Being Human

14 09 2014

Welcome to the human race!  How do you know you are a human?  Do you say, “I don’t care what other people think” but secretly do?  Do you feel like everyone else in the group “clicks” except you?  Do you have something you are ashamed or embarrassed about?  Do you feel you have to live up to an image instead of just being yourself?

I most likely hit the mark with one of those questions proving you are human.  What a relief!  We can all say “I am screwed up just like everyone else!”

I think the Apostle Paul nailed it (of course with God’s help).

He wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15-16:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Paul thought he was the worst sinner out there.  That is a very honest assessment.  Each one of us could say the same thing and believe it.  I often say the only reason Paul wrote he was the worst sinner is I wasn’t born yet.  We truly know just how bad we can be.  We are there for every single sin we commit.  We also know our thoughts and intentions.  We know what we are thinking and to be honest we can think about some pretty bad stuff.

Bottom line: Paul was human

His realistic perspective gives us hope.  If he can be redeemed.  If he can have a right relationship with God.  Then, we can be redeemed and have a right relationship with God.  This is critical because one of the most common misperceptions I hear is “I have blown it so bad there is no hope for me.” Paul reminds us there is always hope.

There is another amazing reality in this passage.  Paul does not list a whole bunch of things he has to do.  Instead he points to God’s mercy and Jesus’… patience.

You have to let that sink in.  God’s response to us being human is to give mercy and be patient.

No wonder the very next thing Paul writes is:

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Verse 17)

He had a moment of worship.  I am also humbled by the reality of these verses.  In our culture (the United States) we tend to focus on things we have to do or labels we can give.

Philip Yancey wrote a book called “What’s so Amazing about Grace.”  He shared a story in which a person is challenged to describe the gospel in a sentence.  I have modified the language but basically he said: “We are all screw-ups but God loves us anyway.”

Where are you today?  Have you bought into a lie that you are so screwed up you can not be redeemed?  Paul would disagree.  Do you believe you are redeemed but now are working so hard to maintain your relationship with God you have no joy or peace?  Paul would invite you to accept God’s mercy and be thankful for Jesus’ patience.

I love the picture of Jesus smiling and telling his Dad just how much he loves us as he shakes his head, takes a deep breath and is…patient.





Agents of Grace

28 02 2014

Have you ever read something and did a double take. You reread it just to make sure it said what you think it said. That happened to me as I was reading Exodus. In Exodus 24:9-11 we are told about Moses, Aaron and his sons along with the seventy elders going up to see God. Verse 11 is what made me pause, “But God did not raise his hand against these leaders…”

The reason I did a double take is God was the one who invited them up. Why would he raise his hand against them? Here are my thoughts.

At the end of the day God is holy. He also has the true “big picture.” As he saw these men walking up, he would have known that Aaron would soon fail as a leader and make an idol for the Israelites to worship (Exodus 32). Aaron’s sons would choose to disregard the requirements laid out by God for proper worship and would put God in the position of maintaining the holiness of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 10). You could add to this the number of times the Israelites would complain and talk about how good life was when they were slaves. The seventy elders never seemed to help lead the people in a better direction. Instead they just went along with the crowd.

Have you ever had a meeting with someone you know is bad? Have you ever gone to a function where a person who makes really poor choices is placed at the same table as you? Thanks to the power of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other internet tools we can “raise our hand against them.” We can fire off that perfect poke in the eye. We can bash them and get “likes.” We can even text while we talk with them making sure people know what an idiot they are.

I am thankful God takes a different approach. God extends grace. At the core we see God’s desire to have a relationship with us. His desire will result in inviting guys like Aaron to eat with him. It also meant Jesus would get the reputation of being a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19).

Technology is allowing us to set our own borders. We can isolate ourselves with “friends” who are just like us. When we argue, we seem to be crueler and sharper in our attacks with those not in our circle. In an ocean of words we feel the only way we can be heard is if we get creatively ugly.

The world is in desperate need of the unique grace offered by God. I say unique because in our own circles we tend to be really good about sending encouraging and uplifting messages. There is never a shortage of inspirational stories or pictures on my Facebook news feed. What if we extended grace outside our circles? What if we did something kind for a person we despise? What if we took Jesus seriously and loved our enemies?

God never condones sin. There are plenty of examples where God steps in and demonstrates justice and holiness. God also extends grace. God does it perfectly. The rest of us do it a little less than perfectly. There will be times when we need to take a stand because something is immoral or harmful. I would offer there are plenty of times we can follow God’s example and extend grace.

Grace changes the world. Grace tears down walls, restores relationships and offers hope. Ultimately it was God’s grace that opened the door for our salvation.

Will it be hard? Yes. Will we be misunderstood? Likely. We will always get it right? If you are like me, no. However, if we focus on grace and extend it to others then I think we can have the opportunity to truly impact our world.

There is also a blessing that comes back to us. I wanted to write about grace. God is awesome in bringing things together. Where I ended up is different from my initial thoughts. I wanted to remind us that we live by grace. God tweaked my message to focus on offering grace outside our circle of friends. However, I believe as we offer grace the byproduct will be a reminder of the grace given to us. God loves you and me not because of what we do. As we meet with God, he knows how we will blow it next week. However, he loves us and desires to have a relationship with us. He doesn’t raise his hand against us. Instead, he extends grace and offers us a seat.

Our challenge for this upcoming week is to be an agent of grace. Some of you need to accept God’s grace. All of us need to be intentional about looking beyond our circle of friends and finding a way to show grace. I am going to trust God on this one. Say a prayer and ask God who you need to give grace to.
Warning: God is most likely going to bring up the one person you absolutely do not want to give any grace to. He does that to grow you. Trust me it will be worth it.

What will it look like? It may be going out to lunch with someone you normally would not eat with. It may be saying an encouraging word to someone you normally ignore. It may be asking forgiveness for your part in why a relationship has soured. It will be critical that there be no strings attached. You are simply following Jesus.

My prayer is we will be agents of grace in the weeks to come. It will give God an opportunity to work through us bring hope, peace and reconciliation. If you are like me you are very thankful and humbled by God’s grace. Those we give grace to will hopefully be grateful but no matter what you will have given them a snapshot of God’s heart.

PS. Yes God has prompted me on who I need to extend grace to. I am praying about how to do it well.





Mercy and God’s desire

2 02 2012

Most people will agree that having discipline in your life is good such as exercising regularly or skipping dessert from time to time.  There are also spiritual disciplines that have been practiced throughout the centuries such as fasting or serving that help us grow spiritually.  One of my spiritual disciplines is to continually read through the Bible.  Last year I read through the New Testament and this year I am reading through the Old Testament.  One of the reasons it is called discipline is because you have to power through those times when you don’t have the desire to do it.  That is me when I get to the second half of Exodus.  It goes into incredible detail about the Tabernacle which was the place of worship the Israelites were told to build before entering the Promise Land.  I grit my teeth and power through how wide something is suppose to be and what type of material is suppose to be used.  However, this time God honored my discipline with some insight.

In Exodus 25:17 one of the ways to translate the Hebrew word used to describe the lid for the Ark of the Covenant is “the mercy seat.”  Those who are not familiar with the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the holiest place.  Please don’t miss that in the very first place of worship God directed to be built was the picture of mercy in the most sacred area.

When I thought about it, it made perfect sense. The author of Hebrews said in 4:16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We know as we continue to read Hebrews the Tabernacle was a picture of what was happening in Heaven (Hebrews 8 and 9). God’s desire has always been to give mercy.

We like mercy for ourselves but we have to be honest; we are not too excited about mercy for other people. One of my favorite passages capturing this comes from the book of Jonah. Jonah had been sent to tell the people of Nineveh God was about to execute judgment on their city because of their sins. The people’s response was remorse and they repented. God’s response; mercy. Jonah’s response; pouting.

Jonah 4:1-3 says “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.  He prayed to the LORD, ‘O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’”

Hmmm, does it strike anyone else as funny to think someone would be mad at God for being gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love?  However, that could easily be me when someone receives grace and mercy when I believe they deserve to be punished.  I am really glad I am not God.

Is God holy?  Yes.  Does God desire to give mercy?  Yes.  The Tabernacle acknowledged these two aspects of God.  God is holy and in the midst of that holiness is mercy.  Mercy invites us to a relationship with God.  God wants us to come close and have confidence as we approach him.

How do we apply this?  First, we have to look at our own relationship with God.  If you view God as distant and just waiting to pounce when you make a mistake, I hope you will reevaluate your view.  I hope you can grasp that God’s desire is to give mercy.  This does not mean we do whatever we want.  That would be disregarding his holiness.  It means God starts with the desire to give grace and mercy.  There is more depth to this and I would recommend talking with someone you respect who is mature in their faith to help explore this.  Second, we need to really look at how we are treating the people around us.  Is our desire to give mercy?  Is our hope that we can extend grace and be compassionate?  If we can make it our desire, then we will be in step with God.  Someone else can pout about how we are slow to get angry and we seem to be gracious and compassionate to the people around us.  Yeah, I would find it funny if people were complaining about that.

PS.  This devotional came as a result of practicing a spiritual discipline in my life.  I would encourage you to look at practicing spiritual disciplines in your life.  If that is a new concept for you, talk with someone you respect and let them help you.





Grace and Truth

11 01 2012

By now we have settled into the routine of our daily lives. Many who made New Year’s resolutions are resolving that next year will be the year they will keep them. Some are looking at their waistline and gauging just how much they enjoyed the holiday season. They convince themselves they will start working out…tomorrow…which never seems to come. Change is hard even when the intentions are good. There are plenty of books and formulas on how to stick with something or make a change that will last. However, it seems like the only person it works for is the friend who visits the neighbor who you only meet once. That person always seems to get it right. The rest of us keep piling on the good intentions and hope that one day our will power will be strong enough to change us.

But I am a Christian. Change should be easy. We talk about transformation. We talk about a new life. The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Change should be a piece of cake. My best intentions should be realized. Yet, those inside the church seem to wrestle with the same issues. The only person who was really changes is the traveling speaker who we heard once. That person’s change was so profound they were able to start a whole ministry around it. The rest of us keep piling on the good intentions and hope one day change will happen.

As we finish packing up our Christmas decorations, we need to remember we celebrated. John 1:17 says: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

When Jesus came and lived with us, I believe he brought the power of change. It rests in the duel power of grace and truth. The more I mature and see change in my own life, the more I am convinced of this reality.

Truth is powerful. It helps us have an honest assessment of where something is at. It gives us a clear picture. We see things as they are. Truth can be very painful to look at. Sometimes too painful. So, we minimize it, ignore it or turn it into a weapon we use to beat ourselves or others up with.

In steps grace. It is sweet and refreshing. Hope runs alongside it. It lifts us up. It encourages us. It believes in us. Ultimately it creates a safe area around truth so I can face it and deal with it effectively. Grace truly is a gift of God.

The law that came through Moses was a picture of truth. Jesus is truth (John 14:6). When you study the life of Jesus, you see those who were self-righteous (trying to be their own truth) were silenced. Those who had been broken by the truth of their life received grace. In the midst of that grace their lives were transformed.

Do you need change? How honest are you being about the situation? How much grace are you allowing into the situation?

You will have to sit down with God and really be willing to be open and honest. I will pick on Christians for a moment. This is where we tend to minimize or beat ourselves up. We start to look at the truth but then leap to the “right answer.” The best we can hope for is to become self-righteous. The worst is we will become hopeless never living up to that “right answer.” We must accept grace. Allow truth to be truth and let grace embrace us. Then something amazing happens. We start to live truthfully and grace guides us in changing. We really see change happen in our lives.

Now imagine this at work in the relationships around us. What if we were honest with one another and lived truthfully. Yes, we would need to give grace and live by grace and look for lots of ways to inject grace into all our interactions. You noticed I didn’t say by inserting grace we ignore the truth. Again, to pick on us Christians, this is what we tend to do. We pretend everything is alright when it is not. Truth and grace must go hand in hand. It is the only way it works.

Are you ready to change? What is the truth about the situation? What does grace look like? Remember Jesus is truth so you will need to start with him. He is also the one who offers us grace. For the church, we must be communities that live by the duel power of truth and grace. The world desperately needs it and so do we.





It is a wonderful life

21 12 2011

It looks like my wife will do it again. She will go through another Christmas season without seeing “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It is the classic movie where James Stewart plays George Bailey a man who feels his life has been a huge failure. An angel, Clarence who is trying to earn his wings, is assigned to help George realize just how important his life is. He does it by showing George what the world would look like if he had never been born. It is a great movie that captures all of the big and little ways a person’s life impacts the world around them. I found out in my first year of marriage that my wife had never seen the whole movie. Each year I say this year she has to watch it but somehow she always gets out of it.

In a few days we will be celebrating a very special birth. I began reflecting on the movie and I inserted Jesus in the place of George Bailey. What if Jesus had never been born? What would the world look like?

There are so many small ways Jesus has impacted my world. He showed me what true compassion looks like. It was amazing how he reached out to those others rejected. Outcasts felt accepted for the first time in years when they were around him. Jesus also taught me how to pick my battles. Jesus did not hesitate to stand up and call people out that were abusing their position or corrupting people around them. He showed me that it is okay to be upset by injustice. He demonstrated true power and influence does not come from a title or position but from character and heart. He showed the power of submission. He lived out the importance of facing the truth about situations even if they were hard. Those are just some of the small ways.

The big ways Jesus has impacted my world are even more amazing. I will share two. First, he demonstrated what sacrificial love really looks like. He was willing to go the distance and face death for us because he loved us that much. Mixed with that love is the second, grace. Grace is this incredibly special gift. It means I am loved not because of what I do but because of who I am. God does not love me because I am a Chaplain or I am an amazing husband and father but simply because I am special to him. Throughout my life I have needed grace and it has been freely given. All I can offer back is a thank you knowing God can see my heart and know just how grateful I am.

Sunday we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. It will be an opportunity to remember God loved us so much he gave us his son. I have a personal story of how Jesus has impacted my life. I hope you do as well. If not find someone you trust who does and ask them the question, what if Jesus had never been born? I encourage each of us to reflect on just how profound an impact Jesus has had on our lives.

You can also look at the impact Jesus has had on our community and world. Many charities will be serving because Jesus served. There will be outcasts who will feel accepted for the first time in years because churches will open their doors. Injustice will be called out as people with character and heart take a stand. More importantly maybe we will show each other love and give each other grace as a special gift this Christmas.

I guess I can give my wife grace again this year and maybe next year we will see the movie. I already have a wonderful life. Thank you Jesus and Happy Birthday.