Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Gratitude for Grace

What if we lived like there was no limit to Grace?

What if we gave Grace away as freely as Jesus did when He walked on this earth? With His deep love for all those He encountered. Some who had eyes to see who He really was and had the tiniest beginnings of faith. He watered those seeds with His abundant Grace and watched with delight as they blossomed in Gratitude. Furthermore, in what I consider to be one of the greatest challenges ever, He persevered in His love toward those who rejected Him, always extending Grace to the very end.

Our Grace Group met on Saturday and as we sat around the dinner table, we discussed the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers. One friend shared an image she had of Jesus reaching into His unlimited supply bag and tossing out Grace. And how much joy He must have experienced as He showered Grace on the undeserving.

“Like Santa Claus,” another friend chipped in. “And his unlimited bag of gifts. Maybe that's where the idea came from..."

The one leper in the story, a Samaritan, who returned to fall at Jesus' feet and thank Him, was filled with Gratitude. It's easy to imagine him living a life that poured out Grace to others. Always thankful and mindful of his past life and the new start Jesus had given him. But we're left to wonder about the other nine. What happened to them? Maybe they came to their senses a few days later and tracked Jesus down to thank Him for the miracle of their new skin and being welcomed back into the society from which they had been cast out. Or maybe they only experienced physical healing, without a change of heart. Maybe they weren't transformed by Gratitude for Grace.

Which one of the lepers would we be?

Charly shared with our Grace Group that our discussion made him think of the blog post I wrote a few years ago on Extravagance. We place such a high value on being good stewards of what we've been given, that we tend to see extravagance as being wasteful and wrong. But, what if in our family, instead of saying, “Stop! That's too much,” we said, “You didn't get enough chocolate syrup on your waffles. You really need some more.”

What if we weren't worried about running out?

And what if our kids weren't afraid that we didn't have enough love in our family to go around? We had this discussion in our Adoptive Parent Sunday School class yesterday. About how some of our adopted kids don't believe that our love for them is constant: deep inside there's still the fear that parental love can't be counted on. So they have to keep fighting for it (or fighting against it), maybe choosing to look for it elsewhere.

How do we keep giving Grace when their fear expresses itself in rejection, when they say "I don't want to be part of this family"? How can we persevere in Grace giving, as Jesus did when He was rejected? Our hurting kids need the outpouring of our Grace to help their brains and hearts undergo necessary rewiring, so they can let go of the fear that they're going to be left out, left behind, left with nothing. Abandoned again. It's hard, on both sides.

How can we help our kids to personally know God as the Giver of Grace in their lives?

To truly believe that His Grace will never run out.

If we haven't first received Grace, it's pretty impossible for us to give it away. We can look at the example of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven of a great debt, but wasn't transformed by Gratitude. So, when he walked away from what could have been a transforming moment in his life, he found his own servant and demanded repayment of the debt owed to him. His heart, still keeping track of every penny, remained hard.

Gratitude for the Grace we've been given can soften the hard soil of our hearts that lives in fear that there's not enough. And can enable us to be generous with Grace. Watering the thirsty hearts around us with showers of blessing.

How has Gratitude for Grace impacted your life?
How could your heart be changed by Grace and Gratitude even more?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Taking the Higher Road

Sometimes we end up on a team where our teammates are actually cheering against us. I saw this happen when I volunteered in Daniel's 3rd grade class for their Fall Party. I was in charge of handing out bean bags for the pumpkin toss game and explaining the simple rules. If they hit the pumpkins, that were taped to the blackboard, in the mouth they would collect points and end up with that many tickets for buying prizes.

Three of the teams were very positive, cheering each other on. “Oh, almost.” “Good try.” “You got it!” “Good job.” High fives. Smiles. Joy. Wanting each other to do well. I was glad that Daniel was in one of these groups, along with his supportive friend Steven.

But two of the teams had a very different attitude: they wanted each other to fail. I actually heard one student whisper in the ear of his teammate about to throw, “You can't hit it.” Followed by, “That one didn't count.” “You didn't hit the mouth!” Oh my. I was so ready for the 10 minute timer to be up and for those two teams to rotate on to their next game. The negative attitude, started by one or two, was infectious. I know that not all of the students in these two groups were characterized by negativity. But how can you stop it once it's started? It's a natural human response when we hear, “You can't do it,” to say “Oh yeah. Well you can't do it either.” I felt helpless and defeated myself, swallowed up by the negativity in these two groups. And I was the adult.

It's what's going on in our nation.

I've been studying the Sermon on the Mount with a group of friends this fall. Last week we discussed the verse “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” In The Blessing of Humility Jerry Bridges writes that merciful in Matthew 5:7 "is stronger than pity or compassion; it denotes not only feelings but action." Extending mercy was counterculture in Jesus' day, and when we choose to give people grace instead of what they deserve, we're swimming upstream in our society too.

Jesus showed us how to respond in a way that's opposite to the way of the world. He didn't call down fire on those who beat him, mocked him, and nailed him to the cross. Instead, he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing.”

We can choose to exercise that kind of restraint as well, and forgive our persecutors when we're on the receiving end of hate. The line in Michelle Obama's speech, “When they go low, we go high” is such a great challenge. This was beautifully played out by the hundreds of students at Baylor University who joined together in support of a classmate after she was harassed because of the color of her skin. Baylor’s vice president for student life, Kevin P. Jackson said, “As Baylor Bears, it is our responsibility to care for and treat each other with love, compassion and dignity. Any behavior short of this demands our full attention so that we can hold each other accountable while seeking to reconcile and restore damaged relationships.” 

 Let's prove that hate will lose and love will win.

Another inspiring example of solidarity was the hundreds of students at the University of Michigan who came out to form a wall of protection around their Muslim classmates who prayed in a public place on campus. To let them know "You are not alone."

Mohammed Ishtiaq, the University of Michigan’s Muslim chaplain, told The Huffington Post that both the Jewish and Christian communities on campus came out to show their support. He said some members of the crowd held signs that read, “You Belong Here.”  
Although it was a cold night, the amount of support we got was really heart warming,” Ishtiaq said in an email. “Events of solidarity like this give us hope.”
 What a powerful message

My friend Iris in Tianjin wrote a great blog post this week: A challenge to the American church after the election. We are all welcome at the Table:

"I will not stand idly by while those who bear the name of Christ exploit the weak for their own gain.
I will not prematurely call for unity and peace while the religious continue to hinder the marginalized from experiencing God.
I will not turn a blind eye while the church traffics in power and profit instead of offering refuge and solace.
I will not sit quietly while some defend the right to their precious traditions at the expense of another’s personhood.
I will not maintain the status quo while those who are made in God’s image are being desecrated and demeaned.
I will not pass on the other side of the road while the most vulnerable among us are dying."

I was also inspired by the blog post of my friend Rachel in Djibouti. Election 2016: Loving People Well “We can block freeways and burn flags and smash windows. We can boast and thump our chests. We can mock and ridicule, insult and lie. We can refuse to accept a process that may or may not have turned out in our favor. We can wait and see. We can open our mouths and scream. We can hide in silence. We can cry. We can celebrate. 

But we must listen. We can find people who are not like us, both online and in real life, instead of hunkering down behind walls with people who already think like us. We can seek to understand their stories and their histories and their hopes, fears, dreams. We can empathize and not demonize. We can be humble. We can win with grace and lose with dignity. We can speak our own ideas with passionate conviction while allowing others to have different ideas. We can refuse to label or to lump people into certain categories.”

We can choose the higher road. By choosing love. Not hate.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:14-18

Let's fight for, stand for, and cheer for our teammates, our neighbors, our nation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On the same team?

This is how Charly made the bed this morning. 

He doesn't know that I took a picture of his interesting arrangement of the pillows. But I'm pretty sure he won't mind if I share it with you. It's kind of different than the way I choose to arrange the pillows most mornings. But, we're on the same team. And it's ok, because he's the one who needed the pillows out of his way around the desk so he could work on his dissertation today. And a nice-looking pillow arrangement is just not that important to him.

There are lots of things we do differently, but we can still be on each other's side.

I think President Obama did a great job of modeling this in his post-election speech about his commitment to a smooth transition of leadership.

“It's no secret that the President-elect and I had some pretty significant differences...I have instructed my team to follow the example that President Bush's team set eight years ago and work as hard as we can to make sure this is a successful transition for the President-elect.”

“We are all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country.”

"Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after we have to remember that we're actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We're not Democrats first. We're not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We're patriots first."

"We all want what's best for this country. That's what I heard in Mr. Trump's remarks last night. That's what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that. That's what the country needs -- a sense of unity, a sense of inclusion, a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law, and respect for each other."

"I hope that he maintains that spirit throughout this transition. I certainly hope that's how his presidency has a chance to begin.”

Obama compared the presidency to a relay race where the baton gets passed on to the next runner. “I want to make sure that hand-off is well-executed because ultimately we're all on the same team.”

I was also encouraged to hear the positive way Trump spoke about his gracious phone calls from Hillary and Bill Clinton after the election. And in his interview with 60 Minutes, after he had met Obama at the White House, he described him as “terrific.” “I found him to be very smart and very nice. Great sense of humor, as much as you can have a sense of humor talking about tough subjects.” When the topic came up about Trump supporters harassing minority groups across the country, he said, “I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, 'Stop it.' If it helps, I will say this right to the cameras, 'Stop it.'”

Joshua told us about the Interfaith Prayer service at Notre Dame that he attended last night. A united campus effort to focus on peace for our nation, and to promote respect and solidarity during a time where division has become so evident. Charly and I were inspired to listen to Father Jenkins speech, beginning with his thoughts on the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman in John 4:

Noting that while the Samaritan woman and Jesus, a Jew, were so different religiously and culturally, “despite these barriers, Jesus … opens a conversation about something much more profound,” Father Jenkins said. “It is perhaps in the very exchange, in reaching with compassion and understanding across what divides a Jew and a Samaritan, a woman and a man, that the ordinary water becomes something else — a spring of water gushing up to new possibilities, new hope and to quenching a deeper thirst.”

Jenkins told the crowd, “We now have elected leaders and we should pray for them and, as far as we can in accord with our principles, cooperate with them to serve the common good. We also pray for those holding opposing positions that they might continue to be engaged and that their voices continue to be heard. I do not want to minimize the very real differences in perspectives and principles that divide us. Yet I believe there is no peaceful, fruitful future for us except though the respectful, constructive dialogue that is so critical for a democracy.

“Dialogue, one can argue, is the central activity of any university community. We can disagree passionately, but we should not demean our opponents. We should state our convictions, but we should listen to all, and most attentively to those who do not share our views. It is the responsibility of each of us to foster a conversation that engages and enlightens, rather than descends to mutual recrimination,” Father Jenkins continued.

He stressed, “At Notre Dame, we must never allow any election cycle, law or policy to make us forget what we stand for.” Those things, he said, include respecting the dignity and worth of every person, committing to work toward the common good and standing in solidarity with every person, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized.

“That is Notre Dame. Either we walk together in mutual support, or we do not walk at all. Either we are all Notre Dame, or none of us are,” he said.

Such powerful words to consider as we try to walk together. On the same team with people who are very different from us. It is possible. And necessary for our nation in order to be able to move forward.


What if we could experience, as we reach across the divides, what Father Jenkins called "a spring of water gushing up to new possibilities, new hope and quenching a deeper thirst"?


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