Mar 272016
 

good newsAnother sleepless night. My excuse? The neighbor’s very small dog with a very piercing bark. Incessant, all night long. Good news? Not so much. The disciples excuse? Their Savior crucified and buried. Their futures questionable. My solution? I’m up writing. Their solution? Mary, the one who had been forgiven much,  went back to the tomb. Why, I don’t know. Maybe searching for connection with the One Who knew and loved her best?

Finding Jesus missing, a series of sprints take place with Mary telling the disciples, John and Peter coming to look. Would no news have been good news? Did they think that the Jewish leaders or the Romans had done away with the body to discredit them?

Mary, grief-stricken, asks the gardener where the body has been taken so that she can retrieve it. Only when she hears Jesus say her name, does she realize that she is speaking to her Savior. Talk about Good News! She races back to the disciples, again, this time with a different story.

I was reading this account in John 20 with my kids class at church. We talked about good news. One student said, “That’s not good news! That’s freaky, good news!

While the sun is threatening to spill over the eastern edge of my valley, am I just calmly thinking of Jesus’ resurrection as good news, okay news, traditional news, old news, news I’ve head before that I’ve built resistance to?

Or, am I amazed and awestruck yet again that the Jesus story is real. That with His resurrection, He made good on His promises. That the God/man who dove headfirst into this hell of sin to save us proved that love conquers all, proved that His equality statement, God = Love, is true, proved that He had and has power over death. That our truly superhero, Captain Universe, is not only alive, but is working for us right now! He stands before the Father, and the rest of the universe and says,”My life and death walk proves my right to move my redeemed ones to SAVED status not because of what they’ve done, but because my name, and my blood, covers them.

Now that’s not good news..

That’s Freaky Good News!!

Feb 212015
 
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Have you ever messed up and thought, “How am I ever going to get out of this mess? How do I get this turned around?  I know I have. I’m not going to be talking about my mess today, but someone else’s mess.

A friend comes to you and says, “I’ve really blew it. I borrowed your mower without asking and just backed over it with my truck.” You’re thinking, “That was a BRAND NEW MOWER! I just gassed it up. I just started it once. It’s not even dirty yet!”

I hear second hand that an employee has been very critical of me behind my back. I call her into my office and ask for an explanation. She breaks down crying and said that a decision I made had upset her and she had just started to be openly critical about everything.

Coming in from working in the yard, you surprise your son taking cash from your wallet on the dresser. He desperately tries to cover up.

Made a mess of my whole life
Burned every bridge I crossed
Am I too far gone? Which way is home?
How did I get so lost?

I’m looking for a good place to turn around
And get off this road that I’m headed down
I’ve gotta find some peace of mind
Lord, send a sign somehow
I just need a good place to turn around. –Point of Grace

What environment do I create for people around me who have made mistakes? An environment of criticism, judgement, punishment, and separation? Or do I recognize the wrong deed, accept the apology, lavish forgiveness, and cultivate a renewed relationship?

Do I create a good place for others to turn around? I know Jesus does. Each time, every time. I count on it. Can others count on me for a safe place to turn around? Can I forgive and forget the past and allow others to start over? Making messes, burning bridges, lost… all of us, sooner or later, just need a good place to turn around.

 

Nov 012014
 

whale and graceJonah and the whale. Such a dramatic story! Most of us have heard the story since we were children. The big takeaway message in the book of Jonah is a shocking surprise.

Let’s pick up the story post-whale. Jonah is finally following God’s instruction to go preach His word to the city of Nineveh, a city known as a hot bed of evil. “Forty days and this city’s going down!” Jonah preached. He anticipated fire from heaven, or some other dramatic end to evil and evildoers. In his self-righteousness, he preached with vigor and passion!

Wow, what an uplifting message! So full of hope, grace,  and promise! NOT! And yet, somehow, God spoke to the people of Nineveh and they turned to Him en mass. Even the king proclaimed,

“Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.” Jonah 3:8 NIV.

In spite of the message and the messenger, the entire city changed their focus, reaching out for something they had never experienced.

“Then God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion….   Jonah 3:10 NIV.

 “I knew you were going to do this!” Jonah complained to God. “That’s why I tried to get out of this gig in the first place! You are so full of grace and compassion! I told them they were going to die and You saved them. I’m so embarrassed. Just kill me now!”

Jonah stalked out of the city and found a bench to sit on so he could watch the city- just in case it still burst into flame. The sun burned down on him and he started to get very uncomfortable.  Suddenly, a God-powered vine grew up next to him and over his head, giving him refreshing and cooling shade! Jonah sighed. He was very happy about the vine.

Okay, you can’t tell me that God doesn’t have a sense of humor. First thing the next morning, He sent a worm to cut the vine and it quickly withered. A hot wind blew up and the sun beat mercilessly on his head and he started to feel light-headed. “Go ahead and kill me now,” he said to God once again.

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.  And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—     Jonah 4:9-11 NIV.

Over and over again, God teaches us. We ALL have sinned and come far short of his perfect plan for our lives. And yet, that fact fades into the background when overshadowed by His forgiveness and grace. Weak and wounded, faulty and fearful, He’ll take all comers, banishing all our history, mending our mangled lives, lifting us back up close to Him where He can patiently reshape us to look like Him. One crazy kind of love. Just sayin….

shared by Bob MacLafferty, devotional, Ukiah Valley Medical Center leadership, 9/29/2014.

Nov 032010
 

Redeem.  What comes to mind when you hear that word? I asked my family abut that this last weekend. My dad reminded us of something that only the more seasoned of you might recall: Green Stamps! Wayhahayyy back when, in the time before cellular, even before faxes and pushbutton phones, certain stores would give out these stamps along with your purchase. They would get carefully saved by licking and sticking them in a book. When the book [or books] were full, they could be redeemed either through the mail or at a redemption center for cool stuff like a portable AM radio or a set of curlers. Wow!

Dictionary definitions for the word redeem include to buy, to buy back, to make up for.

Let’s try a different word. Ransom. What images come to mind? Our family could only think of negative and scary ones. Images involving kidnapping and slavery.  Images of losing precious loved ones.Ransom. In the 1990’s Mel Gibson movie by that title, he is a father driven to go to any length to get his kidnapped son back.  Ransom. Dictionary says the redemption of a prisoner, slave, or kidnapped person. It’s a noun. It’s a verb. Ransom. Redeem.

What I make is mine. What I create, I own. God created us. He lovingly designed us, breathed His life into us so that we could freely return His love. But, we freely chose to move away from Him, choosing a life of selfishness and following a sinister imposter who enslaved us.

 In his love and mercy he redeemed them;

When someone is kidnapped, stolen from the ones who loved them, a price, the ransom, is extorted from them. They are asked to pay for something that they originally owned! In the Old Testament, law allowed for a family member to redeem, or buy back, property that had been lost through debt in order to keep it in the family.

It wasn’t enough for God that we belonged to Him in the first place. When we strayed from Him, He loved us so much that He bought us back with a price so high, so horrible, so bloody, that it is hard to understand. The price was His Son. The price was willingly and freely paid with no guarantee of getting us back! The price was paid, knowing that some would actually choose to remain enslaved!

I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. He said, “Surely they are my people, sons who will not be false to me”; and so he became their Savior. In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Isaiah 63:7-9 NIV

Oh Father, You loved us first. You loved us best. You love us still. Even when we don’t love you back! How can You do that! Am I that important to You?

Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
-Chris Tomlin

Jun 042010
 

The woman was obviously a sinner. I mean, you could see the guilt spread all over her face. The elders pushed her into the center of the church foyer and in plain sight of the whole congregation asked the pastor to administer church discipline.  Everybody knew she had a bad reputation. Everyone had heard the stories.

She stood there. Skirt ripped. Blouse torn. Head hanging in shame. Shaking with fear.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.  At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  -John 8

“If any of you is without sin”. You mean visible, grossly immoral, socially unacceptable sin, right? The kind of sin that is so obvious in others? The kind of sin I would never partake in. “If any of you is without sin,” feel free to judge, condemn, punish, said the Son of God. The perfect Son. The holy Son. The without sin Son.

“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared.

And in a moment, she experiences the wonder of God’s grace gift. No condemnation, no judgment. Grace. Couldn’t earn it. Didn’t deserve it.

She stands there. Grace covered. Face filled with joy. Limbs stilled in peaceful calm.

“Go now and leave your life of sin.”

And in a moment, the Son gives her permission and power to leave it all with Him. Her past. Her reputation. Her shame. Her sin. All! Free to move forward into a new life with Him.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

Father, give me permission and power to leave it all with You. My past. My reputation. My shame. My sin. Let me share no condemnation, no judgment, but only love with those around me.

to share 6/5/10

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

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