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Friday, September 27, 2013

We Are Family – Healed By Grace

             I’m old enough to remember Popeye and as a kid, he was one of my favorite cartoons.  For the uninitiated, Popeye was a squinty-eyed, crusty, corncob pipe-smoking sailor-man with massive forearms who would eat a can of spinach to give him superhuman strength.  Writing this description down makes me realize it is kind of weird!  But I digress…
            Popeye always had to save his girl, Olive Oil, from some sort of distress that usually involved the brute Brutus.  The plot line for Popeye cartoons was quite simple:  damsel gets in distress, bully threatens to beat everyone up, hero beats up bully and saves damsel, repeat.
            But one of Popeye’s favorite sayings was, “I yam what I yam!” 
Popeye’s saying wasn’t original.  It is actually a quotation of the Apostle Paul from his letter to the Corinthian church.  In his letter Paul says,  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.  Paul makes this statement as an acknowledgement that, although he persecuted the church and was the last of the Apostles that Jesus appeared to, God’s grace was still at work in his life.  When Popeye says it, there is the sense he is saying “What you see is what you get – like it or not.”  What Paul meant was “What you see is what you get – because God’s grace is enough and his grace is at work transforming my life.
            I think we should make signs for our families – spiritual and earthly – that say “GRACE AT WORK” sort of like the “Men At Work” signs in construction zones.  It would be a helpful reminder we aren’t perfect and God is still at work.  It isn’t a sign of resignation, it is a sign of hope.  We are under construction by God and he is transforming us by his grace.
            When you read how Paul talks about grace, it is always partnered with effort.  If you’ve been around the church a bit, you may see that as a bit scandalous but I think Dallas Willard nails it on the head when he says, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”  We don’t earn God’s grace – God can never be in our debt – and therefore the grace that saves us is not a result of what we do (see Ephesians 2:8-10).  But living in God’s grace takes a lot of effort.  Only through grace does healing take place.  Grace opens the door to forgiveness.  Forgiveness ushers in grace.  Grace heals.
                  You are who you are.  But are you letting God’s grace do it’s work?  So, a few pertinent questions:  Where do you need the grace of God in your family?  What do you need to do to allow God’s grace to flow into you and through you?  Are you willing to do that?
                  God’s grace in your life will not be in vain if you cooperate with his grace.  That’s Good News!

Peace and grace,


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Starting Over

            This summer I was able to tick something off of my goals list – completing a triathlon.  The problem is, that goal gave me the motivation to get up and get out to train.  Since July, my training schedule has gotten really lax but, I recently decided that first triathlon was so fun I’m going to do another!  And that means getting my rear in gear to get intentionally active again.  So this week, I headed back to the pool.  And it was miserable.
            OK, maybe miserable is an overstatement.  But it was really hard and it felt like I was starting all over again.  I am clearly out of swimming shape and these two months I took off may have seemed like a good idea in the moment but it made me second guess my desire to do another triathlon.  But I’m not going to quit.  I’m going to get a coach, a plan and a race date.  And then I’m going to train.
            As I was struggling through the water after my ill-advised vacation from swimming I thought about how we can experience the same thing in our spiritual lives.  In the Bible, Paul refers to pursuing God as a form of training and he uses physical training as a parallel (see 1 Timothy 4:7-8).  Following Jesus is not easy.  Following Jesus is even harder when it is something we occasionally dabble in or something we regularly take vacations from.  Maybe you have found you took a break and are wanting to get “back in the game” but finding it difficult.  Here are some things that will help you:
1.     Keep the right goal in mind.  Following Jesus is not going to church.  But going to church is important in following Jesus.  Swimming laps is not doing a triathlon.  But doing a triathlon requires I swim laps.  When you are trying to get up on Sunday to go be with other people seeking to follow Jesus, it can be easy to roll over and say “next week.”  But the goal isn’t to go to church, it is to follow Jesus.  So, the question of the day isn’t, “Am I going to go to church?”  The question of the day is, “What am I going to do to follow Jesus today?”
2.     Don’t do it alone.  Following Jesus is hard.  Following Jesus by ourselves is impossible.  We all need someone to encourage, prod, challenge, love and strengthen us.  One of the things that gets me up at 5:10 AM to go swimming is I know I will get to see the smiling face of my friend Ron Mellor and hear his encouraging words.  Are you a single mom?  Spiritually single woman/man?  Widowed?  Single?  Do you feel like you are going at it alone?  Well, you are not alone – there are many others like you.  Ask someone to go to church with you or to meet you there and go to the same service.  It is NOT a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.  We all need each other and you’re not the exception.  Stop acting like it, humble yourself and reach out.
3.     Practice, practice, practice.  This I know: over the last 15 years I have spoken at least 2,000 times.  And some of those sermons have been just plain awful.  There have been Sundays where, after church, I’ve gone into my office and apologized to God.  There have been workouts – runs, bikes and swims – where I have just felt horrible.  Someone removed all the oxygen from the atmosphere, someone put lead weights in my shoes, the weather was bad, it was too hot or it was too cold.  But you keep going.  Because even the bad days can help you become stronger.  Every time you go to church or read your Bible or spend time in prayer or help another person will not be the best spiritual experience you have ever had.  But it will help strengthen you to follow Jesus.

So, if you are struggling to follow Jesus, don’t give up.  Keep Jesus at the center, bring someone along and keep working on it.  I love what Paul says about this : …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)  God meets us right where we are to complete that which we long for but are unable to do ourselves.

You are loved.


   “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:1–4, ESV)