Category: Grace (page 1 of 9)

To Mature All Graces

“May it be our blessedness, as years go on, to add one grace to another, and advance upward, step by step, neither neglecting the lower after attaining the higher, nor aiming at the higher before attaining the lower. The first grace is faith, the last is love; first comes zeal, afterwards comes loving-kindness; first comes humility, then comes peace; first comes diligence, then comes resignation. May we learn to mature all graces in us; fearing and trembling, watching and repenting, because Christ is coming; joyful, thankful, and careless of the future, because he is come.”

~John Henry Newman

Both Now and Forevermore

The most serious mistake you can make on the path of discipleship to Jesus is to think God has given up on you. When you get sick, when you feel anxiety, when conflicts come, or when loneliness or grief set in, it can feel like God has left you. God has gotten bored looking after you and he’s shifted his attention to a more faithful Christian and you’re going to have to take care of yourself. God is tired of your up-and-down faith and now you’re on your own.

If that’s what you think, you’re wrong. If you believe God is tired of you or he’s already given you too many last chances and he’s given up on you and you don’t have his love or protection anymore, you’re wrong.

“The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” ~Psalm 121:8

God’s love and care for you, and his presence with you, does not wax and wane according to your ups and downs. I know it’s hard to believe the Maker of Heaven and Earth gives a rip about your mundane everyday life and all your feelings and all your problems. But he does.

Nobody gets out of this life without experiencing some pain. While we’re on this journey, we’re walking the same ground everybody else is walking on. We’re breathing the same air. We’re drinking the same water, shopping the same stores, paying the same gas prices, fearing the same dangers, subject to the same pressures, and dying and being buried in the same dirt as everybody else.

The difference is that each step we take, each breath we breathe, we know we’re protected by God. We know we’re accompanied by God.

Peace,

Allan

Sheer Mercy

I waited tables at a Red Lobster one summer when I was in college. This was back in the 1980s when the restaurant offered an all-you-can-eat popcorn shrimp dinner on Tuesdays. One Tuesday evening a man sat down in my section and placed four five-dollar bills on the edge of the table. He said to me, “I want the all-you-can-eat popcorn shrimp with double fries and an iced tea. This twenty dollars is your tip. Every time I have to ask for more shrimp or more tea, I’m putting one of these five-dollar bills back in my pocket.”

I was both shocked and thrilled by this man’s great generosity and my great opportunity. I thought, “This doesn’t happen in real life! This only happens in the movies! This guy must have won the lottery or something!”

Over the next hour or so, I made sure this man’s glass was never below half-full and that he never had to wait in between bits of popcorn shrimp. I got that twenty dollars. And I felt like I earned it. We had an arrangement. I met my end of the bargain and he met his.

Grace is not like that at all. Mercy is not an arrangement that obligates two parties. And that’s what makes it so hard to receive.

God’s mercy doesn’t fit our paradigm. It’s not how we operate. We function according to merit. Our world and all its systems are based on merit. We work for what we get and we mostly get what we deserve. In school, we get good grades or bad grades and, most of the time, it reflects what we’ve put in. We get promotions and pay raises for the work we do. If we make an investment or render a service, we expect to get paid.

To receive mercy is to accept that you are powerless. It’s to place yourself in debt. It’s to understand that you are incapable of taking care of yourself or of saving yourself. It’s to admit that you are broken, you’re helpless, you’re unable and weak. And we are not very good at that at all.

It might seem like a little thing, but we have changed the word in the ancient hymn, “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed?” I’m not sure when it happened, but the line in the newer hymnals reads, “Would he devote that sacred head for such a one as I?” Why?

Because I’m not a worm! I’m not unworthy! I’m not weak or incapable or hopeless!

That’s what makes it so hard to receive mercy. But if you can humble yourself to receive the mercy of God, if you can see your hands as empty and yourself as having nothing to offer, it’ll change everything.

That same summer at Red Lobster, a young couple sat down in my section on a Friday night. The place was packed, I was running like crazy between my four tables, and I messed things up with this couple very early in our relationship. I got their salad dressings wrong and the guy had to flag me down for some more tea. They had to wait forever for their food. I was so busy with my other tables, I let their dinner sit in the pickup window too long. And when I delivered their plates, I could tell I was not going to get a tip.

So, I quit on them.

I dropped off the check and didn’t talk to them again. It was already decided, I didn’t have a chance. So, I didn’t refill their drinks, I didn’t check back with them, I completely ignored them the rest of the meal, and I was relieved when they finally got up and left. And they left me a twenty-dollar tip.

It felt different than the way it did with the popcorn shrimp guy. It changed me. I didn’t deserve this tip, I didn’t do anything to earn it. I had no idea why they did that for me. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t fit the framework. It was sheer mercy. And it transformed me. For the rest of that summer, I saw people differently. I treated people differently. I saw myself and my responsibilities as a waiter differently. Mercy will do that.

God’s mercy is a free gift. It’s free for you with all your baggage and all your mess. It’s free for you and all your powerlessness and helplessness. That’s what makes it so transforming. You can’t earn it. Salvation is an entirely unmerited gift, so it blesses you with the freedom and the power to change. The problem comes when we try to earn it, when we want to feel like we’ve done enough. We try to get ourselves over the minimum number of good deeds required by God to be worth of his love and grace, but it doesn’t work that way.

Against all odds and against all circumstances, God in Christ takes care of all your needs. In shocking and thrilling fashion, Jesus becomes your sin and carries it to the cross. We’ve got so much guilt, we’ve got so much shame. All of us. We’ve got regrets. And our sin, my goodness — none of us has a chance. Except for the sheer mercy of Jesus. At the cross, Jesus settles all your business, he pays all your debts, he heals your disease, and he finishes your work. Just humble yourself to receive it.

Trust him with everything. Give him your doubts. Give him your fears. Admit all that up front: “Lord, I’m a mess!” It’s OK. Our God is big enough and strong enough to handle whatever you can throw at him. And he will receive you and accept you, not for anything you’re done or might probably do in the future, but because of what Jesus has done and promises to do for you forever.

Peace,

Allan

What the Lord Requires

If you or someone you know is fond of swiping the table tents from Whataburger, or if you, like me, really want one of those table tents but are averse to breaking our Lord’s commands, you need to read this article from Texas Monthly. Apparently, Whataburger is fine with the thievery.

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“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ~Micah 6:8

Seeing a puddle of oil under your car in the driveway shouldn’t cause you to change out the air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror. If your son is failing all his classes at college, you don’t argue with him about not knowing the words to the school fight song. There’s an old saying about the futility of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic — the silliness of it. Jesus calls it straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel. And our God shuts it down.

The Lord, through Micah, says “No! You don’t get it! It’s simple! Look, we’ve been over this for centuries!”

Act Justly – If you’re a covenant partner with God, you have to take care of everybody in the community. Justice. Helping the poor, protecting the foreigner, taking in orphans, feeding the widows — taking care of the people in society who can’t take care of themselves. Just like God takes care of me when I am wholly unable to take care of myself.

Love Mercy – I remember a family lunch at Furr’s Cafeteria when I was a teenager. We’re going through the line and we’ve got our trays and we’re looking at all the food and the lady asks my dad, “What can I get for you?” He replies, “I want everything I’ve got coming!” And the lady in the hairnet with the big spoon looks right at him and says, “No, you don’t.”

We don’t want what we’ve got coming; we want mercy. Mercy is not getting what you really deserve, it’s not giving someone what they truly deserve. And we love mercy when it’s shown to us. But God says love mercy for everybody.

Don’t just act merciful from time to time, love mercy consistently. Love mercy as a strategy, as a way of living, as a way of being and doing. Love mercy not just when it’s shown to you, but as you show it to others. Love mercy as your second-nature response, as your Holy Spirit instinct. Love mercy as a quality of God’s character forming in you.

Walk Humbly with Your God – Don’t carelessly or presumptuously do things your own way. Pay attention to God’s will. Put your will in a secondary position to his. Know your place next to God and walk with him — not against him, not in front of him. Walk with God’s vision, with God’s character, with God’s priorities. God has brought you life-changing justice and he’s shown you amazing mercy because that’s how he treats everybody. Now, you walk with him and join him in doing those same things with everybody where you live.

This isn’t new information. This has always been at the heart of God’s covenant with his people. Treat everybody the way I’ve treated you.

When it comes to your sin and your failures and your transgressions against God and neighbor — when it comes to your sin — our Lord Jesus looked at the Father and said, “Put that on my account.” While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son. God has brought you life-changing justice and shown you amazing mercy, not because you’re so good but because that’s the way he treats everybody. And his number one priority is that you and I would act the same way, that bringing justice and showing mercy would be your top priority and my top priority, because people would see him in us. People would experience God in us if our priorities and God’s priorities were the same.

Peace,

Allan

She Ran to Him

I’ve watched the video a dozen times and I’m moved to the verge of tears and inspired to the point of my heart bursting each time. You’ve probably seen the video: Botham Jean’s little brother, Brandt, speaking directly to Amber Guyger in the Dallas courtroom where she was convicted of murdering Botham and sentenced to ten years in prison. Brandt forgave her, told her he loved her, and then, in an unprecedented display of that forgiveness and grace, hugged his brother’s killer.

It’s remarkable. It’s beyond description. It’s Jesus. It’s the Kingdom of God. And it’s the only thing that can fix what’s wrong with us and with our world.

We can’t fix what’s really wrong. We try, but we can’t — not with education or technology or ingenuity or force. It takes forgiveness. It takes grace. It takes love.

It takes the words 18-year-old Brandt Jean spoke to Amber Guyger yesterday:

“I forgive you. If you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. I love you just like anyone else. I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die just like my brother did. I personally want the best for you… I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you. Because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want. And the best would be to give your life to Christ. I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do. Again, I love you as a person. And I don’t wish anything bad on you.”

Brandt then looked back at Judge Tammy Kemp and asked, “I don’t know if this is possible, but, can I give her a hug, please?”

When Judge Kemp hesitated, Brandt pleaded, “Please?”

When the judge said, “Yes,” Brandt stepped down from the witness stand and he and Guyger hugged.

But here’s what strikes me. Everything I’ve written to this point is only leading to this. This is what I really want you to read and seriously consider today. Pay attention to this.

When Brandt gets down from the stand and approaches Guyger she RUNS to him. She runs. She almost leaps into his arms to hug Brandt. And at the point when a normal hug would be over and the two huggers would typically separate, she re-hugged him. She wouldn’t let him go. His arms were open, he initiated the hug, but Amber Guyger ran to him and wouldn’t let go.

That moves me to the core of my soul.

I don’t know Amber Guyger. I don’t know anything about her other than what’s been written in the news and testified to in court. I don’t know much about her past, I don’t know the darkness in her heart, I don’t know why she shot and killed Botham, and I can’t imagine what she’s going through right now. But I know that when Brandt offered forgiveness and grace, she ran to him.

I don’t know but if Amber Guyger has been waiting her whole life for somebody to show her some unconditional Christian love. I don’t know but that her soul has been crying out for this for years: “Somebody forgive. Somebody express some love. Somebody say something kind. Somebody show grace. Somebody open your arms to me in acceptance and mercy.” And when somebody did — the teenage brother of her victim — she ran to him.

I also know that Brandt’s act of courageous forgiveness and unconditional love diffused the violence that was percolating in the streets of Dallas last night. Yes, there was a small protest in front of the courthouse. While Botham’s family sang and prayed at the Dallas West Church of Christ, dozens of demonstrators marched through downtown in protest of the relatively light sentence handed to Guyger. But there was only one arrest. Nobody got hurt.

I’m reminded that when the families of the victims of the church shooting in Charleston four years forgave Dylann Roof in that court hearing right after the massacre, the head of the Black Lives Matter movement called off their march. “It shut us down,” he said. “When they forgave him, it shut us down.”

The way she ran to him. I can’t get that out of my heart today.

That’s the power of the Kingdom of God, friends. The power of our Lord Jesus is not in threat or force or punishment, it’s not in numbers or petitions or boycotts, it’s not in protests or marches or demonstrations. The power of God’s Kingdom — what moves people and changes hearts and heals souls and destroys evil and will eventually transform us and the world — is forgiveness and mercy.

Brandt’s father said last night that his son’s actions in that courtroom didn’t surprise him because that’s how he was raised. That Church of Christ in St. Lucia taught and nurtured that, they practiced that. I hope our Church of Christ in Amarillo and your church wherever you are is teaching and nurturing the same thing.

Peace,

Allan

The Bible is Your Story

In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul tells the old story of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness and they way they complained and rebelled and how God faithfully provided. Paul says they were all baptized when they passed through the waters, just like us (10:2). They ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink from Christ Jesus, just like us (10:3). These things are examples for us, Paul writes (10:6). He says these things were written down for us as warnings (10:11). What happened to them, he writes, is common to all people, it happens to all of us (10:13). And, he says, God is faithful in all of it (10:13).

You see what Paul’s doing. He’s telling our story. The Bible is our story.

Story doesn’t just tell us something and leave it there, it invites us to participate. A good story drags us in. We feel the emotions, we get caught up in the drama, we identify with the characters, doors and windows get flung open, and we the nooks and crannies of our lives and our world we had missed.

The Bible as our story brings us into the vast wonderful world God creates and saves and blesses and offers us a place in that world. It shows us where we are. Good stories show more than they tell. And the Bible is the greatest story of all time.

“From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the child of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” ~2 Timothy 3:15-17.

The Bible is a story. If we read it and interpret it like a book of rules and regulations or like some kind of constitution, we won’t get it. We’ll respond to it in the wrong way. If you mistake a recipe for chicken enchiladas for a manual on putting a vacuum cleaner together, you’re going to wind up hungry in a very dirty house. If you misread a highway sign that says “Speed Limit 65” for a randomly posted bit of information and not the stern law of the land it is, a police officer is going to pull you over and give you a brief, but expensive, lesson in hermeneutics.

The Bible is not a moral code that says, “Live up to this.” It’s not a system of doctrines that says, “Think like this.” The Bible tells a story and invites us in. “Live into this.” This is what it looks like to be a human being in righteous relationship with God and others. This is what God wants. This is what God is doing. And here’s where you are. Now live into it.

“You accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:13

Sometimes I am blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road near Jericho. Calling out to Jesus in my pain. Surrendering my life to the Lord. Yielding to his will. And he mercifully heals me.

Sometimes I am Naaman, covered with sores, dying of disease, and wanting to be saved, but on my terms. I try to dictate just how God needs to deal with me. He needs to do it my way. So arrogant. And he heals me anyway.

Always, I am Peter. Always shooting my mouth off, always wanting to be up front, always wanting to be the leader. One minute I pledge my allegiance to the Lord — Even if I have to die with you, I will never leave you! — and the next minute I’m a shrinking coward, warming myself at the world’s fire and denying that I even know who Jesus is. And then Jesus comes to me and asks, “Do you still love me? Then, come on, let’s keep going.”

Is that you? Where are you right now in the Bible’s beautiful story?

Are you Martha? So busy. Way too busy. Running around like a chicken with your head cut off, taking care of all the urgent stuff that needs to be done. Family. House. Chores. Neglecting your most important relationships. Maybe avoiding your relationship with Christ. And Jesus knows it. He’s sitting right there in the next room, waiting for you to slow down and pay attention to him. Even though you haven’t talked to him in months or even years, he keeps coming over. Have you noticed that about Jesus? He keeps coming over.

Are you Zacchaeus? You’ve got a great job, lots of money, wonderful benefits, more than enough security. But you’re alone. You’re not close to anybody. You’re just watching all the church people do all their church things and you don’t understand it at all. But here he comes. Here comes Jesus, walking right up to you. He pulls you down out of your tree and says, “I’m coming over. I’m coming to your house right now.”

Maybe you’re being torn apart by a terrible storm. The flood waters are rising, the things you love and the people you know are being destroyed. It’s dark and people are dying. It’s scary, this flood. And you know that God uses these times to cleanse and renew and recreate and make things right. But you don’t know if you’re in the ark with Noah or out in the water drowning. Listen as God’s Church reminds you, “You’re with us. You’re safe. You’re saved.”

Are you David? The King of Israel, the man after God’s own heart. What did God see when he looked at David that day and chose him and blessed him? David was just a kid, kind of an afterthought, just a boy hanging out with the sheep. Remember the story? What did God see in him that day? Did he see David’s fierce violence or his fierce loyalty? Did he see David as the great psalmist or as the notorious outlaw? Did he see David’s prayers and humility or the adultery and lying and murder and all the sin? God saw all of it. Every bit of it. And God still picked David. He chose David. And he chose you in Jesus Christ before the foundations of the earth.

The Bible is our story. It’s got our God on every page. It reveals our God who loves us intensely and saves us faithfully and who will not be stopped or even slowed down in his determination to live with us eternally. The story’s got all that.

You’re in there, too. It’s got you, too.

Peace,

Allan

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