Contagious Grace

the-grace-card

As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory. – 2 Corinthians 4: 15

I deserved to be in trouble for being a brat in class.  Mrs. Stubblefield showed me grace.  I never misbehaved in her class again.  How could I?  The grace she showed me, transformed me as a student and as a person.  It was a seemingly small act of grace, but over two decades later, it’s still a profound moment for me.

The apostle Paul writes about the grace that God give us. It’s supposed to inspire us, to well up in us, so that we share it with others.  This grace that God gives, we give.  Paul says that paying this grace forward brings God glory.

All this has me thinking today, “who can I share grace with today?”  I hope you’re asking the same question of yourself.

This grace thing is supposed to be contagious, and when it is, to God be the glory, because that’s where it all started.

In a world full of despair and fear, maybe gifting grace to each other is the prescription we need most.

Thanks to God and to Mrs. Stubblefield, and all those who show grace.  Now it’s our turn, you and me, to go be the people that God uses to spread grace around the world.

Prayer:  Lord, thanks for your grace.  Now, show me who I can share that same grace with, the grace you first gave me.  Amen

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Rising from the Ashes

Adversity - CSLewis

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! He is the compassionate Father and God of all comfort. He’s the one who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble. We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God. – 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4

I recently heard an interview with Ryan Leaf.  He was the second player selected in the NFL draft of 1998, behind Peyton Manning.  Believe it or not, there was serious discussion over who should be drafted first.  He was that good, and then…everything went wrong.  Long story short, he didn’t go on to NFL glory, he went to jail, addicted to pain killers.  Now, from his life experience, he’s sharing his story to help others who are battling addictions.  If you get a chance, you can hear a bit his story here.

Cyndi lost her son to addiction.  Now she’s started a support group for people who have lost a family member to addiction.

We have a grief group that meets at our church, comprised of widows, who come together to support one another for those who know the pain of losing a spouse.

What do all of these folks have in common?  Through their tribulations, the have found the strength, courage, and the will to help others who are going through the same things.

That’s what Paul is talking about here in 2 Corinthians.

It is precisely because of our experience and hardship, that God can use us to help others.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying God created our hardships, most of that we do on our own, or it’s just a part of life.  However, I do believe that God can use that experience of suffering that we have gone through to help others.

Two things come to mind for me today in this passage through Paul’s words.  One, God is with us in our time of trial and in our tribulations, and God knows what it’s like because Jesus suffered on the Cross.  Two, God wants to make good come from our hardships.  Like the legendary phoenix rising from the ashes, God brings new life where the world sees death.

My friend Judi was part of widows group at a congregation I used to serve.  She said once, “We don’t want new people for our group, (because it means they are suffering the loss of a spouse), but we are here for anyone who needs us.”   They went to lunch together every Sunday after worship, because they had learned that was a lonely time for widows.

So, you know your hardships.  If you are currently going through some hard time, ask for help, find someone who has been there before, and learn from them.  If you have come through tough times and suffering, how does God want to use you to help others who are now going through similar situations?

Prayer:  Lord, you have walked with me through the valley of the shadow of death.  Now use me as a guide for others who travel this road.  Amen.

Learning Patience

patience elonmusk1

Patience leads to abundant understanding,
    but impatience leads to stupid mistakes. – Proverbs 14: 29 (CEB)

If you want to get better at something it takes practice.  We can learn from books and teachers, but the greatest teacher in life is experience.

Reading through Proverbs 14 today, there’s a lot of wisdom, but the verse that jumped out at me was vs. 29.  Maybe because patience is still something I need to learn.  My passion bucket for life runs deep.   To say I have a competitive nature, well, most of my friends and family would tell you that’s an understatement.  I have learned that much of life is not a competition, but changing my ways and habits is always difficult.  I’m sure some of you reading this can identify.  We all have areas of our life and personality we would like to improve.

The problem with learning patience is the necessary experience.  I know if I pray for patience the Lord will send me opportunities to learn and grow and they will be tough situations.

I’m finding my courage to pray to learn to be more patient because I want to be a better husband, I want to be a better dad, I want to be a better friend, and I want to be a better pastor.

So here goes…do you have the courage to pray for patience with me?

Prayer:  Lord, I feel the need to be more patient.  It’s an act of love.  Help me to learn patience.  Give me the opportunities to learn.  Bring it on.  After all that you have done for me, I want to be better, I want to do better…I want to be more patient.  Lord help me.  Amen.

Trust Issues

sheep

When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  – John 10: 4

As a parent, I love my kids.  Shocking, I know.  But because I love my children I have this desire to provide for them and protect them until they can do it on their own some day.  My kids know I love them, but I don’t know if they’ll ever understand how much.

Through Jesus, we know God loves us, but I’m not sure we’ll ever understand how much.

In John 10, Jesus is using shepherding analogies to help us understand who he is, and therefore who God is – and not just who God is, but what God is like, that is, the very essence and nature of God.

We know that a shepherd takes care of the sheep, but here in verse 4, it’s more than that.  The shepherd goes ahead of the sheep, to lead and guide them, to ensure the sheep get water and pasture, and safety – provision and protection.

Because God loves us so much, God wants to fill that role of providing and protecting us.  The only question left is will we follow where God’s love leads?

As I read these words, I am invited and challenged once again to trust the voice of The One wants to provide and protect me.  Am I listening to this voice?  Do I trust this voice more than I trust myself?  Do you?  It’s the voice of one who is wiser than we are and loves us more than we could ever comprehend.

Prayer:  Lord, your love is trustworthy.  Help me trust in you today more than I trust myself, my own strength, or my own understanding.  Amen.

True Hope is Not a Return to the Past

always new

18 Don’t remember the prior things;
    don’t ponder ancient history.
19 Look! I’m doing a new thing;
    now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?
I’m making a way in the desert,
    paths[a] in the wilderness.

– Isaiah 43: 18-19

It seems the older we get, the less open we are to change.   As we age we find a way, a routine, that works for us, and as long as nothing, no one, or no circumstance messes that up, we’re good.  Here’s the thing.  While many things are similar day-to-day, nothing is ever the same.  Life around us and in us is always changing.  Deep down we know that.  We feel it in our aching bones.  Maybe that’s part of why we pine for the good ‘ole days and the way things were.  

Here’s the dirty little secret.  That’s past is always what was, and not what is, or what will be.  No matter how great the past was, it’s not coming back.  We need to know our history, remember it, and learn from it, but it’s never coming back. Unlike Jesus, that past can’t be resurrected.  

Part #2 of that secret?  That’s how God created the world to be.  Always changing, always creating itself anew.  Always changing, adapting, growing.  It’s in the definition of what it means to be alive.

Case in point:  I’m not the same dad today that I was to my children when they were babies or toddlers.  Our relationship is alive and therefore always changing.   When your cells in your body stop growing and changing, well, it means you’ve joined the Lord on the other side of death.  

Here’s the beauty I find in it though.  No two days are alike.  It’s an adventure, a new leg of life’s journey each day.  You never know what lies ahead on the next page in the story of your life.  

In the Isaiah 43: 18-19, the Israelites are hoping for a return to the glory days.  They wer great, then destroyed and sent into exile.  Through Isaiah, the Lord explains, that our past is in the past, but also promises to be with us today in making the future.  This is true hope – Not a return to the past, but God with us today and tomorrow and forever.  God creates anew and God continues to love.  That’s how God rolls.

Prayer:  God you’ve been gracious to us in the past.  Be with us today.  The only thing that doesn’t change is Your love for us, and that is more than enough.  Amen.

The Parts of the Bible I Don’t like

 

bible

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”  – Romans 12: 14

Mark Twain famously said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

Like the verse above from Romans 12 about blessing those who persecute you, or Jesus teaching about loving not only you neighbor, but also loving your enemy (Matthew 5: 43-44), some parts of the bible, I think I understand, and they really convict me to my core.

Loving those who love you is hard enough, but for the followers of Jesus it’s not enough.  We are commanded to love those who persecute us, our enemies.

Today, well, every day, I’m challenged to love those folks that just don’t like me.  My big brother taught me something years ago.  He said, “Trust me, there are plenty of people who have had good reasons to not like you, but there are also those persons who don’t like you, well, just because they don’t like you.”

It’s hard for us to understand most of us to understand that some people aren’t going to like us “just because”.

Although it doesn’t seem to matter to Paul, as the author of Romans, or to Jesus about the “why” someone doesn’t like us, or even “why” we might not like them – whatever the reason – we are called and commanded to love and bless our enemies anyway.

I guess Twain was right, it’s not the parts of the bible I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.

My challenge every day, and my challenge to you today, is to love your enemies and bless those who persecute you.

So who is The Spirit prodding you to love today?  Which persecutor or enemy?

Prayer:  Lord, loving is hard and makes us vulnerable, yet you call us to love not only our neighbor, but even our enemies and those who would persecute us.  Give us the strength and wisdom to do it.  Amen.

Running on Empty is Impossible

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12 So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne. – Hebrews 12: 1-2

Let’s face it, some days it’s just difficult to get going and the older I get, the harder it gets to roll these bones out of bed.   From conversations I’ve had, I know I’m not alone.   We all see the expanding number of coffee shops and increased shelf space for energy drinks.

That’s just the physical side of things.  Hebrews 12: 1-2, the verses above, are supposed to inspire our faith, to help us “get after it”.

My question today, is how is your soul?  Is your soul tired and worn out?  They don’t sell a drink for that one.  You can’t buy a case of “Get After It”  at the store to fuel your attitude or your spirit, they don’t sell it.  The solution for tired soul, a worn out spirit, is two-fold, and may seem contradictory, but it’s not.

First, since it’s Lent, what are you doing to “get after it”?  Increase prayer?  Fasting?  More time reading the bible and digging in to God’s Word?  Giving more to your community to others? Or as Hebrews says, “Run the race…and fix our eyes on Jesus”.  These are things we can do, like spiritual exercise and food for the soul.

Second, rest.  My son plays baseball.  He’d play all day if we let him.  Near the end of last baseball season, he had played so many games, he was physically and emotionally tired of baseball.  When the season was over, we took almost two months off.  After two weeks he was itching to get back into baseball, but we made him rest.  We’re his parents, we can still control that – make our kids rest.  But who does that for us?  We do.  We have to make ourselves rest.  It refreshes the soul.

Seems like an oxymoron doesn’t it?  Do more and rest.  But it’s the same for your physical body is it not?  Exercise more, put good nutrition in, and rest more to be healthier.  The same principle works for our soul.

Today, I challenge you to take a look a deep look at your spirit.  How are you really doing?  What will you do to make it better?

Prayer:  Lord, strengthen me when I am physically, emotionally, or spiritually worn out.  Teach me your ways and refresh me.  Amen.

Not Getting Bent

bent

Don’t get upset over evildoers;
    don’t be jealous of those who do wrong,

Psalm 37: 1

“Love your neighbor.”  “Love your enemies.”   Jesus teaches both of these.  The first, loving our neighbor, is hard enough, but loving our enemies?  That’s just hard.  I generally like most folks; you have to really have to wrong me or someone I love for me to not like you, but if your actions or words threaten the folks I love and care for, then I will get bent.  Most of us would.

The challenge for me, for us, comes in Jesus telling us to “Love our enemies”, or the Psalmist reminding us, “Don’t get upset over evildoers”.

So, what does it take to not get bent out of shape over evil?  This does not mean we ignore it, but find a way to keep composure in the face of evil.  Will the evil we encounter today change us or cause us to react?  Or is there a different way; can we face evil with love?

This is different from the ways of the world, but is the way we are called to live as followers of Jesus Christ.  This is not easy; this is a huge challenge.  Are you up for it?  I pray we are.

Prayer:  Lord, some days it feels like we are surrounded by darkness and evil.   Give us wisdom and courage to keep our composure in the face of evil and in times of adversity.  When we face evil, may your love and light shine through us.

Preying on the powerless…

Some thoughtful and faithful words shared from a good friend of mine that relates to immigration.

Fuel for the journey

0409-cmexico-immigrants-mexico-harvestScripture: Ezra 10:9 Then all the people of Judah and Benjamin (recently returned from exile in Babylon) assembled at Jerusalem within the three days; it was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. All the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain. 10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. 11 Now make confession to the LORD the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” 12 Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, “It is so; we must do as you have said”…44 All these had married foreign women, and they sent them away with their children.

Observation:God’s people had just returned from…

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Better Together

Better Together

11 I really want to see you to pass along some spiritual gift to you so that you can be strengthened. 12 What I mean is that we can mutually encourage each other while I am with you. We can be encouraged by the faithfulness we find in each other, both your faithfulness and mine.  

Romans 1: 11-12

One thing I do during Lent is to give thanks for the amazing people God has put in my life.  There are too many to list here, but if you are reading this, you are on that list because somehow, someway, God has crossed our paths together at some point.  So, I thank God for you today.

One motivating factor for me creating this blog is to inspire you and build you up with a word of God’s grace.  One of the benefits I get is from your comments and conversations.

One benefit I get is from your comments and conversations.

I think that’s what Paul is suggesting in the beginning of his letter to the Church in Rome. He wants to be with them to inspire them and be inspired by them through the power of sharing the Gospel, the message of God’s love and grace for us.  And he’s clear, we don’t do this alone.  We do it together.  It’s always better together, in community, in relationship…not easier, but better.

I hope this little tidbit for today, reminds you that God loves you, that God is with you, whatever you are going through, and whatever you are going through, you are not alone, we will face life together, picking each other up, building each other up.

Grace and Peace.

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for the gift of other faithful folks who have helped me along life’s journey.  May I be a blessing to others as they have been a blessing to me.