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Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

“One Sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields, and as His disciples walked along, they began to pick some ears of corn. The Pharisees said to Him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ He answered, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’  Then He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” – Mark 2:23-28 (NIV)

I’m seeing a common theme that seems to surface regularly. Perhaps it may be because I’m more attuned to it in recent days.

It relates to  two very different and distinct ways that one’s life can be lived. I know that I might be oversimplifying this but I can see the difference in my own life and I use the distinction of a life of “Reaction” as opposed to a life of “Rhythms.”

A life of “reaction” may best be described as a “driven” life. We feel hard pressed by some unknown force to live life “in the fast lane,” milking each moment of the day for as much as we can accomplish while being an influence on the world around us. The temptation in living life this way is that we don’t really know what each day will hold until we have checked the news, social media or our e-mail to see what the world “throws at us” next.

I can easily live life by the motto, “What’s the latest fire I’m meant to extinguish?” I have to admit, there’s a few of us around with Messiah complexes as if we are God’s gift to a hurting world which desperately needs us to be “fixers of the universe.”

Our reactions, and our lives can very much be shaped by others around us who are also living this way. These days we have much greater connectivity than ever before with the internet and social media. The hope of having “down time” from excessive connection is quite fleeting these days. Those of us, like myself, who tend to be an obsessive thinkers are in a much more vulnerable place.

Living a life of “reaction” means that one is hopelessly at the beck and call of the latest news story or the constant stream of social media commentary, seeking to have one’s voice heard above the madding crowd.

So what’s the alternative? Although I have been a poor model of an opposing lifestyle I think there’s a better way.

Like many other followers of Jesus I have done some serious study and refection on the life of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Gospels. I see a completely different way of living reflected in what I know and am learning about Jesus. He lived an intentional life but was rarely, if ever, driven by reaction to others. Perhaps the most intentional man who ever lived invites us to daily dependence on Him and unbroken conversation with Him.

There are many scenes in the life of Jesus to which I could refer, but the one mentioned above is where Jesus told the Pharisees, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” I think the Pharisees were living a life driven by rules and expectations. They represented a strictly religious approach to life that was more into rules keeping than understanding rhythms behind the rules.

According to Jesus, the Sabbath had a wonderful purpose as a life rhythm to allow men and women to rest, recover and to be re-shaped by the God who made them and who, by the way, does run the universe.

I can easily see that when my Sabbath-keeping hasn’t been a consistent part of my life rhythms, I’m drawn quickly back to reactionary way of life. A life dominated by “reaction” gives way to other people or pressing issues, allowing them to set the agenda for me rather than my taking ownership of my life choices and my response being one of submission to the God who made and sustains me.

I’m also seeing that it’s going to take more than one day a week for me to get into a healthy pattern of “rhythm” rather than “reaction.” It’s going to demand a life-style change and those are the most difficult ones to come by.

I can begin to fear that I’m not diligent enough and as a result I may miss something important and fail to meet the needs of others around me in an appropriate manner. Alternatively, I’m learning that getting caught up in a “reaction” mode doesn’t really help the cause of Jesus whom I seek to serve. I think most of my family and friends would agree that I’m much more available and helpful to them when I’m living out of rhythm rather than reaction to stimuli around me.

There will always be times in our lives when we are asked to go above and beyond the call of duty and respond to emergencies which arise. That’s part of life in the real world. However, when I’m constantly in a place of agitation due to living a reactionary life, I’m losing more effectiveness than I’m gaining.

What do you think? Will your life be driven by values, rhythms and intentions or will it be driven by reaction to what is thrown at you by the forces that seek to move and shape you? I’m seeking to do the former rather than the latter.  

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“‘Haven’t you read the Scriptures?’ Jesus replied. ‘They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’’’ And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.’” – Matthew 19:4-6 (New Living Translation)  

It was sometime during the summer of 1974,  I think, when I was sitting at a desk in my room at home when my older sister Betty stepped in the doorway to talk to me. She didn’t particularly have an agenda, but suddenly the conversation revealed one. “I think you and Joyce should get married!” she blurted out.

Needless to say, this isn’t what I expected from my sister but I also wasn’t shocked. Joyce Elizabeth Lamborn and myself had only been dating a few weeks at that point but we had known each other for over a year, having met through church and attending Texas Wesleyan College (now University) together.  

My sister was adamant that from what she knew of my new girlfriend that the earmarks of an enduring relationship were pretty obvious. Thankfully she wasn’t the only one who saw it either.

By Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) of that year, we were officially engaged and before we knew it the wedding was set for July 26, 1975.

I can recall that the eight months of our engagement were filled with highs and lows as we sought to further our education, seek pre-marriage counselling, plan a wedding and hold down the part time jobs we had at the time.

As a full-time student I was working part-time at a factory, Superior Heat Treating Company in Fort Worth, Texas which was a bit out of my comfort zone. A friend from my church who owned the business had kindly offered me the job to get me through school. My long term plan was to complete my education at Texas Wesleyan, attend Seminary in Dallas and then enter the ministry as a church pastor, so I thought.  

The final weeks before our wedding where challenging as Joyce returned from Texas to her family home in Whitehall, Wisconsin to complete the wedding plans after our school term and I stayed in Fort Worth to work as much as possible before starting a new life as a married man.

Obviously, our wedding took place in July ‘75 and we entered married life with all the hopes, fears and expectations of an exciting future together. Our honeymoon was a saga in itself as we travelled to western, New York for some friend’s wedding which was to take place the following Saturday. By the time we returned to Texas as a married couple we could have written a pretty exciting book, if only about the first two weeks of marriage. It was, in a sense, a microcosm of our future and a foreshadowing of things to come.

Our Wedding Day – July 26, 1975

Since those early days together, Joyce and I have travelled the world, lived in Dallas the four years of seminary, served as missionaries in the West Indies (summer of 1979) and Ireland (summer 1978; 1983 to present). We have six children and are expecting our thirteenth grandchild in October. I could to on, but you get the point. It has been a life like no other and I would definitely not be the man I am today without Joyce.  

It was the author Gore Vidal who is to have said that if you live long enough you experience just about everything – joys, tragedies, good heath, illness, failure, success – you name it. I  know this is true with me and the wonderful, dedicated and gifted life partner God gave to me all those years ago.

Having just celebrated our forty-fifth year together I have seen and continue to see the fingerprints of God in our lives – bringing us together, developing us, using us and blessing us in a multitude of ways. I think I can safely say that we both desire together to be useful to God and for His good purposes for as long as He gives us life, health and strength.

There has been pain, suffering, setbacks and even my own failures which have tested the relationship, but the One who brought us together has been faithful. There will always be strength to stand the test of time when our dependence is on Him.  May it continue to be so.

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“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NIV)

As I write these words from the safety and security of my home in Ireland the scene outside my window seems calm, quiet and at peace. However, I know that there is a battle raging in this country and all around the world. It’s a battle to save lives from a deadly virus that’s spreading and infecting people of all ages in large numbers with the potential to become one of the world’s greatest pandemics in history.

I’m not interested in becoming another news reporter explaining all the details of the spread of the disease or careful spokesperson to encourage you to practice social distancing and safe hygiene. We have many capable and competent people already doing this. Please continue to follow wise advice.

I have a very specific reason for writing today and that is to consider a subject that will face each and every one of us. The current crisis has me asking the question, “Am I ready for death should it visit me personally?” Other related questions come to mind, such as, “If this were my last day, week, month or year to live what would be the legacy I leave behind?” or  “What might others who have known me say was the purpose and significance of my life?”

No matter what our age or health situation I doubt that many of us are really expecting this to be the last day, week or month that we could be alive on this earth.

In recent days I’ve seen videos of transport vehicles in Italy taking multiple coffins to crematoriums. It’s a grim reminder that death will overtake all of us at one point or another but now we don’t even have the assurance that any of us will actually have a typical funeral or memorial service to perhaps remind those left behind what our lives represented or signified.

My grandfather (above), father (left) and uncle after the passing of my grandmother Hallie

Back in 1918 the world faced a terrible pandemic which has been labelled “The Spanish Flu.” It took the life of my grandmother at the age of thirty in the prime of her life. My father and his brother were very small boys and were left without a mother and with a father who would later die of tuberculosis. The reality of those premature deaths marked them for life. Fortunately, we have some photos of my grandmother and a lovely obituary of her life to remind us that she was a woman whose faith was securely in Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian church in the first century reminds these early Christ-followers that they are aligned to the One who has defeated the power of death. The only religious figure in history who has experienced a vicarious death and resurrection for all people is the One to whom I give my heart and allegiance. If those who know me don’t know that, then they haven’t really known me at all.

The very same life and security that I have experienced personally in knowing and following Jesus is freely available to all who turn to Him in faith.

To be perfectly honest, today I don’t feel that this virus will overtake me and I hope and pray it never takes the lives of any of my family, friends and loved ones. If you know me personally and are reading this know that I’m praying for your health and safety as I capture these thoughts. However, I am faced with the harsh reality that I have no guarantees.

So for today, I’m ready to continue to share the love and life I have experienced as a follower of Jesus Christ with the world around me and with others with whom I can connect around the globe.

As the apostle said, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”

Another reality is that during this life we don’t generally know what others think of us unless they specifically tell us. Perhaps in these uncertain days it’s time for you to communicate to some friends or loved ones just how special they are to you.

Once we have departed this life it’s impossible to shape the legacy we hope to leave behind. That’s still the opportunity of the hour.

Let’s consider today that as long as we have life and breath we can continue to give our heart, mind and soul to what is really important  – the relationships we enjoy with others. It’s my prayer that in the midst of the present crisis you will find a relationship with the One, and the only One, who defeated even death itself that you might live – even for all eternity.   

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:6 (NIV)

Amid the desperation and despair of our world, occasionally we find reasons to believe that God is still at work changing lives and giving us a reason to hope for a better future.

On a recent trip to the cinema my wife and I went to see a film definitely worth watching  – and watching again. It was the film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which featured a glimpse of the life of Fred Rogers, the children’s television specialist.

The film centered around the character of Lloyd Vogel, a hardened, cynical journalist, played by Matthew Rhys, from Esquire Magazine who was assigned to interview Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, for a series of articles the magazine was doing on “American Heroes.”  In the film, Vogel was intent on getting the information he needed out of Rogers, writing the article and getting on with his next project. However, due to the integrity and character of Fred Rogers and his dealings with Vogel, the entire story turned on its head and a deep relationship formed between Lloyd Vogel and Fred Rogers.

One of the main themes the viewer experiences in watching the film is that of life transformation. Due to the type of person Rogers was and his simple and profound approach to dealing with all people, Vogel, the main character finds his life turned around and discovers a new friend for the long-haul.

When discussing the film with others, I have noted that in Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, we observe a man who exemplified his devotion to Jesus Christ in almost everything he did. He treated each person he encountered with respect and love, accepting them as the were, not withholding love until they met a certain standard. At times during the film we find true-to-life snapshots of Fred Rogers – reading Scripture and bowing in prayer to remember by name people he was seeking to influence with the love and grace of Jesus.

Some critics of Rogers have accused him of soft-peddling truth by not being more direct about his personal faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps the real-life Fred Rogers might be accused of sacrificing truth at the expense of grace. However, I am convinced that he felt the best way to teach truth was to live it out. His actions and his tone of voice spoke volumes to children and people of all ages.

The love and devotion that many people had for Fred Rogers was unprecedented. His work was rewarded time and time again. During his life he received honorary degrees from forty-three colleges and universities. His half-hour television program, “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” ran for 895 episodes and Rogers crafted the sets and wrote each script himself.

As I reflect on the man, I observed in the film I was brought to a place of repentance. Unlike Fred Rogers, I often have many unmet expectations of people around me and my acceptance of them is conditional upon them changing to meet some arbitrary standard I have  set for them. I would do well to take a page from Mr. Roger’s book and know that each person I encounter is a special gift of God worthy of respect, regardless of who they are or where they come from.

Living out from a perspective of respect and dignity perhaps I will have the opportunity to speak words of life – both grace and truth – into the lives of those around me. I pray that others will know I truly desire the best life for them and that I respect them apart from their personal views and conformity to my expectations of them.

God gave us Fred Rogers and in doing so blessed a generation and a legacy that he left behind. We would do well in this day of tragedy and turmoil, of division and isolation, to capture the legacy Mr. Rogers left behind.

It can be my personal aspiration to live out of a place of grace that I believe is fully realized in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My thinking is that if we start with words of grace and actions of truth people will start to listen more carefully to us as they did to Fred Rogers. Perhaps it can be a beautiful day in the neighborhood once more.

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“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

When the last decade began in January 2010 I was in the early stages of a major transition in my life. The story is far too long to even summarize, but needless to say several major shifts were taking shape in my life. I had just come through a very difficult season and due to some major personal failures was side-lined from what had been my normal work/life routine. My weaknesses and failures were being surfaced and exposed and it wasn’t pleasant!

At one and the same time I was devastated by a sense of loss and personal failure but also relieved that there was hope for the future and fresh start. Looking back, I can see that I was greatly blessed to have a loving wife (who didn’t abandon me) and family as well as countless friends and care-givers carefully placed around me by the hand of God. These choice people saw me through some of the darkest days of my life.

One of the major lessons at the early stages of the decade was a fresh understanding of the grace of God (i.e. His unmerited favor). In circles where I travel, there’s generally a clear understanding that the Grace of God is fully realized in His gift to us in Jesus Christ. His free gift of personal reconciliation with God culminated at the Cross. However, there’s often less discussion about how the same grace that brings us into a right relationship with God also enables and sustains us on a daily basis. This is equally essential to our health, growth and wholeness.

God’s grace is also highly relational. God has demonstrated limitless grace to us and with us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Before I went through a major crisis I had an intellectual knowledge of grace, but through failure and weakness (alluded to in the verse above) I grew in an experiential knowledge of Grace. I can only be a living demonstration of this grace. I cannot in any manner transfer that experiential knowledge to you or others. You must experience this yourself and hopefully see it lived out in community around you (e.g. God’s idea of “the church”).

There were key people along the way who vividly embodied God’s grace to me and without them I would have never come through a very dark period. They too had experienced God’s unmerited favor. They in no way excused my failure but they recognized it for what it was – an opportunity to grow and trust God at a deeper level than ever before.

I discovered many things through the past decade. It began with an exposure of my weaknesses and a grew through an ever increasing understanding of my daily need for God and dependence upon His grace and sustaining power.

I’ve often been told that I’m a man who is very hard on himself. In my perfectionistic ways I abhor my weaknesses. I often feel they limit my effectiveness and I would be so much better off without them. However, the great Apostle Paul says, he is thrilled with his weaknesses, he even boasts in them. They allow God to shine brighter through him and that’s the bottom line.

I’m not there yet, but I’m continually growing in my awareness that God is not glorified by me being able to make life work without Him. God is most glorified in my life when I’m truly trusting and fully dependent upon Him. That’s why Paul understood that God’s grace was “sufficient” for Him. It should be sufficient for all of us.

During the decade of 2010 to 2019, found many things restored in my life that had been broken or missing in previous years. I can’t begin to enumerate all the wonderful discoveries that I have made along the way. However, I will say this, I discovered that personal growth, guided by God and His grace, is far more dynamic, relational and process-oriented than I ever would have imagined.

If you are feeling a sense of weakness or personal failure at the beginning of this decade, take heart. Some of my greatest life lessons came out of my greatest personal failures. My weaknesses had me listening to the One who is always speaking. He wouldn’t have it any other way. May you know and experience His grace for yourself in this New Year.

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“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” – Proverbs 18:12 (NIV)

Each year, as August ends and September begins my mind returns to a major transition in my life, now one decade old.

As mentioned previously, it was the summer of 2009 and my life was undergoing internal turmoil. From outward appearances most people would have assumed that I had “my act together.” Little did I or anyone around me realize how little the appearance on the outside was true of what the man on the inside really thought and felt.

Quite without my awareness of it I was living a very isolated life where I could be “god” of my own little world and keep others at a “safe” distance.

The influences that God brought to bear on my life during the summer of 2009 are too numerous to recount but in reflection I realize that there were some major areas of repentance He was working within me. Repentance, if you don’t know, is from the Greek word “metanoia.”  At its root, it means “a change of mind.” It actually refers to a change of mind that results in a change of life. When true and heartfelt repentance takes place we often see dramatic and permanent transformation.  

In my case, there was plenty of drama. I was not at all happy or satisfied with where I was at in life or where I was headed. There were also major issues that I had covered up going back more than a few years which I knew deep down needed to be confessed and cleaned up.

As a result, on the 1st of September 2019 I took one of the most difficult steps of my entire life and phoned a friend. There were probably people around me I needed to speak to first, but I had to start somewhere. The depth of my despair was soon touched by the healing power of compassion in the voice at the other end of the line.

Up to then I was never known as being a very “vulnerable” person. Little did I realize at the time that the leap of faith that I took on that day would radically alter my life forever.

I often refer to myself as “a recovering perfectionist.” A perfectionist, I’ve learned, longs for a perfect world where he or she can “get everything right” so that they can avoid criticism or judgement from others. If I were to confess my sin and brokenness it could radically alter my public image. Would that shatter my life forever? How could I handle it if others knew me in my brokenness and imperfection?

The first conversation led to many significant others. As time moved on there was a new “posture” emerging in my life. This “posture” included not only repentance, but humility and most of all vulnerability. Vulnerability means “open to attack” and I certainly felt open to forces that I could in no way predict or control. The entire experience can easily be described as personally devastating but deeply healing. I would also learn that vulnerability is a steady and constant companion of humility – it’s never “one-and-done.”

I admit there were plenty of messes for me to clean up. I also found that God was in the mess of life and He’s a Master of clean-up and restoration in the lives of all who humbly seek Him. During the past decade there have been many lessons recorded in my journal and at least one book is probably within me. I also have deep and lasting gratitude to the heroes of my life who got me through my darkest hours by giving me time, space and most of all acceptance and compassion.

God designed us to live a life that is “connected” – with Him and others. By living in isolation we can easily become proud and distant from God and those around us who need us to be the “real” people God created us to be.

It’s only through open vulnerability and humble recognition of our need in some type of public way before we can know we are loved and accepted, even in our mess.

One decade later, I’m forever thankful to God who worked in my heart to disturb me into a dramatic change of direction in life. And I’m forever grateful to my family and a myriad of friends who stayed the course with me, loved and accepted me, warts and all. You know who your friends are when they never condone your rebellion but always affirm that your sins never define your identity.

“Coming clean” takes courage, vulnerability and humility but I’m now convinced that lasting change comes by no other route. May you in God’s grace find that path that leads to wholeness, healing and health.

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“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 (NIV)

September 1st 2019 is not far away. It will be a special milestone in my life.

A decade ago I wasn’t living a very fruitful life even though everyone around me would have assumed otherwise. I had a wonderful wife and family. Most of my six children were thriving and well-adjusted in life. I had a job that was stable and I was by most standards doing well in it. I was part of a local church that was growing and enjoyable to be a part of, both as an attender and as a member of the leadership team. I could elaborate further, but you get the picture.

What no one knew was that for a number of years previous I wasn’t “dealing” with some personal issues that I had swept behind a very thick curtain. Leading up to 2009 I didn’t even think that anything from the past could come back to haunt me. But in reality I was a powder keg only a lit match away from exploding.

Now I know that God doing at least two things with me the summer of 2009. The first was that He was exposing me to some quality teaching through some mentors new to me. He was gently directing me to a better pathway. The second was that He was beginning to expose my sin, error and wrong thinking in some very dramatic ways. Some were my own mis-steps that were very harmful.

Leading up to my transformation, my response to life was much like being a lost driver in a strange town at night in a pouring rainstorm. I was driving frantically never knowing where I was going, where I had come from and where I was supposed to be turning next. Needless to say, I was in serious need of help and direction.

Without knowing it at the time, I was desperate to make life work on my own. If I could figure this life out without others I could perhaps be a hero-crusader – loved and admired for my independence and ingenuity. Little did I know how isolated I had becomeperhaps the biggest danger any of us face.

After a series of drastic personal failures, known only to myself, by the end of August 2009 I finally reached out to a trusted friend and made that life-changing phone (actually Skype) call. Even though I had confessed to God, I finally confessed to another real, living human being.

One of my greatest fears was how people would react if they really knew the darkness of which I was capable. I had to risk and trust that God had at least one gracious person out there who could handle my truth.  

It may seem strange to say, but I had always been a man who loved the truth. The truth of God as revealed in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. However, what I was about to learn was the equal reality of grace.  I would now say that these two powerful principles cannot be found until they experienced at the deeper levels of our souls. Do you recall the story in the Bible of the woman caught in adultery (John 8)? What was the deep emotional experience of that woman? How was her life transformed by the experience of Grace and Truth in Jesus Christ?

That critical call on September 1, 2009 was to a trusted friend who not only loved the truth but was a man full of grace. Without that living reality of Grace and Truth I now could not imagine what life would have been like the past decade. As a result, God showed me that His grace and truth was also embodied in the lives of many others around me. Not everyone – but many of His servants were already prepared to demonstrate the grace and truth I so desperately needed.

God had to bring me to a place of deep brokenness in order to end my years of isolation and self-sufficiency. Previously, I would have said that I trusted God and most people in my life would have believed me. In the coming days and weeks I would actually see what it was like to finally “trust” Him and others He put around me.

The early days of September 2009 were some of the darkest days of my life. I went to bed at night  thinking of how I could end the deep pain I was experiencing.  At the same time that I was suffering my family was too. No way would I choose the easy way out and leave them to suffer more pain and agony that I knew would be their fate without me.

The first two years of the decade were the worst. Any major change of direction in life takes pain, effort and intensity. The cost was well worth the results that have come on multiple levels.

The lessons I learned in my recovery and restoration period were profound. But perhaps the greatest lesson was that we daily need to bathe in the truth of God and in the abundant and generous grace that He offers us. We also desperately need people of grace and truth in our lives who are following the lead of Jesus Christ – the One who is and will forever be “full of grace and truth.”

One of my deepest desires is that I will continue to be and become a man of “grace and truth” – living by the principle that touched me so deeply. How can I withhold from others what was so generously lavished upon me?

I’m rejoicing today that I’m no longer a loner (at least most of the time), isolated in my own little world, trying to make life work by myself. I still have a long way to go in being fully whole and mature, but I have a much clearer path forward than ever before.

Whatever you are facing right now, whatever situation you are in, please know that the path of “Grace and Truth” is the only path to wholeness, spiritual and emotional health. I hope you will also come to realize that Jesus Christ is the complete embodiment of grace and truth.

I know, because not only have I met Him but I know He has many of His choice servants speaking words of Grace and Truth into my life on a daily basis.

I plan to never leave the path of Grace and Truth – and you shouldn’t either.   

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“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

I need not remind you of the volume of distractions these days that beg for our time and attention – 24/7 news reports, e-mails, texts, social media, Slack, WhatsApp, the list goes on, and on and on! I heard recently that some 3 Billion hours per month world wide are spent on people playing video games alone!

For a number of years now I have kept a personal journal dealing with issues that relate to what’s going on in my life at deeper levels. I’m far more self-aware than I used to be and exploring what’s going on “below the water line” so to speak. The parts of me that others cannot see.

Several years ago many “D” words were showing up in my journal vocabulary – “Depression, Despair, Discouragement, Disappointment.” To say that I was dissatisfied with this situation would be an understatement. And yes, that also begins with the letter “D”!

In my daily devotions I seriously began to look attentively “inside” and question why these persistent emotional battles were being fought. I was convicted because if one was to look at my life from the outside they would see very little, if anything, that would account for these feelings. It just wasn’t reasonable or rational.

To some degree I discovered that many of the emotional maladies I suffered were due personal choices as to where I invested my time and attention. For years I was a worrier and brooder – thinking deeply about things that disturbed and saddened me. The internal focus of my life was not invested well in the things of eternal value that I knew in my head were much more important and essential.

In the passage quoted above the Apostle Paul in writing to the Colossian church in the first century describes some incredible truths. He says that a person who has trusted Jesus Christ in this life (which would describe me and thousands of others world-wide) has a new identity that is now “hidden with Christ in God.”
This profound truth, he explains, now means that even though we live in the physical realm, we can focus the center of our lives on the eternal reality that we are given a new identity that will endure forever. Paul says, set your hearts and minds on this new reality.

I have found that this is a matter of moment-by-moment and day-by-day choices of where we focus our attention. In reviewing my journal in recent days I see that words of gratitude, grace and thankfulness have replaced the nasty “D” words that once so dominated my thinking.

Obviously this is a long-term process, but it’s also a daily choice.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to counsel a man who had dealt with several addictive patterns in his life. He had successfully dealt with a serious gambling problem but wanted to go deeper and deal with other issues as they surfaced. He had learned in the recovery process that an addict is “chasing good feelings.” I had to admit in my own life that I was guilty of doing the same thing even thought I had never been into gambling or substance abuse.

I now see that God wants to give us great feelings. But the difference is that the great feelings are based on great realities – those of an eternal realm that will endure long beyond this beautiful but broken world we now inhabit.

I’m now convinced that good feelings are not an end in themselves but are a result of where we focus the center of our lives.

God’s desires for us include feelings of love and acceptance, of beauty, grace and mercy. These all flow from who we are and what we have in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He wants us to turn off the noise and give moment-by-moment attention to the new identity we have in Jesus that is not based on material possessions or on our status in society (or even the “Christian” community), and certainly not based on our personal performance.

If you will engage in this process with me you’ll also discover, as I have, that in this new pattern you will have much more time and energy to give to those around you who need your love, acceptance and availability.

By shifting our awareness of where our attention is focused we can become people who are growing strong in giving our energy to others who are of eternal value as well.

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“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48 (NIV)

 I face the temptation on a regular basis to think that I’m not personally responsible for the plight of people around me who are less fortunate than I. I’m grateful that I have experiences from time to time to rouse me out of my complacency and selfishness.

For some years now I adapt my weekly schedule to do some volunteer work at one of my local charity shops. I find the few hours a week I spend at the shop refreshing to my soul. It gets me out of my dusty routine and into the daily lives of many people that I might not otherwise meet during a given week.

Just this week while working at the shop’s “till” as we call it in Ireland, I was quite surprised to see a very destitute looking man enter the shop and begin to play with a child’s musical toy. I had only priced the toy at the value of three Euro some minutes before.

If I could only have had two free hours with this individual I would have gladly re-clothed his badly soiled garments, treated him to an hour bath and burned the filthy rags he was wearing. You could smell an individual like this coming from blocks away. He was that bad off!

After a few minutes of rummaging around the shop, he approached me at the till and asked if he could purchase the musical toy for a small girl who was with her mother in the shop. He inserted his filthy fingers into a long-worn pocket and found three Euro to complete the purchase. I left the receipt for the sale on the till as I guessed he wouldn’t be interested in it!

I admit that I have a strong tendency toward feeling entitled to more that I already have. We live in a world that is consumed with consumerism. It’s also very popular today to think that we should have the best of everything at reasonable prices and we should demand our rights if we don’t get what we want. Often I feel that I’m on the giving end far more than the receiving end, which is in fact, totally false.

The words of Jesus Christ, quoted above, come at the end of one of His many parables. In the parable, Jesus speaks of a faithful and wise manager who is entrusted with his Master’s possessions. The key is how the manager behaves, knowing he will one day be held to account for that which he has been entrusted. How the manager views the Master is the key to the parable. If the manager feels that there will not be a day of reckoning in the future, he can even go so far as to beat the Master’s servants and begin to believe that he will not be held to account for his actions.

There’s also an added precaution – the manager must face the reality of the trust he’s been given.  Those entrusted with more – more will be required of them.

Upon reflection, I find that even the most impoverished among us still have something to share with others. One person who is a most unlikely candidate for admiration, is still made in the image of God and can display generosity and kindness.

The reality is that I have been endowed with far more than I can ever imagine with grace, goods and gifts of many kinds. By one act of kindness, I’m reminded that I have been entrusted by my Master with infinite riches. The more I can manage to give the more I seem to gain. Perhaps He’s arranged it to work that way.

 

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“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” – Hebrews 2:10-11 (NIV)

As we get into the Christmas season, the days seem to go by rapidly with thoughts of shopping, cards, and preparations for our annual celebration and the end of another calendar year. We don’t often take time to reflect on the reason we celebrate Christmas and our personal stake in it all.

At Christmas we who are followers of Jesus are often aghast at how the world around us prepares for the season with a mad frenzy. However, we ourselves become so caught up in the process that we forget our own sins, failures and shortcomings that were actually the reason God chose to send His Son to redeem us. This is denial at the highest level.

We are all subject to denial. For years of my life I tried to avoid or admit to personal failure not realizing that by doing so I was standing in the way of my own transformation. I’m sure during that time I never missed a Christmas Celebration.

The news this year has been full of heartbreaking stories of the victims of war, refugee movements and other major calamities. We don’t have to look very far to see the depths to which humanity has fallen.

If we ever needed personal and societal redemption it certainly is now! However, I’m not sure that true transformation of heart and character can be genuine without failure and personal setbacks. It’s very much an enigma to me.

Even though Jesus Christ did not experience failure as a result of personal sin, as fully human He did identify with all of us in His sufferings. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that He was “made perfect” through His sufferings. And in doing so He invites us into His family! He accepts the broken, the wounded and suffering and dares to call us family – brother, and sisters.

There was something that would have been incomplete about the life and ministry of Jesus without suffering and setback. I think the same is true for us. There’s something incomplete about our own transformation without suffering and failure. I’d rather this wasn’t the case but now I see there is no other way.

Jesus Christ came into this dark, broken world to bring transformation to our lives. We don’t often realize it was because of our personal failure and brokenness that He came. We’d like to think that we are “pretty good and decent” people who try to do our best and don’t have to ask God for very much. It’s that very attitude that blocks our personal transformation.

Now for me, Christmas is a time to reflect on my own neediness and failure for which I have no answer other than the Incarnate Son of God and His work in my own life and soul. Without His redeeming work I’m stranded without transformation and my sin and failure have no redemptive value whatsoever.

Christmas should be a reminder to us all the God sent His Son into a broken world to transform it. It won’t happen through political movements or self-improvement programs. God’s plan is more personal and profound that we ever realize.

Whatever failure, setback or suffering has been part of this year for us we must remember that Jesus joins us in our deepest struggles and doesn’t shrink back from accepting us as brothers and sisters. When we surrender to Him even failure can be transforming if we allow its lessons to transform our hearts. That seems to be what God’s family is all about and I’m so grateful to be accepted into it – all because of Him.

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