Let’s talk about grace in real life

Real talk here. Total transparency. I am writing about the need for grace, but I’m not always good about extending it.

Fast food chaos

When I’m not writing I work at a fast food restaurant. It’s a perfect side gig: I love my teammates, the managers are fantastic (and patient), the hours are flexible, and when I clock out, my time is my own. I even enjoy most of the customers, especially when I’m working the drive through line. A couple of well spoken lines, jokes that I can repeat multiple times, and often a laugh. The hours go by quickly.

On the down side, I am by nature an introvert, so by the end of a shift, I am utterly spent, which means I’m still trying to keep this job in balance with my real work (writing) and all the other things that make up a life. It’s when I am at the end of my “people-ing” that grace slips away.

For the most part, customers are soothed by being heard and by making their experience as pleasant as possible, no matter how chaotic the day becomes. Sometimes a smile is sufficient. Other times there is just no satisfying the customer: the line is too long, the drive-through is too busy (although, with an average wait time of under four minutes, it does move along), the drinks aren’t mixed correctly, the order is wrong (a fair criticism), and on it goes.

I had one of the never-satisfied the other day. I had just cleaned the empty dining tables, taken out the trash, and swept. I was washing my hands when a manager asked me to check the dining room because a customer complained there was “no where to sit.” I looked around; there was ample open seating. As it turned out, the customer wanted to sit at a table that had been vacated while I was sweeping. No problem. I pulled out the sanitizing wipes and made my way over. The I recognized the customer as a member of a church I used to attend. She evidently did not recognize me as she scolded the staff for not having enough clean table. I pointed out the half dozen clean and empty places as I began to wiped down the booth she wanted. She said, “I may change my mind when everyone gets here, but this is where I want to sit.” She didn’t move as I began to wipe down the table, which meant I could not reach to the far side. It would have to do; the line was long, customers were waiting for pick up orders, and every team member was running just to keep up. A moment after I cleaned the table she went to the register and asked for table coverings. She did not attempt to hide her displeasure when the team member informed her that this restaurant doesn’t have them. Moments later her family came in. Nothing was good enough. They wanted more napkins, more sauce, more salt, all of which was supplied by a series of employees. All I could think was that I knew this person claimed to be a Christian, was recognizable as a church member, yet treated employees with contempt and distain for not anticipating her expectations on a very busy day. When the family left, they left sauces and napkins untouched on the table. I admit, that last bit annoyed me.

Where was the grace? We were obviously working to make the dining experience pleasant for everyone who came in. Not a single employee was still; everyone was at full speed. Food was flying from the kitchen. The drive through cars sailed through. Most customers were cheerful and understanding of the inevitable order errors. Not this one lady that I recognized from church. Not an iota of grace.

And then I stopped short. Where was MY grace extended toward HER? I couldn’t know her circumstances. Even though she appeared to be a grandmother having lunch with her family, maybe there was something else going on. I don’t know–and frankly, it shouldn’t matter. As a Jesus follower, I need to show grace to others the same way the Father demonstrated grace to me, in spite of my failures and flaws.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

It doesn’t matter how much “people-ing” I’ve done, how busy I am, or how annoyed. I need to show grace to those people God puts in my path. Real life. Real truth. I’m working on it.

Nothing but the blood of Jesus

I heard a song for the first time the other day and was moved by the message and the music. I appreciated the nod to old familiar hymns woven through. Mostly, though, I was struck by the focus on the blood of Jesus as the master key of salvation. We don’t sing about the blood often in our contemporary services, but the old hymns regularly pointed to the centrality of blood to the gospel.

I’ve been in a study through Hebrews the last several weeks and listening to a plan on a Bible app about finding Jesus in the first five books of the Bible. My pastor in in a series taking a deep dive into Ephesians. I was primed to respond to this song. The gospel is clearly presented in these lyrics. The propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus as a ransom for our sins, both individually and corporately propels us to move from hopelessness to transformation and gratitude.

The mystery of grace, the very nature of God poured out on people who are utterly selfish, requires more than acknowledgement. Grace is not cheap. Grace is not easy. It cost our Savior everything. Without the sacrifice provided by grace, there is no hope for life; we are the walking dead.

Only by blood.

Under the Old Covenant the faithful had to bring regular sacrifices to the altar. The burnt offering was brought to the altar and completely burned up. The symbol there is that everything we have and everything we are belongs to the Father to do with as He desires. The purification offering was to atone for sins. The faithful brought the sacrifice (a male animal without any blemish), placed his hand on its head, and then killed it. The priests took the blood of the animal and splattered it on the altar and at the entrance of the tent of meeting (Leviticus 1). The offering was then burned completely; nothing remained. Sin is like that. If even one iota of sin remains in us, we stand condemned by a holy God.

Over and over again, the people brought and slaughtered animals to atone for their sins. Over and over the priests splashed the blood, still warm, over the altar. Year after year, and still the task of purification was incomplete.

Until Jesus. The author of Hebrews reflected on the required ritual sacrifices, noting that the old covenant was established in blood: life for life. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22). Jesus, as the perfect Lamb of God, fully human and yet without sin, entered the Holy of Holies, not by slaughtering and animal, but by submitting to his own murder on the cross. His blood for ours. He, Himself, by the shedding of His blood, became the atoning sacrifice for all who call on His Name. We can serve the Living God only because Jesus traded His life for ours. At that point, the work of atonement was complete. Jesus breathed, “It is finished,” and it was.

The New Covenant, then, relies, not on the blood of bulls and goats and lambs and birds, but on the blood of Jesus. “This is the blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” he said. And by that same blood, we are sanctified, not just for a year, but for eternity (Hebrews 10).

Only by grace.

In many of our modern churches we spend time considering how to live in this broken world. We study how to rely on Jesus, how to navigate a culture that rejects the values we hold dear, and how to live. These are all worthwhile topics, to be sure, but I think regular reflection on the foundation that brings us to all the “how-tos” matters. The “how-to” topics are concrete expression, things we do, checklists we can keep to make sure we are on the “right” path. But the “how-to” conversations often lead away from grace into legalism and pharisaical mindsets. Checklists are not necessarily wrong; they can be helpful. But checklists cannot replace the blood of Jesus. Checklists may become idols. In fact, for most of us, the idolatry of what we do prevents us from living free in the grace of His abundant and joyful life. Focusing on the checklist means we focus on ourselves.

“Jesus, keep me near the cross,” Fanny Crosby (1869) wrote. “Near the cross! O Lamb of God, Bring its scenes before me; Help me walk from day to day With its shadow o’er me. In the cross, in the cross Be my glory ever, Till my ransomed soul shall find Rest beyond the river.”

We must remember the necessary sacrifice that secures our salvation and sustains our sanctification.

It is only by grace that we are redeemed. The blood of animals served only as a reminder that God’s holiness is unapproachable because, in our humanity, we are unworthy. The sacrifices of the old covenant were a picture, copies, shadows of the real redemption through Jesus’s blood. “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains” (Cowper, 1772). “Alas and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head For sinners such as I?” (Watts, 1707). “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus” (Lowry, 1876). Only God’s grace, flowing from mercy and love as a gift to us as individuals can redeem us to the Body of believers (Jason Cook, 2021). Saved by grace, through faith, God’s gift.

God’s gift, given through the Blood of the Perfect Lamb. We must remember the necessary sacrifice that secures our salvation and sustains our sanctification. We must bow in abject gratitude and then proclaim His name. The focal point of our lives, the center of everything, is Jesus. His work, His perfection, His grace poured out on us delivered us. Thank you, Jesus, for the blood.

I was a wretch
I remember who I was
I was lost, I was blind
I was running out of time

Sin separated
The breach was far too wide
But from the far side of the chasm
You held me in your sight

So You made a way
Across the great divide
Left behind Heaven’s throne
To build it here inside

And there at the cross
You paid the debt I owed
Broke my chains, freed my soul
For the first time I had hope

Thank you Jesus for the blood applied
Thank you Jesus it has washed me white
Thank you Jesus You have saved my life
Brought me from the darkness into glorious light

You took my place
Laid inside my tomb of sin
You were buried for three days
But then You walked right out again

And now death has no sting
And life has no end
For I have been transformed
By the blood of the lamb

Thank You Jesus for the blood applied (thank You Jesus)
Thank You Jesus it has washed me white
Thank You Jesus You have saved my life
Brought me from the darkness into glorious light

There is nothing stronger
Than the wonder working power of the blood
The blood
That calls us sons and daughters
We are ransomed by our Father
Through the blood
The blood

There is nothing stronger
Of the wonder working power of the blood
The blood
That calls us sons and daughters
We are ransomed by the Father
Through the blood
The blood

Thank You Jesus for the blood applied
Thank You Jesus it have washed me white
Thank You Jesus You have saved my life
Brought me from the darkness into glorious light

Glory to His name
Glory to His name
There to my heart was the blood applied
Glory to His name

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Charity Gayle / John Hart Stockton / Bryan Mccleery /

David Gentiles / Ryan Kennedy / Steven Musso / Elisha Albright Hoffman

How to please the Lord 101

How to please the Lord 101: Love God, love people. There is nothing complicated about what God wants his children to do. He says it over and over in every book of the Bible. Jesus himself summed up the commandments in two sentences: Love the Lord your God will your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).

What does it look like to love the Lord with everything you have? It looks like loving others. It looks like true judgments, showing kindness, and offering mercy. Zechariah says it in chapter 7, verse 9. Micah says it in chapter 6 verse 8. Paul wrote in Romans 12 that believers should outdo one another in showing honor, and how else do we do that but by true judgement, kindness, and mercy?

To the Galatians, Paul wrote “through love serve one another.” To the Ephesians he instructed believers to bear with one another. To the Thessalonians he admonished the fellowship to increase and abound in love for one another because that is what they had been taught.

The author of Hebrews and Peter and John all emphasized the importance of loving one another the same way that the Father loves us.

James wrote that faith without works is dead. It might be equally said that loving God without loving others is הֶבֶל (hebel), a vapor, nonsense, or foolishness, what King Solomon called “Vanity of vanities.” Love for God isn’t real unless it is demonstrated by loving one another through justice, kindness, mercy, and humility.

Love isn’t complicated, but it isn’t easy, either. We are human. We have annoying habits. We have strongly held differences of opinion. We interpret Scripture differently. Our experiences vary, our cultures conflict, and our expectations of how things should be often sit in opposition. In the US, the differences between us have been amplified in 2020 and 2021 by a pandemic (and how people should respond to it), racial strife (and how government should mitigate it), and disasters, both nature and human-caused. Human nature lashes out and social media makes it convenient to insist on being right instead of being unified. We must carefully consider not only what we say, but how we say it. Love is quick to listen. Love pursues goodness and truth. Love judges the self truly so that each one might be humble. In humility we act out our love for God by showing kindness and mercy to our brothers and sisters, just as the Lord commanded.

But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

If God demonstrated His love for us by sending His only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins, how much more ought we demonstrate our love for God by loving one another in right judgements, showing mercy, and being kind?

This world is not my home

As promised: This world is not my home by various artists in a multitude of styles. The origin of the lyrics is muddy, with at least three people given attribution as author.

Lyrics:

This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Chorus:
O Lord, you know I have no friend like you,
If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. 

They’re all expecting me, and that’s one thing I know,
My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go;
I know He’ll take me thro’ tho’ I am weak and poor,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. [Chorus]

I have a loving Savior up in glory-land,
I don’t expect to stop until I with Him stand,
He’s waiting now for me in heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. [Chorus]

Just up in glory-land we’ll live eternally,
The saints on every hand are shouting victory,
Their songs of sweetest praise drift back from heaven’s shore,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. [Chorus]

Bluegrass lyrics:

This World Is Not My Home

This world is not my home I’m just-a-passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
Angels beckon me to heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Oh Lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home oh Lord what will I do
Angels beckon me to heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

They’re all expecting me that’s one thing I know
I fixed it up with Jesus a long time ago
He will take me through though I am weak and poor
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Over in glory land there’ll be no dying there
The saints all shouting victory and singing everywhere
I hear the voice of them that’s gone on before
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Title:[This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin thru]
Composer or Arranger:Albert E. Brumley October 29, 1905, near Spiro, Oklahoma. Died: November 15, 1977, Springfield, Missouri. Buried: Fox Cemetery, Powell, Missouri. Brumley attended the Hartford Musical Institute in Hartford, Arkansas, and sang with the Hartford Quartet. He went on to teach at singing schools in the Ozarks, and lived most of his life in Powell, Missouri. He worked for 34 years a staff writer for the Hartford and Stamps/Baxter publishing companies, then founded the Albert E. Brumley & Sons Music Company and Country Gentlemen Music, and bought the Hartford Music Company. He wrote over 800 Gospel and other songs during his life; the Country Song Writers Hall of Fame inducted him in 1970.  This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is thumbnail
Composer: Jessie May Hill I can’t find biographical information, but she seems to have been in great demand as a singer and pianist in the late 1920s.
Cover art for This World Is Not My Home / I'm Going to Lift Up a Standard for My King by Jessie May Hill
DOCD

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Jesus paid it all

“Jesus paid it all.

All to Him I owe.

Sin had left a crimson stain;

He washed it white as snow.”

Elvina M. Hall (1865)

This hymn, written by Elvina M. Hall in 1865 kept repeating in my mind as I read Matthew 12 and Leviticus 22 this morning. Leviticus is the book of Law, the law that, if followed perfectly, will restore our broken relationship with the Father. What the Law really does is demonstrate how utterly impossible it is to keep. Even keeping the Law is not enough; it is God who sanctifies us. YHWH Mekkodishkem (M’Kaddesh), the LORD who sanctifies is the only path to holiness, or being set apart for a purpose.

When Jesus confronted the Pharisees about their letter-of-the-Law mentality in Matthew 12, He showed them that God put the Law in place to direct His people to Himself. It’s so much easier to play the comparison game of “your sin is worse than my sin” than it is to recognize our own guilt before God and repent of it, falling on His mercy in Jesus.

The Law was also expensive to keep. Only the best animals were worthy of sacrifice. Only the first of the harvest could be offered. But humanity’s best is insufficient. Our redemption cost Jesus ALL. He stepped out of glory. He lived as one of us (fully fulfilling the Law). Yet He had to die on our behalf in order to complete the transaction of our salvation, and He returned to life to begin our sanctification. We do not save ourselves; we cannot. Restored relationship with God is a gift, not a work of the Law. It cost Jesus everything and is free to those who reach toward Him who sanctifies us.

Do Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

Malachi 3; Amos 5; Micah 6-7; Philippians 3

There’s an old song that keeps playing in my head today. The words I recall are these:

This world is not my home; I'm just a-passin' through.
 My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
 The angels beckon me from heaven's open door.
 And I can't feel at home in this world anymore. 

The events of the last several weeks that culminated in the events of January 6, 2021 just confirm to me that I don’t belong to this world. I knew there would be a time when many people calling themselves “Christians” would turn away from the gospel of Jesus and the love of God; evidently that time is now. I am horrified by the events at the US Capitol on Wednesday. Ironically, Wednesday was also Epiphany, a day set aside by liturgical traditions to remember the Magi and to ponder the baptism of Jesus by John. It was at the baptism that John introduced Jesus as the Son of God (John 1:19-34). Epiphany, a sudden illumination of something. Epiphany, the recognition of Jesus as fully God and fully man. The wonder of the Incarnation, now a man beginning his public ministry. How far the Church has fallen from the wonder of God’s mercy and grace for us. How devastating is that fall!

The Church in the US and much of the West is broken. It has been broken by teachers and pastors who sought recognition and fame. It has been broken by church attendees who stay for the music, but leave as soon as the teaching gets serious. Cultural Christianity (churchianity) focuses on blessings instead of trials and boasting instead of truth. The Church in the US, for the most part, has moved away from worshipping the righteous and holy God who created all things and holds all things together, replacing the Father with a national identity and the human leaders they elect.

28 Tweets About Trump's Rioters In The Capitol Building
Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images Retrieved from Buzzfeed

Whether or not people believe that the 2016 or 2020 elections resulted in fraudulent officials is irrelevant. The kind of violence exhibited on January 6 was illegal, seditious, and wrong on every level. Those who hung up the name of Jesus in the process defiled his holy name. Amos wrote that God’s people must seek good, and not evil, especially when they live in a country that thrives on the titillation of wickedness. “Hate evil and love good,” he wrote. “Establish justice in the gate.” Amos goes on to describe how the Lord looks upon self-indulgent and proud people who claim they have “rights” because of their affiliation with God. The Lord abhors that pride. Amos spoke for the Lord saying, “I hate, I despise your festivals and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen.” Displays of nationalism and religiosity do not honor the Lord. He is not the God of the United States of America. He is the Lord of ALL creation. To honor the Lord means His followers pursue justice rolling down like the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. God’s righteousness, not self-righteousness. The actions of people on January 6 revealed the utter wickedness that dwells within all people. They pursued a path that would vindicate their self-righteousness and the false gospel of nationalism. They put a political figure in the place of the Lord.

Nations rise and nations fall. Institutions are built up and torn down. There will come a day when the US will fall, just as every empire has fallen. But the people of God are not to be part of that destruction. We are to seek peace. We are to pray for the welfare of where we live (Jeremiah 29:4-14), not listening to those who seek to deceive. God is abundantly clear about what is good: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with the Lord. None of the humility, kindness, nor justice were on display by the people who called themselves Christians while they broke into the Capitol, wreaking havoc in their violence. Make no mistake, these people were not acting in the will of God and God was not glorified. In fact, Malachi wrote that people like those who use the name of Jesus and the idea of Christian the way they did on January 6 weary the Lord with their words. They say that doing evil is doing good and that God is too slow in enacting justice. These claims illustrate just how self-serving these people are. They worship a nation, a Constitution, and institution, not the Living Lord.

The Lord will refine His Church. The pandemic has revealed those who used church as a social gathering place by closing the physical doors. The ugliness of the campaigns of 2020 revealed just how deep the corruption of ethical behavior has become. The riots of summer 2020 demonstrated the inadequacy of church teaching, especially with the notion of the prosperity gospel or the social gospel that infiltrated many churches. The refining has begun. The heat has been turned up, and unless there is general repentance and lamentation of the Church’s failure to teach the Word to the people, things will continue to get more difficult. All the dross must be burned away in order for those of us who seek Jesus first to fully reflect Him in all that we do and say.

In the end, however, this world, this country, this national institution is just a place of passing as we journey to our eternal home. For those who fear the Lord, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing. We will look to the Lord, waiting for the God of our salvation. He hears us. He is our light. His love is steadfast.

And that song? It has an interesting story that I’ll share another day. For now, enjoy one of the first recordings of it by the composer, Jessie May Hill:

This World is Not my Home. Jessie May Hill (May, 1927)
Philippians 3:  17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Looking toward Advent

Isaiah 55:8-9

From a time of thanksgiving to the wonder of the Incarnation, this time of year is set apart from the rest. It is an opportunity for introspection and reflection. What are the most important things?

If 2020 hasn’t done anything else for our benefit, it has given each of us ample time to sort through our hearts and minds along with our closets. We have had time to sort through the clutter of whatever it is that robs us of joy and peace. We might have learned how important and powerful community is. We had a chance to disentangle from commitments that filled our days but did not satisfy our spirits.

All the clearing out and cleaning up made space to deeply consider the mystery of our Creator. We can fully meditate on the universes He created and be humbled by His provision of a planet that perfectly meets our needs. That meditation should renew in us an attitude of stewardship so that our descendants can enjoy the vast beauty of our earthly home.

More significantly, we have a cleared out space in our heads and hearts to wonder in awe of God’s great love. His is a love that not only provides for our physical needs, but also for the needs of our eternal souls. The Incarnation: the Creator laying aside his divine power for a time, limiting Himself to the human form, with all its sorrows, sicknesses, and isolations. Why would the God who made us choose this path of humiliation? It is a good question to consider as Advent approaches.

No matter what

Psalm 27

I am calling this the Psalm of “no matter what.” As I read it this morning, all I could think was that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39). In this psalm, David lists all the ways God is with us no matter what.

Verses 2-3 No matter what, God knows exactly what is happening to and around us.
V.4 No matter what, we have access to the temple of God.
V.5 No matter what, God will protect us.
V.6 No matter what, we can choose joy.
Vv. 7-10 No matter what, God will not abandon us.
V 11. No matter what, He will teach us
V. 12 No matter what, God is GOOD.
V. 13 No matter what, we can be strong in the waiting.

Wow! Of whom shall we we afraid indeed? (Psalm 27:1; Romans 8:31

By faith

Romans 5:2

We have peace with God because Jesus is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Hebrews 5:9.) What does this mean? It means we have ACCESS to grace and JOY in hope no matter what our circumstances may be.

We stand on a foundation of salvation because Jesus did the work on our behalf (Titus 3:5.) Our faith means we have unfettered access to the very throne of the Creator in both good times and hard times (Hebrews 4:16.)

We are justified, not by what we do, but by faith in the grace of God (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8-9.) Hard times happen to everyone. Sometimes, like with a pandemic or natural disasters, the hard times are shared by communities. Other times, the struggle is an individual one where suffering seems magnified because the world keeps moving forward. Isolation increases suffering.

In faith, however, we have hope because we can be assured that God is with us. That hope gives us the freedom to rejoice, even in the worst of times. Grace to faith to hope to joy: this is the progression of the believers’ mindset in all times. In good times and hard times, God is with us.