- 2015Aug 24
Sometimes I just want to step away from ministry. I get tired. And then the song “Lean On Me” cycles up on the iPod. That is not funny Lord. The lyrics sung by Bill Withers talks about being there for others. Life happens, John Lennon famously said, when you are making other plans. Life has been happening to us and many close to us in recent months.
Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I have been thinking a lot about community. I have, to be honest, had many moments recently when I wondered if living in community with messy people is worth it.
I am drawn to the dysfunctional. My heart goes out to the wounded lambs. But I will confess that I struggle with the cost of walking in honest relationship with people. It is hard. I have come to understand why legalism is so much easier than grace. Legalism allows me to assess the situation and then apply a verse or assign a task. If that person rejects that Biblical admonition or task then legalism allows me to withdraw because they are disobedient. Grace does not give me that option. Grace demands that I move toward the struggle of my brother or sister and not away in judgment. No wonder grace is a tough sell.
That is the glorious dichotomy of grace. Grace wears me out and lifts me up. Grace frustrates and exhilarates. My old nature screams that people who make bad decisions over and over get what they “deserve”. They don’t “deserve” to be pursued and loved and restored. They made their bed now let them lay in it. But there is a small quiet voice in my heart that tells me that they have value. That they are loved by their Creator. And that voice asks who am I to decide who “deserves” anything?
A quote by Pastor Paul Donnan says it far better than I ever could.
Grace doesn’t treat us better than we deserve. It treats us without the slightest reference to what we deserve. Grace ceases to be grace if God withdraws it upon any human failure. If Grace is in any way tied to something you do, then it is no longer a gift but a wage, and that’s not grace.
And, to be selfish, the lyrics of Bill Withers tells me why it is in my own best interest to give grace willingly.
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on
Yep. It is just a matter of time until I will be begging for grace for some stupid action or word. Paul knew that was true and reminded the Galatian Church.
Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. (Galatians 6, The Message)
Why are we so willing to receive grace and not extend it? Maybe the next lyric has a clue.
Please swallow your pride
If I have things
You need to borrow
For no one can fill
Pride. Pride causes us to cover our needs because that would show weakness. Pride tells us to wear a mask of false joy so that others won’t know our shame and sin. Our Father in Heaven designed this journey to be lived in community. God knows that we need Him and we need one another. Healthy community is not unlike two parents being the healthiest community for children. Sometimes a child needs his or her father and sometimes only the mother can touch their need. In the same way there are times when only Abba Father can comfort my soul but at other times I need the community of fellow believers to get through.
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem
That you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on
Yes it is hard to walk with the wounded. Yes it is frustrating to watch messy people make the same mistakes over and over. Yes it is tiring to give grace to the needy. But my heart’s desire remains the same. These words to the Church at Corinth wrap it up nicely.
So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4, The Message)
- 2015Aug 17
Joni and I recently enjoyed a brief and delightful getaway to Fredericksburg, Texas. But there was one sad moment that I keep thinking about.
We stayed away from the city and drove country roads into town. Each day we passed a sheep pasture. We chuckled about one adventurous sheep that found a way to get out of the fenced area and grazed happily in tall grass along the road. He seemed to know what he was doing and never got too close to the dangerous highway. The next day he was out again enjoying his freedom and a different grazing menu.
Then we spotted another sheep that had also tried to find greener grass on the other side. This poor creature had gotten stuck under the fence and it had not taken long for the searing Texas heat to take his life. It was obvious that this unforunate animal had everything he had needed on the safe side of the fence. He was clearly well fed. But the lure of something more enticing led him to danger. Given the free ranging exploits of the one sheep and the tragic death of another it was apparent that this flock had a rancher and not a shepherd. It was easier to build a fence than take the time to watch the sheep constantly.
Tragically that is what too many churches model for their flock. We are too often ranchers who build a fence of rules and performance expectations instead of taking on the messy role of shepherding. All of that roiled around in my brain as I pondered what our role as shepherds should be when we see friends and loved ones going astray. It is such a difficult thing to speak truth into the life of someone who is determined to go their own way. Perhaps a gigantic clue is embedded in a verse from the Gospel of John.
Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. (John 1:14, NET)
Jesus was full of grace and truth. Most of us are full of truth or we are full of some variation of that. I suspect in God’s wisdom, grace comes first because we have a far harder time communicating with grace. I am usually willing to be “honest” and tell you where you are wrong. Doing that with grace and truth requires me to love you and to be vulnerable. Jesus modeled a perfectly balanced blend of grace and truth.
That is my prayer as I engage those who have made mistakes and are suffering the consequences of those decisions. I pray that I will always present truth as a gift of grace from a loving God instead of performance demands in order to be acceptable to Him. Here is what I have learned over many years of failure and struggles.
Truth presented as law hardens hearts. Truth presented with grace changes hearts.
When we meditate on the grace given to us as a free gift by our gracious God we can can begin to model Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus.
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. (Ephesians 4:15, NLT)
We need more shepherds in the body of Christ. I pray that you will be willing to love and restore those sheep that wander with grace and truth. Always together.
- 2015Aug 11
I think a lot about the church. When you write a book called “When Bad Christians Happen to Good People” you tend to hear from angry and wounded churchgoers. I have received hundreds of emails and blog posts from hurting believers. If a modest selling author and blogger like me gets that many responses then you can extrapolate that this is a big problem for the American church.
I began the book mentioned above with this paragraph.
“I am a hypocrite. I can be arrogant and selfish. I have been known to stretch, conceal, or slightly message the truth. I am sometimes inconsiderate and insecure. I struggle with lust and impure thoughts. My ego often rages out of control, and I battle foolish pride. I can be lazy and foolhardy with my time. I get angry, petty, and ill-tempered. I am sarcastic and cynical. I am a Christian.”
I can make the claim in the final sentence only because of Christ. A song by one of my favorite artists, Andrew Peterson, reminds me of the mystery of grace. Peterson beautifully illustrates that I am like every sinner who ever lived or will live. Peterson’s lyrics hit home and remind me that I am saved by grace alone. I was a sinner in need of a Savior. Andrew Peterson’s lyrics describe it well.
I am the woman at the well, I am the harlot
I am the scattered seed that fell along the path
I am the son who ran away
I am the bitter son who stayed
I am the angry men who came to stone the lover
I am the woman there ashamed before the crowd
I am the leper who gave thanks
I am the nine who never came
Paul tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I used to feel superior to those who violated my denomination’s “Top 10 list of things not to do if you are a real Christian”. But I came to realize that having less repulsive sins on my resume than someone else only mattered to me and my miserable band of legalists. I still fell short.
As my journey continued I was wounded by the church and I got angry at God when fallible people (just like me) did not follow His Word or “act like Christians”. Yet I often did the same thing that offended me when others did it. And that is why Peterson’s question resonates in my heart.
My God, my God
Why hast thou accepted me?
Indeed. I had nothing to offer that God needed. I was falling far, far, far short of the glory of God. But what He did is pure grace and Andrew Peterson says it well.
You took my sin and wrapped me in
Your robe and your ring
My God, my God
Why hast thou accepted me?
It’s a mystery of mercy
And the song I sing.
I love that imagery. He took my sin and wrapped me in robes of undeserved righteousness.
I am still prone to react when I hear stories of harsh shepherds and mean-spirited churchgoers. But more and more I realize that I am more than capable of being that harsh shepherd or mean Christian apart from trust and dependence on Jesus.
Paul wrote these words in a letter to his spiritual son Titus.
Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—”When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. (Titus 3 – NLT)
Why hast God accepted me? Because of Jesus and not for anything I have done or could do. Today I have a heart of worship as I meditate on this mystery of mercy and grace.