Where we wrestle with the sublime, mysterious, powerful and often frustrating paradox of God's necessary grace.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Grace, mud and blood--but first, the news

Remember the WW2 news announcer greeting? "Good day, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea!"

That's a bit how I feel. I'm in my lighthouse here on the rocky coast broadcasting to anyone who comes within range, broadcasting until they leave again, some to return, others not. I find this satisfying in an odd way. When I lived in Texas, for two years I worked as a radio DJ from 6 pm - midnight. I grew accustomed to the red, green yellow, white lights glowing on the control board, the dark street outside the waiting room illuminated in pools of light by streetlamps, the lights of passing cars flashing by.

I played music, ads, read public service announcements ("First Baptist Church is having a brisket barbecue Saturday on the grounds from 11-4 to raise money for their mission teams. Side dishes served will be potato salad, green salad, cornbread and butterbeans. Cost is eight dollars a plate, children under five eat for two dollars."). A highlight was when, during bad weather, the teletype just outside my control window chattered into life and the National Weather Service ordered all stations in an area to broadcast a weather advisory. For my area of Texas, that usually meant possible flash-flooding, but I did get a tornado warning once.

So how does this bit of nostalgia tie into the topic? It doesn't, I just shoved it in here, like a nice tablecloth to go under the main meal. ;)

This Sunday in church Brad, the preacher, taught on the Passion, Jesus praying in the private garden.

John 18:1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.

The blood from the thousands of daily Temple sacrifices drained into the Kidron Valley, so when Jesus crossed it, He had to step through mud, blood and all kinds of wretchedness. I took comfort from this. We as humans are little versions of the Kidron Valley, we are comprised of our own blood, mud and goo. All our sins )large and small), all our lies to ourselves and to others, our pride, our greed, etc. Yet Jesus doesn't let our filthiness dissuade Him. He plunges right into the worst of who we are, undaunted, coming to redeem us from what we think of as ourselves but is our fallen nature, and reveal to us, to others, and to the Godhead our real identities: sons and daughters of God.

This means I can stop trying to be good, trying to be perfect, trying to earn God's approval, trying to earn the approval of others. Everything I touch in my own strength is touched by my fallen nature, marred by finger smears and thumbprints of mud and blood. But when I am redeemed, then Jesus makes all things new and past things are no more, even though it may take years, decades for that reality to become reality.

This doesn't mean Jesus redeems me and bang! my life is now perfect and I'm ready to go on a talk show. No, my flesh is still my flesh, it's still present and I still wrestle with it every hour, every day. Most times I lose, a few times I win. (But then I get proud and boasty of that fact and I lose all over again.)

What changes is the kernel of reality buried deep, deep, deep within me, as far underground as it's possible to go without coming out the other side. Like a seed, the kernel slowly, o so slowly! twists and writhes and soon sends out shoots and tendrils, and in a chemical exchange straight from God's greenhouse, it exchanges my pain, my sin for grace as a tree exchanges carbon dioxide for oxygen.

The kernel's mission is to reach the light, and to that end it labors unceasingly, every day, every night while life exists in me and in you.

It's not a fast process, never has been, never will be because of the dynamic involved. It's also often a painful process as deep-seated hurts, sins, scars, are brought up to the surface and to the light.

So Jesus approaches us through our Kidron Valley, slogging through the muck, the filth, the mud, the blood, to give us grace within us.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Grace and the Long Reach

Tonight I experienced again the pleasure of seeing God loves humans and gives us grace freely and deeply despite the fact we are complete screw-ups.

I had learned this several years ago, but the lesson was lost, buried under a pile of busyness, anxieties, depression, fruitless and half-assed attempts to remold my life to something the family protocols in my head would approve of.* (Yes, I know--more on this later. Please bear with me.)

The picture at the top of this text is from the movie "Smart People." It's not the best movie I've seen, I had to force myself to sit through the ponderous and tiresome first 2/3 of it. The final 1/3 makes up for the beginning, tho. In it, you see the characters begin to come alive, like Lazarus shuffling from his tomb.

Throughout the rest of the film, the characters make the painful decisions to come alive instead of remaining in their half-life of anger, fear, resentment, bitterness. In herky-jerky steps they walk.

An ending scene in the credits is the visual hinge-pin for the movie.

The characters are all deeply flawed, scruffy, wounded, mistrustful of others and themselves. Yet despite their many, many flaws (well illustrated through the movie), they choose life, choose to live, choose to walk away from death. I got the feeling Jesus was watching over my shoulder and raising His fist in the air at the end, exclaiming, "Yes! That's what I meant about all that Kingdom of God stuff!"

For me, throwing away the desire to continue attempting to earn my (now dead) parents' approval has been more difficult than I would have believed. Some people dispose easily of this in their lives, I cannot. It has deep roots. But, thanks to counseling (the wonderful Dr. J, take a bow please!), the love and support of my wife, the Sturdy Wench; and mostso the grace of God, that boulder is being levered from the riverbed of my life and soon to tumble away into wherever such things go.

2 Corinthians 12:9: 'But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.'

I have no problem boasting about my many weaknesses, this blog is full of that. But I don't highlight my weaknesses to brag about them or to somehow garner Christ's power in the manner of someone reciting a magic spell. I'm not giving to get.

Rather, I will boast of my weakness and, despite them, the arrival of Christ's grace that, like His peace, passes all understanding and to boot is mysterious as hell. I wish I understood it but I don't--I don't think anyone can.

The characters in the movie reach for grace even though they don't know its name, they reach for it like a drowning man reaches for a life ring. All they know is they'll die if they stay where they are and will live if they grasp the life in front of them. That summarizes our fundamental relationship with grace.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Grace and My Bad Donkey

See, it wasn't supposed to be this way.

I was supposed to have created this blog and, as a result of my spiritual insight, wisdom, humor and honesty made manifest, been the toast (or at least the English muffin) of Christendom and bloggerdom and dum-de-dum dom.

Yes, I still see it all now...hordes of readers sharing their stories of grace, but always flocking to me for advice, insight; craving whatever pearl of wisdom fell from my full and slightly pouty lips, and I, well, of course *I* would bask humbly in the sunshine of adoration and approval, bask oh-so-humbly, just slathered in humble like a perfectly cooked chicken fried steak coated in crispy golden batter. Phone calls and email from journalists and bookers for talk shows punctuate the background, my wife amazed at her good fortune and blessing in being married to someone like me.

But would I let this go to my head? No, a thousand times no! I would have joined my hands in gentle prayer, looked heavenward beseechingly with my doe-like brown eyes, and humbly asked God for the strength to deal with all this homage and attention.

That was my plan, whether I admitted it to myself or not. "It was all going to be about me, frankly," said the hotdog.

I would have been good at it, too. Really good. I believe I'm good with fame and adulation. In fact, they're my meat and butter, they're like mother's milk to me, minus the icky part about drinking breast milk when I'm 47. Dammit, I would have been great as an idol of millions! People would've liked me, I would've really tried to help them, steer them toward God, toward honesty, just as long as they didn't require anything of me that mattered or cost me from my heart or soul.

I would've made a great Oprah!

And the cap to ll of this? I come back to this blog today to find those who've followed this blog in Blogspot do so no longer.

Ohhhhhh, God! Ohhhhh, God! I'm shaking my head at my raging ego and bloated throat sac of pride and I'm laughing right now. (I think God is, too, or I'm smoked.) I'm such a buffoon! ROLFMAO! I am so arrogant, so puffed with fear and pride and self-centeredness, it's a wonder I don't tilt when I stand up. Rilly.

You want to see grace, God's grace, in action? Here it is. That God should love me enough to shank my pride and yet give me the grace to laugh at my foolishness. That He should allow me to laugh at my own nakedness, yet still clothe me in His love, His grace.

And still more of His grace: That those of you who read this blog, continue to do so, and those of you who encourage me, continue to do so, and those of you who are my friends, continue to be so. That you all would continue alongside me in our trek to New Jerusalem when my head is puffed to the size of a small elephant...well, that's the realest grace of God. Thank you for sharing it with me.

This topic wasn't at all what I set out to write when I sat down here some minutes ago, but I think it's better than what I was going to write about. How often do you get a chance to really laugh at yourself?

So now that my ego's been deflated to a proportionate size for my age and weight, what say we keep on looking for grace?