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Posts Tagged ‘grace’

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few- therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Whether traversing the streets or worshipping in the synagogue; commanding demons to depart or speaking words of healing over broken lives, He created scandal. At His name, creatures from the pit shuddered in terror while men captured by jealousy and the self-satisfying rites of religion plotted murder.

Friend to the desperate and downtrodden, rescuer of the helpless and abandoned, and miracle-worker in the lives of those considered less than worthy. The untouchables. The unregenerate. The unrighteous. Jesus and scandal were one and the same. (more…)

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woman-570883_1920I vividly remember standing beneath the wooden doorframe of my bedroom–terrified of the imagined evil lurking in the five inches of space beneath mattress and covers. I stood motionless…weighing the options. The risks? Certain punishment if I refused to quickly locate myself beneath the warmth of sleep-inducing blankets or—to my impressionable mind—possible capture by whatever monster or boogie man lurked beneath the confines of a seemingly innocent piece of furniture.

At the tender age of four or five, Shadow had become a thing of nightmares and illusory power.

Too often, though, it seems our fear of Shadow follows us into adulthood. While disguised in more grown-up form, we still tremble at its existence and our thoughts are filled with untrue or unfulfilled imagery that leads us from a place of comfort into the obscure illusion of “What If?”

The “What If’s” come in many shapes and may be different for each of us.

What if…my husband leaves me?

 What if…my child dies?

 What if…I’m really never happy?

 What if…this wound refuses to heal?

 What if? What if? What if?

 

Oh, dear One, the Shadow of What If is—and always has been—a robber of joy and imitator of truth designed to obscure the Light of Hope. We fight each dark pursuer—out of breath and in need of relief. Somehow, we’re certain a jab or swing in the Shadow’s direction will ensure some sort of relief. So we listen to Oprah…read books by Dr. Oz…try the newest diet trend…anything to help us battle the dark, elusive threat that is our greatest Fear.

But in so much of the struggle we rely on ourselves—forgetting the promises of scripture. Psalm 23 reminds us that even when we’re surrounded by a darkness so deep it casts death’s shadow, He is there! Even in the most frightening of times or the loneliest moments he guides…protects…comforts. He is the one who will manage our struggles and wage our battles.

Our futile attempts at Shadow boxing can cease. No more useless jabbing or dodging. Let’s give the battle to the Champion of hearts and souls—the giver of life, conqueror of death, and victor over sin and its effects.

 Suggested Scripture and Questions for Reflection

Read Psalm 23.

What dark valleys has God guided you through already? If your journey is taking you through a place filled with Shadows are you relying upon the Shepherd—or self? I know I struggle with this–vacillating back and forth.

As a gentle reminder to yourself about God’s abounding faithfulness and protection, reread Psalm 23. This time, replace each “me” with your name and “my” with the pronoun “her”.

A David Psalm (MSG)

23 1-3 God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

 

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Jesus…his name evokes a variety of images. A newborn infant wrapped in rags. A man of righteous anger defending his Father’s temple. A man of generous spirit giving all of himself—even to the point of death.

Imagine the scene. Shaking uncontrollably, the woman begged for mercy as people pressed around her. The shouts and cruel slurs of the Good Ones, the Religious Ones, pierced her heart the most. Adulterer! Harlot! Worthless!

Feeling the heat of shame on her face, the woman bowed her head ready to accept the punishment. She knew death was imminent. Uttering a prayer, the woman steeled herself for the first crushing blow of rock against flesh and bone.

Suddenly, the roar of the crowd quieted as Jesus—the one some called Messiah– stepped between the Religious and the Sinful Woman. His body a shield, Jesus knelt low and carefully, deliberately wrote something in the sand. Could he have written the word mercy? Or, perhaps, love? Maybe Jesus simply sketched SIN—large enough for everyone in the throng of people to see.

Dusting the sand from his hands, Jesus rose slowly—glancing at each person in turn.

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

A few shifted uncomfortably while others refused to meet the Teacher’s eyes. Many of the Religious Ones scoffed. The crowd’s fevered excitement had diminished and people began to move away from the woman. Several minutes later, the woman stood in front of her Savior—rescued from her sin, delivered from the accusers, and promised a new life because of Christ’s eternal mercy.

Christ’s spirit of generosity was lived day by day with intentionality. Dear ones, let us live intentional lives with Christ’s glory and the good of others in mind!

Scripture for Reflection

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:1-8)

 

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“EGR,” she quipped with a smile and an exaggerated sigh.  My quizzical look prompted a response.

“You know…extra grace required.”

Unexpectedly, our prayer for others had shifted from intercession to a Christianized version of gossip cloaked in false compassion.

And I wondered…how many people say THAT about her….me….you?

Wishing I hadn’t asked for an explanation and feeling stained by the knowledge, I realized Christ knew the truth from eternity past–I had been born wrapped in an invisible package of sin.

If others knew the truth?  If they only knew about the unkind–even cruel–words that have crossed my lips…the ugly thoughts that have flitted through my mind…the actions shadowed by regret. Can you relate, dear friend?

Extra grace required.

But, there is something beautiful about my story….about the story of every person who has a personal relationship with Jesus.   Even though He knew me as a sinner, Christ envisioned me as a saint.  Even as lies or curse words were breathed from my mouth, the Life Giver imagined a tongue calling out His name in praise.  Even my rash, selfish actions fail to stand between me and the person I will someday become–the one He had in mind more than forty years ago.

There is no doubt…before I ever took my first breath, Jesus knew.

Extra grace required.

And, He loves me anyway.

 

Scripture for Reflection

For it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

…Everything that we have–right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start, comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 1:27 MSG)

 

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He meant well.  They shouldn’t spend much time together.  She has a disorder–bipolar.  I winced when I heard the words because he didn’t know about us.  We understand the stigma…the struggle…the pain swelling on the inside–but still unseen.

Church….Christian…Pastor–there is already shame poured hot like coal on the one who suffers from the burden of festering pain.  And the one in six people in your midst clutches her own secret close to her chest–afraid to let you see her brokenness.  Or, perhaps, she fears revealing the truth about a husband or a child.  If she did would you whisper, “He’s depressed. Maybe your daughter shouldn’t spend time with him.”  Would you judge her?  If she believed more…prayed more…trusted more then God would heal the wound.

So when a friend condemns anti-depressants as a crutch but implores the Hurting to pray for faith, there is a problem in the Body because the Jesus I know came to heal the sick.  The Jesus I know came to remove the burden of a fallen world from the shoulders of those bent beneath its weight.  And the Jesus I know understands that mental illness is like any other–You, dear one, didn’t cause it.

There is no guilt in your struggle, dear one, just as there is no guilt with the one who has cancer.  Church, the one in six ask you to be Jesus today.

Speak truth.  The Church is the place for the suffering.

Love like Christ.  It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 

Give grace.  The nails in the tree set us free from the wounds of this world.  Our Today’s are for His glory.

And it is by grace we are saved!

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This week, I’ve been creating a new kindergarten report card that includes all of the new state standards.  What a chore!  There are broad standards, specific standards, reasonable standards, and unattainable standards.  How can I possibly put together a record that will convey each child’s unique qualities, abilities, and weaknesses?  Will it be fair?    Accurate? 

Hunched over the computer keyboard, I’ve been struck by the thought.  What if God used heavenly standards to determine MY position with Him?  Without Christ, it would look something like this.

Work Habits

Works for God’s glory rather than glory of self.     Needs Improvement

Communication Skills

Responds to the promptings of the Holy Spirit willingly and in faith.  Sometimes

Expresses self through prayer rather than complaint or worry.  Needs improvement

Spiritual Habits

Consistently demonstrates love to others.  Inconsistent

Comments

Tammy tries hard, but often forgets she has can’t earn her way to heaven. 

 

Thank God for His abundant love.  Dear friend, you and I can rest in the assurance of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We don’t need to meet an impossible standard or live up to unattainable expectations.  We have the freedom to mentally tear up our imaginary progress report and throw it in the circular file. 

Why?  Because Christ IS the standard. Through Him, we can approach Heaven’s throne with confidence–void of condemning red pencil marks or fear of not having passed the final exam.  Jesus’ never fails.

Verse for reflection

For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? And even if they did, is there anything they would discover in you that you could take credit for? Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing? You already have all you need. You already have more access to God than you can handle.  (1 Corinthians 4:7-8)

Prayer of praise

Father God, thank you for your boundless mercy.  In your overwhelming love and kindness, you offered up your son as a sacrifice to present  me as an unblemished example of your glory.  Because of His sinless life, I can call you Father and stand unafraid in your presence–certain of my standing as your forgiven child.  Help me, Lord, to live this day for your glory with a heaven-focused heart.  Amen

 

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At times, I’m struck by my status of being just-an-ordinary-someone.  I like it that way.   I’m even comforted by my everyday-run-of-the-mill-wife-and-mother-role.  Why?  Because there is nothing about me that could have won God over or swayed Him to consider whether or not I might be a possible heavenly recruit.  He chose me as His own because of His amazing, incomprehensible love.

Imagine El Roi, the God who sees, reviewing resumes before extending the Good News invitation.

“Hmmm…this one…Tammy Kennington?  Not too promising.  Her credentials are listed here.  Parents?  Divorced.  Temperament?  Avoids conflict and tends to beat around the bush.  Children?  Gentle, but perceived as weak by some.  Faith?  Doesn’t rely on Me like she should.

What a frightening scenario!

Thankfully, the Lord of all mercy and grace offers access to His throne and to His kingdom in spite of my messed up, trying-hard-to- get- it-right, ordinary self.  Ordinary is alright when I have an extraordinary God.

Scripture for Reflection

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.  (Romans 8:29 MSG)

Recommended Reading

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

Come as You Are by Sheila Walsh

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