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Archive for April, 2013

GRACE n. 5. A favor rendered by one who need not do so

At its most basic, grace is unmerited favor.

Unmerited.

Favor.

I know this. Of course, I know this! I have a master’s degree! I was raised in a solid, Bible-believing church! At my undergraduate and graduate schools I studied the Bible and theology and ministry! I’ve read books about grace! I can sing along with the (old school) Newsboys:

When we don’t get what we deserve
That’s a real good thing
When we get what we don’t deserve
That’s a real good thing

And dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of times I have taught or encouraged with these words: “Mercy is not getting what we deserve, grace is getting what we don’t deserve.”

Not to mention that for the past year I’ve been counting gifts. I’m up over 7,800 now. These are things for which I’m grateful, so I see them as gifts and then I see them as they truly are – graces. And my gratitude and awareness has expanded and I see gifts and grace all around me.

So you see, I know grace…

I also know that teaching shouldn’t be without thought or preparation. Even, or perhaps especially, Bible teaching or teaching for Sunday School… I’ve been trained, remember?! I know that good teachers prepare ahead of time. Several hours of study and prayer should stand behind each hour of actual teaching.Teaching should never be on the fly.

And it’s not like it was a last minute commission. Ever since we lost several teachers last autumn I’ve been regularly taking the last Sunday of the month, feeling honored and humbled to teach the most elderly of classes at our church.

And it’s not like I waited to the last minute to look at the lesson. When I finished teaching on that last Sunday of February I looked ahead. I read the scripture from which the lesson was based and I know the story well: two disciples on the road to Emmaus and their burning-heart encounter with a cloaked and resurrected Jesus.

And it’s not like I make it my goal to wait until the last minute. My intention was to read the student guide for each lesson the weeks I wasn’t teaching and then to work on the lesson a little bit each night the week before, wrapping up and finalizing on Saturday.

Though by now I’m sure we all know the place to where good intentions pave the way…

I could make excuses. Some reasons are quite valid: health issues, family situations which took preeminence… And I could plea and argue that I didn’t completely fail. After all, I did manage to catch up on what the class had been learning my weeks off- earlier that week… And I did pray about the lesson and for the class- some… And I did think about the lesson before Saturday- albeit hastily…

Yet the fact of the matter remains, as I confessed to my other-side-of-the-world friend during our regular Skype call, I was unprepared. Here it was Saturday night, the night before Easter, the night before I was to teach on perhaps the most important topic in all of scripture on perhaps the most important day in the Christian calendar with perhaps the highest attendance of the year, and I had not yet begun the actual lesson plan.

Eight o’clock in the evening and there was still work to do. After all, the next day was Easter and I had to prepare foods I could eat (for our family gathering) and I wanted to help Mom and Dad with final food and cleaning preparations so that they wouldn’t stress and could get to bed at a decent time…

So I was actively thinking through the lesson and all the ideas I’d had hitherto required more than a few hours planning. In talking through my dilemma and the scripture with Mom as we worked, I was suddenly struck with an idea. Max. If I wanted a framework, a different angle, something to help me quickly prepare a lesson, how about seeing if my good friend Max Lucado had anything to say about the disciples on the road to Emmaus? So I went to one of his early books which is in my nightstand and I opened it to where I thought that part of the Jesus story might fall. Sure enough, there it was – a whole chapter retelling the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. I read it aloud to Mom as we worked, tearing up when I reached certain lines, certain phrases where Max made some good points. About hope. It was difficult to finish the story after that, my eyes wide in wonder and my thoughts racing. As soon as I finished the story I raced to my room, pulling out the lesson quarterly (booklet) to show Mom.

The theme of the entire quarter? Hope. The name of the chapter in Max’s book where my lesson-story was found? Hope.

It seemed a divine gift. I was so excited. So I planned to use Max’s story and I spent an hour or so on lesson background and scripture study before bed and I formulated a plan. I would tell three stories to the class. Three stories that were all the same story. I began by reading the scripture itself. Then I told “a story” beginning with a “man named Abram” and ending with two bewildered disciples rushing back to Jerusalem from Emmaus. Then I read Max’s story.

Saturday night, but more so Sunday morning as I woke and got ready and then had some “down time” between sunrise breakfast and worship service, as I mentally ran through the long story (finalizing what parts of the story to highlight and what to keep brief) I recognized recurring themes. In the whole of the scripture story, in the lesson plan itself and even in Max’s story. The pieces fell into place and it was beautiful and I was excited and I knew that it was of God and that it was a gift.

And the lesson went well. I mean, really well. Of course, I sputtered and stammered a couple times which I probably wouldn’t have done had I taken more time to plan and run through what I was going to say… but the lesson went really well. Exceptionally so. And, as I was told by one of the other teachers of the class (who was my Sunday School teacher back in the fourth grade), it is always good to hear – and some of the others needed to hear – how the stories all fit together like that.

On the way home I was still marveling and talking to God about it all. How well the lesson went. How unprepared I’d been. How foolish that was of me. How wonderful it was that He had provided that story… that idea… those connections…

“But,” I said guiltily, “it’s not right. It’s not fair. I should have failed today because I knew better and yet wasn’t prepared. I didn’t deserve for it to go well. And certainly not that well!”

“My dear daughter,” came the reply, “that is the definition of grace.”

And then there was silence.

It was sinking in.

What I’ve known for years suddenly became real and tangible.

Grace.

Unmerited favor.

And I realized that all this time, though my own words and theology told me otherwise, I thought that somehow I could earn it.

But earning is not the definition of grace.

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Wednesday 17 April 2013
Jeremiah 16:19

Fortress

Today I am awed by beauty. Reciting the morning office ‘declaration of faith’ I can’t help but break into a huge smile before Jesus.

Then the passage is beautiful. I read past verse 19 to 21…

O Lord, my strength and my stronghold,
And my refuge in the day of distress,
To You the nations will come
From the ends of the earth and say,
“Our fathers have inherited nothing but falsehood,
Futility and things of no profit.”
Can man make gods for himself?
Yet they are not gods!

“Therefore behold, I am going to make them know—
This time I will make them know
My power and My might;
And they shall know that My name is the Lord.”

God as strength and fortress and refuge – and all nations will come, realizing their ‘gods’ are worthless – and God will teach, reveal, cause them to know Him!

Oh the beauty! But there is yet more!

The word for fortress is ma’owz – a “place or means of safety, protection, refuge, stronghold”

A place! And – at least in the King James Version – 28 out of 37 uses it is translated as “strength” or “strong”.

Strength.

As in Nehemiah’s “the joy of the Lord is your strength”.

This isn’t referring to ability (for even “a means of” resides outside the self) – it is a place of refuge, of safety, of protection.

The joy of the Lord is our fortress!

And my heart swells with this truth, this beauty! For regardless of my surroundings or my physical state, the Lord is my fortress!

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Sometimes a single verse – or even a phrase or word – during my lectio time can connect so quickly to the deepest parts of me and what I cam currently experiencing in my life. Other times, not so much…

…and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood… (Rev 1:5)

ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστός -> pistos martys -> faithful witness

It’s just a verse.

In the middle of a greeting.

Just a name – a title – among three.

So it’s rather nondescript.

Then how am I to understand Jesus as the Faithful Witness? Maybe I can’t. Maybe it doesn’t fully connect.

Yet.

Right now.

But I’ll bet it did to the people of the seven churches (to whom Revelation was addressed). I’ll bet John knew what he was doing when he specifically used those three titles to describe Jesus. I”ll bet those three titles brought comfort and hope.

For they lived in a time of persecution.

When being a witness (μάρτυς- martys) often meant what we mean when we use the word now: a martyr.

You know, there’s a reason we use that word…

And the people of that time were quickly learning what it fully meant, what it entailed, to be a witness, a martyr…

So though it doesn’t connect to me as deeply as other verses, as other names of God have since we began this lectio series, I have a feeling it truly resonated with them.

Jesus was an example of a faithful witness. A faithful martyr.

Hope.

And Jesus was the firstborn of the dead.

More hope.

And Jesus is ruler of the kings of the earth. Including the evil ones who persecute.

Even more hope!

But, alas, I am now getting ahead of myself.. for Firstborn and Ruler of Kings are yet to come in this lectio series…

And today, as my awareness of the significance of these titles to the original hearers deepens, I turn my prayers to my brothers and sisters in Christ who are in prison, in chains, being persecuted around the world today… becoming martyrs. And I pray that they be strengthened and encouraged as they come to know Jesus as the Faithful Witness.

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For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Everlasting Father.

This verse is about Jesus. We all pretty much agree on that, right?  So how is Jesus “Everlasting Father”?

I mean, there’s God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (Trinity: distinct persons yet one God).

And Jesus calls God the Father, “Father.”

And we are called heirs (ie. children) of God and co-heirs (ie. siblings) with Christ.

And as the song says, “God our Father, Christ our brother…”

So how?

What does it mean? How does it work?

Do I really need to know?

Some mysteries are just too deep and too beautiful to attempt confining to words.

Because as I ponder, one word keeps coming to mind.

From the red-letter lines of the New Testament, an oft repeated word echoes through, loud and clear:

“Daughter”

So many of them. Jesus, in love, called each “Daughter.”

How is Jesus the “Everlasting Father”?

I don’t fully know.

But one thing I do know – He calls me daughter.

And that is enough.

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