In 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis declaring salvation by grace through faith. Today the church desperately needs a second reformation of sanctification by grace. Christians are chained to a treadmill of trying to please God by their behavior, of trying harder and sinning less. If they can just discipline themselves enough and be determined enough, they are deceived into thinking they can become righteous and holy and be close to God and He will be pleased. Grace tells us that our relationship and intimacy with our Father in heaven is no longer dependent upon our behavior...or lack there of. Grace tells us we no longer have to strive to become righteous, because He has given us a new nature that is righteous. Grace tells us that it is the only thing powerful enough to deal with our sin. Grace tells us that God is already head-over-heels in love with us and nothing we do can change that. Welcome to "Formed by Grace."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lessons from a Forest Fire #2

Reflecting back on the fire that destroyed 500 homes and left ours standing has not been easy.  My mind wants to make some sense out of what happened...what happened to us and what happened to our friends and neighbors that are left with piles of ash.  But I have decided that trying to make sense out of it all, trying to discover the "whys," is the wrong path to walk.  The path I am choosing to take focuses on a phrase, a word, and a prayer.
                            The fire crossing the road behind us

First the phrase...and it is not "the grace of God."  I would have a hard time looking at a foundation full of ashes and saying, "Ah, the grace of God."  It might be right, but oh so hard.  And so the phrase I have been focusing on is "the will of God."  This helps me.  I do not need to understand the will of God.

And that brings me to the word that has been helping me, and that word is "mystery."  The will of God is mysterious and there are many who experience mysteries of God's will that are far more difficult and painful than a fire. I can live with the mysteries of God's will because I know God.

And so the prayer.   Just because God's will for our lives at times is deeply confusing and mysterious, and our hearts long for "whys" that we will never hear, it never diminishes God's trustworthiness.  No matter how deep and painful the ways he might lead us, he can always be trusted.  And so my prayer is that God will use the twists and turns of his will to deepen my trust in him.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Lessons from a Forest Fire - #1

Tuesday June 11.  I get a reverse 911 call on my cell phone ordering us to evacuate our home immediately.   Rushing home by the back roads to avoid road blocks I can see the huge black plum of smoke and the orange glow of flames a couple of hundred feet high.  The wind was blowing 30 to 40 miles per hour pushing the fire right towards our house.  Being close to the point of the fires origin I knew I had just minutes to collect some valuables and flee.  Sue was driving home from Kansas.  I was on my own.

After taking less than ten minutes to toss photo albums, pictures, journals, computers and some business files in the back of my truck, I took one last look around the house and thought about all we were going to lose.  I said to myself that "it is just stuff."  But is it really?  No it is not.

My unhealthy tendency to just think of it as stuff is described well by Thomas Merton, "God is more glorified by a man who uses the good things of this life in simplicity and with gratitude than by the nervous asceticism of someone who is agitated about every detail of his self-denial.  The former uses good things and thinks of God.  The later is afraid of good things and consequently cannot use them properly.  He is terrified by the pleasure God has put in things...He imagines God has placed all the good thing of the world before him like bait in a trap."  It is not a very long journey for me from thinking of the good things He has given as bait (which I do often) to thinking of it as "just stuff."  And I think I have made progress - but I have not.

The "stuff" is God's special blessings on us over the years. To enjoy. To delight in. To thank him for.  The "stuff" represents God's faithfulness to us.  And when we lose these special gifts it's right to mourn, to grieve, to cry.  God has not called us to die to the good he does for us.  He has not called us to die to the healthy desires and pleasures of life.  The good that he gives us are gifts from him.  So often we feel guilty even unwrapping them much less enjoying them. They are not "just stuff."

So what is the rest of the story?  Our across the street neighbors lost their house.  Neighbors on our side of the street lost theirs.  Beyond that, every house for a mile and a half is now a pile of ash - 511 homes destroyed.  12,000 acres burned.  The forest is black.  Our five acres was 80% burned, but mostly just ground fire.  The fire burned right up to our foundation...yet our house is standing!   Oh the mysteries of God.

Monday, June 3, 2013

My Destructive Running (50 seconds)

Robert Jonas, a close friend of the late Henri Nouwen, writes "The all-important moment in our spiritual lives is when we understand that we are truly God's beloved."  For me this "understanding" is not just a moment in the past, but has to be a continual reality. Today.  When it is not my today, I find myself running away from myself to be someone else, someone God might be more pleased with.  Running to leave behind what I am ashamed of.

"What great love the Father has lavished upon us that we should be called children of God.  And that is what we are." (I John 3:1).  This word from God has been one of the most significant in my life...but one of the hardest to believe.  I so identify with Henri Nouwen when he writes, "the conviction is deeply rooted in us that being loved is something you have to earn...We can scarcely conceive of getting something for nothing.  Everything has to be worked for...You could call it the 'commercialization' of love.  Nothing for nothing.  Not even love."  And so I  "embark on the destructive search among the wrong people and in the wrong places for what can only be found in the house of my Father."

(Quotes are from Henri Nouwens book, Letters to Marc, pages 49-52)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Does God Motivate us with Threats?

I have written a number of times how the Gospel transforms our fear of God from being scarred, timid, and apprehensive to wonder, awe and amazement. This is why I can always approach my Father with confidence and boldness.

A couple of weeks ago a friend responded, "Yeah but what about Philippians 2:12, 'Work out your salvation with fear and trembling'?"  Great question.  This sounds as if our Christian growth should be motivated by a fear of what God will do to us if we don't meet his standard of effort and progress.  It feels like a semi-veiled threat to be faithful or else.  This is what I used to think and I had it wrong.  For a couple of reasons.

First, we discover that if it is a subtle threat it is an empty threat.  In our moments or months or even years of half-heartedness we do not experience a heavenly Father that makes us tremble with fear and duck for cover.  Rather our experience is exactly the opposite, we have the experience of the prodigal son being embraced by his father.  We don't have a Father who is trying to move us along with a cattle-prod of fear, rather we have a Father who is wooing us with his love and goodness.

Secondly, the person we are responding to with "fear and trembling" is not is us. Ralph  Wardlaw, an early 18th century Scottish Presbyterian wrote, "This fear is self-distrust; it is tenderness of conscience; it is vigilance against temptation...It is taking heed lest we is the caution and circumspection which timidly shrinks from whatever would offend and dishonor God and the Savior."

Lastly, the very next verse, verse 13, describes God's participation in our growth, "For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him" (NLT). God is out in front of us, enabling us to obey and cheering us on--not behind us kicking us in the butt.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What is God Thinking!?

Yesterday I was leading a Bible discussion group and because it was a new group and the first time we had been together, we took most of the time to get to know each other.  As I was sharing my story I mentioned that one of the core lies that had been planted in me as a young teenager was that my worth was dependent upon what you thought of me.  In other words I was an addicted people pleaser.

We talked about how pleasing people and pleasing God are two sides of the same coin...and that both sides will cause you to hit the wall at some point.  I then explained that what is true in our relationship with our Father in heaven will be true in our relationships with one another.  And then I shared the part I never like--that what characterizes my horizontal relationships with those around me will be a reflection of what characterizes my vertical relationship with God.  For example, I will only extend as much grace to others as I have received.

At that point one of the individuals asked me this question, "What do you see in your relationships with others that could be a reflection of your relationship with God?"  Even though the shackles of people pleasing have been cut off and no longer hold me captive, I can still periodically hear the rattle of those chains in the background and so I replied that I can find myself wondering what people are thinking of me.  Applying the above principle, that means there are times I find myself wondering what God thinks of me!

After a moment of pause the wonderful truth of the gospel replaced the lies that had defined me for so many years and I  realized that because of the gospel I NEVER again have to worry about what God is thinking about me. Today he is looking at me through the righteousness of Christ and he says "I love you.  That is what I am thinking about you.  Period."

We all have the rattle of chains in our ears...sometimes they sound far off and at other times as if them are right against our ears. No matter how much noise the chains make, what is important is that the awesome good news of the gospel is the loudest sound our hearts hear. 

When I fly I sometimes take with me a set of noise canceling headphones.  They cancel out the irritating noise of the engines and the distracting chatter going on all around me and allow me to hear with brilliance the beautiful music on my ipod that can minister so deeply to me.  That is what the gospel can do for us.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Prodigal's Suspicion (85 seconds)

Last week the most influential author in my life died, Brennan Manning.  I only met and talked with him once, but he has deeply mentored me through his writings. The golden thread that wove through all his messages and writings is this, "God loves you just as you are, not as you should be."  I like to change it to, "My Father loves me just as I am, not as I should be."

When I think of this unbelievable good news, my mind always goes back to Luke 15 and the parable of the prodigal son.  It illustrates it beautifully. With his rebellion and rejection of his father having ruined his life and now in his mind defining him, the prodigal has no hope of his father ever loving him again.  But he knows he needs help and so as a last resort, plans to return home and say to his father, "I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Treat me as one of your servants."  Dan Cruver says that the prodigal is returning home thinking of his father as his master and not as his father.  He plans to return home as a wage-earner hoping to earn his way back into his father's love.

Sinclair Ferguson writes that we have the same suspicion as the prodigal--that it is impossible for the Father to love us.  And so we return to him as our master and not our Father.  But the good news  the prodigal experienced is the same good news we can experience, "Our Father loves us just as we are, not as we should be."

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Spiritual Disciplines: Going Someplace (22 seconds)

Henri Nouwen writes, "Here we see what discipline in the spiritual life means.  It is a gradual process of coming home to where we belong and listening there to the voice which desires our attention."

So here is my thought.  What if the spiritual disciplines are not practices or things we do, rather they are the practice of going someplace to be with someone...someone who is crazy about us and loves us more than we will ever know and who longs for our company.