Tag Archives: grace

Reboot

One day, a mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, chemical engineer, and computer engineer were riding together on their way to lunch. All of a sudden, the car sputtered to a stop.

  • The mechanical engineer: “I think it threw a rod.”
  • The electrical engineer: “It has to be the alternator.”
  • The chemical engineer: “It must to be a clog in the fuel line.”
  • The computer engineer: “I think we should all get out and get back in. It will be fine.”

Sometimes we would like life to reboot.

“Let’s start this day over.”

“Let’s end this day differently.”

“I should have turned left instead of right.”

“I’d like to take back what I just thought, said, did.”

We all have had those moments we wished we could reclaim. A little-used reserve on a college basketball team was summoned by his coach to get in the game. He was so excited that he forgot something. He forgot that his uniform pants had gotten torn in the laundry. He was only wearing his warm-ups. He jumped to his feet and took off his warm-up pants and raced to the scorer’s table sans britches. Boy was he a hit that night.

Aren’t you glad we have a God who shows us mercy and grace? We stumble, we fall, He picks us up. We sin, He forgives. He is the God of second chances. The Shepherd loves His sheep, knowing full well they will stray. He lays down His life, knowing full well our lives hang in the balance.

Thank You, God, for loving us no matter what.

The Power of Grace

Will Campbell was born into a farming family in Mississippi, under the shadow of the Ku Klux Klan. Ordained at 17 in his Baptist church, he began to sense that God was asking him to take a difficult, controversial direction in life. Being a white man who supported and worked for civil rights in the deep South was dangerous. He received death threats and was cautioned to stay away from his hometown. He did except for the time he just had to return. His 12 year-old nephew was struck and killed riding the bicycle that his Uncle Will had given him. Following a long-held tradition called sitting up with the dead, Will Campbell sat at the funeral home late into the night. Around 3:00 that morning, someone approached out of the dim light and handed Will a cup of coffee. It was Will’s uncle, a man he hadn’t seen in many years … a man who vehemently disagreed with Will’s activism. Looking back on that experience, Campbell wrote: “Until the dawn, I sat in the redemptive company of a racist Jesus.”

 

I think I know what he meant. Grace wins. On this day when we try to make sense of the racial divide that still exists in our country, we need grace more than ever.

A blast from the past

Some people remember when you hung your wash on a clothesline. In some places, they still do. Here’s an old story with a point that shouldn’t be:

A young couple moved into a new neighborhood. On their first morning, they were sitting down for breakfast when she watched her next door neighbor begin to hang her laundry on the line in the back yard. Wife said to husband, “Those clothes don’t look very clean. I wonder if she is washing them correctly.” The husband didn’t say anything. This happened several times with the same comment being made. Each time the husband stayed quiet. Finally, wife noticed a change: “Look, she either learned how to wash better or she got better detergent. I wonder who showed her how.” The husband finally spoke: “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”

To paraphrase the words of Jesus, perhaps we should clean our windows before we judge someone else’s wash. One of the most liberating moments in life should come when we admit our own weaknesses and faults. When we come face to face with our own humanity, we can better see the humanity in others.

C.S. Lewis said that the unique contribution of Christianity to the world was grace. For believers, grace isn’t possible, not in its fullest sense, outside of Christ. We see it in His warning about judging others. We recognize it when He told us to treat others as we wish to be treated.

Grace doesn’t come from obligation or duty; it flows from gratitude. Being grateful for receiving the gift of grace should encourage us to be more extravagant in sharing it. Who wants to live with dirty windows?

Hope for the bad guys

Christmas movies. You probably have a favorite or two. Have you noticed that almost all of them have villains? There’s the Grinch (Boris Karloff was his voice in 1966), Harry and Marv from Home Alone, the prosecuting attorney in Miracle on 34th Street, Ebenezer Scrooge, the bully in Christmas Story, Clark Griswold’s boss, the Bumble from Rudolph, Jack Frost in the third Santa movie, and of course, Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful life. I’m certain you could think of others.

Most of them get rehabilitated to some degree … except Old Man Potter. Never liked that guy. He still has George’s money that Uncle Billy left at the bank.

I like the stories where the bad guys turn from their wicked ways. If we admit it, we all have a little villain in us. Would you talk to your mother like Kevin did to his before being banished to the attic? If you didn’t say it, you probably thought it.

A part of the wonder of Christmas is grace. God demonstrated it best when He sent His Son into a sinful world. In John 3, Jesus said He came to save the world, not to condemn it. The Christ Child, innocent and pure, would become sin for humanity and pay an awful price for our redemption.

Grace suggests an undeserved gift. During this season of the year, we have opportunity to heal broken relationships, to start on a new path of spiritual growth, to focus on others instead of ourselves, and to model the attitude of Christ.

One of the reasons we like Christmas movies is that they contain whimsical, fantastic characters and storylines. They stir our imaginations and lighten our moods. They offer hope that good things will happen.

When you look at your Christmas list this year, who needs more than a present? Who needs the ministry of grace from you?

Who knows what Christmas miracle awaits when we treat others as Christ has treated us? There is hope for all of us … except Old Man Potter.

White Christmas, Blue Christmas

It was written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948, and most famously performed by Elvis Presley. “Blue Christmas” conveyed a difficult reality that not everyone felt joy and excitement during the season.

I’ll have a blue Christmas without you

I’ll be so blue just thinking about you

Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree

Won’t be the same, dear, if you’re not here with me

And when those blue snowflakes start falling

That’s when those blue memories start calling

You’ll be doin’ all right with your Christmas of white

But I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas

You’ll be doin’ all right with your Christmas of white

But I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas

This Sunday afternoon, we will offer our annual service of remembrance and support for those of us who may have a hard time at Christmas. For some, we grieve over the loss of a loved one or friend. For others, this time of year is a painful time because of our life circumstances. For still others, we just need to be together. The service is one of the most meaningful times we spend over the Christmas season. You are welcome to join us in the Heritage Room at 5:00 pm.

2015 has flown by and December is certain to pass quickly. In the weeks remaining, we all have opportunities to use these days to convey the spirit of Christmas. In our giving, our serving, our worshiping, our interactions in the community, and in other activities may our love for Christ overflow from our thoughts, words, and deeds. As a people of faith, we know what it means to be generously blessed by a gracious and loving God. May the world be touched by our grace and love! Merry Christmas!

Amazing Grace

John Newton was 11 years old when he went to sea with his father, a shipmaster on merchant ships. After six voyages, his father retired and made plans for his young son to work at a sugar plantation in Jamaica. Those plans were interrupted when he was captured and pressed into service in the Royal Navy. After a miserable experience in the navy, he transferred to a slave ship bound for West Africa. While there the young man was treated much like a slave by an African duchess. He was alone, abused, and angry. Finally rescued by a sea captain enlisted by his father to search for his lost son, Newton returned to England. For almost ten years, he continued to be involved in the slave trade. He captained his own ships on three voyages with human cargo. Over this regrettable period of his life, the stench of the ships finally seeped into his soul. His own spiritual struggle would one day serve as a source of warning and encouragement to those who wrestled with faith and needed direction.

One of those who sought him out was a young member of Parliament named William Wilberforce. The young politician was suffering a crisis of conscience and spiritual doubt, and was contemplating a departure from the political scene. Newton pleaded with him to stay in Parliament and told him to “serve God where he was.”

Criticized for not separating completely from the heinous trade upon his conversion, Newton finally came to terms with himself and his faith. He became a fervent ally to Wilberforce and others who sought to abolish the African slave trade. He lived to see the passage of the landmark legislation, the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

With the collaboration of poet William Cowper, Newton wrote a number of hymns late in his life. His life testimony is not one of perfection; he admitted his flaws: “I was greatly deficient in many respects.” His story is best told in his most well-known hymn, Amazing Grace. “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.”

John Newton was a work in progress … much like your life and mine. The grace he acknowledged was a gift he didn’t deserve. Neither do we. Amazing.

Anything but cheap

German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, in 1937. During that time Adolph Hitler had seized power and the Third Reich was beginning to assert itself in Bonhoeffer’s beloved country. While one the earliest church leaders to warn of the evil to come, Bonhoeffer was also concerned about the complacency of the church. He spoke out, ultimately at the cost of his life.

Read some of his words: “The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?”

In Paul’s writing to the Romans, the apostle was astounded that some believed that the more sin you commit the more grace you receive. “Well, then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”

Bonhoeffer was offended by the watering down of the essential nature of grace. “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Richard Niehbur followed this line of thinking when he wrote that American Christianity had grown weak and flabby: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

 

Grace is anything but cheap. It carries a price tag that staggers the imagination, a cost beyond any human’s ability to compensate. Can we possible comprehend the value God has placed on every soul?

 

They had lost their patience. Their teenaged son continued a pattern of disobedience and disrespect. He had been warned of the consequences of his behavior. One of the most striking evidences of his lack of regard for anyone beside himself was that he was constantly late. Dinner time was the only time the family could have together, but he routinely showed up well past the time for the meal. Finally, one night the boy sauntered in to find his parents already seated with their plates served. As he fell into his chair, he was greeted with silence. He looked at his plate and then at theirs. His plate had a piece of loaf bread with a glass of water next to it. His parents’ plate were full of food. No word was spoken as the father stood up, took his plate, and exchanged it for his son’s. Something changed that night. The son would later recall, “All my life I’ve known what God’s like by what my father did that night.”

Grace is never cheap.