Resolutions in the Realm of Grace

January 31, 2007 by · 1 Comment 

A few weeks ago, sermons all across America– and perhaps the world– focused on New Year’s Resolutions. That makes a lot of sense because it’s timely, relevant, and topical. We often use the turn of the year to look back on where we’ve been and look forward to the future. We ask questions like: Where did I fail? Where did I succeed? What needs to change? How can I change it? What should I start doing that I should do? What should I stop doing what that I shouldn’t do? We analyze every aspect of life– relationships, health and fitness, diet, finances, spiritual life, vocation, dreams. We take an inventory and draw up a plan of action. We get all “fired up” and vow that this year will be the year and we head into January with a renewed vigor and hope, and things change radically…

Until January 5th. Maybe for you the date is different. You guys with discipline may hang on a little longer (the 8th… even February?).

Am I right? Let me ask you this: How many of this year’s resolutions were the same as last year’s (or the year before… or the year before)? Here’s the problem with New Year’s resolutions: They usually express a determination to better myself. Here’s the problem with that: on your own, you can’t better yourself. You can try and you can fool yourself into thinking that whatever you’re doing is working, but, in the end, you’ll fail (Here’s how I fool myself… I have a favorite mirror in my house. It look fines, but it’s a little like one of those fun hopuse mirrors that makes things look skinny. When I’ve eaten a big meal [or I want ot eat a big meal… which just about covers every moment of every day], I look at myself in that mirror– and I look OKAY! In fact, I kinda look svelt [I have to hang black fabric over all the other mirrors in the house]… Do you have a mirror like that? A favorite mirror?)

Part of understanding God’s grace is understanding that you can’t do anything on your own. God does it all. This is a gift. All that he requires is that we trust him.

With this in mind, I wanted to pass on some New Year’s Resolutions from Pastor Steve McVey. He has a ministry called Grace Walk and I got these from the Grace Walk newsletter from January 2007. I recommnd the Grace Walk web site (www.gracewalk.org). Check it out. If you do go there you can see his blogs and view some shows he did in Canada that are excellent studies in what grace is all about.

So here are his resolutions and I want to make them mine as well:

I resolve that during 2007 I won’t try to change anything about myself. As I become aware of the deficiencies in myself (real or imagined), I will lay them at the feet of my Father and trust Him to do as He will with them. I will submit myself to Him in those areas and do whatever He leads me to do regarding them, but I will not sign myself up for another self-improvement program of my own making.

I resolve that during 2007 I will commit those things that concern me and mine into the hands of the Father. I will not attempt to seize control of my circumstances, but will yield every situation of life to Him and will choose to beleive that His sovereignty and love will faithfully dictate the outcome of those situations.

I resolve that during 2007 I will open my heart and mind to experience my Father’s love in deeper ways. I will meditate on his goodness and grace in my life in order to better know the height and depth and breadth of His love for me, knowing that by growing in an understanding of His love for me, I will grow in my love for Him.

I resolve that during 2007 I will trust Christ to express love toward others through me. I will depend on Him to teach me to more effectively show love to those I already value and to love those who have nothing to offer me in return.

I resolve that during 2007 I will be open to God working in me to bring about new ways of seeing things or doing things. I will submit myself to Him to experience growth and correction concerning the plausibilty structure within which I now live.

These things I will do, not by self determination, but by His power which works in me mightily through the union I share with Him.

There is a common theme in all of these reolutions: The focus is on God and not me.

I think that’s a pretty good thing… And I know that it is hard. It means we have to release control, set aside our agendas, and forget the lists we love to make and check off because we feel like we are accomplishing something. We have to radically trust God.

As I write this, I’m think of so many of those in our house church and the circumstances you (we) are facing. Ponder these resolutions. Read over them. And beleive God.

Sometimes that can be the greatest challenge. It’s easier to rely on myself, my discipline, my effort. It seems so right. I mean, God helps those who help themselves, right?!? (Actually “wrong”… God helps the helpless) If you are wrestling with these questions, let me ask you something: How is that working out for you so far?

Here’s the point… If you are trying to improve yourself, you will not succeed. Sure, you may make some cosmetic changes that make you look goodto others, but it will not be the kind of transformation you really long for. Only God can do that.

And here’s the good news. Jesus already did it for you. If you beleive in Jesus and receive the gift of His grace, he lives in you and promises to guide and direct you. You are already transformed. You just have to beleive that, stop trying to live the “right” way and just… well, just live… by trusting in God.

American Idol, Me, and God

January 24, 2007 by · 3 Comments 

Okay, I finally watched American Idol… I know it’s like season 4 or something, but if you know me, you know that I’m always a little behind the curve (basically, about 5 years behind… I stopped using my Sony Walkman cassette player this year! [Our younger readers probably don’t know what a “cassette tape” is… don’t fret; they’re a thing of the past]).

I found the show fascinating. What is the appeal (because it is appealing)? Why is it interesting and entertaining? I’ve been pondering that question—and I even asked my 12 year old daughter Greta. Here was her answer: “It’s fun to see people mess up… and it’s fun to see the ones who are really good.”

Not a bad answer. I think I agree. It is interesting to see the many failures and the occasional successes. But why? Why am I—and obviously a lot of other people—drawn to a show that highlights humiliation and exhilaration?

I think the answer is found in the fact that it touches something deep inside each one of us. We can relate to sticking ourselves out on the line and facing a “yea” or a “nay”—a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.” What are you talking about Doug? I’d never go on a show like that… I can’t sing! Me either…

BUT, we face our Simon’s and Paula’s and Randy’s (if you’ve never seen the show, those are the judges) every single day (by the way, since I am an Idol neophyte—who are these people? I remember Paula Abdul—but who are Randy and Simon? I think they do a fine job, but where did they come from?). At work, at home, at school, at church, with our neighbors, family, and friends… We are constantly putting ourselves on the line and hoping to hear the words “You’re going to HOLLYWOOD!” (Well, not actually those words, but words like, “You did it! You’re good! You’re the bomb! Good job! Well done! You qualify! You’re acceptable! I see great things for you!)

Perhaps part of the appeal of those auditioning for Idol is that they have the guts to take the risk—no matter the outcome. If only for those few moments—they are energized and fully alive. Even if we see someone perform and our reaction is, “What was he/she thinking?!?”—at least, they had the courage to give it a shot… And then for those that make it—well, we admire them. We celebrate with them. We acknowledge their gift. It’s kinda like we won too.

There’s just one problem: We know that the contest is not over with that first audition. Once in Hollywood, they will be judged again. Only this time, the competition is stiffer. And the judgments will continue because only ONE person can win (you didn’t realize the psychological depth of Idol, did you?!?).

So what does all this have to do with you and me? Well, in my life, I often feel more like the guy who ruins Simon’s day and makes him respond with something like (try to think in an English accent): “Are you serious?!?” or “Are you drunk?!?” or “That was the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen…” or “You remind me of a monkey.”

Because of this, I find that I am hesitant to “put myself on the line” a lot of the time. I try to play it safe, travel under the radar, be a people–pleaser, blend in with the crowd, keep a low profile. It’s a good strategy to avoid rejection… but it dulls the soul after a while, doesn’t it? It kinda smothers the spirit… You ever feel that way?

This can even carry over in my relationship with God. I understand that God accepts me as I am. He loves me because… well, because he does. It’s not based on anything I do—instead, it’s based on what Jesus did on the cross.

But I have realized something about myself, my faith, my view of God in the past year. Even though I believe that Jesus paid for all my sins at the cross, I still try to do things to be acceptable to God. It’s like an Idol audition before God where I stand up and perform and hope for the best. Rarely do I feel competent, or worthy, or skilled, or relaxed, or joyful. I am often self-conscious and tense. I am often disappointed in myself and defeated. I imagine phrases like, “That’s wasn’t very good…” or “That doesn’t cut it or “You just don’t have what it takes to advance to the next level.”

It’s kinda like I got to Hollywood (I’m a Christian and I’m going to heaven) but everybody knows that I don’t really belong there because I can’t sing.

Do you relate to this at all?

If so, I have some good news for you. News that you may find hard to believe or even “impossible to be true”. When you place your faith in Jesus, the audition is over. You have not only advanced to Hollywood—you’ve won! But that can’t be true! I still mess up so much! It’s true—because it’s not your song that counts… It’s Jesus’. He sang it in a manger in a stable; he sang it on a mountainside by the Sea of Galilee; he sang it on a hill called Calvary; he sang it in an empty tomb… And he sings it still in and through your life and mine. And it is beautiful, and good, and righteous, and lovely.

His song is our song.

So belt it out guys… And listen to God’s proud voice…

“You did it! You’re good! You’re the bomb! Good job! Well done! You qualify! You’re acceptable! I see great things for you! I LOVE YOU!”

I’m a Ramblin’ Man

January 19, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

January 19, 2007

‘Sup GFF,

I know… I know. How can the “mid-week ramble” come out on a Friday?!? That’s not “mid-week” at all. Or is it? What is “mid” really? Or even “week”. These are simply man-made definitions to provide an opportunity to control and monitor the time in our lives. Furthermore, God exists above time.[1]

Yes, the above was a lame attempt to deflect my tardiness this week. However, there is good reason[2]. And when I say good, I mean good! It’s where you’re reading this… You’re blogging. Right now—this very moment.[3] Don’t freak out… it’s okay. All the kids are doing it these days.[4]

This is our blog page. This is your blog page. Read it, enjoy it, respond to it, use it, and pass it on if you’d like. My prayer is that there is worthwhile stuff on here[5]. My prayer is that we can use it as a resource to walk the Christ-life together. My prayer is that God does incredible things with it.

Now, we’ll see.


[1] So put that in your pipe and smoke it!… Unless, of course you have a past that includes smoking illicit drugs (if that is the case, read the preceding footnote as “So put that in your sausage maker and grind it!”

[2] I say “good” but that probably is pretty subjective. Obviously you will determine whether it is “good” or not whether I say it is “good” or not. What you’ve experienced is a pastor’s use of positive suggestion. There is a whole seminary class about this. We learn great lines like, “I heard a funny story the other day,” or “…and this will blow your mind,” or “I really love to play golf, but because I make so little money I can barely afford it.”. These phrases direct the listener to a pre-determined course of thinking or action.

[3] That reminds me of the old Palmolive commercial where Madge says, “You’re soaking in it.”… Remember? (careful, you’re age is showing)… I always wondered why a beautician (that’s what Madge was) had a bowl of dishwashing liquid on her manicure table… Also—just thought of this—I’ve never, ever met a single person named Madge.

[4] I’m not saying that you should do everything “all the kids are doing”… just blogging.

[5] Remember… sometimes God answers prayers with a “No”.

Rambles from early January…

January 17, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

January 3,2007

Hey Gang,

I know that you all must be a little tired after staying up late last night to watch Wake Forest defeat Louisville in the Orange Bowl[1]. I know I am.

Well, the holiday schedule at GFF is over and we return to our study of the Book of Acts. If you remember[2], we finished chapter 3—Peter had healed the crippled beggar who was at the Temple gate and then told the crowd about Jesus.

This week we’ll pick up with chapter 4[3]. If you want, read 4:1-12. This is a cool passage because we see how Peter and John react to challenges from others about their faith. I don’t know if or how you have been challenged about your faith[4], but we see how Peter and Paul respond.

If you read these verses, you’ll see that Peter quotes and Old Testament passage in 4:11. I’m willing to bet[5] your Bible has a footnote that tells you where this Old Testament passage comes from. A good Bible study technique is to actually read the Old Testament passage that is referenced[6]. God had Peter say this for a reason… What do you think that reason is?

Go ahead… read the Old testament reference now (not just the verse, but the whole thing[7]… I’ll wait.

Did you read it?[8] Alright… What did you think? I think it’s pretty cool[9]. The words of this Psalm were swimming around in Peter and John’s head as they face a huge[10] challenge. And then, Peter applies a portion of the Psalm to Jesus and this specific situation.

What does all this mean? It means that God’s Word is so important in our lives—just like it was for Peter and John.[11] We need to read it, know it, live it, and love it.

With that said, let me tell you that the preceding sentence is not meant to make you feel guilty about not reading your Bible[12] Instead, I’m simply pointing out how awesome it is that we get to explore God’s word together each week[13]. That’s why we want to open our Bibles each week. That’s why I encourage you to bring your Bibles and write in them. Growing to love God’s Word is a process… It takes time. I know that many of you feel bad or that something is wrong with you because you don’t LOVE to read your Bible[14], but that’s not true. Any love relationship takes time to develop. Hopefully, as we look at God’s Word together, your love for it (and then for God) will grow.

So if these letters kinda frustrate you because they talk about Scripture a lot, get over your big, bad, self and chill. You are okay. God loves you. What you can do is this: Pray for God to open your heart and mind to his Word. In fact, pray for that for everyone at GFF[15]. If we are people of the Word and of prayer, we are on the right track.

See, God wants us to love his Word—and he’ll even go so far as to give us that passion through his Spirit. You don’t have to muster it up with your own incredible discipline[16]. Think of it like this[17]:

GOD’S SPIRIT +

GOD’S POWER +

GOD’S WILL +

TRUST =

VICTORY

(The Holy Spirit lives inside of all believers… so, if you’re a believer—you GOT IT!)

(God wants to give you HIS power so you don’t have to rely on YOUR power)

(God wants you to be filled with the Truth from His Word)

(You just have to trust that the first three things are really true)

(You begin to love & understand God’s Word more and more and more)

I think that God wanted me to tell you that.

Below I have a couple prayer requests and a study of Acts 4:1-12…

See you Sunday!

May God increase our love for his Word this year… Oh and by the way, there is an incredible verse in 4:1-12 about the supremacy of Jesus (or a verse that makes it clear that Jesus is the key to salvation). Can you spot it?

Grace and peace,

Doug


[1] For 3 quarters and about 6 minutes… Unfortunately for Wake, they played the entire 60 minutes and Louisville won.

[2] And I’m guessing you don’t—hence this e-mail reminder

[3] I bet you could have called that one yourself, huh?!?

[4] To be honest, I really haven’t been challenged by others that much. Since I’ve worked in churches for so long, I’ve been on the “inside” and most people are saying “AMEN!” rather than “YOU’RE NUTS!”

[5] If I gambled… However, I don’t gamble because I’m way too cheap. Dave Chavez does all my gambling for me on his “business” trips to Las Vegas.

[6] Please don’t read this with any sarcasm because none is intended… Before I went to seminary and had to read these cross references, I always skipped them.

[7] Come on… it’s not that long!

[8] Remember, lying is a sin.

[9] Hence all the guilt to make you read it.

[10] And potentially FATAL—the Sadducees didn’t mess around

[11] Man, what am I thinking?!?… I’m stealing my own thunder for this Sunday!

[12] You know who you are.

[13] And if you are “super-spiritual” like I am, during the week with these letters.

[14] I know this because I experienced it. Some of the hardest homework I had in seminary was reading Scripture… I couldn’t admit that to anyone, but it was true.

[15] Probably for me the most!

[16] You can try to do it yourself, though… see you in the fetal position!

[17] Oh-my-gosh—I think I’m going to come up with a little formula here for you math geeks out there!

January 10, 2007

The Grace Family Fellowship Mid-Week Ramble

 

“I prefer the Christmas Jesus…”

– Ricky Bobby

Howdy,

Last night my wife and I watched Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.[1] There was a scene that I found particularly interesting (and funny). Ricky is saying grace with his family, and he begins his prayer, “Dear baby Jesus…” He continues on thanking the “baby Jesus” until his wife interrupts and says something like, “You know, he grew up into a man, Ricky. You don’t have to keep talking to him like a baby!” Ricky then retorts[2], “Well, I prefer the Christmas Jesus… When you pray, you can pray to the grown up Jesus or the teenage Jesus, but I’m gonna pray to the baby Jesus.”

What Jesus do you prefer? We just celebrated Christmas, so the idea of God coming to earth as a baby is fresh in our minds. But we also know that Jesus grew up and became a teacher. He performed miracles. He healed people. He chastised religious leaders. He wept at a friend’s funeral. We know that he washed his disciples’ feet, agonized in a garden, and was nailed to a cross. We know that he rose from the dead and appeared to people in a new resurrection body. And we also know that he will come again—this time as a conquering king—powerful and mighty.

So which Jesus do you pray to?… If you’re not sure, close your eyes and picture Jesus looking at you. What do you see? What does he look like? What is his expression? Does he say anything to you? If so, what? If not, why not?

I think that Ricky Bobby brings up a fascinating (and important) point: how do you see Jesus?

This has probably been the greatest change in my Christian life in the past year and a half. It is important because the way I answer the question “How do you see Jesus?” (or the related question, “How does Jesus see you?”), effects everything in my life. It shapes my view of God, myself, and others. I have discovered that the way I see Jesus can lead to incredible love and grace and freedom… or painful bondage of guilt, shame, and condemnation.[3]

Ricky Bobby brings up a profound point: How we see Jesus means everything.

Let me share a story from my past to set the stage here—perhaps you can relate to it…

When I was in seminary we would have a class from 8-10 on Thursday nights. I remember coming out of an Old Testament class at 10:00 and walking to my car. I can’t remember what we had been talking about and reading in Scripture, but I do remember a theme[4]: dishonor.

I remember getting into my car, late at night and I thought I heard God say, “Why do you dishonor me, Doug?” Ugh… This isn’t what you want to hear from God. You want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” or “this is my son with whom I am well pleased,” or even “You go girl!” You don’t want to hear, “Why do you dishonor me, Doug?”[5]

Where did that thought come from? Well, I’ll tell you. Since we had been studying the Old Testament, we had been looking at how God’s people continually reject God and dishonored him by not living up to his righteous commands. God’s people (Israel) were not acting like God’s people. And in them, I saw myself. I was thinking about how I so often fail to live the way God wants me too. How I struggled to read Scripture or pray regularly or reach out to others who need love and support and care.

To make matters worse (in my mind), God had given me the privilege of working in his family business (the church) and the honor of going to seminary. Surely, someone with these advantages should be the most pious, the most spiritual, the most righteous.

As I thought of all those things, I realized that I fell woefully short of the standard I thought God had set before me. I did dishonor God, because I wasn’t doing enough for him.

Last year I heard a message by a Pastor named John Lynch who described my experience perfectly when he painted a picture of a place many Christians live called The Room of Good Intentions. In The Room of Good Intentions we are striving to be all that we can be and we must work hard to hold everything in our lives together; we must look good to others; we must work very diligently to please a god[6] who never seems to be pleased. In the Room of Good Intentions it is as if we are standing before Jesus, our sin in front of us separating us from him. He is a long ways off and we must take care of all that sin to get close to him… The problem is, there are 30 wheelbarrows of sin that are dumped onto my pile each day—it keeps getting bigger, god keeps getting further away, and I slide further and further into failure.

That describes how I felt that night. I was being trained to lead God’s people and yet I dishonored God regularly in both my thoughts and deeds.

And if you asked me to describe the look on God’s face as he gazed at me that night… It makes me shudder. Disappointment. Disgust. Pity. Condemnation. Anger.[7]

You ever seen God like that?… Needless to say, it was a lousy night. And to be honest, those same feelings of displeasing God, myself, and others followed me for years.

BUT[8], that view has changed in radical, amazing, sometimes unsettling, and incredibly freeing ways. (Intriguing… tell me more, Doug![9])

It all began with the same John Lynch sermon that talked about the Room of Good Intentions. See, there’s another room in which we can live. It’s actually the place God desires us. It is called The Room of Grace[10]. In The Room of Grace, we are living out of who God says we are and we are accepted even with our flaws; we can be real; we are safe. In The Room of Grace it is as if we with Jesus, our sin in front of us and we are working on it together. The shame and guilt I feel as I look at my sin is wiped away by Jesus who tells me that he knows all about it, that he went to the cross to take care of it, and that he is there to continually take care of it.

The look on his face in this picture is much different. As Jesus looks at me here—in The Room of Grace—it makes me weep with joy. Acceptance. Gentleness. Love. Laughter.

Have you ever seen God like that?!? Is that how you see him right now? This moment?

You see, I do not think that God was speaking to me that night when I heard, “Why do you dishonor me, Doug?” It was a voice, but it wasn’t God’s voice. How do I know? Check out the first and last verses of Romans 8:

Romans 8:1-39

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, us.

[38] For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, [39] neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Think about those verses. Read them several times…

Do you believe them? Do I?[11]

They have a lot to do with how we see Jesus, ourselves, and others. They have a lot to do with every aspect of our life.

I know that this is review for many of you. You’ve heard about The Room of Grace… But I need to come back to this stuff every day (sometimes every moment of everyday) because I often struggle to believe it. I think we all do.

If you are a Christian—a follower of Christ—it means that you have given up trying to make yourself acceptable to God through your own efforts.

  • It means that you understand that you came into the world in opposition to God—you were a sinner because you wanted to go your way instead of God’s way.
  • It means that you understand that a righteous and pure and holy God must punish sin and—because you sin you are in trouble.
  • It means that you understand that God sent Jesus to this earth to take care of your sin. On the cross, Jesus took all of your sins upon him and God—because he is holy and righteous and just—had to punish that sin. He punished Jesus in your place. He poured out his wrath of judgment on Jesus instead of you. Jesus was your substitute.
  • It means that you believe that Jesus rose from the dead—indicating that he had paid for all of your sins.
  • It means that you have placed your faith in what Jesus has already done at the cross and resurrection to make you acceptable to God.

When you place your trust in Jesus and not yourself, you become a Christian. Your sins are forgiven. But something else also happens. You receive Jesus’ righteousness. You have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. You have a new identity. You are a child of God—a saint[12].

When this happens, the promises of Romans 8:1, 38-39 apply to you!

That’s the GOSPEL (or “good news”) Jesus did for you what you could never do for yourself. And even the times you fail don’t change that[13]!

Now some of you are thinking, “I know all that—why is Doug going through this again?!” I’ll tell you why: Because Jesus is what it’s all about. So often I focus on me—what I’m doing or not doing—that I forget that it’s all about him—what he’s done at the cross and what he’s doing in and through me today.

How do you see Jesus? It’s a really big question—perhaps the most important question in the universe.

And you thought Ricky Bobby was an idiot.[14]

Grace and peace,[15]

Doug[16]


[1] Say it ain’t so, Pastor! That is not an appropriate film. Well, this week’s ramble is going to start with this movie so you have 2 choices: 1) Stop reading now; 2) continue in and see how Ricky Bobby could ever lead to spiritual truth or questions.

[2] 10 points for using an SAT word. Hurray!

[3] Whoa… This is sounding serious… I thought Ricky Bobby was supposed to be funny!

[4] This may have been a theme in the class—or just a theme in my own head… I don’t recall.

[5] I really heard “Doug” too… So,I couldn’t pass this one off on someone else!

[6] Notice I didn’t capitalize the word “god” here. That is intentional. That is because I do not believe that this is the God of the Bible anymore (I did before), but, instead, an incorrect, man-made god.

[7] Okay..okay. Time for a little break because this is heavy, huh. Plus it’s been kinda long already… So here’s the break. I found a site that discusses Women’s Vocabulary—things women say and what they really mean (Note: I think women are awesome—this is not meant to be offensive. If you find this offensive do not rent Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby… I promise to make fun of guys in a later ramble, okay?): FINE: this is the word women use to end an argument when they feel they are right and you need to shut up. Never use “fine” to describe how a woman looks – this will cause you to have one of those arguments.

[8] Pay attention to this word! That why it’s CAPITALIZED and bigger, and bold. I want you to know that a change has occurred—that’s what I thought but this is what I have discovered

[9] You’ll notice that I don’t always use a footnote for my additional thoughts. Don’t label me, man!

[10] For more on grace: see Paul’s writings in the New Testament.

[11] No message here… I just was looking over the ramble and notice no footnote on this page…

[12] Even though you don’t always feel like a saint or act like a saint—that’s what you are!

[13] Remember, Jesus died for all of you sins—past, present, and future. If that’s true, is your present sin something that Jesus already has taken care of?

[14] He may be… But God uses “idiots” a lot to lead us to his truth (that’s good news for me!!)

[15] Here’s another Women’s Vocabulary Word.Five Minutes – This is half an hour. It is equivalent to the five minutes that your football game is going to last before you take out the trash, so it’s an even trade.

[16] Finally… one more Women’s Vocabulary WordNothing – This means “something,” and you should be on your toes. “Nothing” is usually used to describe the feeling a woman has of wanting to turn you inside out, upside down, and backwards. “Nothing” usually signifies an argument that will last “Five Minutes” and end with “Fine”.

Ramble from December…

January 17, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

 

Merry Christmas Friends of Grace Family Fellowship[1],

What a joyous season![2] Although we are excited to load up our silver sleigh[3] and head up to Massachusetts to spend Christmas with Sara’s family, we will really miss our spiritual family at GFF. Please know that our thoughts and prayers will be with you all as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

I figured that I would put together a few of the thoughts that have been rambling around in my head since last Sunday[4]. This is kind of long. Read it if you want—but this is not required reading over the holiday!

If you remember, we talked about the fact that, although our culture and even we as Christians often feel that we need to really focus on not messing up[5] and we are only accepted by what we can do[6] and we better bring something of value to please God[7], Jesus just wants us to put our faith in him and him alone—not our “good” behavior, not our skills, not what we can do.

The point of all of this can be summed up in a single word: GRACE. God’s grace is a gift to us. We don’t earn it.

Now it’s one thing to ponder the ramifications of this truth in our relationship with God[8]. It is another thing to realize that God’s grace to us should then be extended to those around us—family, friends, neighbors, co-workers… even strangers. This becomes quite radical when we think this through.

I wanted to share something I got from a pastor named John Lynch about this very topic. He was speaking of God’s grace and he related what an incredible gamble this is[9]. He then illustrated this point by saying that parents are challenged to approach their kids with grace just as God has approached us with grace. The question that comes up is: will the recipients abuse this amazing gift. Can we handle the incredible freedom God bestows on us by taking our sin and giving us Christ’s righteousness? He calls this The New Testament Gamble—and, basically, it is God saying to us:

What if I tell them who they are?

What if I take away every element of fear, or condemnation, or judgment?

What if I tell them that I love them and I’ll always love them and I’ll never love them more than I love them right now and that I love them right now no matter what they’ve ever done as much as I love my only son?

There’s nothing they can do to make my love go away

What if I told them that there are no lists?

What if I told them they could stop beating themselves up?

That they could stop being so formal and stiff and jumpy around me

What if I told them that I was absolutely crazy about them?

What if I told that even if they ran to the ends of the earth and did the most unthinkable and horrible things and killed me and were unfaithful in their marriage when they came back I would receive them with tears and a party?

What if I told them that I don’t keep a log of past offenses of how little they pray or how many times they’ve let me down or made promises to me they didn’t keep?

What if I told them that I’m their Savior and they’re going to heaven no matter what—that it’s a done deal?

What if I told them that they had a new nature…

That they’re saints—not just saved sinners who should just buck up and be better if you’re any kind of a Christian after all he’s done for you

What if I told them that I actually live in them now?

That I put my love and power and nature in them at their disposal…

What if I told them that they didn’t have to put on a mask?

That it was really okay to be exactly who they are at this moment with all their junk and not have to pretend about how close we are, how much they pray or don’t, how much Bible they read or don’t…

What if they don’t have to look over their shoulder for fear if things got too good the other shoe would drop?

What if they knew I will never, ever, ever, ever use the word punish in relation to them?

What if they knew that when they mess up I never get back at them?

What if they were convinced that bad circumstances are not my way of evening the score for taking advantage of me?

What if they knew the basis of our relationship friend was not based on how little they sin but on how much they let me love them?

What if they had permission to stop trying to impress me in any way?

What if I told them they could break my heart but I would try to never hurt theirs?

What if I told them that I kinda like Eric Clapton’s music too?

What if I told them that the “these” and ‘thous” have sort of always bugged me too?

What if I told them that I never really liked the Christmas hand bell thing with the white gloves?

That they can open their eyes when they pray and they still can go to heaven…

What if I told them that there is no secret agenda, no trap door?

What if I told them it was not about their self-effort—but about allowing me to live through them?

That’s the New Testament Gamble…

Here’s your assignment (if you choose to accept it). Read each of these and determine whether you believe them or not. They are, indeed, radical concepts[10]. Do we dare think of God like this? It may be a shift for some of you[11]. It might even seem a little sacrilegious. It may even make you a little uncomfortable.

That’s okay… In fact, that’s good. You may be able to experience the wonder of Christmas a little more this year than you have in the past.

God coming to earth as a baby…

It happened… whether you believe it or not.

It is a radical concept.

Dare we think of God as a helpless, needy, dependent infant?

That’s a major shift.

It even seems a little sacrilegious—God a baby.

And it may make you uncomfortable.

But that’s what we are celebrating. God being God—doing things his way, in his time. I kinda like the idea of an unconventional God—one I can’t quite get a grasp on, doing things I don’t quite understand. For a lot of years I tried to explain everything I could about God[12]… Now I am enjoying the fact that I have so much to learn about God.[13]

And I am overjoyed that I get to do it with you.

I’ll leave you with the verse we highlighted last week[14]:

Hebrews 11:6

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

I can’t wait to get back to keep seeking him together!

Grace and Peace,

Doug[15] [16]

 

Topic for Sunday, December 31

We’ll explore some passages from the Old Testament that talk about the Messiah… Then we’ll see the fulfillment or explanation of those in the New Testament.

It will be cool. Heck, I’ll even give you the OT passages to consider as a little holiday Bible study!

Genesis 3:15

Genesis 12:1-3

Genesis 49:8-10

2 Samuel 7:16

Isaiah 7:14

Micah 5:2

Isaiah 9:6-7

Have fun! See you on New Year’s Eve


[1] You may be thinking, “That’s a funny way to address this letter… What’s he mean by ‘Friends of GFF?’”… Well, I want to be able to send this letter to people outside the immediate GFF family. People like my dad and siblings, friends, former colleagues etc. Also, this enables you to pass this on to anyone you think might enjoy this correspondence. The main thing to remember is that the “Friends” we really want are people who will give big bucks to the ministry.

[2] I know that’s kinda trite—but it’s a great intro in a Christmas letter, isn’t it?… By the way, you know I was joking about the big bucks people.

[3] Honda Odyssey

[4] This is a scary thought, I know… Who wants to see what’s going on in my head!

[5] Santa Claus is Coming to Town—“He knows if you’ve been naughty…”

[6] Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—“Then all the reindeer loved him…”

[7] Little Drummer Boy—“I have no gift to bring…”

[8] And it’s a big thing to ponder… I’ve been pondering for over a year and feel as if I’ve just scratched the surface of this topic.

[9] A gamble in human terms… Since God is in control over everything the odds are always in his favor!

[10] At least they are to me!

[11] It was for me—and it still is… Old mind sets are hard to break.

[12] Can you say, “self-righteous” or “pride” or “legalist”?

[13] This is a lot more fun, by the way!

[14] It’s a perfect backdrop for The New Testament Gamble

[15] Past tense of dig… Why is that important? It means I’m part of the verb club!

[16] I love footnotes, don’t you?!?