Monday, March 31, 2008

Lesson in Grace

It is so true that, when we least expect it, God brings things our way to teach us. Last Friday, I had a run-in with a boy in my class. He is a Christian and is not afraid to let everyone know it. He can also be a behavior problem at times. His attitude toward school and authority is not what you would call good, and occasionally we will clash.

He came into class griping about something, and was some what disrespectful to the teacher I work with. After listening for a bit, I had had enough. I said, "If you're going to act the way you do, and have that kind of attitude, just stop calling yourself a Christian."

Last night, God told me that I needed to apologize for my self righteous arrogance. I came in this morning and called the student aside and apologized to him. Somehow, in the middle of my apology, I got the brilliant idea that this was an opportunity to teach this young man about grace. Instead, he reached out his hand and said, "That's okay, I know we all have problems and things God is working on us about. I know I've got anger issues, and I'm trying to deal with it." Then he shook my hand and went to class. Then God reached out and lightly smacked me on the back of the head. I realized that I was the one who needed to learn the lesson about grace. In effect, what the student had said to me is, "It's okay, we're all broken in some way. But you're my brother so I love you".

That's what God says to us. "I know you're not perfect, and you're going to screw up. But you're my child and I love you". "My grace is big enough to cover everything".

Because God has given us the gift of his unending grace, we need to extend that same grace to those we come in contact with. Because we're all broken and we all need grace, both from God and from each other.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good Weekend

This has been a very good weekend for my family and me. On Friday, we went to an interaith Stations of the Cross service. Saturday was the night for the Easter vigil at an Episcopal church our son attends. This morning found us at a sunrise service at the Associated Reformed Presbyterian church my father-in-law goes to. Later, we went to a PCA church for their Easter service. It is good to see how different traditions celebrate our Lord's resurrection, and it gives me an appreciation of the diversity of the Body.

A common theme through all the celebrations, especially Sunday's was that the resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. No longer do we have to live in fear. Christ has conquered death and hell. He has given us life. We no longer have to live for self. Christ has broken the bonds of sin, the pride that says I am better than others and can earn my favor with God. We are free and able to love others as Jesus has loved us, and we now live through the endless grace of God.

Because Christ is risen, he tells us to go and tell others that the King has come. He has established and is establishing his Kingdom. It is a Kingdom built on love and sacrifice, not power and oppression, a Kingdom built on peace, not conflict.

Christ is risen! Go and tell the story.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Waiting

"How could this happen? How could we have been so wrong?"
"We believed the kingdom was going to be restored and those pagan dogs sent back to Rome where they belong. But this 'messiah' turned out to be just like all the others."
"Now here we are hiding from the priests and the Romans."
"Why didn't we fight back? What kind of wimps are we?"
"Fight back? Did you see how many men they had? Besides, Peter tried and he told him to put the sword away!"
"Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but as soon as all this mess dies down, I'm going back up to Galilee."
"Me too. Back to the old life. When the only thing we had to worry about was catching fish and fixing nets."
"Yeah. It's been an interesting three years, but I'm through with messiahs and kingdoms. Just give me my boat out on the water. As soon as I can, I'm getting out of here."
And so, they waited.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

This evening, we went downtown for a Stations of the Cross service. I was privileged to help carry the cross to one of the stations. It gave me just a minuscule taste of what my Savior went through.

While we were at one of the stations, a transit bus pulled away from a stop and drowned out part of what was being said. I thought how for most people in our town, life was going on as usual tonight. I imagine that on the day that Jesus was crucified, life went on as usual for many of the people in Jerusalem. The religious leaders had a day that was out of the ordinary, as did the followers of Jesus. I would guess that most of the folks in the city went about the usual preparations for the Sabbath. The darkness and earthquake threw a bit of a scare into them, but it may have been a minor inconvenience.

How many of us are like that? Sure, we believe that Jesus died to save us, that his blood cleanses us from sin. We are thankful for that, we sing songs about how much we love him and we "Amen" sermons about the cross. But we go on and live our lives as if nothing significant happened, and life goes on as usual. What difference has the cross made? Is it really important, or is it just something that defines our religious system as different from others?

Jesus didn't die on the cross just to buy us a ticket to heaven. His sacrifice was not so we could use the cross to prove that we are better than others. Jesus suffered and died so that we who were dead could live. He died to make us children of God. His death takes away all our sin and our guilt so we no longer have to live in fear. We are free because of the cross.

Jesus' death also serves as the example of the way we should love others. He said that the greatest love was to lay down your life for your friends, and then he laid his life down for us. Jesus also gave a command that we love others in the same way that he loved us. He said that our love would prove to others that we belong to him.

Do we live in a manner that puts others first? Are we known for our love and sacrifice, or are we known for the things we are against? Is our life characterized by simplicity and generosity or are we wrapped up in the pursuit of the American Dream?

Has the cross made a difference in our lives? Is it continuing to make a difference?

Or is life going on as usual?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Encouragement

This year, as we are in the middle of Holy Week, I see some very encouraging signs in the Church. During Jesus' last supper with his disciples, he gave them the commandment that would define his followers, the command to love each other as he loved them. He washed their feet, giving them an example of the self-sacrifice that this love would require.

What is encouraging to me is the number in the Church who are realizing that we are to be about showing God's love and grace to those around us, and that spreading the Gospel and making disciples goes beyond a ticket to heaven, that it affects our day to day lives. The Church is beginning to break out of the small box it has been in for the past century or so, and is recognizing that our Father is so much bigger and more powerful than anything we can imagine. There is a movement of the Spirit going on. I would liken it to a new Reformation. Yes, it is messy at times, but I have hope that God will form his Church into something that will again "turn the world upside down".

Check out the sites I have listed to get a sense of what I'm talking about

Monday, March 17, 2008

Barack's firestorm

John Armstrong has an excellent post on the controversy surrounding the outrageous statements made by Barack Obama's pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright. You can find it here. Look at the March 15, 2008 entry titled "Barack Obama and Racism - How Should Christians Respond"

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Week Begins

The first thing they did was go into the city and find a donkey for him to ride on. This was the first indication that today was going to be different. On the way, one said to the other, "I wonder why the rabbi wants a donkey to ride on. Why not just walk like he usually does?" "I don't know. This is another one of those things I don't understand. I wonder what kind of problems we'll run into."

As they were untying the donkey, the owner came out and demanded to know what they thought they were doing. "The Lord needs it." said the disciples. The owner replied, "I see. Go on and take it then." "That was easier than I thought it would be", the two said to each other as they went back to where the Master waited.

When they got there, they noticed that a larger than usual crowd had gathered. The disciples put their cloaks on the donkey to make a comfortable seat. As the group started toward the city, some in the crowd began to spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches off the trees and laid them down in front of the donkey. The crowd began to shout, "Hosanna, to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" The shouting continued and became louder as the crowd neared the city.

As the procession continued and grew, the disciples started to talk. "Do you hear what they're saying?" "The people are really behind him." This is it. The Kingdom is going to be restored." Yeah, we'll finally be out from under those pagan Romans."

When the group reached the city, people were asking, "Who is this?" The answer came back, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth". Some of the religious leaders, worried that Roman soldiers might be drawn to disperse such a large crowd and bothered by what the people were shouting, said to Jesus, "Tell these people to be quiet!" Jesus replied, "If they keep quiet, the stones around you will begin to shout. The disciples chuckled at the way the rabbi put them in their place.

The crowd continued to the Temple, where some in the group were sure the Master would begin the rebellion that would finally re-establish David's kingdom in its rightful place. They watched in awe and wonder as Jesus went into the temple area and began turning over the money tables, letting the doves and sheep out of their cages, and just generally causing havoc. The disciples thought, "Now what's he doing? I know the moneychangers and animal sellers were cheating people, but that probably isn't the best way to handle things."

As they left the city for the night, they all wondered, "What would the week bring?"

Saturday, March 15, 2008

March

March is one of my favorite months of the year for one reason: college basketball tournaments. I enjoy watching baseball, football, and pro basketball,, but my favorite has to be college basketball. I love the atmosphere surrounding the games and the enthusiasm that pervades the campus during the season. Where else do you find people camping out for days to get tickets to a game? Gametime is special on campus. The homecourt advantage is definitely a factor when the students stand the entire game and the noise rarely ebbs. Sometimes the fans get out of hand, but most of it is in fun.

In March it all goes up a whole other level. The noise and excitement begins on the first day of the conference tournament and continues until a national champion is crowned. The three divisions of the NCAA, the NAIA, junior colleges, and Christian colleges each have their tournaments. The fun is not limited by gender either. Both men and women compete at each level and the excitement is equal.

As the national tournaments begin, office pools are formed, brackets are filled out, and allegiances are proclaimed. In every bracket, someone has tried to foresee where the upsets wil happen. Will a 13 seed beat a 4 seed again this year? Will a 15 defeat a 2? Or will the unbelievable happen and send a number 1 home courtesy of a 16 seed?

Who will be this year's Cinderella? Which team will prove to the critics that it should be there? Which team will prove to be vastly overrated? These questions will all be answered in the coming weeks. My own personal questions are: Will Winthrop win a tournament game again this year, and how far will Xavier go?

Enjoy the tournament. On April 7, one team will finish its season with a loss, and one team will reign as champions. The next day, the sun will come up, and some of us will awaken with this feeling that something is missing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Great site to check out

I've been re-introduced to Steve Brown, a great teacher with a great message - Grace. Check out his site here.

I think you'll enjoy and profit from it.

Ten Top Trivia Tips About Fred Shope

Here are the top ten things about me you probably didn't know:


1. Fred Shope has three eyelids.
2. South Australia was the first place to allow Fred Shope to stand for parliament.
3. Fred Shope has four noses.
4. Early thermometers were filled with Fred Shope instead of mercury!
5. An average beaver can cut down Fred Shope every year.
6. About 100 people choke to death on Fred Shope each year.
7. Fred Shope is actually a fruit, not a vegetable.
8. Some people in Malaysia bathe their babies in beer to protect them from Fred Shope!
9. New Zealand was the first place to allow Fred Shope to vote.
10. People used to believe that dressing their male children as Fred Shope would protect them from evil spirits!

You can find little known facts about yourself here.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The only thing we have to fear is fear...

...and yet we live in fear. Parents fear that something is going to happen to their children. Children fear that something is going to happen to their family. Democrats and Republicans both fear that the other party is going to win the White House. Christians on the right fear losing the "culture war". Christians on the left fear the right being an influence. Some fear being deprived of their freedoms, others fear the influence of "the world". Ministers fear that their ministries will fail.
We fear the future, and we fear the results of past actions. At some level, we all fear failure. We don't want to not measure up, to not please God.


I've been reading Following Jesus by N.T. Wright and Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson, and one of the things they both emphasize is that fear is not to be a part of the Christian's life. We are children of the God who raised Jesus from the dead. The fact that Jesus is raised from the dead changes everything. It means that God is in control, that no matter what happens, God is making all things right. His Kingdom is coming and His will is going to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We are also children of a God who has loved us with an everlasting love, and has shown us an infinite amount of grace. Because of this love and grace, we can be sure of the promise that God will work everything out for the purpose of making us into the image of Jesus. The Apostle John tells us that this perfect love drives out fear. God's grace is free and is inexhaustible. There is nothing we can do to earn God's favor and there is nothing we can do to drive His favor away.

Think about it. We don't have to live in fear. The resurrection of Jesus and the grace God has shown us mean that God is going to work in us and all of His children. We don't have to worry when our spiritual growth is not where we think it should be, or when someone else's growth is not where we think it should be. We can live freely, knowing that our Father loves us and takes everything in our lives and works in and through that. Even when we screw up, God's grace is still ours and His Spirit is still working.

I want to live a life that is free of fear. I want to totally depend on God's grace and His resurrection power. I want to sin boldly and trust God even more boldly, to paraphrase Martin Luther.

A New Morning

It was quite definitely early morning now, not late night. "I'm so cold," said Lucy. "So am I," said Susan. "Le...