Grace for the Graceless

To speak the truth in love has been the clarion call to followers of Christ of late. Paul tells us that rather than chasing after every new teaching, we are to let our lives lovingly express truth [in all things, speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly]. Ephesians 5:15 (AMP)

Learning to deal with situations some have not faced before, Christians are grappling with what it looks like to be Jesus to the world around them.

How do we let our lives lovingly express truth?

In this current age of more strongly emphasized grace, we as a Church are struggling harder to

accept the unacceptable,

love the unlovable,

offer grace not condemnation,

give more than we receive

and to Tweet be light in a world that pictures God as a Judge with a gavel more than a Savior with a call.

People are moving out of comfortable middle-class neighborhoods to reach others less fortunate. Families are adopting children who would otherwise not find a home. The culture of grace is demanding that we take a look at our own sin before we stick up our noses at the sins of others.

We remind ourselves to pass along God’s grace, knowing that

Rahab the harlot is in the line of Christ,

David the adulterer was a man after God’s own heart,

Mary Magdalene was one of the closest friends of Jesus,

Jesus called a tax-collector to be His follower,

Our Savior touched the untouchable

and He dined with those rejected by the religious rulers of the day.

God is a wonderful, magnificent, loving God of inexplicable grace, calling the worst of sinners to repentance, washing all who receive Him in the blood of Jesus, pure and holy in His eyes.

All.

God so loved the world.

His grace is amazing.

However…

As we learn to offer the grace we have been given to those we have previously ignored, we often wind up

judging the legalistic,nograce

showing bigotry to the racists,

being intolerant of the intolerant,

loving all but those who refuse to love

and offering grace to all but those who do not offer grace.

In the midst of our praise and acceptance of grace, we must remind ourselves that

one of the greatest verses of salvation was taught to a pharisee named Nicodemus.

Most of the New Testament was written by a bigoted legalist.

Jesus taught His best parables to the rule-following, judgmental pharisees and Sadducees.

And He felt great compassion for the rich young ruler who would not give.

God so loved the world.yesgrace

He loved them anyway.

His grace is offered to everyone.

Not just the tax collectors but those who look down their noses at those who don’t pay.

He showed compassion not only to the unclean woman but to the rich young ruler.

He died for the thief on the cross beside Him and for the pharisees who had Him hung there.

What does unlovable look like for you?

Is it the poor urban child who desperately needs a home. Or is it the wealthy person in the better part of town who desperately needs to know the need of a Savior?

As we follow the call to love the gay couple next door, we must also follow the call to love the people down the street who shuts the door in their faces.

When we try to become a Good Samaritan, learning to sacrifice and show love to the man in the ditch in need of help, do we love or hate the one who crossed the road to the other side?

What is it that makes us turn up our noses in arrogance? Am I in danger of being proud of my humility?

Love unfeigned

Tweet Self-righteous or confessed sinner – all are in need of a Savior.

Can I freely offer the grace for which He so dearly paid?

Tweet The more I reflect on how much He pulled me out of, the less I am able to point a finger at people where they are.

Street corner or amen corner.

Love without hypocrisy. Even the hypocrites.

“Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” (Romans 5:20)

For everyone.

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Samson: Seriously Flawed, Used Seriously

We are amazingly reluctant to realize that our heroes have faults.

When it becomes glaringly obvious, we toss them aside, capes torn, shields tarnished, heroes no longer.

This must be why we find it so hard to realize that good people in the Bible do inexplicably bad things.

The really tough ones are the ones we never see say I’m sorry. I wrote about Lot recently (Jerk or Just) and the story has remained close to my heart since. We never see him building an altar, weeping over wrongs done, or even read any justification except what I call God’s gobstopping grace.

God called him righteous.

I just reread the story of Samson. importance of reading the bible

He’s another hero with a severely torn cape.

Read Judges 13-16. On the surface, Samson was an arrogant womanizer with major co-dependency problems. You know the good-looking jock in the movies who is led around by a gorgeous, manipulative harpy? That’s him.

The story starts beautifully with an appearance by God to Samson’s parents with a promise of his birth and instructions as to his rearing. (Kind of nice to have God Himself show up to deliver your What to Expect book!)

The last two verses in chapter 13 say, “So the woman bore a son and called his name Samson; and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon him at Mahaneh Dan between Zorah and Eshatol.”

That is a pretty auspicious beginning.

Then the first thing we see Samson do as an adult is to let his parents know that there’s a hot Philistine chick that he wants them to get for his bride.

“Sammy, isn’t there a nice Jewish girl you’d rather bring home?”

They weren’t being prejudiced. The Philistines were in power over Israel at the time and they were ungodly idol-worshipping oppressors out for pure destruction.

“…But his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord – that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. For at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.(Judges 14:4)

Here’s where I think some of the denial comes in.

To me, it is rather clear that Samson’s parents were doing their job as Godly people, trying to steer their son in the right direction. They were simply unaware that God, in His sovereign plan, was going to work Samson’s willfulness into the greater good.

As I read commentaries, people seem to struggle with this, certain that, since God’s spirit often moved mightily on Samson, that he prophetically wanted the Philistine woman for his wife so that God could move against their enemies.

I think Samson just wanted the girl.

We can’t be afraid to see good guys without a cape.

Tweet Our God of grace is often beyond our understanding. He uses flawed people who do stupid things.

There are some unbelievable doozies of  Samson stories I’d love to share but even a brief synopsis gets a bit lengthy. Read through Judges 14-16. You will notice that his deeds are not always accompanied by “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.”

Sometimes, as when he ate honey from the lion carcass, he was completely breaking Jewish law. (Leviticus 11:27)

His marriage was clearly an ungodly one with horrible results for his wife. (The foxes didn’t fare so well either.)

Some of his actions appear to be purely out of anger or revenge.

Still, God had a plan to move against the Philistines and, more than once, He used a strong man with weak principles to do so.

The Spirit of the Lord did fall upon Samson in chapter 15 and he killed 1000 men with a donkey’s jawbone.

Gruesome? Yes. But these were enemies of God. There is no way one person could kill 1000 people in a day with anything but an explosive.

Or the Spirit of God and a jawbone. jawbone

 

He followed that God-filled victory with a visit to a prostitute, then pulled up the city gate by the gateposts and carried it up the hill.

Flawed hero. Torn cape.

All of this leads up to the story of Samson and Delilah, one of the most infamous relationships in the Bible.

I’m won’t lend much space to that here. You know the story. This seductive worshiper of Ashtoreth, Dagon and Baal-Zebub manipulated him into telling her, not the Source of his strength, but how he could be robbed of it.

He paid a dear price for that dalliance. Blindness, bondage, humiliation and shame.

He eventually was able to push down the main pillars of the temple of Dagon, killing more enemies of the Lord in his death than he ever did in his life. God gave him an amazing victory.

And here’s the lesson:

While there are incredible stories in the Bible about Samson, he judged Israel for 20 years. Several times we see him destroying the enemy through the Spirit of God. Several others, we see him acting badly or questionably.

But we don’t know anything else that happened during those 20 years. We don’t know how many ways God used him. For some reason, God chooses show us Samson’s frailties. We see him succumb to seduction and give in to desires.

But God placed him in Hebrews 11:32 in the same verse as David, Samuel and Gideon.

Whaaat???

And what about me?

Yep, you darlin’. All those failures. All that shame.

Past is past. He can use you too.

God exposes all that weakness, all that rawness, to teach us something.

Good people really mess up.

God uses really messy people.

Tweet Stay in the middle of your mess and the temple you are dallying in will come down on your head.

But He is willing to pull you out and He can still use you.

Tweet There are no chains so strong that the power of God cannot break them.

Tweet There is no blindness so dark that the light of God cannot pierce through.

Tweet There are no idols in your life on a pedestal so high that you cannot cast them at the feet of Jesus.

Samson went into the arms of the wrong person.

God gave him a glorious victory at the end of his life.

And God gave him, in all of his messiness,

gobstopping grace.

 

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Don’t skip the mess…

Gobstopping GraceIn case you don’t yet know it, there is a whole lot of ugly in the Bible.

When you think about it, it’s a wonder there are many children’s stories to teach from the Old Testament.Bible stories

Try explaining the story of Abram, Sarai and Hagar from Genesis 16 to your children without mincing words. In fact, I would encourage you to:

God made a promise to Abram.

It seemed impossible. God told Abram that he and his wife Sarai would have a baby. But they were already as old as your grandparents. Maybe even your great-grandparents!

Abram and his wife Sarai waited a very long time for God to keep His promise. Finally Sarai had an idea! She thought, “Maybe God wants me to help!”

So Sarai asked Abram to marry her maid Hagar so that Hagar could have a baby instead. That wasn’t nearly as weird then as it is now. People did that then.

But it wasn’t God’s plan.

When we don’t follow God’s plan, things get messy.

Sure enough, Hagar got pregnant. She began to act like she was better than Sarai. That made Sarai angry and she wasn’t very nice to Hagar.

She also got mad at Abram. That didn’t make much sense but when we try to do God’s job, we don’t always make much sense.

Abram told Sarai she could do whatever she wanted about Hagar so Hagar ran away before she had her baby.

See, not so bad.

Lesson: God has a plan. Good people do bad things. Sometimes we mess up God’s plan.

But don’t leave out the best part.

If you ran away from home, your mom and dad would come looking for you. That’s what God did.

When Hagar was sitting out in the wilderness, God went after her. He loved her. He told her He knew that she was sad and scared but that she needed to go back home. He told her that her baby would be very special.

Hagar knew that God had come after her because He saw her problems. She said, “You are the God Who Sees.”

She knew God cared for her.

It’s a really good story. Lesson: Sometimes life is a little like a paper towel commercial. Life is messy. When we let Him, God cleans it up.

Sarai and Abram made up. We see testimony of their faith in Hebrews 11 and testimony to their relationship in 1 Peter 3.

But what about poor Hagar?

I can’t completely blame her for being a little smirkish. She went from servant to wife of a very wealthy man and pregnant with his child. A little like winning Homecoming Queen over the head cheerleader. But the situation wasn’t pretty.

So eventually she ran.

Homeless and pregnant, life was a big, fat mess. As is usually the case, some of that mess was caused by others and she brought some of it on herself.

But here’s the beautiful part. (Don’t forget to share this with your kids and don’t miss out on it for yourself.)

“The Angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur.”

See, if we ignore why she ran, we negate the fact that God found her.

Wherever the mess of life has taken you, whatever you are running from, God is seeking you out.

“And He said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ She said, ‘I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.'”
Why are you running?

Ashamed“And the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ So he said, I heard Your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked…'” (Genesis 3:9-10)

Afraid“And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here Elijah?’ So he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts…they seek to take my life.‘” (1 Kings 19:9-10)

He called Hagar by name. He called her by position. He gave her a chance to answer.

Are you running? Do you know why? Are you afraid? Ashamed?

God knows who you are, where you are and who He has called you to be.

He is calling out to you.

“The Angel of the LORD said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.'”

Sometimes God calls us out of situations and on to new ones. In Hagar’s situation, He told her to return. While it was uncomfortable, it was one that was for her greater good.

He had a plan.

The chance of Hagar and her child surviving childbirth alone in the wilderness wasn’t very high. God not only promised her survival, He promised her a future.

“Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, ‘I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.'”

We flee.

God pursues.

We return.

He multiplies. Exceedingly. More than we can count or imagine.

“Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

“‘Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son, you shall call his name Ishmael*. Because the LORD has heard your affliction.'”

*Ishmael: “God hears.”

We run. God pursues.

We cry. God hears.

You cannot run so far that God will not seek you. You cannot cry so softly that God will not hear you. You cannot sin so much that the grace of God will not redeem you.

The Angel of the Lord described what her son would be like.  She didn’t blink an eye at His description “He shall be a wild man…” She went straight to recognition of the magnificent grace of God.

“Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, ‘Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’ Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi*…”

*Well of the One Who Lives and Sees MeGod-Who-Sees

I don’t know about you, but that’s a well I want to drink from every day.

But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.'” (John 4:14)

“On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.'” (John 7:37)

Here’s one more thing for you: Throughout this passage, reference is made to the Angel of the LORD. When you see LORD in all capitals in the Bible, it is God’s Hebrew name Yahweh. One easy-to-remember definition of Yahweh is that it emphasizes His position as  “Covenant Maker and Covenant Keeper. Yahweh

The same God who made a covenant with Abraham, pursued a runaway servant and made a promise to her in the middle of the wilderness. “Hagar, the Covenant Maker and Covenant Keeper has heard your cry and you are going to have a son. His descendants will be too many to count.”

A pregnant runaway servant, second wife and castaway,  was seen by Almighty God, The Covenant Maker and Covenant Keeper.

Don’t skip over the messy parts of the Bible.

That’s where God’s gobstopping grace shines through.

 

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I don’t want to be capable!

Gobstopped by Grace

My lip wants to curl a bit as my nose tilts slightly into the air with a sniff.
Looting… Hmph!CapableBaltimore2
A sex change?! Hmph!!
CapableJennerThe headlines are ripe with things to “hmph!” over.

In fact, we can usually find some psychotic murderer, some dastardly evil-doer, some over-the-top celebrity – someone with different junk than ours – to “hmph!” over.

Here’s the problem.

It isn’t a skin thing.
It’s a sin thing.

It isn’t a sex thing.
It’s a sin thing.

It isn’t a socio-economic, psychotic, neurotic crime thing.
It’s a sin thing.

It isn’t a little white lie, a juicy piece of gossip, an innocent flirtation.
It’s a sin thing.

Whatever it looks like on the outside, baby, it all looks the same inside.

You, me, the mayor, the Pope and the guy who led the Rwandan genocide.

I do not like saying that.

I do not like thinking of myself with a look of hate on my face, shouting obscenities at a sweet high school girl on her way to school, just because her skin is a different color.CapableAP1957

But I am capable.

I do not like to think of myself throwing fire bombs through my neighbor’s store window because of years of discord.CapableFerguson2

But I am capable.

I do not like to think of myself swinging a machete through someone’s neck because a neighbor is a member of a different family or of a different religion.capableIsis

But I am capable.

I don’t want to imagine hammering a spike through my Savior’s hands.CapableJohn316

But I did.

There is no such thing as pretty sin.

Jeremiah 17:9 puts it like this: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly perverse and corrupt and severely, mortally sick! Who can know it [perceive, understand, be acquainted with his own heart and mind]?” (AMP)

Mine is just as ugly as the next guy’s. It is so important for me to remember that. If I’m not as bad, then I don’t need as much of Jesus.

I want all the Jesus I can get.

He told us “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32

I confessed my gratuitous sin to allow for God’s gratuitous grace.

Sweet, sweet, wonderful amazing grace.

“Jesus paid it all,” the old hymn goes, “all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.”

He felt the pain of the sin that drove spikes into His hands and feet. All of that sin we sniff at on the news. All of those nasty things we did yesterday and will do in the future.

My big crud and my little crud gave Him pain that I cannot imagine.

And He offered forgiveness.

I chose to accept it.

Sweet, sweet amazing grace.

He does not look at me and hmph.

He looks at me with eyes of love and sees His righteousness.

I was capable

but oh, praise God, so was He!!

 

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Colossians 2:13-14

 

“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. 20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound.

But where sin abounded,

grace abounded much more,”

Romans 5:19-20

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Costumes and Christianity – Quick, frugal and Pin-worthy…

BeFunky_01-06-2007_01;13;33PM.jpgI cheated a little bit.

This really isn’t entirely about cheap Halloween costumes.

That’s my daughter on her third Halloween. She’s 20 now.

Someone gave us the costume and it was one of the only ones that actually involved a sewing machine.

Through the years she dressed up as the monster of the marsh (character courtesy of the Sammy Keyes books), Charlie Chaplin, an ice queen (blue lips included), Laura Ingalls, a sun-tanned girl (I thought the idea was lame until she explained she meant overly tanned with skin hanging off.) and many more. With the exception of a couple of school play costumes, these usually involved Goodwill, spray paint, costume makeup and colored hair.BeFunky_01-06-2007_01;39;19PM.jpg(The Ugly Caterpillar actually involved a trip to Hobby Lobby for flower mesh but it was for a play. A pattern, fabric and stuffing seemed way too daunting.)

Cheap, fun and relatively easy – because I really love costumes and I’m really not good at crafty.

To us, in the midst of children in perfect costumes and ones hastily pulled off-the-rack, she looked great.

But definitely not Pinterest-worthy. (I’m not very Pinteresting.)

We had a fabulous time dreaming up ideas. I got to spray her hair til she coughed and put on makeup that made her want to rub her nose.

The best part was that she stayed in character. The ice queen was evil and proud with her frosty hair, the monster of the marsh went wild and growly in its green hair and face and Charlie Chaplin mimed his request for candy, tipped his hat and then shuffled off with his walking stick.

The point of this however, wasn’t really to write about kids, costumes and frugality. (That’s where the cheating part comes in.) But it seems that my favorite blogs these days are all by moms of cute and incredibly clever children or are geared toward a frugal lifestyle. I don’t think anyone wants to read about Martin Mac – an almost weekly meal at our house. Two boxes of mac and cheese.pizap.com14146890272421(Not Annie’s, definitely not homemade, not even Kraft. Aldi’s brand for less than $.40 a box.)
Mix in a little ground beef or whatever leftover meat you have along with canned or frozen veggies and maybe some sauce.

Our version of Hamburger Helper. It’s good, inexpensive and different every time.

But definitely not Pinterest-worthy.

I think to some extent, we all desperately want to be someone worth pinning. A person held up as noteworthy. We don’t feel as good as the Proverbs 31 woman, Paul, Francis Chan, Jen Hatmaker or our Bible study teacher. And we want to be better homemakers, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, Bible students.

Better Christians.

Whoa.

Better Christians? What does that mean?

Does that mean knowing God better? Loving people more? Looking more like Jesus?

Many times in our poor striving little brains, it doesn’t. Instead it means praying, studying, reading or worshipping the way we think we are supposed to.

We get so confused.

2 Corinthians 1:12 expresses the way this should look beautifully: “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.”

Simplicity and Godly sincerity.

Can I do that?

Can I utilize the wonderful Bible studies and women’s retreats to spur me to action rather than make me want to be a Pin-worthy Christian? “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.” (2 Corinthians 2:5)

Costumes or Christianity. I may not Pin-worthy

But God is. And that’s all that matters.

“But he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
(2 Corinthians 10:17)

green-swirls

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