When Fathers Fail

“I would run up to him, punch him in the chest, and tell him I hate him for not being there for me.
And then I would hug him and tell him that I love him.”
India had no idea what she was teaching me.  It was a warm, summer day and we were driving back from a Tigers baseball game.  I had the privilege of attending a game (while paid) along with four teenage girls from a residential group home. While I did that, my coworkers were in a meeting to hear that they would have to apply for their own jobs.  Not hard to see who won that day.
India had been very nervous – extremely nervous – as we approached Detroit and the stadium.  Her mother lived in Detroit and she did not trust her mother.  Even though her mother did not know we were going to this game, the very possibility made it hard just to walk from the van to the stadium.  But all went well and after the game I began asking a few questions: “What do you think you would have done if you had seen your mother?”  And then I asked the same question about her father, a person India had not seen in nine years.
Her statement above told me volumes that I had never fully realized before.  Your father is always your father and your mother always your mother.  I worked in the child welfare system, and I still was living in the lollipop and gumdrop land that imagined another person could simply fill a role where another person was absent or failing.  Adoptive parents or foster parents – or even me – they could just fill that role, right?

“India, what if you were adopted by a family and they loved you, what would that be like?”
Oh, that would be amazing.  I’d probably ask them all kinds of questions and hope they didn’t get freaked out because I’d want to be around them all the time.”
If you have worked with other people’s children, or been a foster or adoptive parent, you know how amazing that experience can be.  You know the love you can give and receive in that relationship.  Keep doing it.  But it took me years until India’s five-second comment made it sink in: God’s design is on purpose.  The Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God.  That same design is passed on through us.  We leave our mark on our children because God left a mark on us.  It’s a marvelous pattern that we can’t explain.  Every parent-teacher conference that I attend leaves me amazed at how my children have traits of mine that I never taught. We carry our parents in us.
And that’s why India, even after not seeing for her father for more than half of her life, wanted to hold him and be held.  To love him and be loved.  She wanted to connect with her image-maker.

I pressed a little more.
India, what if you were adopted by a family, and they knew EVERYTHING about you and still loved you,
what would that be like?”
“Oh.  I think I would just…cry.”

India had just rocked and confirmed my view of God in one tiny conversation that I will always remember.  We fail as children.  Often.  We fail as adults.  All the time.  And there a nagging question in her minds, “What now?”  Children like India usually didn’t feel like they had a clean record by the time they met me.  In fact, they came with case files detailing why they were not with their parents, broken foster care placements, troubles in school and the community, medicine they were forced to take.  It’s a miniature prison record of all of their wrongs.
But what was any different about her than squeaky-clean me?  What about the car I crashed, the van window I smashed, the jerk I was in school or to my own family?  I didn’t have a written record like India, but I knew exactly what she meant. My father knew my failures, but certainly not all of them.  And my father is a pretty amazing man, but I noticed his failures too.  He did not walk with me 24 hours a day, tell me about every obstacle I would face, give me all the right answers. Even as an independent, strong-willed, know-it-all teenage boy, I still wanted the cheat sheet to life.
It just doesn’t work that way.

Shane Claiborne, in his book The Irresistible Revolution, makes a bold statement that there is no one who is truly fatherless, they just haven’t met Him yet.  They haven’t met THE Father, and we need to help with that.  He is pointing back to that design – that all of us are made in God’s image.  The challenge, of course, is that earthly fathers fail.  That can make it really hard to talk about God as Father.
Father’s Day is great, especially with social media.  People send texts, phone calls, post happy pictures and kind words and you get that warm, fuzzy feeling for a while.  You know what happens next?
Monday.
And fathers fail.  We don’t talk about it much.  Well, we do, but not with much grace.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a day when I thought, “Boy, I sure parented perfectly today!  Can’t wait to do that again tomorrow!”  As a divorced father, the weight of that hangs on me every day.  The last bit of rope on a fraying marriage was that I didn’t want to do THAT to them.  But I did.
So where’s the grace?  The grace is in India’s words.  The grace is in knowing that no one is perfect.  My father has been around for every one of my days and married to my mother for 48 years and I can still spot his mistakes.  But I am loved and I love him.  He is my image-maker and I am his image-bearer.  He shaped, as many fathers do, my image of God the Father.  But he’s not God.  My dad doesn’t know all of my mistakes, not even close.  I don’t know his.
But God does.
And God is that adoptive parent who is running and calling to us to fall into His arms.  God is that one who would make India cry.  To take all the hurt and the pain and to love us right back.
The Shack is a powerful and controversial book because of what it does with the image of God the Father, or “Papa.”  Papa first appears as a woman to the main character, Mack.  Only later in the book does that change and do we learn why – Mack’s father was not a good man.  That had hurt Mack’s relationship with God.  How can God be good when fathers are so bad?  Most of us have stumbled over that hurdle.
There is brokenness all around.  Fathers fail, even the ones who are present every day.  And tomorrow is Monday.
But what if there is someone who still knows all about your failures and still loves you?
Good news.  There is.  Even and especially when fathers fail.
Happy Father’s Day.

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What Is Your War?

The other day I happened to notice that Christians was trending on Twitter.  Out of curiosity, I delved into the trend to discover the root of the discussion.  What I found was a significant reaction to the President’s address of recent executions in Egypt.  There were many people who were upset that the President did not directly refer to the slain as “Christians” even though that was the message relayed through news outlets.
I played out the possibility of the President directly making that remark and paired it with the strong, visceral reaction I saw on social media.  I came to the conclusion that the President was very wise for addressing it as he did.  Allow me to flesh this out.
Recent historical events have prejudiced much of the Western world toward anyone who claims Islam as their faith.  Terrorist events by extremists professing that faith have overshadowed the peaceful and law-abiding lives of the millions who fundamentally live out the Islamic faith.  To be quite frank, much of the vocal sentiment in the United States has been derogatory and dismissive of Islams.  Perceived as a threat and therefore an enemy, even professed Christians have given themselves a new enemy:  Muslims.
The theat of terrorist events are not bound to a political border.  Depending on your definition of terror, they are not bound to a people group either.  Unfortunately, however, if asked to assign the threat of terror to one group, most would have “Muslims” at or near the top of their list.
I realize that this not substantiated, but I’m simply relaying it as per my experience and observation.  Follow along for just a moment longer.  If the President had directly stated that the slain were Christians, it would have been a statement that only further narrowed the terms.  It would no longer be the Islamic State (IS) enacting terror against the Western world, but it would have been narrowed to Islam(ic State) against Christianity.  The reaction that I saw seemed to indicate that that is exactly what many people want to declare.
That sounds familiar.  A group of professing Christians calling for a military leader to ascknowledge and overthrow the enemy.  That’s what first-century believers wanted.  Any Messiah who would come would have to be one prepared to lead God’s people against the Roman enemy.  Jesus turned that view on its head.  He did not ride in on a war horse; he rode in on a donkey.  He did not overthrow the Roman empire with might; He died on their torture device.  And the Kingdom that Jesus ushered in is still in operation today.  A Kingdom that is about the ushering in of his second coming.
So I come again to this question:  what benefit would it have served anyone for the military leader of the United States of America to say that twenty-one Christians died at the hands of extremists who profess an Islamic faith?  None.  For us to even suppose that we can label with conviction the faith of any one person is to purport the duty of God.  I know no one’s heart, and neither do you.  For me to say with certainty that a Christian died is as foolish as saying with certainty that those who killed them were Muslim.  I know nothing of the sort.
Let us not take the short nor the narrow view of history.  Let us not take the short nor the narrow view of our world today.  God is holding open history until such time as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ shall return.  In the meantime, there is a mandate – a bestowed responsibility – to make the good news of salvation known to all peoples.  Did you know that Muslims are the largest group of unreached peoples in terms of having an accessible message of salvation given to them?  Did you know that the vast majority of Muslims do not know one single person who would call themselves Christian?
If someone has been given the good news, the key, the answer, who is responsible if someone does not know about it?  The person with the answer!  Salvation is a gift of grace through faith, and lest we forget that we are undeserving, we could begin to recount all of our sins together.  Shall we?
Do not lose sight of what is to be accomplished.  The Kingdom of God is entrusted to us – broken vessels striving for obedience.  I will win no one to Christ through hate.  I will win no one to Christ through force.  I will win no one to Christ by military might.  That is not the battle.  The battle is to discern between the two warring kingdoms in this world and to align with the winning side.  The winning side has allegiance to love, grace, and forgiveness.  If that is not how you want to end this battle, I would ask you, “What is your war?”

The Danger of the Segregated Church

Take a quick walk through the neighborhood with me.  As I step out of my front door, I look over and see the well-manicured lawn of the Baptist church.  Steeped in tradition, they can boast of a pastor who has served them faithfully for decades.  On Sunday mornings the street is filled with shiny, clean cars and congregants walking in with smiles as bright as their clothes.

By the time I have reached my sidewalk I can see the brown bricks of the AME church that sits right next to the Baptist church.  Together they take up the block and have walls no more than eight feet apart.  Not quite as shiny as the Baptist church, this building is home to many church mothers and grandmothers.  As you walk past there on Sunday morning, you can hear the call-and-response preaching streaming through the windows.

As I make it out into the street, I can glance to the right and see the towering church that rests upon the face of a busy street.  Saturday mornings are filled with people of the community lining up to receive boxes of food to take home to their families.  On Sundays people drive in to the neighborhood to take their suits and dresses inside the stained-glass-windowed church before taking their out-of-place faces back home.

I live in mini-Jerusalem.

In fact, within one large city block that I can walk, I can come in contact with no fewer than 11 active churches.  As I do so, I can also say this: “Black, black, white, hispanic, white, black…”  I am sure you can do the same around you.  We all know the reasons: “I’m uncomfortable with their style of worship.” “I would not know anyone there.” “I don’t think my family would like it.”  What is the end result?  The same as it has always been.

There is an unspoken danger as we continue to flock together with like-colored sheep: as soon as there is a problem, we circle our own wagons even tighter.  You would have to have been on an intense media fast this week to not be aware of what took place in Ferguson, Missouri.  Just in case you missed it, a black male teenager named Michael Brown was shot and killed in the streets.  Reports indicate that he was unarmed and had his hands held up.  Protests have led to significant tensions, conflicts and even now to looting.

Why?

Because as soon as you heard that a police officer shot and killed a black male you never once questioned the race or gender of the officer.  You already knew.  Frankly, I had to go to a news report this morning to confirm that the police officer who killed Michael Brown was in fact a white male.

Does that matter? Absolutely it does.  Let’s imagine that you are sitting in a predominantly black church tomorrow morning and a white male walks in dressed in a suit.  How do you feel about him being there?  And what is your response when the pastor laments the violence against young black males and the white man just sits there listening while everyone else affirms with shouts of “Amen!” and “That’s right!”  What if he is just there to learn more?  What if he was raised that remaining quiet while someone is talking is respectful?

Or take another side of it.  Now you are sitting in a predominantly white congregation and a black male teenager walks in to the service wearing khakis and a polo.  He doesn’t know anyone but he sits down next to your elderly grandmother.  What if he just wanted to see if the people that come into his neighborhood really care about him?  And what if, before the service is over, he gets up and walks out the back door and into the basement where the nursery is.  Do you think someone gets up to follow him….just to check?  What if he is looking for a quiet place to call his mother and tell her that he will be home in fifteen minutes because he was taught that it is disrespectful to show up late?

Your segregated church is a problem.  If you don’t believe so, take a look at this picture: image

If you continue to operate as a segregated church, your community is never more than 15 minutes away from that being the scene where you live.  There is an us.  There is a them.  And all of your wishing for a more diverse church – if you even want that – has made no changes.  Why?  Because no one who does not look like the face of your church is going to feel comfortable just coming in!  You have to be the one who creates the change, and it should start by you going somewhere else, not your token “I invited a black or white friend” on Sunday morning.

Can you imagine if God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus kept on having a good time in heaven and said, “Hey, any time you want to come check us out, feel free!”  You know how that would go.  NO! Jesus moved into the neighborhood, and thank God he did! Instead of being the them, Jesus became the us!

You have two choices, and they are the same whether you are black or white: do nothing or something.  Both choices have predictable results.  If you do nothing, your son, grandson, or nephew could be shot in the streets for running while braided.  If you do something, maybe he won’t.

I am white.  My sons are black.  And white.  And when I really get it right, I know that my family is black, white, Korean, Italian, South African, Australian, Russian, Iranian, Iraqi…

It’s simple.  And your solution is so remarkably easy that you’d almost miss it.  Again, Jesus comes to your aid with your answer: 

“And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, ‘Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.’  But He answered them, saying, ‘Who is My mother, or My brothers?’ And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.'” (Mark 3:32-35, NKJV).

Go find your brother and your sister and your mother.  Don’t let the first time you meet them be when you finally realize that you have the same Father.

My Problem with Grace: Part 3

We often do not discover our problem with something until it is right in front of us.  For example, I had no problem with asparagus until my mother encouraged me to try it and offered that it was “good.” Her words did nothing for the smell, appearance and texture of the food.  I believed that she liked asparagus, but I insisted that I did not.
The same seems to be true of grace.  I have been the one to encourage grace and promote its goodness.  But, unlike my mother, I have not been tasting what I myself am putting on other plates.  Be careful of the chef who does not eat his or her own cooking.  In my first post I shared how I learned to allow my slate to be wiped clean rather than remaining hung up on my imperfection.  In my second post I shared that I had to humble myself and acknowledge my own insufficiency.  This third part may have been the hardest, but also the best.

Rooted
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – Ephesians 1:4,5

And
While I was uncomfortably waiting inside the bank, I thought I should seek out another option.  Maybe the bank would not be able to help me with the impending shortfall I was facing.  I took my phone and sent out a text for help.  An offer came back, but it would not be available until Monday – the day that I needed it.  Before I could finish the conversation, I was called into the bank office.  A proverbial dash, like the one after Ephesians 1:5, was hanging over my cry for help.
As I walked out of the bank office assured that my payment could still process, I glanced at my phone.  I had one text message with one word: “Done.”  In other words, not only would I have the amount that I needed, I would have it in time.  What a relief.
A few days after that, I received this text from that person:  “I’m very glad you asked me for money.”
That seemed to be an odd statement to make.  So I asked, “Because?”
I received this response:  “I know a lot of people that need it won’t ask, you did a lot for me and I’m glad I’m able to help in some way.”
Isn’t that so true of grace?  How many people need it but won’t ask?  How many people know they need it and won’t ask?  And how many people need it again and again but allow their pride or sense of self-sufficiency to prevent them from making that request?  Put me in that final category.

Reaching
Verse 5 of Ephesians 1 ends with a dash, a “wait-for-it” type of marking.  Here is what comes after that:
to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. – Ephesians 1:6
There’s that word again: grace.  Freely given.  Freely given in the One he loves.  I have tried to repay my debt, not only with my friend but also with God.  I want to “make it right” or “even out” what has been done.  So not only do I get hung up on mistakes and have difficulty admitting my failures, but I also do not receive well.  As soon as I was able to repay what had been given to me by my friend, I made my intentions clear.  The loan was appreciated and I was ready to settle up.  The response I received was not what I had expected (nor hoped) to hear:
“You know I won’t take it.”
What?  I cannot repay? But how am I supposed to settle the score?  Don’t we do that with grace?  How often have you treated grace like a loan to “get you by” in a tough spot instead of receiving it for the gift that it is?
Ah, but grace is not about settling the score, at least not on our end.  Grace is freely given in order to settle the score from God’s perspective.  This morning I asked my sons about the word “reconcile” after we heard it in a song.  “Reconcile” is one of those words tossed around in Christian-ese, but we often miss the application it has to the accounting world.  (Those of us who have reconciled bank statements should understand.)  In that sense the word points toward accuracy and an accounting for of all transactions.  That’s grace.
We’re imperfect.  We’re woefully short.  We receive grace to balance out the account.  But it’s not a loan, so we cannot repay. If the account has already been settled and the cost paid, how would we make things even again?  How do you repay adoption into a relationship so undeserved?  How do you repay love?  (Many of you will try on Valentine’s Day.)  You cannot.
We are not used to gifts without conditions, so we may struggle to only receive.  It’s not that we cannot respond at all, for grace does compel us to action.  But the very simple point is that we cannot repay grace.  We can, however, respond in love.
I like asparagus now; my mother was right.  It makes me wish I had tried it sooner.  And people were right about grace as well.  In fact, I was right about grace.  I knew it was good.  The difference is that I now have a taste for grace, and I hope you do as well.  Don’t wait any longer to try it.

My Problem with Grace: Part 2

The easier thing would be to not write this.  Believe me, I weighed out the risks and here is what I found: by writing this piece others could come to all types of conclusions about my abilities, my wisdom, my self-sufficiency, my independence, my decision-making, and even my faith.  On the other hand, there are risks involved in not writing this: there is no glory given to God, no one can be helped by my struggle, I would continue to wear the mask that I’m sufficient, and all of us could miss out on grace.  When I put it that way, it became very clear that the weight of importance – eternal importance – fell in the second list.  That is why I share.
My problem with grace did not end when I found my slate wiped clean after arriving one minute late on my second day of work.  No, it would not be that simple; I had much more to learn.  I continued on in my work believing that everything was working out perfectly.  Clearly God’s provision and timing was (is) perfect because I could see all sorts of pieces falling together as only God could do.  I held that view until payday, the day my doubts began to pop back up.  God was still very much involved, but it was not in the way I could immediately see.  Those are the types of blindspots I have when paychecks don’t arrive.

Rooted
Give us this day our daily bread. ~ Matthew 6:11

And
Have you ever wondered why Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread when we already have next week’s bread in the freezer?  Why do we ask God to supply what we have waiting for us?  I suppose it has something to do with an attitude of gratitude, right?  Something like “Thank you, God, for the food I put on the table with the work that I did because of my ability.”  It couldn’t really mean we should actually be in a state of daily dependence – could it?  Be careful with asking questions like that: you just might get answers that you would rather not know.
The money I did have was running low, but that was to be expected.  I had lost a job six months ago and, although eligible for some funds from unemployment, the actual claim would never process correctly.  When I submitted this form, I was told to submit that form.  When I appealed, I heard no answer.  Finally, as I approached full-time employment again, I was told to submit other claims that had already been submitted.  I did.  Still nothing.  I received not a penny of financial benefit in six months.  Mentally I said, “Ok, God, I get it – rely on you, blah, blah, blah.”  I don’t mean to be flip, but I felt like I had the point.  Clearly there was a lesson I had to learn, but how about some provision now that I understood?
Nothing.
When I woke up for my 10th day of work, it was payday.  Finally.  I had cut it close for the things that needed to be taken care of, but it looked like i was going to make it.  And then there was no pay in my bank account.  Maybe there’s a delay, I thought.  After all, it was the first paycheck and I had no specific timeline to measure the process.  So I asked my colleagues at lunch, “Did you get paid?”  Yes, yep, uh-huh.
Huh.  Odd.
Suddenly my questions became more urgent.  Why didn’t I get paid?  Where was my pay?  It was already Friday afternoon and there was a pending transaction at the bank for the coming Monday.  If the money wasn’t there, what would happen?  As I checked into the “why” of my dilemma, I found an unfortunate answer: the error was mine.  When entering my bank information for the deposit, I had accidentally typed in an extra zero.  The information was wrong and I had no one to blame but myself.  (The irony was not lost on me that I discovered this error on the same day I had to pass an assessment for handling emergency situations at 100% accuracy.)
Now what?

Reaching
And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
~ Matthew 6:12

Not only does this prayer use the odd word of  “debtors”, but isn’t it strange that we ask for forgiveness right after we ask for provision?  Isn’t that backwards?  Aren’t we supposed to ask for forgiveness and then ask for provision?
I had no time to deal with the forgiveness petition; I literally needed daily bread.  With no provision in pocket, nor in the bank, I began my lament: “God, I just worked for 80 hours in these past two weeks and have nothing to show for it…I’ve been faithful…I’ve been obedient…I’ve been…” and all of this became about me again.  When I arrived home and realized that the miracle of finding money in my mailbox didn’t happen, I knew I was stuck.  To be more accurate, on my own I was stuck.
There was no student loan check waiting to be cashed.  No tax refund screaming through the internet to reach me.  Just me, my God, and my questions.  I did what I did not want to do: ask for help.  I found myself in a very busy bank on a Saturday morning with only a question of whether or not this would even work.  The bank is not the place I would expect to find grace.  To be transparent, it took a big swallow of pride to find myself in the bank with my question in the first place.  Here I was, a man (edit)…a white man (edit)…a college-educated white man (edit)…a God-believing, college-educated white man in the position of saying I didn’t have enough.  All of my life I have been sold the line that if anyone should have it all, it should be me.
Someone got that wrong.
The teller heard my question and passed it along.  One of the managers said she could talk with me if I could just wait a minute.  So I went to wait as she told me, and I fought the urge to walk out.  Why tell her my problem?  She probably can’t do anything for me anyway.  All that I wanted to know was if they could help me, and I was quite convinced that they could not.  After a short wait she called me to her office and I explained my situation.  She looked at my account and told me something I did not expect:
“Ok, Douglas, I can take care of that for you.  I’ll make sure the payment goes through and I see you haven’t had any fees waived for you before.  So if there are any fees, I’ll take care of that for you.  Here’s my card and feel free to call me next week if you have any questions.”
That’s it?! No more explanation from me?  No forms to sign?  No…nothing?  Just grace?
Just grace.
I’m pretty sure I thanked her, but I was mostly stunned that I could be helped that way.  I drove away with my quarter-tank of gas to pick up my sons to head back home to our cupboards full of just enough.  Grace had rocked me.
All the while I had wanted to find a way to make it on my own (giving thanks to God for what I had done), and God put me in a place where I could not.  That is the place where we all must find ourselves at some point.  We cannot.  God can.  I found myself in a state of dependence.  I asked for help.  When help was given, my daily bread petition AND my forgiveness petition were met all at once.  Jesus did not have his prayer requests mixed up, not at all.
I cannot.
God can.
God gives.
God forgives.
We humbly approach God, finally recognizing our own limitations, weaknesses, and insufficiency, and God responds with: “I’ll take care of that for you. Call on me anytime you wish.”  There have been so many times that i have short-changed God’s provision and God’s forgiveness.  I have also mistakenly thought that daily provision was more important than my own forgiveness.  In spite of my blind eyes and in spite of my continual need for forgiveness, God hears our cry and meets our need.
That’s it? Just grace?
Incredible!
Yes, just incredible grace.

My Problem with Grace

8:01.
That time is insignificant on most days.  It holds more significant meaning on the second day of a new job. Not just the second day of a new job, but the second day of a new job that starts at 8:00.  Not only does it start at 8:00, but the better part of the first afternoon was devoted to stressing the importance of being on time.  Always.  And I took that information, hit snooze, got caught behind a slow-moving semi, and walked in to the classroom to see everyone else seated and ready to go.  Some of my new colleagues had driven more than an hour to be there.  I had a 15 minute drive on a bad day.
8:01.

Rooted
This righteousness is given through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, ~Romans 3:22,23

And
No one wants to be the one with the bad mark, but that’s exactly what had happened.  With no excuses and no chance to change what had happened, I tried to focus on the content of our training.   I could not, at least not well.  That minute kept popping back into my mind.  I had heard about the process of discipline, and I had stepped right into it.
Then our truth moment, or at least mine, came up: we were shown how to record our working time in the system.  There was a quiet argument about whether or not I should record “8:00” since I was so close.  It’s only one minute, right?  But I was not there at 8:00; I was there one minute later.
I entered 8:01.
Our instructor came around to make sure that we had followed the process correctly.  She saw mine and quietly said, “Oh good, you have that in there.  I was going to mention it this morning but then we started right away.  It’s a very literal time stamp here.”
Very literal.  Much like when we fall short of the standard God has set.  There is no wiggle room.  There is no “so close” category.  There is no way I can earn what God offers to me in the gift of salvation.  Unfortunately, I often pretend as if I can.  I look at what I’ve done as well as what I haven’t, and I quietly argue that it’s close enough.

Reaching
The end result of my argument is that I arrive at cheap grace.  The blood of Jesus means little if I came “pretty close.”  The journey Christ took to leave heaven and live on earth is invaluable if we’re grading on a curve.  And the suffering that our Lord endured for my sake hurts me a little less if I almost didn’t need him to do that.
But I absolutely do need it.  I’m not close.  I’m not a minute late, I don’t even show up on the radar when it comes to meeting the holiness and righteousness of God.  How dare I discount the cost of what was done for me?

and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  ~ Romans 3:24

Indeed.  I was the one hung up on my minute, not my instructor.  She proceeded to teach me with excellence in spite of my shortcoming.  I do the same thing with grace.  I’m overly aware of a few shortcomings, and woefully unaware of the rest. But, rather than looking at the goodness around me, I can stay stuck on that minute late.  Our shortcoming is not a problem for God.  He solved that already.  Now if we would only move past the truth of verse 23 and into the truth of verse 24.
The second week of my job started with all of us receiving evaluations from our instructor.  I gave it a glance and noticed a section for absences and tardies.  On my evaluation, the instructor noted that I had zero absences and zero tardies.
Grace.
God loves you.  You do not need to prove your love by your perfection.  You will have shortcomings until the last breath.  But grace is available now – and always – for every moment your heart beats.  Be absolutely certain that God has no problem with grace.  Live with the knowledge and gratitude that lets others know you have been set free from your problem with grace.

Leaves and Forgiveness

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I have lived in Michigan all of my life, and this has become one of my favorite times of the year. I love to walk or drive just to see God’s mastery and creativity on display in the color displays of the trees. I have also learned to appreciate what those leaves can remind me about forgiveness.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15 NIV

Jesus is very clear that forgiving others is not a do-it-if-you-feel-like-it part of life. Forgiveness of others is a condition of receiving the Father’s forgiveness.  If you have doubts, read the verses right before this where Jesus taught us how to pray. Then, if you still think that Jesus was having an off day, read his…

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