Tag Archives: grace

Going home . . .

 

Over the weekend, we made a trip back to my hometown, Montgomery City, where the annual Old Threshers was the drawing card.

 

Old Threshers is a trip back to the past.  The old steam engines were on display working like they did when they first joined farmers in the hard work that had to be done—harvesting, cutting logs into boards, and more.

 

And that is not all.  The tractors of my childhood and even before all line up for everybody to review and remember.  I always look for the Oliver 66, which is the tractor Dad taught me to drive and the one I like the best.

 

There are other displays and activities, but there is something about seeing that Oliver 66 and the others from my past.  There is a magic that occurs when the steam whistles sound, the steam puffs up toward the clouds, and not to mention the smell of the freshly cut cedar planks.

 

But Old Threshers, this year, was special.  I visited with old church members, cousins, and neighbors. Recognition had to be awakened. Stories had to be shared.  But most important was sharing the past with the future.

 

For the first time, my grandchildren walked the fair grounds with me.  They saw the equipment for the first time.  They heard some of the stories of my parents and my childhood.  And I felt my heart soar.

 

And the day expanded as we returned to the farm.  I got to share the house with my daughter-in-law for the first time.  I watched the awe as she and her son/my grandson looked at Mom’s piano.  It continues to sit there waiting even though the keys are in bad shape and tuning has not been done in decades.

 

And the grands met their cousins!  Yes, the next generation met for the first time.  My kids with their cousins.  My grandkids with their cousins.  My brother, too, along with me and our cousins.  Wow!

 

I know, the experience was everything to me and not so everything for everybody else. But I am reminded that family is family. I am reminded that when we expand our family by joining in new families, home never really changes.

 

For years, I have thought about why I was so eager to leave home after college.  I have wondered why home always stays with you.  I went home regularly.  I really did not divorce myself from home.

 

But life divorced me from home.  Life circumstances can distance us from the very foundation of our lives. True, I became distanced from home; but I never became distanced from the foundations taught me at home.

 

My parents came from different faith backgrounds.  True they were both Protestants, Mom a Presbyterian and Dad a Methodist.  But when they married, the decision was to be a Methodist family.

 

My faith journey began with their faith journey.  And my faith home remained Methodist, even with a brief visit with a Presbyterian congregation.

 

When I returned home over the weekend, the first face I recognized was a member of that Montgomery City Methodist church.  How warming it was to feel that sense of recognition and to glory in that relationship.

 

The recognition reminded me that we are all of one family.  We may have different parents, different genetics, but the common ground of faith makes us so close to one another regardless of location or distance defined by years.

I find myself thinking about Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son:

  • How many times do we walk away from the foundations of our lives thinking we could do better?
  • How many times do we avoid going home?
  • How many times do we ignore what we are taught, esp. about God?
  • How many times does our life decisions risk poisoning our lives?
  • How many times do we think we cannot go home?

 

The parable shared in Luke , speaks to all of us at so many different levels.

 

As a parent, we do our best to raise our children so they know they are loved and will always be loved.  We know we have to discipline them at times.  We know we have to let them grow up.  We know we have to accept their decisions even if we disagree. Yet, we pray they succeed and that they come home; not permanently but emotionally.

 

As a child, we all know that as we grow up, we look forward to living as independently.  We grow up and move on.  Maybe like me, I never wanted to be labeled a teacher, marry a farmer, and stay in my childhood community.  But, I also never expected to face some of the challenges I did.

 

Thank goodness my parents laid the foundation for me life that included God and church.  I fled that farm life, but I never left the church.  My life challenges certainly knocked me down, but with my faith in God, I kept going.

 

The story of the Prodigal Son is as much a story of me leaving and returning as it is as a parent who watches children leave.  God provides unconditional love to all always.  It is us who must find our way home.

 

Going home is tough, true.  But going home warms the heart and the benefits are immeasurable.

 

Going home this weekend was a delight.  My family that remains in Montgomery were there.  My family who live outside of Montgomery, were there. My heart was warmed by all the memories, all the relationships, and all the promises of the future.

 

My prayer is that all of my family and friends from my childhood, from today, and from the future know that they are loved.  There is enough unconditional love from God to accept all the mistakes we make, but we may not know it until we stray away.

 

Thank you, God, for all the love and all the grace and all the forgiveness that you provide.  I hope I model it for others, too.  –Amen.

 

Luke 15:11-32:  Parable of the Lost Son

11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

 

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

 

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

 

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.[a]

 

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

 

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on.27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

 

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him,29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

 

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

 

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By & With God’s Grace

Sermon for Sunday, April 8, 2018:  Beginning a series loosely based on the figures in the Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, KS, stained glass window that show the growth of The Church since Jesus’ resurrection.  Today the timing of Martin Luther King’s assasination made the inclusion of his portrait in the window the starting point.  The scripture references are included within the text of the reflection.

             1968:  The year was filled with notable events within our country’s history, but that does not make it any different than any other year along history’s timeline.  But 1968 has a definite place in our lives as Americans and as Christians.  And today, 50 years later on the Sunday after Easter, I cannot ignore some comparisons between the words spoken by Jesus and those of Martin Luther King, Jr.

These words are from the speech in Memphis, TN, on April 3, 1968:

     And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

     Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

     And I don’t mind.

     Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

     And so I’m happy, tonight.

     I’m not worried about anything.

     I’m not fearing any man!

The words are prophetic, as MLK died the next day, assassinated.

Compare those experiences and the words of Jesus’s ministry and death.  The similarities cannot be ignored.  In the gospel of John, we hear Jesus’ words that are equally prophetic about his own death.  John 13:31-36:

     31 As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man[h] to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son,[i] he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once. 33 Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

     36 Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”

And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”

These words come directly before Jesus tells Simon Peter that he will deny even knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crows.

Living ones Christian beliefs can place you in very critical positions between good and evil.  And even though Jesus lived and died over 2,000 years ago, the conditions around us remain the same.  There is good and evil competing for our attention.

MLK and Jesus experienced discrimination and their prophetic words as they neared their final day are eerily parallel.  The discrimination experiences are different; but they are also the same.  How both chose to confront discrimination was to follow God’s commandment:  Love one another, as you want to be loved. Following that commandment mirrors the grace God provides us.

MLK was assassinated 50 years ago, but the Civil Rights movement continues.

Jesus was assassinated 2,000 years ago, but the Christianity movement continues.

Since the crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus commissioned the disciples to continue his work:

     16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

     18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[a] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  [Mathew 28:16-20, NLT]

As the disciples stepped out of hiding and began to follow Jesus’ instructions, the community of followers developed into The Church,.  And the Church is the vehicle that continues to move Christianity forward.

            The Church grew.  The movement continued and continues.  God’s grace is a message so valuable that Christians have gone to great lengths to share the story.

The images that surround the Tree of Eternal Life in the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window have all accepted the commission, “. . . to make disciples of all the nations,[a] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  Each one’s story is different yet the same. Each one’s story is God’s story—love one another.  Another common trait is that they exhibit God’s grace.

Maybe understanding grace is a key to unlocking the value of Christianity.  Theologians have defined grace a bit differently than a common dictionary would define the term.

  • According to the on-line edition of the Oxford Dictionary, grace is
    • Smoothness and elegance of movement
    • Courteous good will

But then the Oxford Dictionary adds the third definition:

  • (in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
  • According to the website, wllaboutgod.com, grace is explained more fully in this manner:
  • In the New Testament grace means God’s love in action towards men who merited the opposite of love.
  • Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves.
  • Grace means God sending His only Son to descend into hell on the cross so that we guilty ones be reconciled to God and received into heaven.

The website includes the scriptural reference from 2 Corinthians 5:21, 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin,so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

This is the good news that The Church has carried forward since Jesus’ resurrection and commissioning of the disciples.  God’s grace is for everyone that is the message filling Paul’s letters in the New Testament.  The same website includes scriptures that develop Paul’s argument for accepting Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection in Romans 3:22-24:

     22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

     23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

This argument fueled the earliest Christians to carry the movement forward.  Each disciple, each man and woman and child who accepts God’s grace and believes that Jesus frees us from sin joins in the movement to spread the good news.  The Church is an inclusive term that continues to evolve as it carries the story forward through the years and around the world.

MLK is included in the images of the window because he accepted God’s grace and lived to actively demonstrate that loving one another should erase all barriers between one and another.  The civil rights movement is an evolving process—the word movement itself should remind us that change takes time and must continue forward.  MLK wanted all people, regardless of race, to be included in society equally.     If God loves all people, we are to love all people as we want to be loved.  God did not segregate any peoples from his grace after sending Jesus Christ to teach us how to love one another as we want to be loved.

Paul shared how grace saves those who believe in the story of Jesus Christ with the church in Ephesus:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  [Ephesians 2:8-10, NLT]

After the crucifixion, running and hiding must have been much easier than continuing to meet with the other Christians, who were certainly a minority in their communities, experiencing discrimination. No visual difference identified the Christians from the Gentiles, the Jews or the Pagans, but they were targeted as being different.

No political affiliation or nationality identified who was Christian or not.  No, God sent Jesus to assure all people that he loved them all and wanted all of them to leave their evil ways and accept God’s grace.  God’s agenda was to provide unconditional love and forgiveness to all individuals regardless of anything:  there were no restrictions, no limits, no boundaries—geographical, political or racial. This is God’s unconditional love and accepting that premise results in knowing God’s grace.

As Christians we are part of The Church. Our job is to push forward, to keep the movement growing.  God’s grace removes any barriers between people.  MLK saw no reason for discrimination and he stepped forward. His dream is God’s dream:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.  . . . And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” [Accessed on April 6, 2018 at kinginstitute.stanford.edu.]

            How do you define God’s grace?  Do you live by grace or do you live with grace? Did MLK live by grace as he led the civil rights movement?  By following God’s one commandment to love one another as you want to be loved, are you perpetuating Jesus’ teachings by the way you live?  MLK chose to live out God’s message because he knew God’s grace and wanted to do all that he could to assure that all Americans were free.

The Church today has weathered many challenges, but the message of God’s grace and the salvation available to us through Jesus Christ is the story, but do you live by grace or with grace?  The Church lives by grace when is offers “courteous good will.” The Church does not always work smoothly or elegantly, but whatever it does to love one another continues Jesus’ work.

Today you live with God’s grace when you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior; and you live by God’s grace whenever you unconditionally love others as you want to be loved.  You are part of the  Christian movement that continues to grow and to spread the Good News.  God expects each of us to do all that we can in any way that we can to demonstrate God’s grace to others through unconditional love.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving God,

Thank you for granting us grace

Thank you for Jesus Christ, our teacher.

May we each find ways to share

Your grace with all others.  –Amen

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Know What You Believe: John Wesley’s church

given on Sunday, September 25, 2016

Knowing what one believes certainly is not easy. The demands of our daily lives tend to eat up so much time that careful reflection on who we are or what we believe just seems impractical. Yet, who we are and what we believe are evident to others around us, so we should try to figure it out. Psychologists make careers out of it when life clashes with one’s personal identity.

Why is it important for Christians to know what they believe? Basically what one believes is the very operating system one uses in all the various relationships, work settings, home environments and even recreational times. The choices we make are connected and controlled by the belief system we live. Sometimes what we say we believe and what we do are not aligned causing friction within one’s self as well as friction within personal, professional, or casual relationships.

The relationship we maintain with God is the most critical one we have during our earthly lifetimes. A healthy relationship with God places us in an excellent position to develop and to maintain healthy human relationships. Plus life challenges are handled with less destructive force when God is part of one’s operating system.

United Methodists follow John Wesley’s inadvertently developed theology that could be termed ‘practical theology’ for his followers in order to take the Bible and move it into action. Wesley modeled how religion was a lifestyle rather than a Sunday-worship event. He delivered the Story to the unchurched, the poor, and the laborers in any way he could—even though he was raised in the Anglican Church attended by affluent and influential people.

Reviewing the various types of theology, I discovered how creation theology seemed be a positive fit for me; but knowledge not implemented fails God. Certainly knowing what one believes establishes one’s foundation, and God asks us to use faith knowledge as our operating system. We are to be God’s presence in this real world and that means we need a method to do God’s work. Wesley provides that structure.

Wesley was born into a faith-filled world. The son of an Anglican priest, the family environment placed Wesley in direct connection to religion. His family also struggled with the structure of the Church of England. Wesley saw the world around him and coupled that with Jesus’ model of living to develop the methods that put scripture into real life application. No easy task, for certain, but as he refined his faith and his methods, he demonstrated how the Holy Spirit works through God’s faithful.

Wesley lived what he read in scriptures, but he struggled with many of the same issues that Christians today do. How does God work in our lives? My perception of Wesley’s own story is that one simply must begin by living in the world as best as one can. He was fortunate that his parents were educated and determined that all their children were, too, despite the financial stress it placed upon the family. This history is repeated in Christian families throughout time.

Yet, Wesley struggled to understand God. He saw the poverty and the injustices in the world around him. As Wesley continued developing his faith, he could not ignore that world. He saw the people who were suffering and were unable to manage due to harsh work conditions, poor economic situations, and even deplorable health situations.

Wesley took God to the people. Not only did Wesley live his faith personally and actively within the community, he took God’s story to the people. He preached the Word. He demonstrated how to live faith actively and he studied struggling to fully comprehend God.

The practices that Wesley used became the structures of the Methodist denomination. Using small group study structures and the acts of piety and acts of mercy, he established the methods that put God’s words into action.

The Methodist denomination developed from Wesley’s disciplined approach to living his faith. The personal struggles Wesley experienced to discover what God’s grace means and how to live in a faithful relationship with God provides a model of holiness that continues to lead others to Christ and to transform the world one person at a time. In fact, God’s grace reaches out exponentially when Wesley’s model is implemented individually and corporately. This is a structure I want to follow.

Wesleyan scholar Hal Knight shares how God’s grace interacts in our lives: “Grace is relational, an encounter with the transforming presence of God’s love, eliciting our response.” The four levels of grace makes faith an active process, even developmental, which for an educator provides more clarity how growth in one’s faith leads to the Kingdom of God. Wesley outlines the four levels of grace as a map for our lives.

Born we are granted prevenient grace even before we can cognitively recognize it. As we grow, we become conscious of God’s presence in our lives. Educationally this might mean that the rote learning that attempts to develop an awareness of God’s presence begins to become an internalized knowledge, and with that new understanding the comprehension of God’s presence—justification.

Developing knowledge begins with introduction of an idea, which is then practiced and/or committed to memory one way or another. Once a knowledge base is in place, practice moves to different frameworks as the student sees the knowledge in different settings. For instance, number facts must be learned, but until the student begins using number facts in calculations the new knowledge is still unused. Now the student must begin applying the knowledge in real-life settings—sanctification when talking about one’s faith.

Sanctification moves the Christian into action. Developmentally the Christian is now able to take the awareness of God’s presence in one’s own life and aid others in the discovery of God, too. Sanctification, as Knight states, transforms Christians “. . . to be a loving person.” This leads the Christian to the final state of grace known as perfection. Knight states:

Christian perfection comes when the holy tempers of love for God and neighbor fill our hearts and govern our lives. While we never entirely do God’s will (“involuntary transgressions” remain), we can be freed from intentional sin and motivated by love. Wesley believed Christian perfection was a promise of God that could be attained before death, followed y continued growth.

 

Wesley articulated the developmental process of reaching the Kingdom of Heaven and argues that reaching such an internalized relationship with God is possible even within the confines of an earthly existence. This is a religion that makes sense in a world that battles evil continually. This is a religion that provides hope to those in the worst of circumstances. This is a religion that puts theory into action. This is a denomination that works now as much as it did in the past and will in the future. This what I believe faith is in my life.

As part of our community, knowing what you believe transforms you into the Christ-like figure you are. Knowing what you believe defines the quality of your life regardless of life’s challenges. Living what you believe draws others to God as they strive to be more like you and that is how we share God’s story and bring others to Christ transforming the world one person at a time.

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

How easy it is to live our lives with little thought about our faith.

We can become numb to the needs of others if we ignore You.

We fail to practice what we believe,

so we fail to fulfill your commandment.

 

Help us, Lord, to follow Wesley’s model of faithful disciplines.

Help us to see those in need, sick, lonely, and lost.

Help us to find ways to share what we believe

so others may discover your saving grace.

 

Thank you for loving us despite our failures.

Thank you for teaching us how to love one another.

Thank you for granting us the presence of the Holy Spirit

so we may serve as your disciples in our own community.

 

In the name of the Jesus Christ, amen.

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Getting along with God

given on Human Relations Sunday, January 17, 2016:

Scripture base: Psalm 36, esp. v. 5-9, NLT

 

Get along with God. It sounds so simple, so why don’t we do it. Get along with God! Today is Human Relations Sunday according to the UMC calendar, but nationally it is also the weekend that is designated to honor Martin Luther King’s work in civil rights. Can you imagine what our world would be if everybody simply used “get along with God” as a guiding principle.

Accepting God in our lives and acknowledging that Christ was born, lived and died for us, we accept the responsibility to get along with God. God asks us to use grace each day to maintain loving human relationships, yet we continue to fail.

Each day we depend on God to guide us and to protect us. As Christians, God expects us to guide and to protect one another. God depends on us to be his representative in our communities. If we model God’s grace and unconditional love, we will get along with God as well as make a difference in our own world.

Consider the word ‘depend.’ Mental health practitioners analyze human relationships and see patterns of behaviors that are reactions to how people treat each other. As the world shrinks and boundaries blur, human relationships depend on unconditional love. A breakdown in a relationship can even lead to a diagnosis of codependency:

of or relating to a relationship in which one person is physically or psychologically addicted, as to alcohol or gambling, and the other person is psychologically dependent on the first in an unhealthy way. [Accessed on January 14, 2016 at dictionary.reference.com.]

 

Sadly codependency becomes a systemic cancer as it leads to repetitive behaviors between generations and also has a magnetic quality as codependents gravitate to one another.

Following God’s law, offering grace and loving one another unconditionally can prevent codependency. Relationships based on the non-judgmental, unconditional love God demonstrated through Christ’s ministry lead to an interdependent peaceful community within one’s own home, neighborhood, country and even globally.

How, then, do we live in a challenging world that seems filled with judgmental, hateful and faithless people? The Golden Rule may be ringing in our ears, but applying it can be difficult. Yet, God has provided the prescription and sent Jesus to demonstrate how to use this perfect form of love. All we need to do is get along with God by getting along with one another.

In Psalm 36, King David outlined the benefits of getting along with one another. We depend on God’s grace and love:

Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the ocean depths.
You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.
    How precious is your unfailing love, O God!
All humanity finds shelter
in the shadow of your wings.
You feed them from the abundance of your own house,
letting them drink from your river of delights.
For you are the fountain of life,
the light by which we see.

 

Even in David’s ancient times, long before Jesus was born, the prescription for healthy human relations is explained:

Because I love Zion [God],
I will not keep still.
Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem,
I cannot remain silent.
I will not stop praying for her
until her righteousness shines like the dawn,
and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.

–Isaiah 62:1 (NLT)

 

Do not stop praying for her or him or for a country or a neighbor or a family member. Dependency on God will keep unhealthy relationships from developing and getting along with one another is also getting along with God.

Depending on God leads to healthy independence from the unhealthy human relations whether it is between family members, friends, neighbors, strangers, or even cultures. Turning over negative relationships to God through prayer frees us to develop our healthy relationships. So . . .

  • Practice dependency on God. Turn the hurt over to God in prayer.
  • Practice independence from people who trigger negative behaviors.
  • Practice interdependence with Christians who work together to share God’s love.

 

The outcome of a non-judgmental, faithful, and loving lifestyle is a world that radiates freedom. Getting along with one another is getting along with God.

This Sunday may be Human Relations Sunday, but every day should be. God created a world that was designed to meet our every need. He created us with free will, too, but we fail to use God’s law and a healthy relationship with him—we get along with God.

As we continue into this new year, remember to offer grace to others who may not yet know God’s grace and unconditional love. Each person you meet needs your unconditional love, too. Get along with one another.

When something gets your ire up, stop and think. How do you want to be treated? Treat others the way you want to be treated. Do not use cross words in reply, pray for God to guide you. When a driver cuts you off on the road, take a deep breath and cry out to God for help.

If you react negatively, others react negatively towards you. God will be missing in your life. God’s grace is your fuel, so use or offer grace in all your relationships with others. That is how you get along with God, but it is also the way you get along in a diverse world of believers and non-believers, too.

Today may just be 1/365th of an entire year, but in all your relations on each day of the year, practice God’s law. Let others see what dependence on God does in your life so they will find the blessing of God in their lives. Getting along with God makes getting along with others positive not negative. And the ultimate outcome is salvation and joining with others getting along with God throughout eternity.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

Daily we are challenged by relationships

That hurt our feelings or even our bodies.

We struggle to offer grace to those who hurt us.

We struggle to love unconditionally when filled with pain.

 

Guide us to follow your son’s example.

Guide us to love one another

even when we do not love the behaviors.

Guide us to offer grace

even if others do not.

Guide us to get along.

 

Thank you for your grace and unconditional love.

Thank you for your son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you for the promise of everlasting life

When we get along with you, God. –Amen

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Building our Christian foundations: 5. Grace & grace with accountability

given on Sunday, February 8, 2015

5.  Grace & Grace with accountability

Building a new home takes knowledge, planning, and supplies in order to create a structure that is durable, safe, and functional. Adding the touches that turns a house into a home depends on those living within the walls of that structure. A home, built on a solid foundation, becomes a source of comfort, provides security, and reflects the personalities living there.

Building our Christian foundation can be compared to building a house, also. Yet, without Christ in our lives, we are empty inside. We can attend church and show that we know who God is—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; but living our faith honestly takes grace.

Grace is the intangible quality of unconditional love that God provides each and every individual, even every living creature living here on earth beside us. He accepts us as we are; He comforts us when we hurt; He provides us the security of eternal life; and He grants us the gifts that make us who we are.

Why, then, is grace so hard to understand? Grace from God is free, arrives with us even as we are born, cradles us as we grow up, and catches us whenever we make mistakes. God’s grace is a constant we can count on.

How come we, as his children, do not accept that grace? How come we do not model that same grace in our own lives? Why can’t we use grace automatically like God does? Among all the wonderful gifts and traits that we are born with, why do so many seem to have missed the grace gene?

Really it does not matter, what does matter is that we accept God’s grace and work on all the essential pieces that do build our Christian foundation. As we read and study the scriptures, we find example after example of God’s grace. As we study the gospels and learn how the Holy Spirit baptizes us into God’s family, we experience God’s grace. As we join in the universal church, we begin practicing that grace by unconditionally accepting our Christian brothers and sisters also.

Grace is part of Christianity. Grace is part of the DNA of Christians around this world. God’s grace is reflected in each and every one of us. All the ways that we share God’s love, without reservation, demonstrates the power of grace even in the worst circumstances imaginable.

John Wesley identified grace as a core term for Christians. In his notes, he provides insight into the application of grace in our lives:

Grace is actually a relational concept: God’s active presence and transformative power in our lives. The name Emmanuel speaks to this reality—God with us. We perceive the divine presence by the results of the divine energy working within us, enlightening, convicting, forgiving, liberating, assuring, chastising, empowering, strengthening, comforting—assisting us to become what God intended humankind to be, faithful creatures whose love for God and their neighbors is manifest through works of piety and mercy.

 

God’s grace is ours for the taking; but once we take it, we must use it. We are to be accountable to God in how we use grace in our lives.

As God’s missionaries, we are to use grace with accountability. This phrase is key to working with one another. And yes, the phrase is even used in schools. In fact, one behavior system BIST has developed in the Kansas City area and is used at the Ozanam School and Crittenton, a treatment approach to managing student behaviors. BIST’s key phrase is “grace with accountability.”

God’s grace is given and when we accept it, we agree to provide grace to one another. The human element of grace is accountability. We are accountable to God in how we use grace with others, but we are expected to use it responsibly. We are commissioned to share God’s Word so others, too, may join in relationship with God, accepting love and grace.

Our baptism into the Christian family includes a promise to be accountable. We are to love one another as God loves us. We are to offer grace to others just like God offers it to us. We are to do all that we can—as you so often hear said—to all we can.

If God can demonstrate grace to Saul, the Jewish Pharisee who was persecuting the earliest Christians, then we have no reason to doubt that he offers the same level of grace to us. Saul was struck blind in order for God to get his attention, but upon accepting Christ, Saul—now Paul—became accountable by demonstrating grace to others even from the prison cells. Paul knew what grace with accountability meant.

The letters we have from Paul share how to accept grace and how to use grace with accountability. In the letter to the Ephesians, we learn the formula in that first chapter, verses 7-8:

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

The connection to another essential in building Christian foundations is referred to in these two verses: The Triune God. Wesley wanted to make sure Christians understood that connection in explaining the core term grace:

Grace is a Trinitarian concept, grounded in the love and mercy of God the Father; especially manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of God the Son: and experienced through the work of God the Holy Spirit in our lives.

 

Grace is essential in our Christian foundation. Grace is the mortar used to create the brick walls, the screws and nails connecting all the pieces, and even the wires running throughout the structure carrying all the energy to all the places it is needed.

As Christians, we accept grace and we must use it with accountability. Paul never gave up on any of the young Christian churches he planted throughout the Mediterranean area over 2,000 years ago. His own methods of communicating and demonstrating grace kept those young Christians accountable just as he does today as we study the scriptures.

James, too, Jesus’ own brother, taught the early Jewish Christians how to be accountable with grace:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

Each one of us must work to maintain the Christian foundation God has provided us. We have all the instructions needed in the scriptures. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have the skills and talents God has given us. We have grace for all the times we make mistakes because God loves us so much he gave his son so that we might have eternal life.

God’s grace is the essential element that takes us and makes us the hands and arms of God in this community in which we live. We are accountable for how we demonstrate grace to one another. We are Christians filled with grace.

Closing prayer

Dear Gracious Father,

We arrived this morning with weariness in our souls.

We have had un-Christian thoughts and made poor decisions.

We even questioned whether or not we believe.

Thank you for your grace.

Thank you for unconditional love.

Thank you for our Christian family.

Renew my faith through today’s worship.

Renew my spirit with the hope you provide.

Renew my resolve to offer grace to others.

Help me to be accountable to you and to others.

Help me to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide me.

Help me to share your Word

so others, too, may experience your grace.

–Amen.

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Are you an Olympian Christian?

given on Sunday, February 23, 2014

Are you tired of all the news from the Olympics?  Has the coverage interrupted every morning and evening viewing routines?  Has the social networking pieces driven you to consider life as a hermit?  Or have the Olympics left you inspired?

Regardless of how the Olympics have affected your life these past two weeks, there are stories that inspire men, women, and children regardless of nationality, education, or income.  The dedication these athletes exhibit often causes the viewers to pause and reflect on just what it takes to become an Olympic athlete.

Consider this:  An Olympian is born with natural abilities and then discovers a passion for a sport, commits oneself to that sport, and begins a lifestyle of training in order to compete with, not against, others with the same passion.  Is it possible for Christians to become Olympians, too?

Romans is a manual for Olympian Christians.  Paul is the master coach who can guide the newest Christians into a lifestyle that exemplifies all the qualities Jesus demonstrated in his three years of ministry.  Never having met these newest believers, he felt akin to them and wanted them to have all the skills needed to compete against the non-Christian influences existing in the world.

Paul himself was an Olympian Christian.  As a convert from Judaism, he quickly transferred his leadership skills to coach the earliest Christians.  He was worldly, knew several languages, understood the Old Law, and quickly learned—along the side of the road—how God made a difference in ones life.  Paul committed himself to the Greatest Commission, trained himself and others how to live as a Christian in a predominantly non-Christian world.  He demonstrated grace in the most difficult of situations.

Despite all the media hype that has surrounded the 2014 Olympics, buried in and among the stories were examples of Olympians and their distinctive qualities of commitment, training, and grace.  Whether the story was about the challenges, the successes, or the outreach of these Olympians, they model the key traits Christians should model, too.

Paul, in Corinth and planning to journey west to Spain, heard of the new church in Rome.  He wanted to visit there but was unable to do so at that time, so he wrote this manual as encouragement to the Roman church.  He was committed to the growth of the Christian faith:

14 I have a duty both to Greeks and to non-Greeks. I have a duty both to wise people and to foolish people. 15 So I really want to preach the good news also to you who live in Rome.

 

16 I am not ashamed of the good news. It is God’s power. And it will save everyone who believes. It is meant first for the Jews. It is meant also for those who aren’t Jews.

 

17 The good news shows how God makes people right with himself. From beginning to end, becoming right with God depends on a person’s faith. It is written, “Those who are right with God will live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)  (the NIRV)

 

Today’s Olympian Christians share the same sense of duty or commitment.  The Good News must be shared so others can discover the grace of God.

Olympian coaches work places them in situations that may not be the most glamorous positions and the media often overlooks them.  They are selfless, devoted to the athletes, yet demanding and encouraging all at the same time.  Paul coached from his own experience but also by seeing the talent in those newest Christians there in Rome.  As a coach, he was there to assure them of the New Law, to encourage them when they experienced a setback, and to guide them into the Christian lifestyle that would lead to the gold medal of eternal life.  Paul was an Olympic Christian.

To become an Olympian, one must discover the gifts God has given them and then commit to the rigors necessary to continue developing and improving those skills to handle all the challenges.  Training is never-ending.  Training comes in a variety of forms reading, studying, practicing, and competing.  The best coaches experience this regimen; demonstrate success, and then turn to share knowledge with others.

Paul’s story is an example of learning, too.  Being raised as a Jew, he knew the Old Law, and demonstrated how good he was at maintaining that law by seeking and persecuting the earliest Christians.  He knew the Old Law, but until he was struck blind on the road, he could not see a different way of believing in God.  He trained, he studied, and he practiced.  When he had a life-altering experience, he was awakened to ‘see’ a different way of living and became committed to teaching others whether Jewish or Gentile.  His knowledge trained the first Olympian Christians around the ancient world.

As a coach, Paul’s letters guided the early church into the structure of durability that has allowed it to grow into a global community.  The durability of Christianity is evident in every mile around this globe.  Christians continue training regardless of the successes and the failures.  Olympic athletes continue that quality of training, too.

One of the most inspiring stories shared by the media is that of a paraplegic athlete.  This young man is a model of grace and determination.  Evan Strong was featured on the NBC Nightly News, Thursday, February 20.  This young man had his leg amputated, but he refused to let it stop him and he is now competing in the Paralympics coming up in two weeks.

Yet, it is not the story of his competing that captures the Olympic spirit, but what he does on a daily basis.  The report does not reveal whether he is a Christian or not, but he is a living example of an Olympian Christian.  He grants grace to others and lives his life exemplifying the vary traits Jesus asks of us.  Strong never allows the amputation to stop him and now works to assure other amputees from toddler to adult that an amputation does not limit them.

Paul, whether he was walking along the dusty paths of the Mediterranean region or sitting in a jail cell, never waivered in his devotion to God.  Olympian Christians read Romans and learn how to live the principles, how to handle life challenges, and how to share God’s grace with others:

Romans 12:  Don’t live any longer the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed. Then you will be able to test what God wants for you. And you will agree that what he wants is right. His plan is good and pleasing and perfect.

 

3…Don’t think of yourself more highly than you should. Be reasonable when you think about yourself. Keep in mind the amount of faith God has given you.

 

We all have gifts. They differ in keeping with the grace that God has given each of us. Do you have the gift of prophecy? Then use it in keeping with the faith you have. Is it your gift to serve? Then serve. Is it teaching? Then teach. Is it telling others how they should live? Then tell them. Is it giving to those who are in need? Then give freely. Is it being a leader? Then work hard at it. Is it showing mercy? Then do it cheerfully.  (the NIRV)

 

If the Olympians return home recognizing that the commitment and training they practice throughout their athletic careers can sustain them in their entire life journey, then they are living out the same expectations God asks of us.  Evan Strong may not recognize how he exhibits Christian love, but we can see it in his actions.  He demonstrates grace and love for others.  He does not see a handicap; he sees the potential.  Paul’s manual Romans 12, defines God’s love that we are to demonstrate:

 

Love must be honest and true. Hate what is evil. Hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other deeply. Honor others more than yourselves. 11 Never let the fire in your heart go out. Keep it alive. Serve the Lord.

12 When you hope, be joyful. When you suffer, be patient. When you pray, be faithful. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Welcome others into your homes.

 

14 Bless those who hurt you. Bless them, and do not call down curses on them. 15 Be joyful with those who are joyful. Be sad with those who are sad. 16 Agree with each other. Don’t be proud. Be willing to be a friend of people who aren’t considered important. Don’t think that you are better than others.

 

17 Don’t pay back evil with evil. Be careful to do what everyone thinks is right. 18 If possible, live in peace with everyone. Do that as much as you can.

 

19 My friends, don’t try to get even. Leave room for God to show his anger. It is written, “I am the One who judges people. I will pay them back,” (Deuteronomy 32:35) says the Lord. 20 Do just the opposite.

 

Scripture says,

“If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
By doing those things, you will pile up burning coals on their heads.” (Proverbs 25:21,22)

 

21 Don’t let evil overcome you. Overcome evil by doing good.  (the NIRV)

 

Olympian Christians are committed, they train by reading and practicing, and they show grace and love to others.  They see the potential in others, not the limits.  They grant grace to others regardless of circumstances, and they do whatever they can for all that they can whenever they can.  Olympian Christians know what Paul meant when he wrote in Chapter 8:

31 What should we say then? Since God is on our side, who can be against us? 32 God did not spare his own Son. He gave him up for us all. Then won’t he also freely give us everything else?  . . .

 

37 No! In all these things we will do even more than win! We owe it all to Christ, who has loved us.

 

38 . . . Nothing at all can ever separate us from God’s love because of what Christ Jesus our Lord has done.  (the NIRV)

 

For the last two weeks, the Olympic spirit has modeled the lifestyle Christians must use to become medal winners, too.  We are to be committed, to train, and to demonstrate God’s grace to one another.   Turn to the coaches in your life, whether in the Bible or among your Christian family, and check yourself.  Do you need more commitment, more instruction, or more practice?  Maybe you need to compete, get out in the world’s arena and live it.  Give 200% and see what a difference it can make in your life while making a difference in others’ lives.  Go for the gold, God’s gold of life eternal.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father and Coach,

Thank you for the hundreds of Olympian athletes

who demonstrate commitment, training, and grace.

Thank you for the gifts you give each of us

to use as ways of sharing the Good News of Jesus.

Thank you for the coaches in our lives

who teach us your law and train us in ways to live.

Thank you for the opportunities provided each of us

to practice loving one another.

Thank you for your unending grace

even when we fall, tire, or injure our self or another.

May we commit ourselves today and everyday,

to continue training and practicing

in order to share your grace with the world.  –Amen

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God’s Gifts: promises fulfilled

given on Sunday, December 15, 2013

            Preparing today’s thoughts could have been very difficult due to the personal events of the past two weeks.  Yet, returning to life’s daily routine allows for the spinning, ever-changing world to slow down to a manageable pace.  And, who cannot help but sense the excitement and expectations that are part of Advent.

The seasons do not stop even for the calamities of life whether it is a destructive natural phenomena such as ice storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes or whether it is an international event such as the death of Nelson Mandela or whether it is a personal life event such as a scary diagnosis or a loss of a spouse, a parent, a child or even a friend.  The seasons continue racing along.

Advent began two weeks ago, and suddenly Christians face the clock.  Christmas is only 10 days away and the race is on.  The wish lists must be filled.  The cookies and candies need preparing.  And amazingly, as the days tick down, it all gets done.

What happens, though, when all the social hubbub crowds out God?  Generation after generation Christians look forward to Christmas, yet God’s gifts seem to be hidden below all the papers and bows, mixed up with tinsel and lights.  God’s gifts easily become lost.

God’s gift of life seems so basic that the significance of our own creation is lost.  Even as children are born, the new lives are viewed simply as a byproduct of an organic act; so many are even thrown away because the biological parents are lost in addiction.  God’s gift of life is tossed away.

For just a moment, put yourself into God’s position.  Out in the cosmos, the idea of creating a world leads you to create a garden and then you begin adding to the creation all the gifts we now know as the flora and fauna of our earth.  The creation is pleasing, but it lacks something.  And you realize that a garden needs attending, so the next creation is ‘adam (Hebrew) or humankind:

. . . the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  . . . In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  . . . The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”  (Gen. 2:7-17, NIV)

God’s gift of life includes the gift of free thought:  New ideas.  Relationships.  Dreams.  Hopes.  New life.  Knowledge.  Choices—good and bad.

History records how well humans have handled God’s gift of life.  The choices made certainly have created this 21st century world filled with all the innovations of creative minds.  But this world is also filled with all the horrors of destructive minds.  God’s gifts were given along with responsibility.  God promised us a life filled with all that we need as long as we follow his rule.

God made promises to humankind to take care of us.  God gave us grace and turned humanity loose to tend to the garden.  Standing guard over us, God watches us, feeling joy with our successes and weeping at our failures.  Yet never has God gone back on promises.

The generations continue, history keeps recording humanity’s successes and failures, and God’s promises remain.  The third Sunday of Advent is a time to pause and reflect on God’s promises.  Has he fulfilled them?  Yes.  Has he given up?  No!

God’s promises remain steadfast.  God gives us grace.  Each one of us is loved unconditionally.  At no time is that love taken away.  God’s grace is a gift that keeps on giving, as the cliché states.

Accepting God’s gifts also gives us hope.  In our humanity, we make mistakes.  The story of Adam and Eve demonstrates that God’s grace is like a safety net protecting us from ourselves.  With that first bite from the tree of knowledge, God’s grace was tested.  God told them they would die if they ate from this tree, but with grace and unconditional love, they lived.

The choices we humans make ever since that first bite demonstrates God’s grace and unconditional love.  We learn to trust God.  We learn that when we make a mistake, God forgiven.  This hope that God loves us despite our mistakes gives us courage to continue forward.  Hope allows us to love one another unconditionally, too.

Scriptures record story after story of human errors being forgiven.  Stop and review the story of Abraham who listened to God and offered his own son as a sacrifice, trusting in God right along to the final moment when God provided a ram to replace Isaac as the sacrifice.

Hope turns into joy, another gift from God.  Abraham’s sense of relief and joy propelled him forward.  His life was not easy, but he relied on God.  Turning over one’s life to God provides a sense of joy immeasurable by any human standard.

The list of God’s gifts continues to grow.  We can create our own list of gifts received from God that is customized to our specific strengths and weaknesses.  Yet, opening that gifts of God’s unconditional love and grace provides a sense of joy that springs alive within us and radiates outward touching the lives of others.

Today, and each day of Advent, we need to evaluate how well we are sharing God’s unconditional love with others.  We need to ask ourselves if the grace God provides us is modeled in the grace we give to others.

The generations recorded in the Old Testament provide a testimony to how well God’s human creations implemented God’s laws.  Failures seem to outnumber successes, but God never gives up hope.  Over and over God tried to help; and when all else failed, the prophets warned the people.

The Old Testament prophesized or referred to a coming Messiah in 44 different scriptures.  In Isaiah, the prophecy of a Messiah is recorded in nine different ways (Fairchild 2013).  When the Christmas story is recorded in the New Testament, it answers the prophecies.

Isaiah 7:14:  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Matthew 1:23:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

God’s gifts never fail.  The Word tells the story.  Advent allows us to relive the expectations of the faithful throughout history.  We never tire hearing the story over and over again because we receive hope and joy from God’s gifts.  We demonstrate God’s unconditional love and grace with our own gift giving.  And that gives us one more gift—joy, represented by the third candle on the Advent wreath.

As we continue to mark off the days until Christmas, keep God’s gifts in mind.  Prepare your heart for the final gift of the season—the purest, Jesus Christ, son of man and son of God.

 

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and giving Lord,

In the midst of our holiday season,

            help us to remember the greatest story ever told.

As we rush from place to place,

            keep us safe along the bustling streets.

When we greet the faces of family and friends,

            let the love and grace given by you, shine.

In those moments when sorrow sneaks in,

            translate the loss into heart-felt memories.

With each Christmas carol we hear and sing,

            hear our praises and our thanks.

With each card we send or we open,

            spread a little more Christian love.

            Thank you, Lord, for the gifts we receive

                        today, tomorrow, and forever.  –Amen

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