Category Archives: to live by

Grace Cake

cuke2Perhaps when we talk about grace and law, we shouldn’t present the issue as ultimately being an oppositional either/or proposition as much as we might present the issue as being, ultimately, a complementary and layered proposition. In other words, it’s not about grace versus law. Instead, it is about how the grace that Jesus speaks of is able to complement the obedience to law that God put into place very early in man’s existence.

It would seem that if there isn’t God’s law, there is scant need for God’s grace. And likewise, God’s grace can only be fully manifested if there is God’s law. Rather than law and grace opposing each other, they exist as complements but even, maybe, as dependents, too, in God’s way of ruling his universe. First, God began loving his people (and they him) through law and then, later, God upped the ante by loving his people even more by sending Jesus with a message of grace that was to be placed on top of the law. Like layering in a cake, maybe. God’s beauty shines through his law and grace, respectively, but mix the two together – now we are really talking about something beautiful and powerful.

Paul clearly discusses, in Galatians 2:17-21, that law can only lead to death. There is no one, including Paul, who can keep the strictures of the law completely and perfectly. As a result, the law condemns everyone to death who attempt to keep the law perfectly.

Abraham, for example, was found to be righteous but his salvation was necessarily found outside of the law. It was faith that made Abraham a righteous man – not being able to keep God’s law perfectly. Paul gratefully found salvation not through the law but through Jesus (Gal. 2:17-21). To wit, Hebrews 7:26-28 demonstrates that the imperfection of the law is complemented by the perfecting action of grace.

Whereas God’s law sufficiently depicts the essence and nature of God and his expectation of obedience, it can’t save. God’s grace, through Jesus and our faith, completes the saving.

But the law is far from being without merit. Paul encouraged his Galatian readers to obey the entire law (Gal. 5:13-14) and Paul listed approved and disapproved actions of believers (Gal. 5:22-25; 5:19-21). Christians are bound by obedience and the desire to live lives of upstanding character and humble faithfulness.

The good news is that when our obedient desire falters or our faithful efforts become passionless, God’s grace can complete what we are unable to complete – a total giving of self to God for salvation. In the end, law and grace complement each other in wonderful ways.

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Finding God

JesusI believe scholars must deal with two main issues regarding the understanding of the historical Jesus. First, there is little extrabiblical information that describes a physical Jesus (Gundry, 2012, p. 130). And second, it seems that scholars continue to struggle with being able to validate (in their research and minds) the authenticity of Jesus’ direct quotes in the Gospels (p. 129).

With regard to the first issue, Gundry tells that a complete biography of Jesus is impossible to obtain simply because the Gospels – as the primary source for information about Jesus – share very little about Jesus as a living, breathing man (p. 127). Though a number of biographies were written about Jesus in the 19th and 20th centuries by noted scholars and organizations, the biographers seem to have focused and postulated more on who Jesus became and less on the actual, historical Jesus (p. 127-130). This, perhaps, isn’t surprising simply because there is not any hard and extensive information on Jesus that can be drawn upon to write biographies other than the paucity of information about Jesus from the Gospels.

And second, it seems odd but interesting that even the exact words of Jesus are a matter of disagreement and contention. I can’t help but think that it’s been God’s intent to not reveal the literal words and physical descriptions of Jesus in order that we might spend more time considering the broader implications of a redemptive God and less time on the physical appearance of Jesus and on the parsing of literal words supposedly said by Jesus. Regardless, the fact is that, once again, scholars can barely agree on the literal and verbatim words that are recorded to have been said by Jesus in the Gospels and, rarely, in extrabiblical sources (p. 129).

Overall, there simply is not much to go on to describe a physical and historical Jesus other than being able to say that he existed 2000 years ago in what we know of as present-day Israel.

With regard to discussions on the writing of the Synpotic Gospels, it’s fascinating to consider the theories behind how Matthew, Mark, and Luke were possibly authored. Perhaps I rationalize, but, to me, God is not revealed so much in the words as in the essence of the words of Scripture. Which translation, which language, which interpretation, which paraphrase shall I use? I wonder if a seeker of God will find God regardless of where the seeker is looking – God will find the seeker instead of the other way round. The cynic, on the other hand, won’t find God anywhere even if God slaps him up the side of the head! With due respect to scholars of lower and higher criticism of Scripture, God will reveal himself to those who are looking one way or another regardless of the nuances found in today’s rendering of Scripture.

Gundry, R. (2012). A survey of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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Professor:

Good thoughts.  I had to laugh at your description of the cynic and tend to agree with you. Getting into a debate with a cynic can make you feel like you are “beating your head against a wall.”  Most cynics have this stubborn attitude that they MUST defend what they believe. And they feel that they must also get everyone else to believe what they believe.   The idea of Faith is difficult for a cynic to comprehend. It requires that they set aside what they think they know about God and be open to learning something new. Faith doesn’t make sense. It requires that they take a step into the unknown. A debate with a cynic can not be won. But a challenge for them to act in faith, to take a step into the unknown and ask God to “show up” in their lives is something they cannot debate.

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Caring Touch

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Better World

butworld3

1. Smile
2. Listen
3. Open the door for someone
4. Don’t criticize
5. Be patient
6. Empathize
7. Forgive
8. Be an example
9. Trust
10. Be happy
11. Live healthy
12. Laugh
13. Share
14. Say “good job”
15. Listen to music
16. Be positive
17. Be nice
18. Pat a pet
19. Be thankful
20. Avoid anger
21. Be a volunteer in your community
22. Be humble
23. Have faith
24. Mentor youth
25. Play a sport
26. Paint a picture
27. Read a book
28. Cry at a movie
29. Eat popcorn
30. Go fishing
31. Ride a bike
32. Skip rocks
33. Cook breakfast
34. Plant flowers
35. Sing in the shower
36. Meditate
37. Visit a theme park
38. Take a nap
39. Get tickets to a concert
40. Pray
41. Ask someone how they are doing
42. Walk in the waves
43. Cook some brownies
44. Send a letter
45. Thank a waiter or waitress
46. Try some sushi
47. Anonymously buy a meal for someone
48. Have a glass of wine
49. Write a poem
50. Call someone on the phone
51. Feed some birds
52. Start a countdown to a holiday
53. Hang some happy pictures
54. Invite someone to a movie
55. Send a box of fun stuff to a friend
56. Read Proverbs in 31 days
57. Eat only fruit for one week
58. Visit an assisted living home
59. Discover a new band for listening
60. Make a smoothie
61. Take a college class
62. Make a silent retreat
63. Tell someone you love them
64. Burn some incense
65. Don’t watch TV for a week
66. Ask for a hug
67. Keep a diary for one month
68. Float in a swimming pool
69. Buy and wear an outrageous shirt/dress
70. Eat sushi
71. Write a short story; give it to someone
72. Take 100 pictures of the ocean
73. Walk five miles
74. Share a salad with someone
75. Memorize a Bible chapter
76. Wake up at 4am for one week
77. Anonymously send a gift card to someone
78. Spend one night in a hotel
79. Clean out your contact list
80. Paint your mailbox
81. Look at babies in the hospital nursery
82. Walk through the hospital palliative care floor
83. Think of something sad; cry about it
84. Re-establish contact with an old friend
85. Stay in bed all day
86. Stay awake all night
87. Write down your regrets
88. Sniff some pepper and sneeze hard
89. Send a meaningful, 500 word email to a friend
90. Purchase Harry Potter postal stamps
91. Read Ecclesiastes three times
92. Consider the opposite of everything you believe
93. Send a letter of thanks to leaders
94. Slightly change your hairstyle
95. Commit to being positive
96. Offer to sit with someone
97. Don’t say “I” or “me” all day
98. Place a live floral arrangement in the house
99. Say “I’m sorry” five times today
100. Smile
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Separation Blues

fooesCommon thing about people who decide to part company – there is always some bitterness, even if it is internal and never stated. Taking two separate paths is difficult and, to no one’s surprise, it can be heart-wrenching. Separations don’t heal well, either. Instead of there being healing wounds over time, often the hurt continues to ooze, infect, bubble, and spread. Unresolved separation is a bad and dangerous thing.

Here are a few principles of separation that I have observed over the years.

1. It rarely happens because of a single incident or issue. Separation is usually the result of a “straw that broke the camel’s back” dynamic. It is that one, last, little thing that makes the dam break that results in separation.

2. There is almost always some kind of blame, whether it is merited or not. I suppose a person separating can’t say “for no reason.” It seems separation and blame are brothers – one can’t be without the other. Blame can leave jagged scars. Too bad.

3. Sometimes “blame” is called “cause.” In other words, it isn’t blame that causes separation but, rather, it is justifiable cause. In some instances, this is absolutely and properly the case. But in my experience, the majority of relationships that don’t survive aren’t about “cause” but are about “blame.”

4. So the one leaving gets perturbed at the one staying but the one staying, also, gets perturbed at the one leaving. Who is right? This is a consequence of open-ended conflict – there has not been success at resolution.

5. The hardest is when separation takes place without any fore-knowledge. There may or may not have been warning signs. Regardless, some separate without a heads up. This is very exasperating. It seems to compromise what was thought to be relationships or friendships, it precludes any effort to resolve, and it absolutely creates friction.

6. But is there ever, really, honestly a non-guilty party? Hard to say and every circumstance is different, of course. But is it possible that the one separating is somewhat driven to do so because the other isn’t listening, being open, being gracious, not being selfish, and on and on? Sometimes, we will never know what really happened if there isn’t an opportunity for open and honest dialogue.

7. More often than not, separation is about preferences and not principles. This is hard, too. Preferences have no logical or quantifiable basis – they are simply personal penchants or inclinations. Separation is most often about self-interest. It’s a fact.

8. Separation occurs because love has not been practiced all the way around by all parties. Full, open, caring, listening love. Tragic.

BONUS: Rarely can separation be reconciled. There is too much pride involved. The one leaving might have to admit being wrong and the one left will be pressed to not recall the separation. It can be done with much determination and faith in each other, but, unfortunately, separations are often permanent. Very pitiful.

Can’t we all just get along by loving each other in tolerance, patience, and forbearance? Perhaps not.

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Young Old

oldyoungSpending time with young people and spending time with older people presents a number of differences to me which makes me think about who I am and what I’m about when I’m by myself or with others.

1. Young people ponder the future – their hopes and concerns. In past weeks, I’ve heard about marriage, college, driving, jobs and careers, what happens after graduation, and getting tests out of the way. Stuff is pretty dark, emo, and scary. All pretty heady stuff when you are seemingly looking from the bottom of the mountain up. Being with some older – even elderly – people I hear about sons and daughters, doctor visits, food tasting this way or that, and so, so, so many memories.

2. Young people generally embrace the future and it’s possibilities even if they don’t grasp the scope of their own, personal future. The future is decades and decades out. The elderly reminisce, regret, wish, and mostly may end up being thankful for the good things that happened along with the not so good. The future may only be seen as a few months or a few years.

3. Many young question faith, God, existence, death, and love. Life, to some, seems bitter and unfair. Relationships are measured in days and months and, for a few, maybe a few years. Money and career and families are off in the distance, a blur, a fog. The elderly, as one even a few days ago stated, might be worried about running out of health care money. Faith in something or someone has had sustaining power for many years. Relationships are sometimes measured in decades and even half-centuries. Careers may have ended many years ago. As one lady reflected a few days ago – her life is defined by the times she almost died but God rescued her.

4. The younger a person is, oftentimes the more morals and ethics are black and white in the world. The older a person becomes, the grayer things get. Younger base their morality on what they have learned and what they see around them. Older morality is based on experiences and what has worked or not worked.

5. Stamina and well-being, of course, changes over the years. A college student can go for several days without sleep. Some of my elderly friends need a 10 hour night and several naps during the day.

6. Of course, young people are risk takers whereas the older one gets, one becomes more risk averse. There are lots more young people doing drugs and passing their sex around than old – experience and age seems to temper the amount of risk a person will take.

7. Being young might be more about action, taking the hill, fixing the problem, and never giving up. With age comes a reluctant acceptance that some things will not change, the peak is too high, and someone else will have to fight the battles.

What I’ve listed here isn’t original or something you aren’t aware of. I’m blessed to be associated with people both quite young and quite old. Not a day goes by that I don’t consider the many, many ways to see something through the eyes of a young person or the eyes of an old person. As a few of us were discussing recently, there is always at least two opposing arguments to anything and everything. Often times, the arguments have much to do with experience, gender, education, or any number of other factors that come along with age and much less to do with logic and rationality. In other words, what might seem right to a young person is, basically, exactly right within the confines and constructs of the experiences and knowledge of the young person. Take the same situation and it might be seen completely different – even opposite – by an older person because of experiences and knowledge.

All that to say this – I hope so much that I can be open minded, sensitive, and empathetic to the plight of those who simply don’t realize that they are being pig-headed in their reasoning.  Quite frankly, their reasoning is based more on their personal experiences and opinions and far less on logic, education, and open-mindedness.

More than anything, our world suffers from not having enough people who listen, empathize, and desire to understand.

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Happily Interdependent

dreumingHow does our culture sway our way of thinking when it comes to happiness and freedom? This question can be asked not only with regard to societal attitudes, but to religious attitudes, as well. In your mind, what brings happiness and freedom in your personal and spiritual life?

For many in Western cultures and societies, happiness and freedom comes from personal accomplishment and from being able to pursue one’s own wishes and dreams. In the U.S., our own Declaration of Independence declares that God granted each of us the “unalienable right” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” It sure might seem that we have not only the privilege but the right to become better by working hard, feeling the burn, and being the best we can be at whatever we want to do or be. It’s not all bad to be the best, is it?

What is interesting is that study after study has shown that the independence that many of us in Western cultures and societies so highly value is, in fact, more a matter of Western preference and less a matter of innate character. Did God give us the drive to individually pursue life, liberty, and happiness? Hard to tell, actually.

In other parts of the world, individual independence is actually frowned upon. In what are called collectivist societies, interdependence is what is valued. Rather than standing out as an individual, a person is far more admired if he or she can work with others and contribute greatly to the well-being of society as a whole.

Take this a step further into our own understanding of Christ’s redemption of mankind. Many seem to not be comfortable living in the tension that exists between “self” and “church.” After all, many think, God saves us individually – not as a whole church. The church on earth, we might reason, is a place to hone our individual, spiritual skills and test them out on others but in the end, God might save me but not you even if we both identify with the church. It’s more about me being good enough and being the recipient of God’s grace and less about “us” in the church working together to encourage and strengthen each other in our works (oops, I almost quoted a collectivist Scripture there…don’t look at Heb. 10:24-25) so that we – together as the church – can reap the redemptive benefits of God’s grace.

Here’s the thinking some of us might have – it’s not us that will enter heaven together because we have worked together. It’s me on my own based on what I have done! And maybe you, if you’ve done your best and if God’s grace will cover you.

I don’t like individualist, spiritual thinking. I think it’s damnable. I think some of us spend too much time drinking the socially-easy, individualist kool-aid and not enough time being involved in the socially-difficult and awkward consideration of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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Good Death

A bit different take on death. From Order of the Good Death. Seriously, this is an interesting article to read – Death Is Having a Moment.

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Lenten Clarity

lent_imageLent starts today. My tradition doesn’t really acknowledge Lent. That’s okay. Lent, for me, isn’t about whether some of my tribe plan to “do” Lent or not. Over the years, Regina and I had pretty much decided to move a bit differently than some of our fellow travelers. It wasn’t an intentional effort to separate or put ourselves in the spot of judging others. Rather, it was about being less concerned with “we don’t do that because…” issues and more about “we can do this because…” stuff.

We both were highly sensitized to the Easter story through our experiences in Romania – the physical lamb, the sharing of the meal, the symbology associated with Easter Day. We also learned much about the Lenten season prior to Easter – denial not for denial’s sake but for the purposes of focusing on God in whatever we intentionally planned to involve ourselves with for the forty days leading up to Easter. If denying was our purpose in Lent, we learned, then we were missing the whole purpose of Lent. Rather, we came to understand, Lent is about focus and clarity. (I’ve written about Lent and Easter here, here, and here.)

I can hear it now. “But we can and should be focused on Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection year round. Why pick a time and just do it then? Besides, the Bible doesn’t say anything about Lent.” I understand, of course, the faux argument because I used to say the very same thing.

First, I respect your opinions and would never try to convince you otherwise about this season. Be confident in your opinions, if you can. We can still be friends and companions even if our preferences differ. But second, I’m having a harder and harder time trying to disregard God and his influence on everyday life. So we can see God in the full moon, babies, and beauty but not in the powerful, symbolic messages of the Lenten, Easter, and Christmas stories and seasons? Isn’t this being just a bit intellectually dishonest? I’m not so much hung up on the names and seasons as I am with the ubiquitous and positive influence Christ has obviously had on the lives of millions of people who, for centuries, have overtly and often dramatically displayed their remembrances and celebrations of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. Frankly, I want to be counted among the number of humanity who publicly, honestly, and communally acknowledge the earthly workings of Christ in the lives of people instead of being counted as a naysayer, gripe, and distractor.

Finally, I depend on, serve, and think about God year round – yes, I do! For me, the Lenten and Easter season is like icing on the cake. It makes God even more delicious than he already is. This season doesn’t distract from or replace all the other opportunities I have to worship and serve year round. Rather, it’s yet another means and method to focus on and bring clarity to my understanding and thankfulness for the God who has enough grace, mercy, and love to even spend a moment taking care of me.

Now that I travel this journey without a close companion, thinking about Christ’s sacrifice and his subsequent resurrection brings me hope and sustenance. In rising from the grave, Christ brings me remedy in my personal crisis. If Christ exists in Lent and Easter, which I believe he does, I want to be there to see him pass and be able to touch his garment (Luke 8:43-48). And when I see him passing all of the other times during the year, I desire to do the same.

Like the wee, little man who did whatever he could to see Jesus (Luke 19) – I am driven by the same motivation. In Lent, I desire to make an effort to be in a perch, so to speak, to see the passing of Jesus. It never gets old.

May your Lent and Easter be a time of renewal, dedication, and greater understanding. Jesus is reaching for all of us.

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Kid President

These are so good, they will make you laugh and cry. Thanks, Maddi and Christian. You encourage me. I love you. Check out more Kid President here.

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