Open That Angry Fist

It’s impossible to remain angry while embracing grace… open that angry fist and get a grip on grace!

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words… Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4.31, 32 NLT)

Tantrums, Sulking… and Murder?

You know the story of Cain and Abel, right?

The first kids… Cain was a farmer. His younger brother, Abel, was a herdsman.

The brothers brought offerings to God. Cain brought some produce; Abel brought a firstborn animal from his herd.

God was pleased with Abel’s offering but Cain didn’t get God’s approval. There are many theories and ideas about why (including a pretty funny explanation of how God approves of meat-eaters but not vegetarians or vegans).

I’m not so interested in the theories of why one offering was better than the other. It’s what happened next that fascinates me – Cain throws a huge tissy fit.

“Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk. God spoke to Cain: ‘Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted?’ Cain had words with his brother. They were out in the field; Cain came at Abel his brother and killed him.” (Genesis 4.5-8 MSG).

Yikes! What a terrible overreaction of hostility flowing from this little boy’s bruised ego.

I’m not even sure who Cain was mad at…

Was he mad at God? Himself? His younger brother? Everyone? Just embarrassed, hurt and mad at the world?

It’s scary what flows from us when we’re upset. Without grace we are bitter, angry, petty, vindictive and hurtful. Without grace, we destroy relationships.

We need grace.

Grace loves, covers, forgives, accepts, receives, restores, heals, blesses, encourages, rejoices and builds.

God, give us grace!

Talk to the Hand

Remember the 1990’s’ expression “talk to the hand”? It’s a contemptuous way of expressing rejection, saying “no one is listening to you”. The phrase is usually accompanied by the gesture a traffic cop makes to stop traffic.

Contrast “talk to the hand” with a hug…

“Talk to the hand” communicates angry rejection. A hug communicates acceptance and love.

God has not put his hand up toward you in angry rejection. No, His arms are open with acceptance and love.

“God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life… we’re alive with him!

So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind.” (1 Thessalonians 5.9-11 MSG)

Anger sticks up the hand of rejection.

Grace opens its arms with love and acceptance.

Let’s do for others what God has done for us… give grace.

Speak encouraging words. Build up hope. No one left out, no one left behind.

No more “talk to the hand” angry rejection of others. Instead, hug.

Arms open with acceptance and love.

Bruised Egos & Fire-Breathing

I recently heard a comedian say, “I carry a gun for when I get my feelings hurt.”

My first reaction – giggle.

My second reaction – think about the sad truth of his joke…

Our bruised egos inspire terrible overreactions of spite.

Jesus was rejected at a particular village because He didn’t intend to stay there very long. Disciples James and John picked up the offense for Jesus and were inspired to unleash some fiery judgment…

“Lord, should we call down fire from heaven and burn them up?” (Luke 9.54)

Uh, talk about overreaction! Jesus rebuked James and John…

“You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” (Luke 9.55, 56 NKJV)

Grace saves – not destroys.

Grace breathes forgiveness – not fire.

Grace changes everything.

The Horse & the Cart

If you’ve read the New Testament, I’m sure you noticed these words coupled together: “grace and peace.”

“May God give you more and more grace and peace…” (2 Peter 1.2)

It’s always in that order – “grace and peace,” not “peace and grace.” Why? Because that would be putting the cart before the horse.

It’s “grace and peace” because we cannot know the peace of God in our hearts until we have experienced the grace of God in our lives.

God’s grace brings peace – not stress, anxiety, worry, fear, shame, resentment, bitterness, anger or frustration.

Trying hard, working, striving, getting wound-up and freaking out will never bring peace in your life.

Relax. Receive God’s grace. You will have peace.

Trouble-Free Wasn’t Promised, Overwhelming Victory Was

A trouble-free life was never promised to any of us.

If you’re alive, you’re gonna face some troubles…

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Romans 8.35, 37).

Having troubles doesn’t mean God has stopped loving us.

He loves us – he always has and he always will.

Despite our troubles, overwhelming victory is ours through Jesus Christ.

Our current troubles will not have the final word.

We’ve been given a sneak peak and we know that the story ending is good: overwhelming victory is ours!

Here’s a really important truth: even in our troubles, we don’t have to be “troubled.”

Paul explained:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed…

we are perplexed, but not driven to despair…

we are hunted down, but never abandoned by God…

we get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4.8-10).

Jesus said it this way: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.”

We have a loving, compassionate, grace-giving God who knows what we’re going through. He does not abandon his kids.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8.28)

A New View

On Saturday, I ran a half marathon – from Tukwila to Alki. After running a few miles through an industrial area, a new view came into sight: the Seattle skyline.

This new view was in sharp contrast to what I had been looking at. The old view was ugly and cluttered. The new view was majestic, clean and beautiful.

The city skyline was there all along.. I just wasn’t close enough to see it.

Proximity affects perspective.

Grace puts us right with God and makes us close to Him.

Grace changes our perspective.

Grace gives us a new view.

“Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ – that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” (Colossians 3.2 MSG)

See things from his perspective…

He’s not: stressed-out, depressed, angry, worried, overwhelmed, afraid, insecure, bitter or running on empty.

He is: victorious, life-giving, more than enough, our advocate, all-sufficient, loving, compassionate, our savior, our healer and our provider.

Remember, proximity affects perspective.

Get close to Jesus and you will have a new view.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it.” (Matthew 11.29 MSG)

A friend of mine recently said it this way: “Stress, strain, worry and fear does not flow from our Jesus. If we find ourselves in that place, we have found ourselves… not Jesus.” -Zac Gandara

Learning to Live Freely & Lightly

Listen to people talk… you’ll quickly notice themes (like your computer’s desktop wallpaper / theme):

“Things are really difficult right now.”

“It’s just challenging.”

“Life can be hard, you know?”

-and-

“Things are great!”

“I’m having the time of my life.”

“God has been good to me.”

There’s no question – life brings challenges, obstacles and difficulties. This is true for everyone.

However, for those who have experienced God’s grace, their outlook on life is different. Grace changes everything!

Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11.29-30 MSG).

I love this!

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

God won’t put anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.

Keep company with Jesus and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

A Cult Waiting to Happen

Imagine an airplane that is just a few degrees off it’s course at the start. If it doesn’t adjust, with time and distance, it will end up at a completely different destination than originally intended.

If the church lacks grace – and it doesn’t adjust – with time, it will become something entirely different than originally intended.

A church without grace is a cult waiting to happen.

So many awful things have been done throughout history in the name of God.

Without grace, the church has excused / reasoned / produced: legalism, manipulation, control, slavery, hatred, violence, murder, wars, discrimination, sexism, oppression, abuse and bigotry.

The Gospel is the message of God’s grace revealed to us in the sending of his son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is grace personified.

The message of grace is central to Christianity.

Take grace out of the church and you have taken the Gospel out of the church.

Take grace out of the church and you have taken Jesus out of the church.

The Apostle Paul sent a corrective letter to the church in Galatia because they had taken grace out of the church and replaced it with legalism…

“I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled…” (Galatians 1.6, 7 NLT)

If we emphasize something other than the Gospel of grace (the Good News about Jesus Christ), in one or two generations the church will end up completely off course.

If we emphasize “holiness” – in one or two generations the message becomes legalism.

If we emphasize “faith” – in one or two generations the message becomes “name it, claim it,” positive thinking and positive confession.

If we emphasize “theology” – in one or two generations the message becomes academic elitism.

If we emphasize “spiritual gifts” – in one or two generations the messages becomes goofy mysticism.

If we emphasize grace, we have made the Good News of Jesus Christ the central issue…. and maybe in one or two generations, the world will finally understand what the Gospel is all about.

The Signs are Obvious

When the church lacks grace, the signs are obvious:

“us” versus “them” language and attitude

finger-pointing, accusing, condemning and judging

fear of the future; desperately attempting to hold on to the past

defending how “we’re” right and other ministries or churches are wrong

becoming more and more out of touch with real hurts and needs

constantly bemoaning how bad things are in the world

A church that lacks grace is in serious trouble. Jesus is grace personified. A church without grace is a church that does not know Jesus…

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.

God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” -John 3.16, 17 MSG

Grace changes everything. Grace changes the church. When the church is full of grace, the signs are obvious:

compassionate language and attitude

loving, forgiving, accepting, and grace-giving

thankful for the past; full of faith for the future

recognizing all Gospel-preaching and teaching ministries as part of the same team

ministering to people with real hurts and needs

shining brightly for the world to see