Category Archives: Grace

How I’ve Neglected Grace

Owning up to ones faults is never an easy task. Identifying the qualities of oneself that are less than appealing or distasteful is an uncomfortable yet humbling experience. This has been my undertaking over the last few days. Over the past couple of weeks I have been reading the recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. In this book, which I recommend highly, I have encountered a man who so passionately pursued God that every action that flowed from him encompassed grace, honesty and self-reflection. From my time spent reading this book I have come to realize that a characteristic that I have come to embrace about myself has been at the very same time counteracting an attribute that I wished to attain. In short, my cynical nature has been counterproductive to a life lived for grace.

My recognition of this came about from reading passages in “Bonhoeffer” that spoke of Bonhoeffer’s gracious treatment of the guards and wardens who held him captive during WWII even up to the point of his execution. Bonhoeffer knew that everything that he did was a reflection upon Christ and that he must live his life as a witness to the power of what Christ did on the cross and in his resurrection. I realized upon reflection of his actions that Bonhoeffer was embracing grace even before any action inflicted upon him constituted giving it. Grace was his way of life not, as he defined, cheap grace but true grace. The circumstances through which Bonhoeffer endured would have justly led to an attitude of cynicism and hostility but he remained hopeful, fervent in prayer and gracious.

I realized after reading this how I have often claimed to live a life of grace based solely on the assumption that grace was bound by cause and effect. An individuals particular actions would lead to a need for grace to be extended. (I am here merely referring to grace given between human counterparts, not divinely instituted prevenient grace.) This however has been a false assumption on my part. Grace does not rely on a cause but is a natural effect of one lived within Christ’s unbounded grace. It is a result of the outpouring of grace upon an individual that then flows out of response to a fully committed life to Christ. Given my incorrect assumption I operated by merely extending grace when the circumstance called for it rather than living a life that reflected the grace given to me.

By living this way I felt that I could still maintain my cynical nature and pessimistic (although I maintained it was a realistic) reaction to individuals and circumstances. My cynicism was a direct result of denying grace within my life. I now realize that I can maintain a life of critical reflection while embracing and living out grace but that I must be ever aware to not let myself slip into cynicism which would inhibit grace flowing through me. This is a fairly new revelation for me. Granted I grasped the concept intellectually some time ago it took reading an example of a godly man’s life for it to make the leap from head to heart.

Change is never easy and it’s an ongoing battle but if I desire to live a life of grace then I must be willing to tackle those things that would get in the way. In light of my own humbling encounter with the Spirit pointing out my weaknesses I would like to ask you: how are you neglecting grace in your life? How can we continue on this grace filled journey together where the Spirit is shown in our lives through the outpouring of grace and we can remove all hindrances from it?

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Tattooed Grace*

Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of spending in a local tattoo parlor. It was my first time at this shop, and well my first tattoo since leaving my old artist, John, in California. It was a nerve racking situation, to be honest. I have high standards when it comes to the work that I will allow on my arm after all it is permanent. It was a 2 hour job that was filled with pleasant conversation. I was able to share with this artist about my job and why I love Jesus and what He’s about. After the two hours were over my arm was nicely wrapped in saran wrap and tape to control the left over blood that was coming out. I paid the artist and drove home.

It wasn’t until after I got home that I noticed that some of my fears about having a new artist had come true. There were blemishes in my tattoo, nothing drastic but it definitely was not up to the standard that my previous artist had set. I got a little frustrated, it’s permanent!!! I expressed some of my disappointment to my wife and became a little embarrassed about it. But something changed this morning. I looked at my tattoo in a different way when I woke up today. I saw it as one small piece of a larger work that will take place on my arm. It was only a small portion, it didn’t make up the entirety of what will be. And beyond that, I see now that the blemishes are only a small part of the piece that is already there. I smile now, even as I write this. There is beauty in the blemish. This tattoo has significance for me, it always had but now it represents something far more beautiful than I ever intended. I have blemishes in my life. I have made mistakes and they aren’t pretty but thanks to the grace that I received from Christ those blemishes are now lost in the larger picture of who I am in Christ. They are gone. How beautiful to think that they are gone.

My new tattoo now for me represents grace. The blemishes will remind me that I’m not perfect but through Christ I am reconciled and redeemed.

(I cannot take credit for the title of this post, it’s inspired by my friend Kyle Liggitt’s blog of the same title. Tattooed Grace )


When Grace is too much…

Facebook, Twitter and Blogs have been afire with the recent announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden. As I’ve read through many of the tweets, posts and status updates there has been a world of reactions to the news and to be honest this is probably one of the more difficult announcements to respond to. I have resisted writing anything in regard to the recent events because even as a pacifist I have found myself struggling with my reactions to the news. In spite of all that I have found myself observing many people in heated debates about the Christian response. Some are rejoicing, claiming that God’s righteous judgment was carried out upon this man with a skewed and evil ideology, while others (myself included) have felt a sense of sadness over the loss of a man who never (as far as we know) came into a loving relationship with Jesus.

With the varying reactions what I have noticed is that many people who are in mourning over the death of a man who never knew Jesus are being berated for their extension of brother and sisterly grace. The grace being showed by these people is too much for some. The grace being extended is not salvific divine grace but rather grace from fellow sinners who wish to be an example of how God’s grace can work in the lives of people. It is my belief that these people are showing the world that even those who commit the worst sins according to human standards can be forgiven and that God’s grace, even greater than ours, could have extended to this man. God loved Osama Bin Laden.

That’s a tough pill to swallow. For many the idea of God loving Osama bin Laden is too far. That grace is just too much. The man was too far gone. But the amazing thing is that there is never too much grace.  In his book “Throw It Down” Jud Wilhite wrote that “In refusing grace, I was saying that Jesus was not enough & that his sacrifice needs to be greater.” The same principal applies when we view other people. In viewing someone as too far gone to receive God’s grace we are saying that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough. I believe that by extending some post-mortem grace to a man who didn’t know the love of Jesus is an appropriate response. It is not saying that his sins were forgiven by God but that we view him as someone who was created in the image of God, fearfully and wonderfully made, yet fallen and in sin. In recognizing him as such we are extending to him something that he really did not deserve and that is what grace is: getting what you don’t deserve. Salvific grace is up to God but our reactions to his death can manifest grace.


How Do You Define Yourself?

There’s a temptation in all of us to define ourselves by our failures. We tend to look at our pasts, our mistakes, our sins and believe that we are nothing better than those times that we have failed. A lie has been spread that you are only as good as your worst times, the times that you failed at a relationship, made poor financial decisions, lost self-control and indulged in overeating, and the list goes on.

There is an aspect to this introspective view that tells us that if we look at our successes and accomplishments as ways to define ourselves then we are arrogant and conceited, self-serving and over confident. I bought into this lie for a long time. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that I have been defining myself all wrong. The definition of who I am does not lie in my failures but rather my life is a series of successes. It’s a series of accomplishments that at times may have started out as mistakes but were made into successes.

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

When I define myself based on my failures I neglect to see that grace is sufficient for me. Christ’s power takes my failures and turns them on their head. Christ’s power takes my failures and allows me to learn from them, develop character from them and grow from them. In other words, Christ’s power through grace turns my failures into successes. I am no longer defined by my failures but am always defined by my successes because Christ’s grace is sufficient for me.


I’m of Apollos…

Recently there has been a ton of reaction online to Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins”. Controversy isn’t really anything to new for Rob Bell but this book has driven the blogosphere and Twitter crazy with the amount of hype it has received. I have no desire to write a review of the book as enough people have done that already but I do feel that I need to address some of the lines that have been drawn in the sand over the book.

Before I can address the situation I must first ask for forgiveness and repent for my own participation in the reactions to Bell’s book. I am in no way shy about my support for Rob and his writings. He has been a huge influence in my pastoral ministry and in the way I have come to develop my own theology. However, I am repenting for my actions of throwing stones at other pastors such as Mark Driscoll and John Piper. While I disagree theologically with much of what these men teach I cannot in good conscience deny them my hand of fellowship in the body of Christ. We believe in and worship the same Jesus and therefore I recognize them as brothers in Christ.

I was humbled today as I was catching up on Twitter posts and I stumbled across a post by Rick Warren. The post simply stated:

“I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. I do NOT believe in the inerrancy of my interpretation… nor yours either!”

It reminded me that while I have my particular interpretations of Scripture and my understanding of God the Father and Jesus, I should not have the audacity to believe that my interpretation is inerrant. As the thought process followed various rabbit trails I came to the point where I recognized that the arguments surrounding Bell are beginning to sound much like the situation that the Apostle Paul was addressing in his first letter to the Corinthians.

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

The lines have been drawn in the sand. Either you are a part of Bell’s camp or Driscoll’s which sounds familiar to Apollos or Paul. Our camp is Christ and always should be. We should recognize that Jesus is our common ground, while we may be influenced more or less by one side or the other we should never throw stones because we all live in the same house. Our family has become more and more divided as history has progressed so rather than contribute to that I believe that we must be reconciled to the Gospel. We must not elevate our interpretations to inerrant but must be willing to disagree in grace. We must agree on the essentials (In my opinion they are the incarnation, the DBR, and salvation through Christ alone) and then allow for interpretation on the non-essentials. I may line up with one side but I will no longer condemn the other.

I am not of Apollos, or Paul, or Cephas but I am of Christ.

 


Apologies for the 9/11 Christian Center

Over the past few months there as been an uproar over the plans for a mosque to be built near Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 Terrorist attacks. While people have varying opinions on this matter and I have mine, I believe that much of the uproar is misguided, violent, hateful and not Christ-like. I had a conversation with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago about this and mentioned to him that I think the solution would be to have the mosque built and a Christian church and a synagogue to promote inter-faith dialogue and peaceful relationships. During that conversation I never had any intention of writing about this situation on here. That was until I came across the 9/11 Christian Center and became utterly appalled. The subtitle of this “church’s” website is : “A Christian Response to the Muslim Ground Zero Mosque”. Now call me an idealist, naive or what have you, but this is not a Christian response. A Christian response loves thy neighbor. A Christian response is not one that is made in regard to a mosque being built it is one made in response to people needing to encounter the loving, grace giving Jesus that was crucified and resurrected for us.

I’m appalled because this will only do more to damage the relationship between Christians and Muslims. It will close doors for dialogue, it will offend Muslims to the point of closing off conversations and opportunities for the true message of Jesus to be preached.

So to anyone who reads this please know, I am sorry to those who are offended by this church and I’m sorry for it’s actions. God’s grace is abundant and is love knows no bounds. I pray that you may encounter that Jesus and not the distorted idea of who Jesus is from politically motivated news commentators or extremist “evangelists”.


Open Your Hand From a Closed Fist

Recently there have been several conversations that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of dealing with Biblical interpretation and theology. These conversations have included: Women in Ministry, Once Saved Always Saved/Calvinist Theology, Theistic Evolution, and Open Theism. All of these conversations, at least on my end, have been interesting and enjoyable. While those who hold different views than me and were on the other side of the conversations may have found them less than appealing, they were engaging. These conversations have led me to realize (even more so now than before) how important it is to emphasize the open hand verses the closed fist.

We, as Christians, must push through the wall of legalism, fundamentalism, and, in all reality, theological certainty to embrace a theology of the open hand. What is theology of the open hand, you ask? Well, there are a few things that we all, as Christians, must agree on, namely the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and that he is the way to the Father. These are things that we hold with a closed fist. There are other things that we must hold with an open hand and recognize that there are differences of interpretation. In our understanding of who God is and how God acts there is a need for an openness in Biblical understanding and theological certainty. Let me clarify before I go any further, I am not saying that there are not things that the Bible does not clearly spell out for us. What I am saying is that we must learn to be open when it comes to theology. We must learn that there are items, most, in our faith that are open for interpretation and when we engage in dialogue about them we must recognize that it is iron sharpening iron and that we will never have the knowledge to understand God fully.

We can lovingly disagree on women’s roles in ministry, we can lovingly disagree on whether or not the world was created in a literal 6 days or through an evolutionary process guided by God, we can lovingly disagree about whether or not a person can be saved and then give it up.

Why post this? Why now? Well, it boils down to the fact that the divisive nature within the church is creating walls for those outside the church. If we can’t get along within the church why would someone want to become a part of the church? The bride of Christ is supposed to be a loving, welcoming and embracing community not a bickering, moody, controlling ball and chain. Our arguments within the church prevent people from seeing what Christ is really about. This is not to say that you can’t hold theological convictions, but it is to say that we must open our hands in grace. We can believe that our understanding of God is right without belittling others. We can still hold fellowship with other Christians, denominations and churches while disagreeing on areas of interpretation and theology.

Are we willing to lay aside our pride in our theological convictions to open our hands in fellowship with other Christians who may disagree with us?