The Greatest Grace

Thoughts about Advent and Incarnation

Part one

The coming of the Promise. Fulfillment of prophecy in a mystery of yes and not yet. A baby born of a virgin on a not-so-silent night who grew up and changed the world, even to the marking of the calendar days. BC (before Christ) and AD (anno Domini) divide human history, even though the terminology has change with the secularization of the West. The “common era” of CE still begins with the events of this liturgical season.

As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate the Incarnation of God in human flesh, we take time to consider the magnitude of God’s greatest grace toward humanity: the virgin conceived (Isaiah 7:14), a child was born (Isaiah 9:6), and hope entered the world (John 3:16).

Part two

“We are rescued by grace poured out” (Jason Cook, 11/07/2021).

The text for the sermon was Ephesians chapter 2, and theme was “one new man.” Pastor Cook, with his usual wit and eloquence, compared the Church to a magnificent mosaic, made up of individual tiles. Alone, each tile may be beautiful or plain, but carefully combined by a master artist, the collection of tiles makes up a masterpiece. He proclaimed, “Salvation is possible by works—just not yours.” Only God’s grace with His mercy and love can redeem us to the Body of believers, a collection of mosaic tiles brought together to be a picture of Jesus to the world.

As followers of Jesus, we know intellectually that we cannot begin to approach the holiness of the Creator. Our egos, however, often forget. We begin to think about our legacy, our influence, and even our popularity as essential elements of how we live out our faith. Advent is an opportunity to consider with great awe and wonder the mystery of grace poured out. The Creator joined the creation through the very human process of birth. He who spoke the universes into being with a word subjected Himself to a physical (and messy) delivery of a squalling baby, born to a young, unmarried woman and her faithful betrothed without the benefits wealth might procure. From the great throne of the King of kings, He humbled Himself to the lowest and weakest of all humanity.

Why?

Love. Mercy. Grace.

Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy through grace He saves us (Titus 3:5-7).

The grace revealed to us came in the form of an infant, physically born. Fully human, yet still fully God, Jesus offers a grace we can never fully understand, but one in which we can rest, secure in knowing that God’s grace is perfect.

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

I have thoughts.

I grew up in an American Baptist church, and I spent 17 years at a large church in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I left the SBC church because I wanted a smaller and more multi-ethnic congregation, not because I had any issues. But the events of the last several months make me sad on many levels, and I haven’t yet read anything that summarizes my impressions and thoughts, so I am using this post to share.

Christianity Today covered the key factors in the SBC scandal that rocked the denomination both by its scope and the executive committee’s unwillingness to have a proper Biblical response. The previews of the February 2019 edition alone tell enough of the story’s history. That more than two years have passed without a complete investigation and consequences is both infuriating and heartbreaking. To make matters worse, the committee refused to release all the information citing “attorney-client privilege.” WHAT?

Again, WHAT????

For two decades leaders in SBC churches have committed unspeakable abuses and the committees response was to be mindful of “fiduciary and legal considerations” including concerns about losing their insurance coverage. How about a Matthew 18 approach instead? Don’t want to air dirty laundry in public? Then keep your laundry clean.

In response, current SBC president said he was “grieved and prayerful.” I responded on Twitter: “Grieved and prayerful? How about furious and prepping to turn over some tables?” It’s always appropriate to pray, but Jesus also pronounced woes on the religious leaders who were more concerned about “fiduciary and legal considerations” than they were about the eternal souls of the people (see Matthew 23). In Matthew 22 he threw out the money-changers–not exactly an action of someone satisfied with “grieved and prayerful.”

On October 5 the Executive Committee FINALLY voted to waive attorney-client privilege by a vote of 44-31. And again, my response: WHAT? It should have been unanimous. The abuse allegations were 20 years old. The cover-ups started then. If the EC wanted to deal independently with the accused, they had ample opportunity and chose to hope the victims would go away. It was inexcusable then, and hiding behind fiduciary duty now is equally inexcusable.

Most churches in the SBC are still led by Bible-teaching men and women of integrity. The structure of the denomination is not of top down dictates, but rather congregational self-determination. The core beliefs of the local churches are derived from Scripture, and for the most part, pastors and teachers are faithful to them. The exceptions (those who abuse their sacred trust) and how they are not held accountable to anyone are at issue here. The victims of this scandal include those directly harmed by the evil actions of particular men, but also the faithful men and women whose testimony is stained by the evil of others.

It hurts my heart.

Where is grace in all of this mess? How do I extend grace? To the victims, it’s easy. To the leadership that kept the secrets of evil deeds, thinking they might be protecting the innocents? I don’t know. To those who perpetrated the evil? Unless and until they repent and restore life and hope to their victims, the only grace available is what I read in Matthew 25:31-46: Truly, whatever you have done for the least of these, you did also to Jesus.

The way forward is through repentance, restoration, and restitution. That Jesus has made that way possible is the essence of grace.

The saddest tweet

Started a new job at UPS today. And after a decade of getting exhausted, hurt, and having bad boundaries in church work, I never expected to be this happy to be a cog in a machine

12:42 PM · Sep 21, 2021

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I read this tweet the other day and it made me reflect on the grace we as congregants need to show our church leaders. Exhausted and hurt are not part of the description of pastoral work, but based on the comments in the thread that followed the tweet, it seems to be a common sentiment. Part of the reason may be self-imposed “bad boundaries,” as this post notes, but it is my observation that we generally don’t treat our pastors very well. We expect them to be on call, to do the work of the church, to teach, to counsel, to evangelize, and to deliver a dynamic and entertaining sermon every week. We often complain when other teachers in the church take the pulpit. We skip church when the senior pastor goes on vacation. We resent the sabbatical.

Of course, I am painting with a very broad brush, but I don’t think I am too far from the experiences of many senior pastors. Many pastors leave the ministry within a few short years of their callings, with 1,500 clergy leaving pastoral ministry every month (Barna Research Group). In fact, most clergy (up to 90%) across all denominations will not stay in ministry to retirement age. So, the question is, how can we, the lay congregation, show grace to our leaders, especially our senior pastors? How can we help them know they are appreciated, prayed for, and supported?

I think the first thing we as congregations can do is stop putting our senior pastors on pedestals and expecting them to be all things to all people.

The character of a pastor-shepherd must be beyond rebuke, to be sure, but scripture never places the entirety of church ministry on the shoulders of one man. In fact, the principle role of a senior pastor is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). The work is supposed to be carried out by the congregation, not the pastor.

Elders share the teaching and leading responsibilities of the congregation. They are godly stewards who give instruction and have authority within the local body to ensure that the responsibility of managing church policy, ordaining teachers, and being role models to the congregation. Deacons also share in the responsibility for the maintenance of the church and ensuring it runs smoothly. Dividing the load allows the senior pastor to focus on teaching the congregation so that they are able and confident to do the work of evangelism and discipleship.

What might that look like? Pastors should be free to allow elders to visit the sick, preside over weddings and funerals, care for the shut-ins, and meet the physical needs of congregants. We, as laity, should not expect our pastors to accept every invitation we offer, nor should we grumble when we are shepherded by our godly elders (Acts 11, 14; 1 Timothy; 1 Thessalonians 5; Titus 1; 1 Peter 5). We should rejoice when elders step in to teach from the pulpit; we gain from their knowledge of the word. Our senior pastors are called to equip us, not to serve us. At the same time, they are not Jesus; they are broken human beings just like us.

Secondarily, we must cooperate and submit to their leadership, being appreciative of the work they are called to do.

Yes, I used the word. Submit. But we are called by God to submit.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Hebrews 13:17 ESV

Included in the idea of submission is to esteem and appreciate the work our pastors do (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). We support them in our giving, paying them a fair salary so they are free to do the work. We seek to understand their vision for the church so that we are able to cooperate.

We can show appreciation through attention during teaching times, asking questions, sending notes of affirmation, and taking concerns to him directly. We demonstrate support by imitating his leadership and remembering his teachings.

The most important thing: Pray

Church leaders take on a greater share of spiritual attack than most of us because they are equipping us to do the work of the kingdom. We must be on our knees for our pastors, praying for courage, wisdom, faithfulness, and joy.

“Pray for your pastor. Pray for his body, that he may be kept strong and spared

many years. Pray for his soul, that he may be kept humble and holy, a burning

and shining light. Pray for his ministry, that it may be abundantly blessed, that

he may be anointed to preach good tidings. Let there be no secret prayer

without naming him before your God, no family prayer with carrying your

pastor in your hearts to God.” 

E.M. Bounds

If we as congregations begin to treat our pastors as shepherds instead of servants, perhaps we will see a resurgence in long-term relationships between leaders and churches. It may mean a loss to UPS, but what a tremendous gain for the eternal kingdom.

References

Akin-John, F. (2017) Biblical qualifications of a true pastor.

Bounds, E.M. (1990). The complete work of E.M. Bounds on prayer. Baker Book House.

Brewer, D. (2017). The importance of supporting your senior pastor.

Linton, G. (2021). A church’s responsibility to its pastor.

MacArthur, J. (1991). Biblical eldership. The Master’s plan for the Church. Moody.

Maxwell, J. (2019) Why pastors leave the ministry.

Rinne, J. (2014). 10 things you should know about church elders.

Tautges, P. (2011). Eight responsibilities of church members to their leaders.

Wilhite, S. (2016). Seven ways to care for your pastor.

Williams, M. (n.d.) What does the Bible say about the duties of a pastor?

Submission in action

James 4

Commitment to God is a continuing action of submission to Him. How we treat others is evidence of our submission to Him. James starts by telling his readers that wanting what other people have is not an attitude of submission. Similarly, complaining that we don’t have something we think we need is pointless, particularly if we haven’t already taken the request to the Father. And when the Father says, “no,” we still complain. God knows what we need, when we need it, and why we need it.

Jesus told his disciples to ask in His name and they would receive (Matthew 7:7-8; John 16:24), but the context of those verses was not asking for material things, but that of asking for God’s perfect will through the Spirit. It is permissible to ask God to meet our needs, and even our wants; He is a good Father who lavishes His children with good gifts. However, when we ask God to provide our daily bread, we must come with humble hearts, seeking His will above our wants. Wanting to quarrel and complain is a sign that our motives were wrong from the beginning.

James reminds his readers (including us) that only God knows the future and anything we plan to do must be planned through the knowledge that He may have other plans. The current COVID-19 pandemic is a good illustration of how quickly our plans can unravel when the unexpected happens. Our response to the situation indicates our attitudes about our plans: if we pivot to the new reality, then we are probably seeking God’s will rather than our plans. If our response is continuing anger, frustration, or argument because our plans are thwarted or things change in ways we don’t agree with, we are likely operating out of our arrogance (James 4:13-16). It’s one thing to react to an unexpected event that forces us to take a path we didn’t choose, but it’s another thing entirely to live in that reaction. The wisdom from God that we say we want brings a harvest of righteousness sown in peace (James 3:18).

So how do we respond to the trials that inevitably block our paths? There may not be another pandemic in the next 100 years like the current one, but there will always be challenges to overcome. Illness, job insecurity, financial crises, and other calamities are part of living on this earth. James offers gives 6 actions we who call ourselves believers can (and must) take to rightly receive and share His grace.

James 4


1. Submit to God. We need to remember who we are on this earth. We are impermanent mists with limited influence in the grand scheme of things. We cannot control the things that happen around us, whether it is illness, political decisions, economics, or spiritual warfare, but we can control how we respond to them. Our decision to submit to God will be reflected in how we speak and act in the middle of the mess.


2. Resist the devil. People are joking about weight gain during this time of sequestering (the Rona 15) because, with nothing else to do, we don’t resist the snacks and second helpings. Resistance requires active discipline to stand firm against appealing things.

3. Draw near to God. Worship, prayer, and consistent time with the Father will help us withstand any temptation.


4. Cleanse your hands. If we have learned anything in the last couple of months it is how to wash away the viruses that may harm us. Spiritual cleansing, ridding ourselves of habits that harm our walk with the Lord is even more important. If turning from temptation requires singing a psalm for 20 seconds, so be it.

5. Purify your hearts. Just as we wash our hands to reduce external contamination, to too we consume healthy foods to keep our hearts healthy. What we ingest spiritually affects our inner selves as well. For me, that has meant removing certain social media apps from my phone so that I may keep myself from annoying, frustrating, and pointless discussions about political things.


6. Humble yourselves. We are not God. Most of us are not judges nor law givers. We cannot know the future and we do not know the hearts and stories of the people around us. Our responsibility in submission to God is to do the right thing according to His command and His Word.

Let us choose to live wisely in submission to Jesus today and every day! When we do, we will bring grace and peace to the people around us, which is good for us and glorifying to God.

Why grace as default?

There can be no question that Western culture stands on the precipice of an anti-Christian era. Many people, particularly in academia, have already dismissed Christianity as a nonsense philosophy that is dangerous to democracy. Incorrect assumptions abound, particularly regarding Jesus and the gospel. The assumptions are sometimes based in how people in the Church act toward each other. If the gospel is truly the foundation upon which we as believers build our lives, we must live according to the will of God, rather than the dictates of popular preachers, influencers, and policy. In short, we must treat each other the way Jesus taught us.

That begins with understanding the great love of God for us. Without that love, nothing we do matters. We must know it, understand is, receive it, and practice it. Jesus was clear, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, ESV).

If we begin with love, we are able to see each other. Really see. We see the stories that make up the human condition and we are compelled to share burdens, rejoice together, grieve together, and come alongside each other (John 13:14; John 15: 17; Romans 12:10, 16; Romans 15: 5; 1 Corinthians 12:25-26; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Galatians 5:13; Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Hebrews 10:24; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 4:7-11).

The goal of this blog and anything that may come from it, is to remind the church that we must love one another. Loving one another no matter what will continue to become more and more challenging as the culture wars progress, but love is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-40), and if we are in fellowship with the Father, if we are walking in the light of Jesus, then our fellowship with each other will stand as testimony to the power of the gospel.

Too often, however, we are quick to judge each other based on our own biases, fears, insecurities, and misapplications of scripture. God has put on my heart a burden for the hurting families in the church, families who feel judged, alone, and without the support of their brothers and sisters in Christ. The families for whom I write are those whose children have wandered far from the faith they were taught as children. There is a blemish on the church in how its members treat those whose loved ones follow the world instead of the Lord. Those who leave choose many paths: agnosticism, atheism, sexual impurity, , secularism, humanism, activism, and other forms of goodness according to the standards of Western culture. Other family members do not choose to leave the faith, but suffer debilitating mental illnesses, including depression, addiction, self-harm eating disorders, and suicide. Often the parents of these sufferers are judged because they are perceived in playing a part in how mental illness develops. Science has demonstrated over and over that much mental illness is genetic or idiopathic, not environmental, but for some reason, the church writ large has not taken up the challenge of supporting the mentally ill or their families.

The purpose of my work here is to share the stories of believing parents (and siblings) who have been largely overlooked, misunderstood, or judged by fellow Christians. Some stories may be based on true stories. Others will be compilations blended into a narrative that affords the storytellers a level of anonymity. In sharing the stories, I hope to bring to light specific scriptures to guide Christians in how to be the loving and grace-filled people Jesus calls us to be. When we choose grace over judgement or ambivalence, we begin to reflect the love of Christ as we live out the will of the Father.