Sunday, September 29, 2013

Relentless Grace

The Message of grace again highlighted my week. As I made pathways to and from conference rooms in the Hyatt of Columbus, the Message followed me. Privileged to be at Peacemaker Ministries' annual conference, I tried to upload, download and reload all the live streaming to my inner tablet. One thing became evident early on; the Message was consistent. Peacemakers with this organization are well trained and all start with the same principles. And those principles all are founded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Which G is that illustrating? What step in the 7 "A"s of confession was omitted? When is it better to work with a co-conciliator? Slippery slopes, heart idols, x-ray questions --part of the language in a culture I admire and was here to learn more about. As I listened to speakers, presenters and fellow participants, my vision and desire to help others work towards resolution of relational conflict was strengthened and encouraged.

Everything was wrapped in grace. The first general session speaker said it this way: "As peacemakers we go to the throne of grace to receive grace to give grace to those who desperately need grace."  It's the grace of God that reveals the hindrances to peace in our lives, the log in our own eye. Once we look inside, and recognize our contribution to conflict, and deal with it, we have a different perspective that leads to confession on our part, that can break down walls and allow for reconciliation.

So how does such a Scripture based ministry work outside the church? I headed to the Madison suite for a workshop to find out. Our young presenter spoke well with lots of experience and thoughts that my parents would have thought heretical. God's truth was spoken before the written word, he said,  and exists whether someone encounters it in the Bible or not. So it can be found in secular places and it will be revealed to those that seek for it. There's a God given vacuum inside each person He has created and the desire for good and right is what most people are looking for. They've dismissed religion and church, but they want life to go well. When they are asked to identify their highest values and realize their life is not measuring up they begin to understand their need for a Savior. God's people have the opportunity to represent him and his love and grace. It's not our job to get anyone saved; only God can draw the heart to himself. Christian, the presenter's name, has been on the receiving end of someone trying to evangelize him. More than wanting to connect with him and get to know him, the person seemed only interested in making sure he read the tract he had given him, or when Christian said he was already a Christian the evangelizer told him to give the tract to someone else and walked away. We shouldn't be out to "seal the deal" with a sinner, but to love those God puts in our path.  He has a purpose for our lives intersecting, even for a brief encounter. Christian pointed out that Jesus only used Scripture with the religious leaders and the devil; the rest of the time he told stories about the Kingdom of Heaven and spent time with people and went to their parties. We know he never compromised the truth, but neither did he try and force everyone he met to acknowledge who he was.

Christian studied sociology in school and started out by trying to stump secular professors with challenging questions about Christianity and shooting holes in their premises.  He came to realize how arrogant that was and disrespectful. The professor had spent years of study in the field and Christian's inexperience made very little impression.  As Christian gained knowledge and relationship with his professors, they could begin to trust him and were much more open to listening to Christian's arguments and beliefs. As he was about to graduate and leave the program, he felt led to ask one of his professors if there was anything she would like prayer about. She said yes. Christian was disappointed that she only asked for prayer about a new curriculum she was writing.  But he prayed that it would be well received and go well for her. From there that new initiative went on to be very successful.  Christian said he hasn't had anymore contact with her, but he can't help but wonder if someday she'll connect the success, with the prayer, and come closer to knowing the One who loves her so much that he just didn't bless one of her accomplishments, but gave his life for her.

To breathe his grace into every situation around me just means  looking for opportunities to show his love. My presence can make a difference because His presence is in me. And I want to be ready then, to share when the opportunity comes.

"Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you."  1Peter 3:15

Bishop Mouneer Anis from Egypt spoke one morning. He gave a good overview of what has happened in his country since the "Arab Spring" and how we haven't always heard the truth about the circumstances. His churches are partnering with secular leaders, Muslim imams and business executives to sponsor art shows, bring programs to school children, and meet needs in the community.  He believes Christ asks them to serve and engage the world around them without compromising the truth. Many opportunities arise for sharing God's salvation one on one as relationships are built in working together.

I leave the conference encouraged and feeling like I've been a recipient of this God-grace. Grace that isn't a taskmaster to drive me to share peacemaking principles, but grace that lets me know I'm loved and chosen to represent the Awesome, All-Powerful God who longs for all persons to come to know him. A God who is peace and works to bring unity and harmony  to those who trust him. What a privilege! I am humbled. I want to know him better, to know his thoughts and how he works. To see things the way he does and to have his love in me filled to the brim and running over. To go beyond the megabytes of my limitations to the place where the temporal is overtaken by the eternal.

So be it Father!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Read It!

What have you been reading lately?

It's one of my favorite questions to ask in conversation.  I learn from what someone shares about what they have read.  I find out where they have been dwelling with their thoughts lately. And I find my appetite whetted for the next good read.

So let me engage you in my readings from this week.

A Facebook link led me to an article about how the present generation is more interested in experiencing their faith than they are in being able to defend it, how apologetics are not very interesting to them and not considered useful; experience is most important. The author had wonderful Christian experiences in his life but there came a time when he was no longer experiencing Jesus and at that point he turned away. He eventually discovered that Christianity is not a blind faith; there is evidence that backs up our beliefs and he came back to his faith.  Along with experience he challenges us to know what we believe, citing the verse from Prov. 9:10.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding”.Greg West.

I noticed while reading in Acts this week how often Paul or other believers debated, refuted, reasoned, argued, often in a public forum, for the truth revealed in Scripture. May God continue to raise up defenders of the faith from the next generation.  Let's teach our children and grand children Scriptural truths that will forever be relevant because God's Word is eternal. My childhood included a daily reading on Daddy's lap from the Marion Bible Story Book.  When the last page was read, we'd go back to the beginning and do it over again, and again.  I was not lacking in Biblical understanding and I am so grateful for that knowledge base now.

Jesus Christ came to earth and was full of Grace and Truth.  I am excited for the message of Grace, which seems to be a theme of Christianity in these days. Grace goes hand in hand with truth. Gary Wilkerson, son of the former Dave Wilkerson, publishes a monthly newsletter with a recent sermon he has preached at Times Square Church in New York City. July 15, 2013 was entitled Responsibility, Inability and Grace. My hope soared as I read the words and I savored what I read. Gary says that we see a big disconnect between our sinful lives and Christ's call to perfection and we try and remedy the gap by working harder and taking matters into our own hands. Yet, "...the remedy isn't to place more of a fleshly burden on ourselves.  Think about it: You feel guilty because you can't pray for 30 minutes a day, so you commit to pray for an hour.  How do you think that's going to work out?" Commands in Scripture expose our inability to keep those commands. God knows our inability to do life his way outside of his enabling. Obedient works outside of God's grace lead to pride if we get it right and discouragement that weighs us down in heaviness when we fail. God is after something deeper in us, beyond what we can accomplish on our own.

"...most of us,..., tend to start off in grace and slowly default to our own ability...Our life in Christ begins in grace, it continues in grace and it will end in grace." Gary makes it clear that there is a time for responsibilities and practicing the disciplines of life. But these shouldn't be done without the oil of God's grace, or we will only reap condemnation and fearfulness. Grace shows us our inability so that we can acknowledge his ability.
Read the whole sermon here.

Unplanned by  Abby Johnson, is a powerful testimony of one women's journey into truth about abortion.  Abby  was a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas, convinced she was doing women a great service by providing counseling to them regarding how to deal with unwanted pregnancies. The organization she worked for had lured her in to believing their "good works" philosophy of reducing unwanted pregnancies and the need for abortions through better information and access to contraceptives. It was far better to make abortion safe for women who would exercise their freedom of choice in deciding to abort.  Women who came to her clinic were also presented with options to adopt and Abby  always felt better when they chose adoption over abortion.  Abby was also a believer, whose husband and family didn't agree with the thinking of Planned Parenthood, but continued to love Abby and allow God to be the one to change her mind about working there.

After personally assisting with an abortion for the first time, Abby is sickened and horrified, and is compelled  to face her own beliefs and fears. But her change of mind did not start with this revolting experience.  Ever since her beginnings with Planned Parenthood and her first day of volunteering for the clinic as a young college student, she encountered the faithful, unrelenting protestors who stood outside the fence around the clinic, every day calling to women who had to walk across the parking lot into the clinic. There were urgent pleas to not kill babies, even unkind remarks at times, but eventually over the years Abby was there, an  organized group of compassionate prayer warriors stood vigil at the fence letting clients as well as workers know they would not stop praying for lives to be saved from abortion.  Many of these regulars became Abby's friends, just because they were there so frequently and sincerely befriended her in spite of their differences. They were building a bridge that would be there when Abby needed to escape. Their influence was constantly adding fuel to Abby's inner struggle to reconcile what she was doing with the doubts in her thinking. It is a powerful story of how one woman is transformed by God's relentless love and truth working on her heart and circumstances and that love and truth being demonstrated in a tangible way through His people. 

My heart is moved. I examine how much I care that babies are being killed so cavalierly and in very large numbers.  I ask what I can do to work against abortion. I want to be led by the Holy Spirit. I want to start by praying more diligently. A video clip I saw recently, showed a man who had given up his career to stand daily in front of an abortion clinic and call out a better way to women who were entering. It was a peaceful, but urgent message and some listened and changed their course of action. Again, after reading Abby's story, I realize the power in these peaceful demonstrations.

The Monday night Bible Study group has begun it's new season. Once again I get to gather with other believers and delve into the lesson of the week.  I enjoy being challenged by the study questions, this time in the book of Genesis.  Observations from chapters one and two:

What an awesome Creator! Although no one knows exactly all the details of the origin of creation, Triune God was there, speaking the universe into existence and fashioning the perfect environment for man and woman to live. The crowning glory of all he made was man, created in His image to be a part of His family. One of our questions asks what we think it means to be created in "His image". I think it has to do with being given God's capacity to love and relate to Him and others in intimacy. To have his nature to create. To have an immortal soul. How would you answer that?

Whether you read it (present tense) or read it ( past tense), may you find His Spirit wooing you closer to him through what you are reading. I leave you with one other link I picked up somewhere this week. A pastor suggests ways to create a reading culture for his church. I'm seeing some good ideas here that I can embrace or pass along to those who have opportunity to influence others to read.  "Some chap somewhere has said that in 5 years you’ll be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people that you meet..."
Some chap somewhere has said that in 5 years you’ll be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people that you meet. - See more at:
Some chap somewhere has said that in 5 years you’ll be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people that you meet. - See more at:
Some chap somewhere has said that in 5 years you’ll be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people that you meet. - See more at:
Some chap somewhere has said that in 5 years you’ll be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people that you meet. - See more at:

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Sorry Lot

If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.
1 Cor. 15:19 & 20 
Our pastor launched off this verse for his sermon this morning. We may think it noble to declare that even if there wasn't heaven, living for Jesus now is fulfilling and enough.  After all, didn't Jesus say that he came to give us abundant life?

Not according to the apostle Paul. The scripture above says we'd be a sorry lot. Other versions or translations say we'd be "most miserable above all men", or, "of all mankind be the most to be pitied!". There isn't enough compensation in this life to be worth the sacrifices that Jesus asks us to make to follow him. The New Testament is full of references to living for and expecting heavenly rewards.

If we tolerate or condone someone in their sin because it seems the easier thing for them or what makes the most sense, or even what seems to be reality for them, we are short changing them out of eternal rewards. The truth is that we may never see the reward of our actions or sacrifices here on this earth, but God has promised us reward in heaven. There will be reward for giving and praying (Matt. 6), sharing a cup of cold water (Matt. 10:42), loving enemies, doing good, lending without getting back (Lu. 6:35), our labor, our work, our confidence (Heb. 10:35), seeking God (Heb. 11:6) and more.  

GREAT reward is in store for those who are persecuted:

Lu. 6:22-23 (Phillips) “How happy you are when men hate you and turn you out of their company; when they slander you and detest all that you stand for because you are loyal to the Son of Man. Be glad when that happens and jump for joy—your reward in Heaven is magnificent. For that is exactly how their fathers treated the prophets.

How many of us Christ followers live with this perspective? Do we consider our life here in light of eternity and what is to come. As I looked up verses about what we have to look forward to from here, it didn't take long to acknowledge that this is an underlining theme of the New Testament writers. 
How did we lose this emphasis?

2 Cor. 4:15-18 We wish you could see how all this is working out for your benefit, and how the more grace God gives, the more thanksgiving will redound to his glory. This is the reason why we never collapse. The outward man does indeed suffer wear and tear, but every day the inward man receives fresh strength. These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain. For we are looking all the time not at the visible things but at the invisible. The visible things are transitory: it is the invisible things that are really permanent.

Maybe when life is good and we are enfolded in comforts that reward us every day, and we can easily lay hold of quick fixes to numb most pain and suffering, we are lulled into thinking God is always good. Add  in our consumerist culture and we believe we deserve happiness; it is placed above all virtues. 

What happens then when trouble comes that is beyond fixing; when life goes horribly awry and chaos replaces control? Will this Christ follower be scandalized? Yes! 

I've thought about this lately, in relation to my grand kids. Are they being taught the offense of the gospel as well as the good news? What about self denial and selling all to follow Jesus? Persecution? Not just for the sake of suffering, but realizing there is reward someday, "out of all proportion to our pain". That it is worth it to hold on to our salvation and profess faith no matter the circumstances. It is becoming more realistic to believe that our grand kids and certainly their children will be faced with, at the least, a world where they will experience--
"when they slander you and detest all that you stand for because you are loyal to the Son of Man"

This generation is not free from pain -think broken homes and sexual abuse- and the world they know has terrorist attacks and threats of gunmen in schools . These can be opportunities to learn faith in a God who gives courage and hope and who gives peace in the midst of trouble.  This God says, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted"; have they heard that being persecuted is a time to leap for joy because there will be great reward in heaven? Do they know that even if they mess up, they don't have to give up? But that they can call on this God in repentence and He will forgive and set their feet on the path of righteousness? Will they see us, in an older generation, leading the way through our obedience and love for a God who gave all for us?

Father, may I love you with all my heart, my soul, my mind and my strength. This love comes from you. Fill me with this Love and teach me your ways that I might walk in your paths.  Unite my heart to fear your name. Use whatever I have gained in you to point the way to a faithful life.  Thank you for those who have gone before me and lived, not perfect lives, but lives that were unswerving in their devotion to you.

From one who has gone before me:

 Thoughts from my Grandmother's journal were often focused on heaven and the salvation we have, not just now, but what is to come.  Like this one:

"Alpha and the Omega

Christ must return to complete his work.  The second coming will complete the work of the first coming, [it] may be seen in regard to redemption.  Paul says we have our reemption through His blood. It is for the day of redemption that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit.  

It is a wonderful thing to experience now the redemption that is in Christ, to be blessedly redeemed from the curse of the Law.  But it is a matter of experience that we wait for the full effect of that redemption.  Our bodies are not yet redeemed...The Christian life and experience always has an eye on the future...God gave unto us eternal life. John writes that ye may know that ye have Eternal life.  From the depth of our sins, Christ has raised us to life.  In Christ we have been made alive.  Living daily with Christ is a precious reality.  Paul says that if we endure, we shall also reign with Christ.  He is confident that the Lord will deliver him and save him unto his heavenly kingdom...."