Category Archives for "grace"

Until Further Notice – Grant Grace

“Everyone is flailing through this life without an owner’s manual, with whatever modicum of grace and good humor we can manage.”

Anne Lamott

We are blazing a new trail.

We are walking down a path unseen by our generation.

There is not an owner’s manual that tells us exactly how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure, experts and leaders are making educated decisions and suggestions regarding how to proceed and what could happen next.

Not everyone will get it right.

Not every leader will make the right decision.

It’s easy to second guess our leaders as we sit at home. “He should have done this.” “She shouldn’t have said that.” It seems easy to be the quarterback when we are sitting on our butts on the sidelines. It’s not so easy when we are in the middle of the game with our opponents coming at us.

It’s time for granting grace to our leaders. Those leading in our companies are trying to make the best decision possible for their employees, their customers, and their shareholders. They may or may not get it right every time.

Those leading in our communities, our regions, and our country are trying to make the best decisions possible for their constituents. They may or may not get it right every time.

Those leading in the medical world are trying to make the best decisions possible for their patients. As we have seen, they haven’t been able to save every patient.

Grace is an ingredient we all need in our lives. And we must learn to give it as well.

Until further notice, grant grace!

Prayer: Remind me of the grace I have been given. Give me wisdom, courage, and empathy to understand and to grant grace to others.

Ponder & Discuss: To whom do you need to grant grace? (Share your thoughts in the comments.)

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

Acts 20:32 (NIV)

The Cone of Shame Revisited

Cone of Shame

You would think he would learn.

You would think our dog would remember his previous missteps.  And you would think he would resist his urge to eat fabric.

Last spring, our dog, Iso, ate one of my dress shirts.  I talked about it in a post called The Cone of Shame.  He ended up at the vet where X-rays revealed a football-sized blob of “stuff” in his stomach blocked from passing by large pieces of my white dress shirt (it used to be white).  A few days and a large bill later, Iso came home wearing the cone of shame and sporting a large incision on his underbelly.

You would think he would remember this event from his past.

But he either didn’t remember or he just couldn’t resist the urge to check up the bottom of a fleece jacket.

Yep.  You guessed it.  He somehow reached up on the coat wall and chewed apart the bottom of a jacket.  He even chewed up and swallowed some of the zipper.  We spent the next few days watching and waiting to see if he would “pass” the jacket.  Thankfully, he seems to be doing okay, and his digestive system seems to be returning to normal.

Before I go passing blame on my four-legged friend, it’s probably a good idea to look in the mirror.

There are definitely things in my life that I shouldn’t do, but I do anyway.  Sin has a sneaky way of invading our lives and taking over our rational thinking.  Maybe it’s gossip.  Maybe it’s judging.  Maybe it’s lust.  Maybe it’s some other sin area.  Whatever it is, we all struggle with one thing or the other.  We keep doing things we shouldn’t do.

We are not alone.

The Apostle Paul talks about his own struggle with his sin nature in Romans 7:

We know that the law is holy. But I am not. I have been sold to be a slave of sin. I don’t understand what I do. I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do what I hate to do. I do what I don’t want to do. So I agree that the law is good. As it is, I am no longer the one who does these things. It is sin living in me that does them.

I know there is nothing good in my sinful nature. I want to do what is good, but I can’t. I don’t do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don’t want to do. I do what I don’t want to do. But I am not really the one who is doing it. It is sin living in me.

Here is the law I find working in me. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. Deep inside me I find joy in God’s law. But I see another law working in the parts of my body. It fights against the law of my mind. It makes me a prisoner of the law of sin. That law controls the parts of my body.

What a terrible failure I am! Who will save me from this sin that brings death to my body? I give thanks to God. He will do it through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So in my mind I am a slave to God’s law. But in my sinful nature I am a slave to the law of sin. Romans 7:14-25

Do you see what I mean?  Even Paul struggled with his sinful nature.  But this isn’t the end of the story.  Sure we will continue to struggle with this until we get to heaven.  Yet we have a hope and a promise.  In the next chapter of Romans, Paul lays it out clearly for us:

Those who belong to Christ Jesus are no longer under God’s sentence. I am now controlled by the law of the Holy Spirit. That law gives me life because of what Christ Jesus has done. It has set me free from the law of sin that brings death.  Romans 8:1-2 (Read the rest of Romans 8 for more.)

I don’t know what’s going to happen to our dog.  He will probably continue to struggle with his strange appetite for fabric.  I don’t think you can call this sin.  It’s more like stupidity.  I’m thankful for him despite the fact he drives me crazy.  He reminds me of my own struggles and of the victory I have to sin because I belong to Christ.

I remain thankful for the grace of God.

Do you struggle with repeated sins?  What helps you in this struggle?

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Thank You – #19

Thank You No. 19

Today, I’m thankful for grace.

I mess up way more than I care to admit.  Without God’s grace, I would be lost.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.  Ephesians 2:8-9

Why are you thankful today?

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Book Review: SELAH by Joseph Iregbu

What does SELAH mean?  I’ve seen the word before.  If you read the Psalms, SELAH is a word often found at the beginning of a Psalm, and the word is sometimes used in the middle of a Psalm as if to break up the passage.

I looked up SELAH in a couple of dictionaries, and they both indicated that the translation of this Hebrew word wasn’t completely clear.  I get the picture that SELAH is meant to indicate pause or break.  It’s a call to attention – “stop, be alert, pay attention!”

My friend, Joseph Iregbu, recently wrote a new 90-day devotional eBook called SELAH.  In the book, readers are encouraged to stop for a moment and to pay attention to the grace and hope in our lives.  In a world where we are bombarded with messages of despair, destruction, and ridicule, SELAH refreshes the sole with brief, daily messages that point readers to the grace and hope that comes as we put our faith in God.

If you are looking for a way to rekindle your faith – if you are going through a time of discouragement – if you simply need something new in your daily experience to point you to the truths of grace and hope, I’d recommend that you pick up a copy of SELAH.  The book is available on Amazon starting tomorrow.  For more information on SELAH, check out the book’s website by clicking here.

When was the last time you stopped and paused long enough to be refreshed and to hear from God?

(Note:  I am part of the launch team for SELAH.  I received this book for free.  As part of the launch team, I was not required to write a positive review for this book.  I truly enjoyed the book, and I’ve even used it to lead devotions for my small group.)

Truth: Walking The Tightropes of Life – Balancing Truth and Grace

Truth Week continues here on the Stretched Blog.

This past fall, my Foundations class talked about groups.  The main focus of the discussion was how a solid group setting can be a great place to experience both truth and grace.  Many of us lean one way or the other.  We’re either grace-givers or truth-tellers.  I’m sure I lean more towards the “grace-giver” side.

The reality is that we need both grace and truth in our lives in order to grow and stay balanced.  My friend, Diane Karchner, helped explain this to me one time.  If we have a relationship that doesn’t have truth or grace, the relationship is one that is non-involved.  It’s a relationship where nobody cares.  If we have a relationship that has truth without grace, it’s a graceless relationship.  There is no margin for mistake or error in a relationship like this.  If we have a relationship that has grace without truth, it’s a truthless relationship.  These relationships are solely based on what I want to hear and not what I may need to hear.  Finally, we hit our sweet spot when grace and truth are both existent in a relationship.  This is where true agape love happens.

There are many times where I regret that I haven’t kept this balanced.  I have friends and even family who have needed both, and I have typically failed to bring truth to the table.  I don’t like confrontation.  It’s a lousy excuse, but it’s true.  I sometimes fail to speak up, because I don’t want to rock the boat and I certainly don’t want to be rejected.

It can also be easy to runaway from relationships where I know I’m going to get a little bit of both – truth and grace.  It doesn’t always feel good if the relationship is more based on truth than grace.  I guess that’s why a balance is important.  We need people in our lives who love us enough to tell us the truth and who love us enough to give us grace and a second chance when we screw up.  That’s where I want to be!

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  Ephesians 4:15

Where /when/how have you experienced truth and grace?  How would a little more truth have been beneficial to something you experienced in the past?  How would a little more grace have been beneficial to something you experienced in the past?

Lance Armstrong, Barack Obama, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Lance Armstrong, Barack Obama, and Martin Luther King Jr.

These three names are near the top of the search charts these days.

For Lance Armstrong, he’s facing the aftermath of his admission to doping during his career as a cyclist.  This past week on the Oprah Winfrey Network he came clean about years of “systematic doping” which led to winning the Tour de France seven consecutive years.  He had his Olympic bronze medal stripped from him this past week.  And I’m guessing that he opened the door for countless lawsuits in which people and companies will seek to be compensated for the damage they faced as the hands of Armstrong to their finances, their reputations, and their careers.  It could get pretty ugly for Lance.  I’m sure he could use a little grace and mercy as he faces the penalties and ridicule that he certainly deserves.

For Barack Obama, he’s being inaugurated today for his second term as President of the United States.  He certainly faces some uphill battles of his own in the coming four years.  I’m sure he’s made plenty of mistakes throughout his life including during his first term.  No matter what, some people will love him and some people will dislike him.  With the state of the economy, the situations overseas, and the decisions to be made within our borders, it could be a pretty tough four years for Barack and his family.  I’m sure he could use a little wisdom to go with some grace and mercy as he faces the challenges that await him.

For Martin Luther King Jr., this is a day we remember.  Many will be talking about his famous “I Have A Dream” speech today as they celebrate the man who spoke openly about a dream for equality for all people regardless of race or gender.  Many strides have been made in this department since King said these words as evidenced by the election of Obama to the highest position in our country.  But I’m sure more could be done to bring about equal opportunities for education and career/jobs.  For me MLK Day reminds me that there is still work to be done for his dream and for my own dreams.

So how do these three people fit together.  In a way, I can identify with each of them on small levels.  While I haven’t committed the highly public mistakes that Lance Armstrong admitted to this week, I’ve made my fair share of blunders over the years.  I could definitely use some grace and mercy.  While I don’t hold the responsibility of leading our country, I am a leader in my home, at work, and in my church.  I could definitely use wisdom to go with the grace and mercy.  And as for the MLK Day reminder, I have dreams.  I must continue to go after these dreams with a passion and drive that is relentless.  And I must continue to standup for the rights of those who can’t speak for themselves.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31:8-9

What are your thoughts on Lance Armstrong, Barack Obama, and Martin Luther King Jr.?  How do you identify with them?  What’s your dream?

Les Miserables – Unmerited Divine Assistance

A couple of weeks ago, Leanne and I went to see the latest edition of Les Miserables at our local movie theater.  We’ve seen the story before – once on Broadway, once at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia, and several times in various cinematic productions.  We thoroughly enjoyed this version of the movie.  And while some may say that seeing this movie was like turning in my man card, I would disagree.  And I would recommend anyone see it for themselves.

Sure I liked the movie and what they did with the story.  I think the actors did a great job – especially Anne Hathaway in the role of Fantine and Hugh Jackman in the role of Jean Valjean.  The music was great.  And the sets and overall cinematography helped bring the story to a whole new level.

What I liked most though about Les Miserables was the reminder of grace.  The theme of grace is threaded throughout the entire story.  Les Miserables reminded me that grace is undeserved, surprising, freeing, contagious, and sometimes a little confusing.  According to Webster’s Dictionary, grace is defined as:

unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification, a virtue coming from God, a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace

In Christian circles, grace is talked about from time to time, but I think it’s easy to forget how amazing grace really is.

We don’t deserve grace.  In Romans 3:23, Paul reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Our sin separates us from God.  It condemns us to death.  In Romans 6:23, Paul starts by saying “For the wages of sin is death.”  If we stopped there, the story would be pretty grim.

The beauty is that our story doesn’t have to end there.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul lays out a pretty clear argument to those who want to escape this death.  Simply stated, there is hope and eternal life with Christ found for those who make Jesus Christ the leader and forgiver of their lives.  At the end of Romans 6:23, it says “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  A gift.  That’s what grace is about.  Unmerited divine assistance.

And this is why I liked Les Miserables.  The movie reminded me that like Jean Valjean, I have received an undeserved gift.  I have been granted grace.  We all need that gift and the reminder of grace, so we live in light of that grace each day of our lives.

When was the last time you were given something you didn’t deserve?  What is/was your response to an undeserved gift?  How does grace impact your daily life?  Do you know the grace I’m talking about?

Foundations Class – Week 3 – Groups

This past Sunday, I led our third Foundations Class based on Fully Devoted by John Ortberg. Our first class was on Grace. Our second class was about Growth. And our third class focused on Groups. As you may imagine, I was pretty excited about this week. I’m a huge grouplife fan, and I have a passion for seeing people connected in community through groups.

The lesson for this week reminded me that being in a group is more than just about connection. Being in a group is about experiencing the life transforming power of truth and grace. You see, we all need truth and grace in our lives. If we have too much grace and not enough truth, we will miss out on growth. We will fail to face up to things in our lives that need change and transformation. On the other hand, if we have too much truth in our lives and not enough grace, we will get bogged down in the sin that entangles all of us. We need both truth and grace in equal amounts.

When it comes to dispensing truth and grace to those around us, we also need to be balanced. We need to speak both truth and grace into those around us. When we fail to do this, we miss out on showing love. My friend, Diane, showed me a great chart that helps to demonstrate this principle. I’ll do my best to explain it.

Looking at the chart above, Grace is plotted along the x or horizontal axis and Truth is plotted along the y or vertical axis (I love this kind of talk!).  If we fail to show grace and we fail to show truth, it shows are lack of involvement in the lives of others (this is the RED area of the chart). When we show truth and we fail to show grace, we are graceless (the YELLOW area of the chart). On the other side of the spectrum, when we show grace and we fail to show truth, we are lying (the GREEN area of the chart). Where we hit our sweet spot, we show both truth and grace (the BLUE area of the chart). This is how we truly exhibit love towards one another.

Christian community isn’t always perfect. Over the years, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly that can sometimes happen even amongst groups that call themselves Christian. We need to strive for the best. We need to be marked as people who love. Love happens when truth and grace coexist. And I believe that small groups are a perfect place to flesh this out.

Do you have a relationship where grace and truth exist? Are you in a small group? Why or why not?

Foundations Class Starts Today

We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.

– Will Campbell

I found this quote in Phil Yancey‘s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace. In this book, Yancey shares a story (A Home For Bastards) about Will Campbell’s conversation with P. D. East, anti-Christian newspaper editor. Campbell’s quote ties in to the topic of a class I’ll be leading over the next several weeks. In the Foundations Class, we’ll be using John Ortberg‘s book, Fully Devoted, to discuss spiritual transformation. Each week, we’ll talk about one of the five Gs (Grace, Growth, Groups, Gifts, and Giving).

This week, we’ll be talking about Grace. As the quote above implies, grace is undeserved by all, but God gives it anyway. The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 is a wonderful story of grace. In this parable, the younger son of a rich ruler decides to cash in his inheritance early. He completely squanders the money, and he is eventually left to live with the pigs.

In a stroke of awakening, he decides to crawl back to his father to request a job as a servant. In the story, the father sees the son comes back from a distance, and he runs to him with open arms. The father welcomes his son back as a son and not as a servant. The father extends grace to the son.

Meanwhile, the older, loyal son sees what is happening and becomes jealous of the grace extended to his brother. He misses out on the loving grace already extended to him by the father. This can be an easy place to find myself as a long time Christian – and a first-born son. The story is a good lesson that God’s grace is open to all who chose to accept it and to return home to a loving Father.

If you’re interested in getting in on the conversation, come join us at the Foundations Class. We’re meeting Sunday mornings at 10:15am at Christ’s Church of the Valley.  There are also other Foundations Classes being offered if this time slot doesn’t work for you.

How have you experienced grace?