Tag Archives: Grace

Loving the Unlovable

Read Matthew 5:42-48

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:13)

back1994512The past couple of weeks have been fraught with a number of scary and tragic scenarios. A Malaysian 777 airliner went missing for no apparent reason, but the there seems to be some connection with the pilot who seemingly and purposefully took the plane off course. There was the mass shooting at Fort Hood where one of the soldiers went into the Fort armed and shot at fellow soldiers who were unarmed, killing three and wounding at least sixteen others.

There was a man who accidentally hit a ten year old boy who might have been in a group playing chicken in the road. When the man stopped his truck, got out of it and went over to he boy to see if he was alright, a mob of people attacked him and beat him to near death. Finally, just on Wednesday, a sophomore at Franklin High School in Murraysville, PA, went into his school and stabbed and/or slashed 24 people with two kitchen knives. At least five of those twenty-four were critically injured and are currently fighting for their lives.

In moments such as these, it is impossible not to hold your hand to your mouth in shock. It is hard not to question, “what is going on with this world?” We sit in horror as we watch these news stories unfold before our very eyes. We can’t help picturing ourselves and/or our loved ones in those situations. I remember when the Newtown, CT massacre happened, I couldn’t help but cry as I thought about kissing my own children before sending them to school. I fully expected them to return home (and they did), just as I am sure those parents did.

On the same note, it is also hard for us to distance ourselves from the people who perpetrate such heinous and seemingly evil crimes. We often say, “What could possibly drive a person to do such things”; however, we often don’t really reflect on it as much as we just ask the question. Perhaps we the question is a part of our process to make sense of it all, but the reality is we cannot make sense of it. This often leads us to a place where we dehumanize the perpetrator and label him or her as evil.

But the reality is far more complex than that. It is true that such acts are evil, yet are the people themselves evil? Were they born differently that you or I? Are they just “bad seeds” who were evil from the very beginning? Or are they, themselves, victims? Are they people who were crying out for help but never received any? Are they people who slipped through the cracks, for one reason or another, and unfortunately ended up spreading their misery, pain and suffering to other people?

These reflective and probing questions are not being asked to make light of what they did. Nor are they being posed to take away from the real pain, suffering, and misery they’ve caused countless people. Rather, these questions are calling us to be quick to show compassion, resolute in seeking understanding, and slow to make judgment.

These questions are ultimately asked in order to get us to reflect on an often tough, but necessary, question: What more can we do? What steps can we take to spread hope, healing, and wholeness to those in need. That is not to say that we can always prevent such things from happening; however, it is a constructive way of working toward a solution as opposed to pointing the finger at someone and calling them the devil. Christ has called us to love all people, including those wishing to harm us, and to avoid judgment. Perhaps working toward helping people struggling with inner pain and turmoil is one way we can carry that call out.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, use me in a way that brings love to those I may otherwise deem as unlovable, as we are all your children. Amen.

What’s Religion Got to Do with It?

Read Micah 6:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then [Jesus] turned to His critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer Him.” (Mark 3:4, NLT)

I-praise-you-oh-God-christianity-30793563-1658-1387If I were to ask what Christianity is, I would no doubt get a variety of answers starting with, Christianity is a major world religion. That answer would be followed by a host of other answers such as Christianity is a religion that is based around Jesus the Christ. Some might respond that Christianity is a religion that teaches about God’s unconditional love, about God’s forgiveness and about Grace. One might say that Christianity is a religion centered around Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and a religion that celebrates a new life through Christ’s resurrection from the tomb.

Regardless of what answers one might come up with in order to address what Christianity is, they would all most certainly be centered around “religion.” Yet, did Jesus come to establish a new religion. There is no doubt that Jesus was a Jewish teacher who lived and breathed his Jewish faith; however, was it religion that Jesus was focused on?

Let us look at what Jesus did and taught. Jesus taught about loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus taught about recognizing and valuing the image of God in all humanity. Jesus not only taught those things, but lived them out and modeled them for the people he taught, often times at the expense of getting in trouble because he was going against what his “religion” told him he should do. In reality, Jesus was much less about religion and more about relationships.

For Jesus, it was important that people were living in right relationship with God and with each other. If religion helped guide people in that direction then it was doing its purpose; however, often times, religion gets caught up on the rules and regulations, on the structure and hierarchy. Often times, religion becomes more about pleasing the system than it does about pleasing God. What’s worse, pleasing the system is sold to people as being “pleasing to God.”

But Jesus, and the prophets who came before him, knew that what was pleasing to God had little to do with religion and EVERYTHING to do with relationships. So, why go to church then? Why should we be involved in a religious institution, one might ask? The reason is because God calls us to be in relationship with one another, to be in a Christian community that will encourage us…and to be in a Christian community that we can be an encouraging presence in. God wishes for us to build each other up, support each other, celebrate our triumphs together and support each other in our weaknesses.

It is in the Christian community where we find spiritual growth and nourishment. It is in the Christian community where we find opportunities to be a part of the work of Christ in the world. It is in the Christian community where we find accountability as well as the grace to learn from our mistakes and grow into the person God is calling us to be. It is within the Christian community, not within the Christian “religion”, that we find that the presence of God is truly with us…it is within that community where we find that we are NOT alone! Remember that while God does wish for us to get hung up on dogma and religious rules and regulations, God very much does want us to be present in a community working toward seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. The challenge today is to find your place in the Christian community. God is calling you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows.” – Ben Stein

PRAYER

Lord, work in me and through me to strengthen the relationships I do have as well as to begin to build new ones.  Place me in the midst of your community. Amen.

Grace Period

Read Matthew 18:21-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:15)

images_softball_fieldThis year, both my daughters signed up to be on the recreational softball league for the first time.  This has been a good experience for them so far and they are really surprising me at how quickly they can pick up the rules of the sport and learn to play the game.  While it has been trying on my wife and I as we try to get the girls to their practices and games (which sometimes conflict with each other), it has also been rewarding for us as we get into the games and root for our girls and their teammates.

My daughters both have learned very quickly that you cannot swing vicariously when a ball is pitched to you.  They have also learned that you can’t just stand there, poised and ready, without attempting to swing at some of the pitches either.  After all, it only takes three strikes and your out!

Of course, we all know that. “Three strikes and your out.” We can all hear the umpire screaming: “Yeeee-ooo-uuu–rrrrr Ooo-uuu-ttt!!!” Those are the rules of the game and, we all know those rules carry on off the field to. We have all heard irritated parents tell their children, “Three strikes and your out.” I know I have been guilty of saying that to my children and I know I am not alone. “That’s strike one! Two more and you’re grounded!”

What we have been taught and, in turn, what we have taught our children, is that there is a limit to our grace. We even call that limited length of time a “grace period.” There is only so much room for error, there is only so much room for grace, before someone has gone beyond the point of no return. While this works in the context of a game, is this how God wants us to operate in our everyday lives?

Peter once approached Jesus of Nazareth to ask that very same question. Is there a limit to grace, is there a grace period followed by the point of no return. “Lord, how many times should I forgive someone? Seven times,” asked Peter?  Jesus responded by saying, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Seventy times seven? If we do the math that equals four hundred ninety times! There’s no way any one of us could forgive that many times without losing count!

And that is the point that Jesus is trying to make. In God’s eyes, there is no such thing as a “grace period.” In God’s eyes, there is no such thing as “three strikes and your out!”  God is not asking us to show grace until the point of no return is reached…for grace can only be found far beyond the point of no return.  Once you experience God’s grace, there’s no turning back for God’s grace transforms us and compels us to bear that grace toward others.

While God is not asking that we be pin cushions, or that we needlessly take abuse from people, God is asking that we always show the same grace to others that we ourselves have received.  We can remove ourselves from bad situation without removing grace from ourselves. If we do that, if we would just take the time to treat others the way God has treated us, then we would realize that there is no grace period for grace is eternal and timeless. Let the grace of God work in you so that you may bear that grace to others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Give grace the same way you received it: with joy and thanksgiving.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for the grace you have poured out on me. I open myself to that grace so that I may show it to others. Amen.

Growing in Grace

Read Matthew 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:8)

vbc_gig_screenWhen I was in my later teens, I went through a period of trying to identify who I was as person. I knew who my parents told me I was, I knew who the church thought I was, I knew what society expected me to be; however, I needed, as do all young people, to discover who I was.

For many years, the church was a place I found my identity in; yet, as I was going through this period of change, the church became less and less so. I got tattoos, pierced my ears, and started to change from the little boy everyone knew me as, into something different. And of course, different is not always a welcome thing. I remember the looks I got when I first walked into church with my newly inked skin. I was proud of them, clearly some of my fellow church members were not. It’s not that anyone said anything nasty to me, but I could just tell by the way they looked at me.

So, to make a long story short, I walked away from my Christian faith for many years. That does not mean I stopped believing in God, or in a higher power, but I sought for that connection in other things. I started to have a negative perception of the church as a whole as a result of my previous experiences. That was sad, looking back, because most of my childhood years in the church are fond memories for me.

Thankfully, the story does not end there. While some of the reactions I got from some of the members of my church were negative, there were other people in the church who did not look at me, or treat me any differently. The pastor of my church at the time, kept on embracing me and treating me with the same respect and dignity as he always had. He patiently answered questions, invited me to be a part of different ministries in the church, all the while allowing me to find out who I was as a person.

One of my Sunday School teachers was another person who kept on loving me despite my changes, as did some of the other church members and, of course, my parents. Despite my walking away from my Christian faith, I could not walk away from the impression those people, and others, left on me. Despite my focusing on the negative that happened, I still could not wipe away the miraculous positive reinforcement that those people had on my life.

And those experiences, in part, inform who I am today as a pastor and spiritual leader. I have come to learn over the years that even just a little grace goes a long, long way. It’s like a mustard seed, that starts off as the smallest of things but grows into a giant tree, sheltering the birds of the air from the desert sun. Grace is the doorway to the Kingdom of Heaven. At firsts it looks small, distant and hard to enter, but as you journey closer to it you realize it is a door wide open, and all who enter it will be changed forever.

As Christians, we are called not only to receive grace, but to be bearers of it. In fact, if we are to grow at all as Christians, we are to grow in grace. It is so easy for us to fall into legalism and judgmentalism, for that is the way of this world; however, though we live in this world, we are called to transcend it. We are called by God to extend grace to all, even to those whom we feel don’t deserve it. After all, who are we to judge who deserves God’s grace. Let us err on the side of grace and extend that grace to all people, no matter how different they might be. You just never know who’s life God will touch as a result of that grace.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If we are to err, and err we shall, then let us err on the side of grace.” – Rev. Alec C. Park

PRAYER

Lord, help me to extend my grace to all people. Soften my heart that I may bear witness to the undeserved grace you have given to me. Amen.