost and then found. That continuing memory of the dynamic of our salvation—lost then found—gives us a special relationship to the lost, the poor, and anybody who does not know the story of a God who, at great cost, reaches far out in order to bring to close embrace.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Moses, Me and Muck on Our Shoes

If we come to a church right, we come to it more fully and nakedly ourselves, come with more of our humanness showing, than we are apt to come to most places.

We come like Moses with muck on our shoes - footsore and travel-stained with the dust of our lives upon us, our failures, our deceits, our hypocrisies, because if, unlike Moses, we have never taken anybody's life, we have again and again withheld from other people, including often even those who are nearest to us, the love that might have made their lives worth living, not to mention our own.

Like Moses we come here as we are, and like him we come as strangers and exiles in our way because wherever it is that we truly belong, whatever it is that is truly home for us, we know in our hearts that we have somehow lost it and gotten lost.

Something is missing from our lives that we cannot even name - something we know best from the empty place inside us all where it belongs. We come here to find what we have lost. We come here to acknowledge that in terms of the best we could be, we are lost and that we are helpless to save ourselves. We come here to confess our sins.

-Frederick Buechner

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A few shreds of self-respect.

We so very much want to add something to God's grace.  Anything at all that we can do to earn our salvation.  If that doesn't work, maybe we can add some of our own effort after our redemption.  You know, just in case.....

Here is Robert Capon's prayer, brilliantly articulating our grace-averse hearts:
Lord, please restore to us the comfort of merit and demerit. Show us that there is at least something we can do. Tell us that at the end of the day there will at least be one redeeming card of our very own. Lord, if it is not too much to ask, send us to bed with a few shreds of self-respect upon which we can congratulate ourselves. But whatever you do, do not preach grace. Give us something to do, anything; but spare us the indignity of this indiscriminate acceptance.