THE BICYCLE LESSON. LOVE AND GRACE. A DISTINCTION.

In the Bible the words love and grace are perhaps used interchangeably as in 2Cor. 13:14 ‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ Here we get the sense of the all-encompassing presence of God.

BUT in Biblical Theology grace and love are different. Here’s an example. I love my children very much and want the good for them in their lives. When they were little they wanted to learn how to ride their bikes without the training wheels. Now, I could express my love by saying to them, ‘Oh, I want very much for you to be able to ride your bike. And here, here is your new bike. I wish you well. Go for it.’ That’s love. On the other hand my best move would be to assist them in this training exercise. And so I did. I got them on their bikes, and held the bike for them and went even further by running along side of them as they got the hang of it. And there were times when I let them go that they fell. I was right there to pick them up, dry a couple of tears, maybe apply a band aid and sent them on their way again until they said to me, ‘You can go, dad.’ That is the meaning of grace; love in action, the influence of love, the direction and empowering of love.

In Biblical Theology the grace of God is God’s action. The trinity of God doesn’t need to express grace among themselves. Grace is for those who have fallen from God and who don’t have the ability to get up and get back to God. Grace is God’s moving in their lives to give them that ability.

In the example of the bike lesson my children, by their very connection to me, somehow merited my helping them. But with God, humanity was dead to God until God, by God’s own love, decided to do something to help the creation and us. See, the Bible tells us that while we were sinners and helpless Christ died for us to fulfill the covenant promise of God to bless the whole creation.

I hope this helps to distinguish between love and grace because for a long time I have misused the terms and thus loss much of the meaning of how God in God’s loving character relates to God’s world.

Finally, take a look at this verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (good to read the whole chapter for the best context).

Chapter 2:

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ —by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (NRSV)-Bold and underlines are mine.

 

 

 

 

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MY FRIEND GARY

My friend, Gary, died this past week. His body was ravaged by cancer for almost a year. Gary was 66, not quite making it to retirement.

A faithful Christian, husband, father, grandfather and brother, his body finally succumbed to the groanings and travails of this earth. So many prayed for his healing and strength. They prayed by touch, by distance and most assuredly in the name of Jesus.

Gary kept saying to doctors and friends alike that his problem was a ‘win, win’ situation. He quoted scripture that to live is Christ and to die is even greater gain. And yet a great earthly sorrow darkened his last days until the comfort of hospice and his loving family along with some special doses of morphine allowed him to pass from this earthly life into eternity.

Some friends and I were talking about how that should have been us if this illness had anything to do with living a less than good moral and faithful life, which Gary lived. And I question the notion of ‘faith healing’ that was so desired by and for Gary. This world is frail and broken by all kinds of things and I just can’t fathom why Gary had to die. Death seems to be no respecter of persons. It is called in the Bible ‘the enemy’.

And yet when I look to the Christ on the cross I see a God who suffers with us while God works to restore and reconcile God’s creation. And in that suffering I do not know how my good and loving God is bringing about God’s purposes but I trust this Christ whom I know, the same Christ who in his own agony said to his Father, “Thy will be done.”

The earliest Christians were always facing one hardship or another. Everything from illness to persecution and martyrdom was their lot and we read in Hebrews 11:16 that they looked for a better home. This one breaks down after a while.

Sometimes people report marvelous miracles. Other times I believe God is quietly transforming death into life. And through it all I trust God. So do many of you.

Now this part may wonderfully disturb you but I believe that Gary, being with Christ, is praying for me even as I write. I believe that Gary is as much alive now as he was 10 days ago, and even more so. And why wouldn’t he pray for others and me in the presence of Christ.

Thank you Gary. God bless his family and friends and may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus be praised for Gary’s life and witness. I miss you, my friend.

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HAITI

I was in Haiti last week when I heard that derogatory comments were made about the country and thus the people there. I love Haiti and the people and our church has had a relationship with folks there for the last almost 35 years, working mostly on the island of LaGonave.

The President of our country once told the Haitian people that he would stand up for the Haitian people here and those on the Island of Haiti. And now I hear that he allegedly said some mean spirited things and so did some congress people afterward.

That’s all very hurtful to the Haitian people and the thousands upon thousands of people who have given much of themselves to help the Haitian people find better lives. These loving and faithful brothers and sisters of ours do not deserve such treatment from our government.

I recall when a popular evangelical preacher blamed the earthquake in 2010 on the voodoo practices of the Haitian people. Such comments from supposedly Christian people are deplorable.

And as far as immigration is concerned, take a look:

Leviticus 19  “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

This and many other passages in the Bible tell us about love, concern, and welcome. Not about denigrating and ousting the people who need to be here as much as my great grandparents and my wife’s great grandparents.

I read this letter from Calvin College: (from MLK Jr. Birthday)

Calvin College

January 13 at 10:20am ·

“As members of the Calvin community, it is our Christian duty and responsibility to separate ourselves from racist and hateful remarks and sentiments. The world cannot be confused about what we believe.”

We feel it important to share their complete message here:

Dear Calvin Students, Faculty, and Staff,

We wish you all a Happy New Year this January and pray daily for our students, faculty, and staff who are travelling and learning around the world and here in Grand Rapids. Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, higher education institutions founded by immigrants, are composed of students, faculty, and staff from more than 60 nations. While 600 of us may claim citizenship in another country, we are all prime citizens of the Kingdom of God and share in a brotherhood and sisterhood that transcends all borders. It is for this reason, this love for our brothers and sisters that we are deeply troubled and offended by the disparaging comments attributed to the President of the United States in recent days about people who come from Africa, Haiti, and Latin America. These comments sow fear and hatred in our country, and they are wrong. More than 150 members of our community come from these countries, and they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This response is in no way political. It is in every way biblical. As members of the Calvin community, it is our Christian duty and responsibility to separate ourselves from racist and hateful remarks and sentiments. The world cannot be confused about what we believe. As Christians, we are called to support and promote the well-being of every member of our community and our society regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin. We protect and defend the inviolable dignity of all people. It is our joy to ensure that every person who lives, learns, or works at Calvin knows that they are full participants in our respective missions. When we live according to these responsibilities and duties with “gentleness born of wisdom from above,” (James 3:13) we bear witness to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

On Monday, we celebrate the life of a follower of Jesus who lived out this call to confront racism and injustice with the strength to love. The vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., articulated in James 3:18, was a “harvest of righteousness sown in peace for those who make peace.” As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, we remember the contributions of a citizen of the United States who understood his prime citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Dr. King stood against evil and racism because he was a follower of Jesus.

We have the privilege of doing the same.

Following Jesus together,

Michael Le Roy Jul Medenblik
President President
Calvin College Calvin Theological Seminary

 

I suppose that I can’t say the comments about what Trump said are true. But sure as I am writing this I believe the reports because it’s what kind of President we have.

I told the Haitian people at two public meetings that the President of the United States does not speak for me nor for so many Christians I know.

And if anyone thinks what he allegedly said is true then step up to the plate as a Christian and make a difference. Because as we have done it for the ‘least of these our brothers and sisters’ we have done it for Jesus. He said that and I suspect he meant it.

Please read more about the history of Haiti and the causes of impoverishment there. Please pray for Haiti. Please find a reputable church or organization that is doing a good work there and support them. Please don’t make denigrating remarks. Please gently correct those who look down on our Haitian neighbors. This country of ours, the USA has been involved a long time in Haiti and not often in the best way. Let’s change that.

For the sake of Jesus who died for them and for the Glory of God who loves them and calls us all together to change the world. Amen

 

 

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GRACE MISUNDERSTOOD

If Grace is God’s unconditional, no strings attached, freely given favor without any expectation of return, then how is it that God’s grace as explained most frequently in evangelical circles carries the expectation of faith and obedience?

Grace brought creation into existence and placed us here with all of God’s favor. Adam and Eve weren’t even offered the idea of faith. They just lived in union with their creator. The tree represented their desire to break away on their own, as is the case with all free will. And it had to be there if there was to be any kind of choice. And so God warns them advisedly not to choose the tree but as we all know they do.

And so begins the LAW with many expectations made most manifest in the 10 commandments. And then comes in Christ the fullness of grace. No expectations or caveats which makes it hard to understand why evangelicals say things like ‘you have to believe’ or ‘you have to be obedient’.

See God’s grace has expectancy of all the good rather than expectation of the ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’. I read this great ‘knots prayer’ online, the author of which is unknown. Pretty awesome.

 

Dear God:
Please untie the knots
that are in my mind,
my heart and my life.
Remove the have nots,
the can nots and the do nots
that I have in my mind.

Erase the will nots,
may nots,
might nots that may find
a home in my heart.

Release me from the could nots,
would nots and
should nots that obstruct my life.

And most of all,
Dear God,
I ask that you remove from my mind,
my heart and my life all of the ‘am nots’
that I have allowed to hold me back,
especially the thought
that I ‘am not’ good enough.
AMEN

The realization of the true meaning of grace will bring us all to a place where God is just incredibly in love with us because that’s his nature. And joyfully we may come to appreciate this grace and make our response out of gratitude.

God doesn’t need us as a lover might need another. God is free within himself with the Trinity to love and extend grace.

So we have no chains attached to us. If we want to be servants of God then fine. If we want to obey and be trained by God then great. But those are all free choices we make out of our own love with and for God.

Grace has no conditions or expectations although humanity being loved will most likely respond with gratitude and obedience.

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THOSE WHO LOSE A CHILD CANNOT BE CONSOLED

The Reading for Today in the Lectionary:

Matthew 2: 16Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

There is nothing more heartbreaking than for a mother or father to have to face the death of a child no matter the age. And thus writes Matthew citing the history of Israel that there is no comfort or consolation. There are no words to bring solace. This is a place of deep darkness. Mary was even told that her own son’s (Jesus) death would pierce her soul.

So when we enter the house of a deceased child be it in a family home or funeral home or even on the barren ground where masses of unnamed children are buried let us only offer a silent prayer to God. For God knows a most profound grief of losing a child and willingly at that.

On several occasions God said that Jesus is his beloved Son with whom he was so pleased. For the Trinity to walk through darkness is the way God knows the grief of a parent.

We are told in the Bible that Jesus was the kind of priest/pastor who know the heartache of his people because he went through it. He and his Father agonized together in the Garden of Gethsemane concerning the death of a Son.

Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote LAMENT FOR A SON following the death of his own child in a mountain climbing accident.

“Will my eyes adjust to this darkness? Will I find you in the dark – not in the streaks of light, which remain, but in the darkness? Has anyone ever found you there? Did they love what they saw? Did they see love? And are there songs for singing when the light has gone dim? Or in the dark, is it best to wait in silence?

Noon has darkened. As fast as they could say, ‘He’s dead,’ the light dimmed. And where are you in the darkness? I learned to spy you in the light. Here in this darkness, I cannot find you. If I had never looked for you, or looked but never found, I would not feel this pain of your absence. Or is not your absence in which I dwell, but your elusive troubling presence?

It’s the neverness that is so painful. Never again to be here with us – never to sit with us at the table…. All the rest of our lives we must live without him. Only our death can stop the pain of his death.”
“God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. … It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. … Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.”- Nicholas WolterstorffLament for a Son

Perhaps this is why Bonhoeffer said at one point in Nazi Germany that ‘only a suffering God can help.’

 

 

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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GRACE? MY WIFE SAYS SHE MOVED TO MINNESOTA.

Really?!

My point is that often we evangelical types forget the magnitude, the outrageousness and the wideness of God’s Amazing Grace. I would love to explore this with any of you who would like to respond. I begin with a passage from Ephesians chapter 2.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

In the Voice Version this is how it reads:

But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us, united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace. He raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly realms with our beloved Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King. He did this for a reason: so that for all eternity we will stand as a living testimony to the incredible riches of His grace and kindness that He freely gives to us by uniting us with Jesus the Anointed.

Words like unfathomable, indescribable, and even incomprehensible are not too extreme to describe God’s grace.

And this passage goes further to say that we have been saved by grace through faith and none of it is our doing, none of it. (Not even the faith part)

So where in any of the above passage do we see anything of our own doing in this salvation grace of God? Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.

The only ‘work’ that we might be able to do is to leave, walk out of that relationship with God. Let’s put it this way: we are in until we opt out. This is one of the premises of Christian universalism. Now don’t stop reading. This universalism idea has much to offer in the conversation about Grace.

Let’s consider this analogy. We are all in the river together being carried along in God’s love. Some choose to make the leap out of that flowing water. I had a tropical fish that once jumped out of the tank. It’s not long before it realizes the need for water. And so it is with us. After a season God will place the wandering fish back where it belongs. Some fish will see the error of their ways and struggle to get back home by themselves. Kind of like the prodigal son. Ok, maybe it’s not the best analogy but I like it.

But here’s the thing. God’s salvation is through the faithfulness of Christ to show the incomparable riches of his grace. (Verse 7)

How can those riches be displayed, and how can the glory of God be known when we take credit for somehow making salvation possible by our belief? Remember that in the Bible we are looking at a microcosm of salvation encounters over a period of say 100 years in the New Testament narratives. But God’s incredible grace is at work through all eternity and everywhere in all God’s creation.

When we talk about belief, faith or trust we are simply recognizing that there are people who do acknowledge that Christ is the author of our salvation.It is Christ’s faithfulness and his alone that brings salvation to the world. Recognition of Christ and obedience to Christ are essential to the Christian walk but God is up to something quite astounding in bringing the whole creation back to God.

I realize that we can ‘find’ other scriptures to ‘prove’ other than what I have written but let’s do this; let’s consider them all and see what kind of picture they present of the incredible riches of God’s kindness.

 

 

 

 

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THE TRAIN AND THE PATH: A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FOR ALL

In John 1:14 we are told that everything about God, his presence, being and most of all his love became a human being in Jesus and lived with us.

This is the message of Christ for everybody. It’s a message of grace to the world made evident in Christ. God, we are told, was pleased to have all his fullness in Christ. (See Colossians 1:17)

Grace is God’s initiative in bringing salvation to the world through Christ.

Not that grace was missing in the Old Testament. Certainly it is evident through creation, covenant, kindness, mercy and forgiveness on the part of God. But in the Old Testament it was the LAW that held the covenant people together. The law was the boundary, the wall, or the custodian, all set in the context of rules and regulations for the safety of society.

Let’s compare LAW AND GRACE this way.

The LAW is a passenger train with God as the conductor. If in disobedience you jump off the train you are on your own. Oh, every once in a while you will hear the whistle blow and if you are strong enough and fast enough you might catch up with the train and pray the conductor to let you back on.

GRACE is the pathway through the wilderness. (See Isaiah 43:19) Jesus is at the front, at the back, and by the side of each traveler. If you should wander off the path, Jesus goes with you wherever you are and finds you another way with him to the goal of everlasting life with God.

Grace is the drawing influence of God upon the whole world. (That means you and me wherever we are.) You can get off the TRAIN at the next stop, which would be RIGHT NOW, and begin the journey with Christ.

Christmas is the word of God to the world that the grace of God has been revealed bring salvation to ALL PEOPLE.

So …a Blessed Christmas to all.

 

 

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