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.


6 04 2012

As a Christian I believe Easter is the greatest event in human history.  Jesus demonstrated the full depth of God’s love and full extent of God’s power.  I believe God first hinted at his plan to redeem humanity as he faced the reality Adam and Eve’s disobedience.  He said to the snake, “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  He intended on defeating sin and death in complete and powerful way.

God began laying out his plan in the Old Testament. When Peter wrote about the Old Testament he said:

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.  Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12)

I love the idea of angels longing to look into what God was planning.  Before Jesus people had faith God could redeem.  In fact there were lots of examples of God redeeming and demonstrating his power.  After Jesus we know God can fully and completely redeem.  We say actions speak louder than words.  Easter was God’s actions shouting and confirming what had been said.

The author of Hebrews captured it well:

Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5:8-9)

God demonstrated that sin not only hurt us but it hurt him as well.  When God asks us to be obedient, he is not asking us to do anything he has not done.  Easter is both powerful and humbling.

The night Jesus was betrayed he said to his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16)

Jesus knew facing the cross would be the hardest thing he would ever have to face but, by facing it, he knew what would be accomplished.

My prayer is each one of us would have an opportunity to reflect of the deep meaning of Easter.  I pray we would encounter a loving and powerful God who redeems.  As we experience that redemption God invites us to follow him.  May our actions speak louder than our words as we humbly follow Jesus.

Humility as a verb

19 01 2012

Being humble is still regarded as a worthy attribute.  In fact, Jim Collins wrote an excellent article called “Level Five Leadership” in which he highlighted that truly great leaders have the combination of deep personal humility with intense professional will.  Basically, they focus on doing what is best for the organization to succeed (professional will) and they have the ability to look to others for reasons things go well and look at themselves when things go wrong (personal humility).

Being humble takes a lot of confidence.  We have to be okay with who we are and what our strengths and weaknesses are.  Humility takes us one more step in that process.  It allows us to look at our weaknesses through someone else’s strengths so we can grow and mature.

A practical example:  I admit I am sick and I go to the doctor.  That is a start.  Humility steps in when I actually submit to the doctor’s recommendation and prescription.  I know I made some of you smile.  How many times has a doctor advised us to do something but we felt we didn’t need to listen to her and we did our own thing?

There are two opposites of true humility.  One is pride and arrogance.  We assume we are smarter and don’t need to submit to another person’s strengths or ideas.  The second is when we devalue ourselves and have a low view of ourselves.  This one looks similar to humility but actually is a form of arrogance.  We believe we are of so little worth that not even God could step in.  Therefore, to sink that low must mean we have more power than God.  (It is not so humble when we look at it from that point of view.)

The reason humility is a Christian virtue is because it is rooted in two basic truths.  One, we are human and therefore we will fail and have shortcomings.  We sin and hurt others.  Two, God is a good and loving God who has the strength and ability to transform our lives.  As Christians, we can look at our weaknesses through God’s strength and we can grow and mature.

Jesus was the ultimate level five leader.  Philippians 2:8 says “he humbled himself and became obedient to death.”  His focus was on the wellbeing of creation and wanted what was best for humanity (professional will is only a shadow of this).  He knew submitting to his Father’s will was the only way this would work (personal humility).

Please understand Jesus had great confidence in who he was.  He knew he was the only one who had the power to face death and conquer it.  Many people “lose their life” but it is not through obedience like Jesus but because they do not believe their life has value.  Jesus was focused on his Father’s will and our best interest.  He was relying on strength that only comes from God.  That is true humility.

We are invited to view life in the same way Jesus did.  Philippians 2:5 says “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”  We need to have true humility.

I invite each one of us to look at our lives and find areas where we have the opposite of humility.  Maybe there is an area of pride and we are limiting ourselves by shutting out others who have strengths that could help us.  Maybe there is an area that you are ashamed of.  You can’t even look at it and are covering it up with false humility.

Once you have found an area, look to God.  Look for God’s strength and view your weakness through it.  This may require you to talk with someone you trust and open up about the struggle you are having.  It may require that you ask for forgiveness because of arrogance.  Yes, you will need to ask for forgiveness if your arrogance means you think so little of yourself that not even God can transform you.  This is about true humility.

The great thing is God truly is the best leader.  I have always respected leaders who say “do as I do, not just as I say.”  God is not asking us to do anything he has not already done.  I want to view my weaknesses through his strength.  I want true humility.  How about you?