End of Year Musings on Grace

Gratitude is a doorway to Grace. Gratitude takes me from being closed to being open, and opening up leads me to see just how blessed I am and how much I have been given so that I can be a blessing to others.

Gratitude leads me away from resentment, arrogance and judgment into a place of forgiveness, acceptance and tenderness. The attitude I must have is one of gratitude for in every circumstance, every encounter, and every person is an opportunity for me to see God and to share God.  Every opposition, taken with gratitude, becomes an opportunity to meet God and give his love away.

Grace is a moment when we learn this truth: anyone can be used by God as a messenger. Anyone. It is not my place to judge the ‘quality’ of the messenger; it is my place only to listen, discern, and receive the grace given through the message.

I am learning the people God has placed around me do not need me to correct or validate their feelings; they need me to love, listen and accept them.

More and more each day, I am learning that God’s grace is like an ever-flowing river and all I need do is come to that river and drink to my fill.   I am also learning that this Truth is true for everyone else as well: God’s grace is always available.  I cannot block, dam or clog up this river nor can I drink it for them. They must drink from the River themselves and I must never block passage to this ever-flowing river.

And my final thoughts on grace may be the most important: grace is God’s complete and total love and acceptance of us as we are NOW, the whole kit and caboodle, and not at some distant point in the future when we “arrive” or get clean, or go to heaven or have good doctrine or believe all the doctrine and dogma stuff.    Grace is almost always a NOW thing!

Grace is a movement of God whereby the stains of the past and the fears of the future are removed and we are wrapped in an ever-expanding loving embrace right now.

So remember this as we close out one year and step across into another…Blessings and Grace to you all.

 

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Advent Musings: the Incarnation

Originally written December 24, 2014

God became one of us and…pitched his tent in our midst.” – Rev. Clarence Jordan (taken from his series The Cotton Patch Sermons)

Since Christmas Eve is actually the last day of Advent, I thought I would muse a bit about the spectacular nature of this Sacred Season. So, this morning I received an email and in it this pastor was saying that no words can adequately convey God’s love for human life. I thought to myself that he may be right; no mere words can truly express God’s desire to be so close to us and to love us. My first thought was well the Incarnation is as good as it gets in describing that truth.

Think about it: God wanted to be so close to you and me that God put on flesh and became one of us! 

Pause for just a moment and really ponder that truth, the truth of what Christmas is ALL about. Ponder and personalize it:

God wanted you to know how much you are loved, wanted to be so near you, so much so that God put on flesh and became just like you.

God spared NO expense to be close to us, to love us, to show that love to us! Now even if you do not believe in the virgin birth or that the Incarnation is real, still ponder the notion that God would do such a thing to prove his love to you and me.

That truth to me makes this a time of true hopefulness – a kairos moment pregnant with God.  Kairos, the Greek word for time, is unlike the human concept of time, chronos, meaning “chronological time.” Kairos has to do with a divine visitation, a rending of the veil of human time when God comes to dwell among his people in an extraordinary way. The Incarnation is a Kairos moment that happened at a specific chronological time…an Infinite Moment held delicately within a finite one. It’s downright scandalous.

The Incarnation is both mind-boggling and paradox. Mind boggling in that almighty God would actually limit Godself by becoming flesh; paradox in that God comes to us through the fragile vulnerability of a helpless, newborn child who is Messiah. And the paradox of the Incarnation continues: God did not choose to come as a powerful military King Messiah ready to liberate the Jewish people with force from the brutal and ongoing occupation of the Roman Empire.

God, it seems, had different plans.

Instead, God chose to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed disenfranchised teenage mother in a land under the oppressive occupation of an Empire. That fact alone defies all logic and reason. Who would be more marginalized and dispossessed than Mary? Who could be farther from the seat of power? But it within this zeitgeist that the Incarnation happens; God did not come as a warrior God with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for control.

No, God came to us, as one of us, choosing to make himself known in fragility and poverty – a far cry from how most people thought Messiah would come.

Every year at Advent we are offered the chance for reflecting on how God came to us then, and how God continues to come to us now: in helplessness; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; in the promise of hope when all seems lost.

And let us remember too that Advent is an opportunity for us to remember during darker days that God is asking us again to allow our very lives to become, like Mary, a sacred womb where Hope can be born anew within us and indeed within the world.

 

Advent Musings: God or the World?

“We are not called to love God or the world. Rather, we are called to love God in the world. We love God by loving the world. We love God through and with the world…[and] this turns out to be a sacrificial love.” 

– Sallie McFague

Here we are again at another Advent season (for those of us who like the “liturgical calendar”).  It’s that time of year again where we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace by proclaiming “Merry Christmas” as we over shop and overeat, rabid consumers in an age of technological saturation.

During Advent, I try and re-center myself by getting back to the simplicity of what this season means: the God of all creation entered our realm to be with us and to live and love as one of us.  And so we are called to do the same: to enter into the world and love it.  We are called to love the world as God loved the world, which included dying for it; which included dying for our enemies, those who are different, those who are not like us, those who do not believe as we believe.  That is the kind of love we need this Christmas.

We are called to love God through the world, by loving all that God has made: all of creation, all that is created, all people, and creatures and the entire cosmos.  For every created thing is but a mere reflection of God, a glimpse of the Beauty of the One Who is Infinite Love.

For if I say I love God but hate another then it is plain and simple: I am a liar.  Anyone who says they love God but hate another (regardless of whether that “other” is queer, gay, Muslim, atheist, republican or democrat, Russian or American,white or black) is a LIAR.

1 John 4: 7-8; 20-21

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And [Jesus] has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

And every Christmas it happens, that thing I find almost hilarious and odd this time of year: people seem more concerned about “keeping Christ in Christmas” than they are about loving people as Jesus loved people.  And Jesus loved people where there were as they were, seeing them as images of his God, people created in love.  And I also find it odd that many of the people who are screaming about keeping Christ in Christmas don’t really care to much about keeping him in all the other parts of their lives or times of the year…

There is much hatred and fear mongering all around us; from politics to religion to my country versus your country.  But in the end, it is Love that will lead the way.  And if I am judged because I try daily to love as Jesus loves, then so be it.  I would rather be judged because I am to gracious and messy with love than to be judged for being an asshole.

So, I will show my love for God by loving this world as God loves this world; by actually loving it as it is, not as I would have it.

For God so loved this particular world – this hate filled, messy, mixed up beautiful world – that God chose to come into it, as a fragile human being, to be close to us, to love us face to face, to love us even unto death.  And it is this love – this divine love – that is still scandalous even to this day.

Maybe the best thing I can do this Christmas is more about keeping Jesus in my living and loving throughout the entire year than just focusing on keeping him in my holiday greeting….

“Through Which Lens?” (by Chris Hall)

John Chrysostom believed firmly—and staked his life on this belief—that the stumbling blocks God’s inexplicable providence presents to the believer can be avoided by learning to read Reality well. These stumbling blocks, John argues, do not arise from the nature of things in and of themselves, but from the inability of the observer to see Reality clearly, an interpretive weakness that we can avoid through the development of a “well-disposed” character. Who we are will affect what we see and understand of our life’s circumstances.

Our character, formed by the Holy Spirit as we allow the truth of the gospel to soak into our minds, is the central factor in determining whether God’s world will be understood by us or not. John writes that those who are “worldly, difficult to lead, self-willed, and utterly carnal,” will continually misread God’s providence because they lack the eyes to see God at work, a vision that comes only to those who are actively exercising faith, that is, allowing their perspective to be shaped by the gospel and acting accordingly.

Many of God’s actions in the world will remain incomprehensible even to the faithful, discerning Christian. Should we be surprised by this? Chrysostom argues that human reason possesses inherent limitations and boundaries. A failure to accept the boundaries God has chosen to place on what we can know will result in spiritual sicknesses such as disillusionment with God and discouragement over how God is acting in the world.

John writes from his exile in Cucusus: “What, therefore, is the cause of sicknesses such as these? A curious mind preoccupied with vain questions, one that wants to understand all the causes of everything that comes to pass and to strive contentiously with the incomprehensible and ineffable providence of God. It shamelessly scrutinizes and concerns itself with a subject which in its very nature is infinite and untraceable.”

Rather than prying into things that presently cannot be fathomed, those seeking to understand God’s providence should be like clay in the potter’s hands, “following wherever the artist leads, not resisting, not prying into things.” Chrysostom repeatedly derides an inappropriately inquisitive attitude as audacious, insane, obstinate, foolish, improper, shameless, bold, inappropriate, ignorant, indiscrete, arrogant, ridiculous, and curious. Quite a list of adjectives!

John reminds us that for the Christian, everything—including dealing with God’s providence—is linked to the love and goodness of God. God’s love for God’s image-bearers and all creation is a fundamental presupposition for John as he views the events of life. Hence, Chrysostom’s interpretive stance before God’s providence is fundamentally deductive rather than inductive. Chrysostom insists that key revealed truths, whether in nature, Scripture, or history, must be accepted as necessary presuppositions for correctly understanding God’s providence. Primary among these is God’s love for humanity. And where can this love most clearly be seen? In the cross. Indeed, Chrysostom delights in the way the incarnation and cross have turned the values of the world upside down. Out of seeming defeat, disgrace, horror, suffering, and the reality of death comes unimaginable victory.

In short, in the cross of Jesus all the major themes of Chrysostom’s understanding of providence intersect. If what appeared to be the greatest tragedy in the history of the world is actually the most blessed event, Christians can have an entirely different perspective on the circumstances of their own lives and the arena in which their lives are lived. The cross “is the foremost good,” “a proof of God’s great providence, goodness, and love.” The cruciform pattern of the cross, then, becomes the lens through which Christians can learn to view their God’s providence at work in their lives and how God’s love and goodness manifest themselves in life between the ages, the unexpected time between Christ’s first and second coming.

 

SOURCE: Renovare.org