If grace is not for everyone, then who is it for?

Posted: January 2nd, 2017 | Filed under: God | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

If grace is not for everyone, then who is it for?

I spoke at a church conference a few years back and had an interaction I had with the pastor that has been replaying itself in my head since. For reasons beyond me, I always seem to end up speaking at churches that are ripping themselves apart over the meaning and application of grace. They have people who are barely clinging to the implied hope of an explicit Gospel on one side and people who are trying to maintain some form of orderly structure that resembles a religious institution in their communities on the other side. Then, here comes me: this incredibly small person with a giant message of grace and a free spirit with no real respect for structure or status.

My message was always the same. When I needed a Savior to forgive my sins, standards and structure weren’t the answer. They can alter behavior, but not the heart. They can make you pass human inspection, but not the Holy Spirit’s. You need Jesus, even at the expense of getting nothing else in the religious realm right. As a matter of fact, all the religiosity, structure, and status are used to crush the one who needs Jesus, not lift him up. So, yeah, I have no workable respect for religious status or man-made structure.

The church was located in gorgeous Massachusetts. I used to live on the Cape and left a bit of my soul there, so any chance I can get back there, I jump on it. The visit was timely for me because it wasn’t long after the Boston Marathon bombing and I wanted to be close to others who had the same hurting New England heart that I had.

We were sitting in a Mexican restaurant having lunch when the topic of the bombing came up. In preparation for speaking, the potency of grace was paramount in my own mind. The two subjects rolled around together in my mind in the days and weeks leading up to my speaking engagement. The one surviving bomber was only eighteen, the same age as my oldest daughter. I could be his mother. He ran over his big brother trying to get away. He hid and bled out while, undoubtedly, trying to reaffirm his mission as the events and his fate played over and over in his mind. I have been the villain and I know the hell it can be. My heart, as a mother, broke for him. My heart as a grace recipient had hope for him.

I said as much in response to a comment the pastor made about the young man. My burrito was steaming up at me from my plate and I could feel the screeching halt of conversation as I took a bite. I looked up to see the pastor and his wife exchange raised eyebrows. They turned the subject quickly and I ate in silence wondering where the limits of grace were supposed to be, even for a grace preaching pastor. He was losing half his congregation because of his message about God’s love, but I found his faith limit within the first ten minutes of meeting him. All I thought, for the rest of my time with them, is about how they could possibly embrace anything I have to say if I’m preaching an unconditional love to a conditioned congregation.

My question then and my question still is this: If grace is not for everyone, then who is it for?

Boston


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half full

Posted: March 20th, 2015 | Filed under: life | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God. – 1 Peter 2:2-3 MSG

It’s so easy to find fault in anything. Focus gravitates to the shortcomings of others because it offers an excuse for our own shortcomings. It’s an unconscious tool to cope with the disappointments we have with ourselves. But what about the lives we affect? Are there others pointing out our faults to find an excuse for theirs? People who lack point out the lack in others. It’s a cycle of negativity that sucks the joy out of life and uses shame to obscure the view of the lesson.

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. -Galatians 5:22-23 MSG

There is good and bad in everything. You can choose where you spend your energy by choosing where you put your focus. You’ll find what you’re looking for. So, instead of looking for why something isn’t working, look for what will make it better. Finding the flaws gives you an excuse to fail. Finding the opportunities gives you something productive to do. The glass is either half empty or half full. Your focus is entirely your choice.

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings… into our lives… a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.” There is no escaping the interconnectedness of life. We are all parts of the whole. Scripture tells us that Jesus is the “whole” and we are His parts (Romans 12:4-6, 1 Corinthians 12).  There is a larger narrative that includes the redemption of all on a much larger scale than we are used to including in our day-to-day perspective. We have lots of little things to keep us from finding peace in the larger story. It takes practice to change the habit of our focus. We have to look for Jesus, The Bigger Picture, in one another… His Parts.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.– Phillipians 4:8-9 MSG

 

Jesus


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end of an era

Posted: February 13th, 2015 | Filed under: life | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I’ll wipe the slate clean for each of them. I’ll forget they ever sinned!” God’s Decree. – Jeremiah 31:34 MSG

I’ve had a job since I was fifteen. I think coming from a gypsy mother with no money made the act of making money really intriguing to me. It’s just that I developed a habit of wanting to work in most places I entered. I was a clerk at a really small town grocery store until I went with a church group to eat at a little country buffet and became their newest server. One afternoon, I went shopping at a nearby bigger small town with my adopted mom and we grabbed a cherry limeade from Sonic. I was driving by this time, so I submitted an application and I upgraded from country buffet to fountain drink maker at Sonic.

Working in another town made it easier to get away with my crazy and most nights people would have to drive me home because I was too drunk to drive myself. In retrospect, these were some pretty good acquaintances because I lived over thirty minutes away and it would be the middle of the night down a country dirt road. My adopted mom liked to shop at Wal-Mart and they built a new supercenter in a different, bigger small town, so I quit the fountain drink making job and became a cashier at Wal-Mart.

After I turned seventeen, I got a second job taking care of the flower beds at a local college during the summer. That was the summer I left home. I’ve always been fiercely independent. I think I came out of the womb waiting to be on my own. I quit both jobs and started working for quarters, literally, at a diner. Then I worked at a fast food burger chain. Then a different fast food burger chain. I cleaned rooms at a hotel, made follow-up sales calls for a satellite company who made us call ourselves a “phone line cable” company, and then I sucked nitrous oxide from whipped cream cans in between making sundaes at a frozen yogurt shop.  After that, I worked as a cashier at a grocery store.

It was hard for me to keep a job because I was homeless and my life was chaotic. When I turned nineteen, I was pregnant and a brand new Christian. A friend of a woman at my new church let me man her mall kiosk of flower arrangements until I had the baby. This brings me to the point of my story. Around this time, an Irish owned Mexican restaurant chain out of Kansas was built in our town. They opened right around the time my daughter was born and I went there with some friends after church. Old habits are hard to break. I filled out an application while I ate chips and salsa and I started my new job about two weeks later.

Due to the structure that living a Christian lifestyle brought, my life was more linear around this time. I had stability and a little group of people supporting me. My best friend from church started working with me, which made clocking out at 1 a.m. a blast. We were both nineteen, so the night was still young at 1 am. The rest of the world, however, was closed for business. That is, except the 24-hour Supercenter. We were the teenage girls who smelled like salsa and raided the beauty aisles of Wal-Mart at 2 am.

Our church groups would have their nights out to our restaurant. Other friends would end up there and wait to sit in my section. I loved when my world would take that place over. It made me feel important.

Life moved forward and earned some breaks and scars. Moves, marriages, break ups, failures, and redemptions looped us all in passing circles. I went there twice since I moved back. Once to see what the past tasted like and the second time to sit next to my husband as his heart was torn out.

Here’s the thing. I’m taking a small-town-ambition-fueled highlighter to this soggy-marshmallow-trailer-park-social-salad. The circle of friends got tangled. And a cold plate of nachos sat like a prop on an unfriendly Mexican Irish booth while words became razors.

We never entered that building again. It became an eyesore, a reminder of our sins, an innocence graveyard.

Then, a few months ago the place got shut down. Like a fed up landlord, a note hung on the door and the locks were changed. You can’t celebrate enduring memories on blood stains. So, I was glad.

An era is over. Grace has washed away most of the bitterness. New memories, new life, and redeeming Love has softened the pain of failure and loss. Healing has taken over and kindness has replaced scorn. So it’s only fitting that the Carpenter deemed it time to clean the slate.

Good riddance, Carlos O’Kelley’s.

“Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be— you get a fresh start, your slate’s wiped clean.” – Psalm 32:1 MSG

IMG_0249

 


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twelve

Posted: September 22nd, 2014 | Filed under: life | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The quiet gets masked in fatigue so nobody will ask. Dull pain deep enough to sleep until the distractions can overtake the memories and the questions and swallow them into routine. Helplessness can make a gentle man angry, so the gentle man sleeps.

And I wonder.

God is not bound by time. He forgives from the outside of our beginning and beyond our end. Time heals human wounds unless you pay homage to the sins that caused your hurt. You mark the yearly landmarks like a sin historian whose only sense of worth is through the failures of others. Vowing to never forget only serves to justify your long standing vengeance.

What if you don’t know how to change the course?

The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment… – 1 Timothy 5:24 ESV

His sin was obvious. It walked itself into the light. While he stood exposed, his sins marched ahead of him and laid down at the cross. Like venom to venom, a scour to a wound, pain was the antidote. God knew the way to his heart. Gutted by his own sin, this man gladly gave away his rights to your failure so that he could be free from his own.

Are you are afraid of losing something?

…but the sins of others appear later. – 1 Timothy 5:24 ESV

Like a child hiding from his father, you poke sticks at the carcass just to see how the dead moves. You bear witness to his sin, turning the poured out Gospel into a lie. They are so deep that digging out would rearrange the life you built on top of them.

What is a life built on lies? Switch the names. Tell the story that makes you a redeemer. They don’t ask and you don’t tell.

Do you feel like it’s too late?

So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. – 1 Timothy 3:25 ESV

Does it make you limp?
Isn’t it tiring to hide all the time?
What do you do with the fear?

You keep telling yourself that the monster chasing you is him. But, he’s not chasing you.

Don’t be afraid.

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. – Luke 12:3 ESV

The truth-bomb is still ticking, but you’ve become accustomed to the sound.

One day, every tongue will confess that He is God. Your justifications are a wagging tongue of self. You hide behind his mistakes and justify yourself by blaming him. His sin was blotted from the books when the blood spilled. Are you the book keeper?

Put down your towel. This blood won’t wipe off.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. – Proverbs 10:9 ESV

Does your word mean nothing? You’ve built a house of cards, but he steadies his breath because she lives in that house. I already told you. He’s not your monster.

So, Who is chasing you?

He’s your Shepherd.

Stop running.

Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. – Luke 12:4 ESV

His quiet gets masked in fatigue so he can sleep it away. He lays under undisturbed blankets while the King breathes peace over him. He waits for the housetop proclamations and the mountains bow to the One who watches him sleep.

Love her extra for him today, will You? It’s her birthday.

Happy Birthday, Parker Rain.


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the apology

Posted: August 20th, 2014 | Filed under: life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

We can do some horrific things to each other. Animals out for blood, tears, thrills, or someone else’s something or someone.

Apologies are seldom good enough. But, they’re still necessary.

“This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” – Matthew 5:23 MSG

It might be harder, or at least more confusing, to the apology recipient than the apologizer. We feel entitled to an apology. We could even craft a flawless one to ourselves on behalf of another. It makes sense. When someone wrongs you, you’re more likely to know exactly where it hurt, what it hurt, and whether or not it still hurts. We feel we were hurt so meticulously that the apology has to be as expertly executed as the blow for which he or she is apologizing. The apology we’re looking for has to meet a certain criteria to be considered satisfactory. If the apology doesn’t come on schedule, then we think it should include an apology and sufficient justification for that, too.

You don’t know what the other person is feeling or thinking.

The wronged may be waiting for the magic letter, all the while telling people they don’t expect one. They swing from the despair of betrayal to the pride of not being the one who did the wrong. From “how could I be so stupid?” to, “they’re not worth my time.” The wronged one goes through her own journey of healing. The long road to wholeness after being damaged includes an annoying tedious task of learning how not to need an explanation or some real form of closure.

Meanwhile, the one who hurt you has to let his or her own justifications run their course. Some people take a long time before they tire of arguing inside themselves. Once they stop justifying their actions, they have to deal with the flawed version of themselves. They’ve run from the truth mirror for so long that it’s like meeting someone completely new and clearly unlikable. They have to spend time with their own thoughts. They experience anger, their own realization of years of self-betrayal and self-sabotage, and then they have to forgive themselves.

This transformation process, if they have the stamina to stick it out, can take years.

They’re identifying damaging patterns as life rolls under them and rewiring some bad connections between the past and the present. Relearning how to be a better human is a private pain of ripping everything out and deciding what stays and what goes.

A year is experiencing each calendar day only once. The deeper the wound, the more time it takes to bleed the poison out. The hurt ones have to experience each January 1 through December 31 at least once to establish an new norm for that day. The new norm is the hurt, but the next time that day comes it will be less about the disappointment and more about the survival. The third time is closer to the new norm than the years before. Count them. Healing takes time.

It’s the same long process for the one who did the wrong. Their journey looks different, but pain is pain and you can’t use your own gauge to measure the other. You’re both trying to create distance between now and then. The one who wounded you has no idea where you are in your journey. And you have no idea how they feel about what happened either.

There are so many different avenues of healing, suppression, anger, or whatever.

All they know is that what they did to you is still loose out there somewhere. Their words are still echoing, the slap is still resounding, and the doing is still done. They may want to find the origin of those words and wounds and make it known to whoever is listening that they want to disown their behavior. They can’t erase it, but they can say they were wrong. It’s not for you as much as it is for them. They need to gather up the ugly, left behind pieces of themselves and amend their previous statement.

You can say that you didn’t give them any space in your life, that they are completely nonexistent to you, but that’s a lie we tell ourselves to create distance. Lie-based indifference is a bad root that will end up an ugly weed you’ll end up hurting someone else with later. The apology may not cover everything you need to cover and it may even unearth something you thought you buried. That’s probably a good thing.

Their apology is not about you and what it unearths in you is no longer about them. It’s just an intersection that God brings us to as we’re traveling with Him. Thank them for their apology and then give God what He’s asking for.

the apology


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