May 292010
 

He was a wealthy man in a wealthy city. However, instead of being popular, he was looked down on by his neighbors and fellow citizens. Not just because he was vertically challenged, but because of his occupation. He was an executive, leading a large group of finance professionals contracted with the federal government to collect revenue. Their income was based on revenue collected and so they assessed excessive amounts and even held back some of the funds collected for their own use. They were totally excluded socially and were viewed with loathing. Facebook accounts with zero friends.

From time to time, he felt uneasy about their business practices. He had heard about a religion teacher who was sharing a fresh view of God and was intrigued, especially since one of his colleagues had gone to work for this teacher. Hearing that he was making an appearance in town,  the man left his office, feeling drawn to see for himself.

The teacher was popular and had a large following, so much so that it was impossible to see him. In desperation, the man predicted the route the crowd was taking and climbed a tree, hoping to get a glimpse of him and hear his teaching. Moments later, the surging crowd paused. Startled, the man looked down to find the teacher staring up into the tree just a few feet away!  Jesus said,

“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19

And Zacchaeus, amid the harsh stares and cruel comments of the crowd, confessed publicly what his heart had been leading him to do for some time:

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

And Jesus’ reply tells us more about His Father:

“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

In a few short moments, Jesus blew right through social prejudice by declaring His  wish for a close friendship with Zacchaeus.  By simply being in Jesus’ presence, Zacchaeus responded with honest confession. Jesus, ever inclusive, not exclusive, told everyone that Zacchaeus was already a part of His family, not because of any good actions on his part, but because of an invitation he responded to. An invitation that stands open to me and to you. That’s grace, people. Just like Zacchaeus, we can’t earn it, don’t deserve it. Can’t you hear Jesus saying to the critical crowd, “People, don’t you get it? My being here- the whole point is to reconnect you to Me and to My Father, your Father! My wanting you back doesn’t depend on what you’ve done, who you’ve been, how far you’ve wandered. You are as close as a “Yes”.

Zacchaeus said “Yes” to Jesus and in that instant was affirmed as part of the family. And in that same instant, the Spirit started freely working to change him from the inside out, not to make him more deserving of God’s love, but just he wanted to look more like the One Who loved him first. Grace.

shared 5/29/10.

May 232010
 

What about grace is cheap!

Cheap Grace! I was involved in a discussion recently that was focused on higher behavioral standards for youth. It involved penalties for infractions. I felt impressed to share some thoughts on making sure that when youth make mistakes, we spend as much or more time on redemption than on punishment.  I struggled to keep calm when one individual countered by mentioning the term “cheap grace”. In other words, we can’t be “soft” on crime.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, makes the following powerful statement. “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

Grace is NOT cheap! Grace is horribly costly. Grace is a bloody wrist laid on a huge wooden beam by choice. Grace is the sight of blood shooting in the air as the radial artery is severed. Grace is in the sound of a large nail scraping beteen bones as it is pounded into that beam. Grace is messy. Grace is the gift of salvation given freely and willingly to us. Grace is NOT cheap.  Grace cost the Son of God His life. Grace is defined, not by us, but by the Giver.

Grace. Can’t earn it. Don’t deserve it.

He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. Titus 3:5

Does the gift of grace mean that there are no rules, no law? Of course not. How do we see that we don’t measure up? By comparing ourselves against the the law of God’s love. The law that Jesus summarized as love for God and love for each other.

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,  Romans 5:20

God’s answer for sin? The more I sin, the more grace He pours on me.  His gift is not just about buying me back, but about being willing to live in me and change me from the inside out so that I look more and more like His Son.  Yes, my Father loves me too much NOT to correct me when I stray. But when He does, His arms are around me and He never lets me go.

Cheap grace? Cheap gift? In defense of the commenter I reacted to at first, there might be cheap grace. Not from the Giver. His gift of grace is constant and costly. Only we can make it cheap by tossing it aside and not accepting it. Let us relate to each other with loving grace, regardless of how our actions will be received, regardless of whether our love is “deserved” or whether it will be returned. Just like our Father does with each one of us.

And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. Romans 11:6

shared 5/22/10

May 192010
 

What does that mean? Do you have any idea where I am going with this? Maybe it bothers you just a bit? I’m not sure where I’m going with this either! The title came to me the other day. we have so many new ways to connect today. Do they make us evaluate relationships in a different way? I finally gave in  and opened a Facebook account a while back.  I now have 33 friends, a third of whom are teenagers who I know through my girls or through church youth organizations.

I was impressed with myself the other day. I actually posted a picture and comment to my wall from my phone right during my youngest daughter’s choir concert! How cool is that! I know, I know, some of you are probably laughing as I continue to try to keep my head above water tech-wise.

In our new technology heavy culture, friendships are maintained or measured in different ways. Keeping up with friends used to be on the porch or across the back fence. Good friends were those you could count on to share joys and pain with, ones you could count on to lift you up. I see some of that on Facebook especially my younger friends. I see them spew out their stresses, their successes, their irritations and their friends respond online with empathy, with congratulations, with compassion.

Sometimes, however, Facebook “friends” are just people who have extended an invitation to us and we accept because we want the dubious privilege of having a high number of friends listed in our account. Do we have that same level of friendship with God? Yeah, God, I want to keep in touch. Post when You have anything important to share.

No, God wants more than that. He wants a close friendship that is one on one, face to face, heart to heart. Abraham had that kind of friendship. He was close enough to know the sound of God’s voice in the middle of the night even when the voice told him to kill his only son! James, the disciple, wrote:

and he was called God‘s friend. James 2:23 last part

God wants a close enough friendship with us that we spend time with Him regularly. Every day, all day, not just a quick Facebook notification when I log on at night. He wants us to be so close to Him that He starts to rub off on us. He wants to be so connected with us that we even start to look like Him!

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8

God wants to hear from you today, not just before your head hits the pillow, but in an all day long logged in chat that keeps you communicating, both talking and listening, from morning till night. Log in now!

shared 5/15/10

May 072010
 

Esther was a secretly Jewish queen in a foreign country filled with racial unrest. Political intrigue threatened her people. Officially scheduled genocide was just around the corner.

Esther’s cousin urged her to use her position to counter this movement, but court protocol prevented her from initiating contact with the king on pain of death.

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

For such a time as this…

That’s the theme for this year’s National Day of Prayer which occurred just yesterday.

For such a time as this…

People might say, yeah, with the way things are, we need a National day of prayer for such a time as this.

With the way what things are? What things come to mind?

Growing immorality? People losing jobs, homes? The flood and loss of life in middle Tennessee this week? The increase in earthquake frequency? What?

The LORD is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him. Nahum 1:7

This text was shared across the country yesterday as many gathered to pray. Often isn’t that when we remember to pray? In times of trouble? That is certainly a good time to pray! However, our Father wants to hear from us all the time, for big things and little, with praise or complaint, offering thanks or begging for help.

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray continually”. This direction is right in the middle of a very cool sentence made up of three powerful texts:

16Be joyful always;

17pray continually;

18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Here’s my version:

“The Father’s best plan for you in Jesus is to choose happiness every day, pray all the time, be thankful no matter what.”

Make every day your personal day of prayer.

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