Faith, Love, and Hope

I love that as Paul writes this letter from prison the first thing he does after establishing his authority in Christ is to thank God for the Colossians. So many times in leadership (and in life) I tend to drive straight to the point or the issue and blow past any good along the way.

But Paul, remembering God’s preeminence even in his chains, thanks Him that their faith is in Christ, that their essence is rooted in him – the Son through whom all things were made and are reconciled back to God. He recalls that it all comes from God, because of God. It all starts and ends with God and works ultimately to his glory.

Jesus was the object of their faith; not works, not status, not a theological camp, nor anything else. God alone enables our ability to have true faith in Christ and what Christ accomplished on the cross for us.

How many times do I misdirect my faith into myself and strut confidently down my life without even a thought to the grace that led me here? How often do I misplace it in someone else, expecting them to instinctively know what I need and how I want them to respond to me?

I say that I have faith, and yet today I’m overwhelmed with worry and angst. I know that the sun will set and rise again and each day will have new troubles. But do I trust that God’s promise is enough?

Paul then thanks God for the love by which the Colossians live. They all join hands despite differences and commit to do life together – in deed, not just in word. Their practical, all-encompassing, life-changing, Christ-centered love transformed the world. Where have I lost such love in the busy rush of my life and the constant ballooning of my own selfishness?

And hope. Oh, hope! I’ll admit my hope is often a self-absorbed, self-serving escape hatch from my present woes. But genuine faith and authentic love spring from true hope in Christ! What do I do anything for if not because of hope in the future – hope in Christ? The gospel gives me hope. The gospel is good news of a better reality, of a fulfillment of a promise that the best is yet to come, of the greatest reconciliation yet to be completed.

The funny thing about Christianity, faith, love, and hope is that they have no true meaning or authenticity outside of our interactions with each other. The more I mature in Christ, the more I realize that engaging with others grows me the most.

But people are just plain hard! They require effort, patience, understanding, and empathy – none of those come naturally to me. Still, God our very essence is designed for relationship. Our triune God models perfect relationship within himself – something that I barely even pretend to comprehend. And he has created us in his image – therefore, with an innate requirement for himself and community.

I spent years avoiding community. Community requires accountability, commitment, and consistency. True community pushes you to face those hard things and wrestle those old demons. It doesn’t allow you to wallow in the complacency and stagnation of self-absorption and self-pity.

I desired to be known without knowing those around me. I wanted to be seen without truly seeing those whom walked beside me. When I look up from my own issues I glimpse my brothers and sisters silently struggling, desperate for a loving shoulder to unload on. I observe my fellow man rejoicing in incredible blessings and milestones in their journey of faith. All this remind me of the goodness and grace of God.

But it has taken me engaging in community to feel a part of it. When I finally stepped out and gave something that I wanted for myself I ended up gaining far more. I see God working most through my insecurities, my vulnerabilities, and my failings instead of my strengths.

In response, I aim to live by faith in Christ alone – not my abilities; in love for my fellow brothers and sisters – because of the love first given to me; welling up out of hope in Christ’s work on the cross. May my life be Christ’s alone.

Based on Colossians 1:3-8

Check out the Identity Crisis message series at Discover Grace (http://discovergrace.com/messages/)

I Am Christ’s

Identity. I like the sound of that. I like the thought of finding my identity, identifying with something, in something, finding that worth and meaning we all seek our whole lives. Where do I put my identity? I feel like I have just now started to figure out what it means to find my identity in Christ.

Often, I put it in my intelligence, in my ability to do what is required. I put it in my job, my work ethic, my high performance, the esteem my co-workers and supervisors give me. I put it in my relationships, my ability to please, my capacity to exceed expectations. I put it in my status, in feeling constantly needed – like everything will fall apart without my integral connection to it.

I’ve had my own identity crises when I could no longer meet expectations, my high performance couldn’t reach high enough, the bar raised higher than my striving, and I stretched myself thinner and thinner and thinner. The more I turn to bosses and boyfriends and best friends for validation – anything other than Christ – the more frantic my quest for identity becomes.

Like the Colossians, I struggle grasp the supremacy of Christ. Sure, Jesus saved me but… It can’t just be grace. It must be Jesus plus my efforts or Jesus plus something I earned. That extra leaves me bereft and soul crushed. When I can’t perform it drags me into a tailspin of depression.

I need Paul’s rebuke. I need the reminders that permeate the whole of his letters, starting with his greetings. His very first sentence roots his identity firmly and only in Christ – Christ alone. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…” He doesn’t reference his past before Christ. He doesn’t call to attention his resume of education and political references. He doesn’t mention the resources at his disposal or even defend his reasons for writing.

It wasn’t because of his striving or his performance or even his zeal. It was by the will of God.

We are in Christ, not because of what we have done but because of what he has done on the cross. Only Jesus should be the one to name me.

I am Christ’s, not because of something abstract, but because of his intentional suffering and sacrifice on the cross in my stead. I am Christ’s by the will of God. My worth comes only from my God who creates and reconciles and sustains all things. He deems me worthy when he looks at Christ.

We become what we worship. We reflect what we constantly seek. As I mature in faith, wisdom, and experience I pray that everything I do flows out of gratitude for the grace and mercy given me. I work to call grace to mind moment by moment so I can bite my sharp tongue and curb my annoyance when things don’t go my way.

Paul calls the Colossians brothers. He appeals to them as family; brothers and sisters in Christ – those whose lives changed because of following Christ. Jesus himself says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been redeemed, saved, reconciled, yanked from the darkness, forgiven so much. Daily, I wrestle with undertaking daily things, trivial things, scary things, monumental things. Along the way I try to remember what kindness he has shown me and long to give of myself in the same way. I want to show Christ. I want to model and image him well.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

It can only end in Christ. He is our only hope in this mess we have made. And the very best thing is that even if I fail miserably at every single endeavor, my identity in Christ does not change. My worth in him is not moved. I am not less. I am not more. I am Christ’s.

Based on Colossians 1:1-2

Check out the Identity Crisis message series at Discover Grace (http://discovergrace.com/messages/)

The Fullness of God

I tend to see the Christmas story only through Western eyes. I think that Mary and Joseph rolled into town after she started labor and knocked on doors while she awkwardly perched on the donkey, panting and sweating – womb contracting. A few hours later, they wipe off the slimy newborn with some hay, wrap him in whatever they had, put him to sleep in a trough, and then lie back, exhausted, until a bunch of motley shepherds show up to the teeming barn, followed closely by three rich dudes bearing gifts. Then morning dawns and they all disappear into the dust of my imagination.

More likely: The census had all sorts of people traveling during festival time. In this, God sovereignly used the most powerful men of the time to fulfill his will and prophecies. Bethlehem must have positively swarmed with locals and those long gone from their hometown, busting at the seams. Relatives in the town the locals affectionately called the House of David probably warmly accepted Joseph (and Mary), being of the lineage of David.

In my western-centric narrowmindedness, I forget that houses and homes are configured differently across the globe and throughout time. In that culture common practice housed the livestock – valuable assets – inside for both protection and warmth. Regardless of the setup, this was in very close proximity to the normal living quarters.

I think of when all of my family descends on my parents’ house – straight up chaos. People everywhere – an invasion of beds, luggage, and noise. A cacophony of children shrieking, dishes rattling, laughing, and shouting. The ‘inn’ or guest rooms are maxed out but we’d make room for more, somehow, if needed.

We don’t know how long they had been in town before Mary went into labor. But someone had the foresight to make sure she at least had cloths to wrap the newborn. And they laid him in a manger. I’m not sure I’ve ever stopped to consider what that meant beyond my ignorant judgement of the conditions. Is it that different from putting my baby niece sleep in the closet of my one-bedroom apartment when my sister and her family came to visit while the rest of us divvied up the bed, couch, and air mattress? Or from the friend who offers her dry bathtub as a safe, quiet place for a visiting child to sleep?

However, my favorite part of re-examining the story in light of Middle Eastern culture is the role that the shepherds played. They had always just been a part of the backdrop that I just glossed over. Angel, check. Livestock, check. Scruffy fellows carrying staffs, check. Manger, check.

But this part is special. Their presence in these first dawning hours of our Savior’s birth into his creation speaks of something beautiful, topsy-turvy, intimate. These men would have had no other occupation or education – our modern day equivalent of minimum wage, manual laborers. Marginalized. Overlooked. Disregarded.

And yet, an angel shows up to give them the good news. The long-awaited, long expected Redeemer foretold for generations had finally entered into time and they were the first to know. Did they fear because the rest of society didn’t take them seriously? So while they wanted to see this great wonder did they fret that this new royal family would scorn their adulations?

But God, in tenderness, quelled their doubts and apprehensions with signs that would speak to them in their station. They would find the Messiah, wrapped in the same cloths the shepherds used for their own newborns, in an ordinary house, bustling with commonplace life – a life and lodgings familiar to them – not a lofty palace.

God meets us where we are.

He doesn’t require us to clean up before we encounter him. He draws us to him when we know nothing about him, spiritually disregarded and poor. He finds us in our fields, in the midst of our everyday lives.

God, who creates all things, sustains all things, reconciles all things, gives us a sign that the Good News is meant for us.

The gift of his Son, planned for me before the foundation of the world.

We don’t simply celebrate a birth at Christmas. We celebrate God’s intentions breathing life, his purposes coming to fruition, his redemption climaxing, all in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. God made flesh. The image of the invisible God. “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together… For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:17, 19-20)

 

Based on Luke 2

Check out The Generous Gift of Jesus message series at http://discovergrace.com/messages/

Waiting on the Generous Gift Of Jesus

The generous gift of Jesus. It would be so easy just to skip right over that in the blaze of holiday lights and the cacophony of merriment. Give for the sake of giving! Give because it’s Christmas!. Love because it’s Christmas! Don’t be sad or pensive. It’s Christmas! Falalalala! And we whirl away in a festive frenzy to our next holiday celebration.

The generous gift of Jesus. Do I ever stop to really unwrap it? And what does it mean – this gift I can’t even comprehend?

Advent – the season of waiting. The expectation of something Holy and Good. I’ve never really been very good at waiting. My mom would tell you stories of me standing beside her bed to wake her up in the morning because I want breakfast and I want it NOW. My demands haven’t changed much nor has insistence that the world bend to my immediate desires.

But isn’t Advent more than an impatient tapping of my fingers and a terse countdown to vacation? In all of the merrymaking, doesn’t the sheer magnitude of this season beg us to make space for hushed expectation? Isn’t it more than just the cursory wonder at a baby born in a barn because the all inns were full?

What about the enormousness of God incarnate made flesh? What about the waiting of every single person ever mentioned in the Old Testament? And the promises that they never saw fulfilled?

What about Mary waiting until she could feel the quickening of the Baby within her and realizing that what the angel had told her was actually coming true? And then waiting through the last, burdened, lumbering months of pregnancy until the Baby was finally born only to realize that he was still a child in need of care and love and food and shelter? This tiny, long-awaited, Savior of the world?

And Joseph waiting to take his wife? And the shepherds waiting to worship? The wise men waiting to pay obeisance? Herod waiting? The Pharisees waiting? The disciples waiting? The prophets waiting? And the nations waiting?

Come, thou long-expected Jesus.

Throughout the entirety of human history God paints a huge, overarching narrative of redemption and restoration through his Son. It didn’t start with the Baby in a manger. It started with God. God promised and God delivered.

A Savior born of a virgin, of the line of David, of the Holy Spirit. Impossible, yet very real. Deity, yet all humanity. Born to save those in active rebellion against him. Born to pay the price for those who scoffed and those just learning to hate.

Mystery and faith. Promise and expectation. A gift more costly than anything else in all of creation. A treasure beyond any created and thing. An undefiled and undeserved paragon of unconditional love. A gift so easily brushed aside and taken for granted. The start of the story that ends sin’s reign.

Advent. A refocusing. A deliberate silence. A Deliverer wrapped in flesh.

The generous gift of Jesus.

The most lavish gift of all.

 

Based on Luke 2

Check out The Generous Gift of Jesus message series at http://discovergrace.com/messages/

Until He Comes Again

There is something about the holiday season that gives me this secret, hushed solemnity. The darkness of night falls early and weighs down my steps and thoughts. I stop and sit by the light of the Christmas lights and can’t help but still my rushing torrent of motion and busyness. I sit and ponder and yearn for the coming of the King.

I don’t love this season for the gifts and the food or even extra family time. I love the simple poignancy of expectation. It feels like everyone is holding their breaths and waiting for ultimate Good to descend.

We can all feel it, even if we can’t explain or admit it, even those of us who ache with loss and pain during the holidays. We feel that expectation for good shattered and strangled by absence and suffering. The heartbreak of now and yesterday clouds the hope of the Baby already come and the final restoration tied up in the not yet.

We all worship. We were born worshipping. So, what then captures my deepest attentions during the year? What demands my time and money and devotion? To what have I sworn allegiance? To what am I most attached and has my highest priorities? What rallies my passions and stirs my affections? What are my addictions, my motivations?

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

It’s amazing how many times I really have to preach the gospel to myself. Why do I forget it so easily? Why do have to tell myself over and over and over that it’s not ultimately about me and the here and now?

It’s not about giving my life meaning it’s about giving.

It’s not about fulfilling and satisfying my heart here. It’s about Christ satisfying my debt by his death and fulfilling God’s requirements of righteousness that I never can.

It’s not about having a family or even going back home to be with my God given family. It’s about recognizing that we are all made in the image of God and then showing/offering/being family – the unconditional, sacrificial, and selfless kind – for those around me.

That burning desire to belong somewhere and to something didn’t die out when I finally passed from those awkward adolescent years. I seek it out in my peers at work, at the gym, with my friends, on Sunday mornings. It’s what takes all my free time; causing me to burn the candle at both ends and see how much I can fit in a day, a week; aching to connect and be a part of something bigger and hear someone say I’m needed and necessary.

But I am simply (and indescribably!) made in the image of my Creator.

That is the only truth I need. The beaten down man begging for a dollar on the street corner – made in the image of my Mighty God. The obnoxious complainer at work – formed in the image of the Prince of Peace. The broken, insecure woman at the gym – fashioned in the image of the Wonderful Counselor.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom 12:1)

How do I even being to express thanks to the Redeemer of my very soul? I worship. I intentionally turn my thoughts to the Gospel. I replace my inner torrent of complaints and protests, and objections with reflections of his goodness and blessings and mercies.

I stop focusing inward and start looking for ways to pour outwards. I struggle to find a reason to send a simple email only expressing gratitude at work.  I pause before giving my order and sincerely greet the barista. I trade that annoyance at a person who does not fill my expectation for a prayer for their good and God’s glory. I give. I carve out the time to serve.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!”

Until He comes again.

 

Based on Luke 2

Check out The Generous Gift of Jesus message series at http://discovergrace.com/messages/

Remember the Future

Faith & Patience: Thoughts on James 5:7-12

Remember the future. Keep it in mind. Let it bear weight on all my actions and interactions. This world is temporal. I’m constantly striving and grasping to squeeze every last bit out of this here and now. I run constantly for here to there to fill my time and thoughts with as much as possible without physically exhausting myself, and usually don’t succeed.

Remember the future. I am enamored with the present. I’m consumed with it and with the next step. This culture perpetuates it with its constant bombardment of stuff I need to buy, things I need to fix about myself, the endless possibilities that really only serve to create discontentment in my present circumstances, this ceaseless fixation on war and controversy and blaming and hating.

We live in a time that says grab, move, change, strive covet, compare, consume, retaliate, destroy. This is it. You’d better work your tail off to get it now or you will miss it, regret it. You have to fight for your rights because meekness doesn’t inherit the earth.

But Jesus is coming again.

Our hope then, should be grounded in the future, not the now. Christ is our goal, our aim, our home, our hope, our rest. Christ is our breath, our light, our peace, our eternal glory.

And my life should flow with gratitude out of Him.

Gratitude. Every time I get discontent with my current lot in life that is what I am missing. I forget the bigger picture. I stop holding on to the hope of the future. The best is yet to come. This world with its strife and war and bickering will fall away.

God’s plan of redemption steadily grows brighter in our current darkness.

James tells us to strengthen our hearts. Strength through patience. I have a hard time reconciling those two qualities together. Everyone who knows me well knows that patience definitely doesn’t rank as one of my strengths.

Strength through patience means people: the height of my daily angst and struggles. Stop grumbling. Stop complaining. Stop avoiding. Stop going around people. Stop festering in impatience at quirks and personality differences and inconveniences. Remember the future. Remember what Christ has done for me, in me. A wise make overlooks offence. A soft answer turns away wrath.

Each of us is made in the image of God. Each. One. None is ordinary. None, a mere mortal, easily dismissed and diminished. Love your neighbor as yourself. See the beauty in another soul. Stop the current of busyness and search it out. Look up from the phone. Put it away and smile and say hello and mean it.

Establish my heart, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Steadfastness. Endurance. An indication of inevitable suffering. And I will waver. I can’t pretend I will stay strong in the resolve of faith I feel now. But even in my imperfect steadfastness God is gracious, patient, and ever constant. His mercies are new every morning.

My faithfulness doesn’t determine God’s faithfulness to me. Christ’s faithfulness on the cross determines God’s faithfulness to me.

Gratitude fills with joy overflowing with freedom. Freedom from terror at current events, from fear of sideways looks of judgement, from anxiety of the unknown of tomorrow. Gratitude at the sunrise, the open sky, the changing seasons. Joy at the peculiarities of another immortal soul made in the image of my Creator. Another hint of the divine stamp of artistry.

God has not left us here to toil and worry and fail to flourish. He is with us like the timely rains and the cool relief of dropping temperatures. Give what I think is missing in the world. Give mercy and grace and love and forgiveness and a kind word. Give what has freely been given to me, while still a broken sinner.

Remember the future. My hope is in Christ – him crucified, then glorified, and coming again.

 

Check out The End of Hypocrisy message series at http://discovergrace.com/messages/

 

We Become What We Behold

Faith and Flesh Thoughts on James 4:13-5:6

What am I investing my time, talents, and money in? Out of that, how do I plan for my life? Wealth is a poor investment of a life. Invest in things with eternal significance. Those are all from my notes this week. I stare at them, waiting for them to come to life and take on something profound.

My mind turns to a dear friend of my father’s that passed away unexpectedly this week after visiting my parents  just three weeks ago. No one is guaranteed tomorrow.

Again, this is the hard part. The empty white screen stretches on and on. There are no cohesive thoughts in my head about what I want to say. Maybe I don’t want to write it because I don’t know what to say. Maybe because it’s not tied up in a little bow in a little box in my brain. And the worst part is that I know it won’t ever be – no matter how much I process it in my head and try to get it all to make sense.

God is sovereign.

He is over all things. I repeat that mantra in my head. I keep repeating it until it takes over and then I question what the point is. What’s the point of prayer? I can’t bring to mind the times where it has “worked”. But then again I can’t bring to mind the last time I really got down on my knees and prayed without distraction either. It’s easy to forget the benefits of the things that require something hard of me.

I’m waiting for the peace that passes all understanding to descend like a tsunami on my overactive mind and for the way forward to materialize out of the maze of arrows ahead of me. I want to write down an eloquent narrative and exegesis of how Sunday’s message radically revolutionized my thought patterns with clarity and insight. Instead, this jumbled stream of consciousness recklessly falls through my twitchy eyes and fingers onto the screen.

My life is nothing how I planned it. Yet, when I really stop and examine, all of the blessings and my striving and missteps and rebellion and failed attempts at holiness has perfectly led me here. Or rather, the omniscient Creator has perfectly led me here – every nick and flaw in my character perfectly ordained for this time to teach me this thing.

We become what we behold.

The fresh loss of a one of my father’s dear friend unsettles me. The yawning cancer treatment looming before other friends and co-workers rattles my flippancy and nonchalance.

I’ve asked the empty air and the silent night what I should do next with my life a thousand times. Maybe it’s time to carve the margin into my life to simply sit and behold my Creator and sustainer and author of my faith. Maybe consistent and intentional study of the Word will inspire a new question with less selfish gain.

I am here. I am here now. If I should be there instead, he will take me there. He has a history of working things out for my ultimate good and His eternal glory. Today will be no different. I just might not see the end result.

But what about (fill in the variable)?

Pray, seek wise counsel, and immerse myself in the Truth.

Sometimes the supplication is the only thing that readies me for the answer. Submit. In humility. I am not God. I do not know best. My presumptions are just that. Guesses at best. Hesitant and cautious tiptoes. Rash headlong dives.

But God…

It’s not about me in the end anyway. God, in grace. God, in his glory. God, in justice. God, in wisdom. God, in love. God, in faithfulness.

 

Check out The End of Hypocrisy message series at http://discovergrace.com/messages/

Quietness of the Soul

Words. Such an incredibly mighty force. Even that description doesn’t do them justice. They hold such power and influence and control. They are weighty and monumental. They pass down our memories and learning and inspire us to new discoveries. They teach truth and spread lies, divide and reconcile, edify and destroy. Words can turn a man, a city, a nation. They can shape a future, change the world.

And Scripture reminds us over and over that they reveal our heart and our true nature. “… for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45 ESV) What comes out matters intensely. “From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good, but the desire of the treacherous is for violence.” (Prov. 13:2 ESV) How it comes out matters just as much. . “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Prov. 12:18 NIV)

God spoke all of creation, except for Man, into existence. With words. Only words. The sheer incomprehensibleness of this!

This week, I had the unique and humbling opportunity to perform training for fifty custodians – fifty people who do a thankless job that most of us hate to do in our own homes, during hours that no one sees nor notices.  I covered a lot of necessary information with words. I expounded and explained. I described and likened.

With each word, I showed them that I cared about their safety, about their ability to do their job correctly. Then I spoke of leadership and hope I inspired and motivated. Then I stopped. I looked around the room.

And then I told them they were valued. I told them they were important. Each one. And I meant it.

At that moment, I saw a tiny, broken mosaic of God’s image. And the beauty stunned me. It flooded over me and started I started to ramble. I wanted them to see what I saw. I wanted them to sit up taller and square their shoulders knowing that they make a difference, daily. Believing it. Living it. And I felt the change in the room.

And then I listened to them and tried to answer all of their questions with patience and respect. And by holding my words back to listen to theirs I showed them even more honestly that I cared.

How often do we mistake God’s silence at our rants for negligence when, in reality, he may be giving us a chance to speak?

When I checked my mail tonight after work I found a poignant handwritten letter from a dear, sweet friend who lives far away from me.

2015-03-05 11.08.26

And her words drew me in and enfolded me in an embrace in the deepest places. They were a balm to wounds I hadn’t even realized were still open. They pointed straight to Christ and his sacrificial love. They painted an astounding portrait of the sacred shelter of our Father’s wings and the Holy Spirit’s unceasing intercession on our behalf.

I cannot tame my tongue completely. And I know that I will fail. But just as I stood and told that room of bodies, created in the image of God, that they were valuable, my beloved friend reminded me of the same thing. She wrote,

“You are valuable because He declares you to be valuable and His opinion is the only one that will ever matter.”

“We can breathe that truth in and out and fall back on our Father’s hands in gratitude that we are not alone in trying to make that truth sink in. In our desperate attempts to cling to truth he is with us and when it just doesn’t click he is there, too. And we can be encouraged that we don’t have to knuckle down and force this truth to click but [know] that he is with us and helping us to believe, day by day, minute by minute.”

This this week I join her in her prayer and echo her beautiful, heartening words to ask it for us all: “May we fight the good fight for quietness of the soul and rest in our redeemer.”

 

Check out The End of Hypocrisy message series at http://discovergrace.com/messages/

To Do Good Works

Some things from my past chased me down this weekend. And I let them in. I bid them permission to have a good romp over my heart and self-esteem and perspective. I let them temporarily drown me in doubt and questions and shame and fear.

The last thing on my mind is concentrating on James 2:14-16 and the interconnectedness and interdependence of faith and works. It would be much easier to wallow in old wounds and wail.

But faith and works. It’s still all connected – even to my trials and failures. In all things, I need faith in God and his unwavering goodness – whether I fully understand that goodness or not. And out of that flows works. Works don’t just require me to do a good deed. Faith doesn’t just mean that trite recitation of an internet quote on courage or a Bible verse cross stitched onto a pillow.

Faith means simply holding on to what God promised. Works means simply stepping forward. One footstep. It means shouldering that heaviness and looking upward when I don’t think I can. Faith means I stop my running and turn to look at what is haunting me and seek God’s truth in it. Works mean I grab on to that truth, breathe it in, breathe it out, and let it propel me onward.

Faith and works.

So many times I strip it down to exclusively random acts of kindness and channeling Mother Theresa’s philanthropy. But sometimes, like Abraham, faith and works translate into walking up a mountain to sacrifice the one thing I hold dearest, because Christ has sacrificed everything on my behalf. Sometimes, like Rahab, they manifest as giving the sworn enemy shelter and help, because I was once an enemy of the cross and Christ saved me from the destruction I deserved anyway.

And sometimes, they reveal themselves purely, yet painfully, as forgiving the one person who has hurt me most.

Again.

Because I have been forgiven of everything.

So, I say words with my mouth. But can that faith save me? Can that kind of forgiveness heal and free? I flippantly profess many things. I align myself superficially to many worthy causes. Ah, but even the least committed can do that. I say I believe. Even the demons believe that there is one God!

So, I say them again and this time I close my eyes and hands and heart around His truth as I say them. I think on his grace and blessings and count them.

And I keep counting.

His love does not end. His mercies are new every morning. Again. Each breath – a gift. Each interaction – a divine opportunity to see another facet of my Creator. Each failure – another evidence of the beauty of grace.

And still I count on. And I love.

True faith is based on Christ. True faith transforms. True faith spills out into perpetual action.

True faith blossoms into fruit that the world can eat and know the goodness and mercy and glory of God. Because we have been loved first.

A gift, so that I cannot boast. But neither can I hold it in.

“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. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:8-10 NIV)

 

Check out The End of Hypocrisy message series at http://discovergrace.com/messages/

Playing Favorites

Judging and categorizing people instantly? Guilty.

I like to blame it, at least partially, on my personality. I feel compelled to analyze absolutely everything and if I can put someone in a category then I feel like I know how to act around and towards them. If you put me in a group of people that I don’t know, I will stay almost completely silent until it becomes necessary for me to speak or until I have everyone else figured out. Now, whether my assumptions are actually correct or not, is irrelevant. I simply require some frame of reference before I will allow myself to engage someone else.

Call it introverted. Call it analytical. Call it judgmental. Call it whatever you want. But as I listened to the message this week I began to re-evaluate my intentions in doing this. Time after time, I react to someone based on my first impression of them and their external appearance. I receive them based on their face, their manner, their demeanor, their mood – whatever they project towards me.

And my intention behind this mental assessment isn’t to understand them so I can show the love of Christ to them right where they stand. I do it to make sure that I don’t reveal too much of my true self, to protect myself from vulnerability, from rejection.

I go through life seeking me. Me, me, me! What can I get out of this experience? What will I learn? How will this benefit me? What can this person offer me? How will this relationship enrich me and my life? And in doing so, I not only miss the point, but I also distort the Gospel.

Genuine faith in Christ does not show favoritism because that is not the heart of God.

God created us to worship him and enjoy him forever. He is. He was. He will always be. He embodies and defines every attribute to the fullest extent. One does not overshadow another. Perfect unity. God is unity. Impartiality.

As soon as I say that I feel like I’m falling into some New Age, hippy dippy, self-actualization, uber-tolerant heresy. But God IS unity. In him, in the trinity, exists perfect community – authority, submission, action, humility. And without my understanding of that how can I hope to not show partiality? To not judge someone based on what they can do for me? To not receive them based on their face?

Genuine faith in Christ does not show favoritism because that is not the heart of God.

And God created us in his image, wonderfully.

So, I will continue to praise God. I will praise him not for what he can do for me, but because he IS. And he is worthy of praise. And in that I rest. Out of that I shape my intentions towards others. “…don’t show favoritism,” (James 2:1 NIV) It’s more than an imperative command. It is who God is. It is the basis for his equal compassion for all of us.

“So speak and act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty…” (James 2:12 ESV) This law does not condemn me to leave me with no hope in my certain and continued failures on this count. This law points me to the Gospel. It points me to grace. Christ is impartial when I am not. It drives me to community. It humbles me in my need for connection.

It reminds me of Christ’s perfection and mercy and impartiality. It frees me to love without condition or expectation, in spite of, in light of the faces before me.

 

Check out The End of Hypocrisy message series at http://discovergrace.com/messages/