The Scandal of Grace

Fakes are frustrating. They look the part but never satisfy. If you don’t believe me, try to get some EDT from the net. Smells like the real deal – just doesn’t last. I still remember seeing a pair of Nikes trainers with the ‘swoosh’ in the other direction – that bad that it almost looked hip…

Here is a bold statement, perhaps: ‘grace isn’t realty grace if it’s not scandalous’. Jesus tells an intriguing parable about a vineyard owner who hires people at different stages of the day and ends paying them the same amount. Look closely and the story is presenting a fair man that keeps his word but gives grace to the latecomers…

Some are scandalized by the story because they play the comparison game. Or maybe because they are jealous. Or self-righteous. We are more than happy with the God who forgives ‘not so bad’ people. Those who are a bit like us. Moral, yet slightly warped. From time to time. But then we all have our categories: ‘the others’ – the ones we dislike, the ones that frustrate us, the ones that frighten us… each with our own personalized blind spots of lovelessness.

The truth is – harsh but healthy truth – we are them.
God doesn’t grade sin.
We are sinful. the late comers in the parable.
Deserving next to nothing.
Yet lavished with a unexpected and scandalous grace
And that’s just happened, even today.

Live like you’ve just been graced out!

Peel Off The Label

We label people almost daily. We probably label ourselves too. And most of the time we downgrade both ourselves and others. Yet in a perverse way, every time we do it to others, we set ourselves up as superior, almost like a guilty pleasure.

In Matthew 13:53f, we find Jesus being downgraded and labeled in his own ‘hood’.
When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?  Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
They scorned the reports of His acts of compassion and power, with disbelief. Maybe it was jealousy: ‘Why should He be better than them?’ Maybe they simply refused to believe that He could have become someone different that the one they grew to be familiar with.

The tragedy was the fact that because of their public labeling and downgrading, they were robed of enjoying the fullness of His presence. Think of the teaching they could have received and the miracles they could have experienced! Instead, they could have paraded their very own ‘boy done good’ or ‘one of ours’.

Sadly, that’s what labeling does. We think we know people. We box them into neat prearranged categories and we seal the box. And we do the same with Jesus. We figure Him out and we make Him safe. We customize Him to suit or needs and ignore anything that might spoil the applied label.

Peel off the labels, today, of yourself, others and even Jesus.
Engage in discovery.
Believe that people change.
Know that they are complex.
And above all, keep being surprised by new facets of Christ’s identity as you read about His teaching and lifestyle in the Scriptures.

Kneeling in the Gap

The events of the last week convinced me more than ever that the ruined lives of our world require a revolution. Not the kind you might hear much about. Maybe because it’s not easy….maybe because it has to start in me and with me, not others…

The uprising starts on the knees – in humble prayer. Not so much selfish lists but the items on the King’s agenda.

Intercessors refuse cynicism & passivity – they don’t fold their arms defeated by despair.

Intercessors refuse independence, knowing that every time they bow down, they become stronger and more effective in changing the world.

Intercessors refuse activism as cover up, pretending that by pedaling harder they will look better.

Intercessors know God because they enjoy spending time with Him – not because they have to, but because they long to.

Intercessors are servants not superheroes. In a world that craves recognition like a salty tongue craves water, they buck the trend by preferring the anonymous dark corner than the bright stage.

Intercessors make audacious requests, not settling for the achievable but honouring the King with the impossible.

I see a generation
Rising up to take the place
With selfless faith, with selfless faith
I see a near revival
Stirring as we pray and seek
We’re on our knees, we’re on our knees

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity

Hillsong – Hosanna

New Year – Better Soul Diet

As it is the beginning of the new year – many people are considering or reconsidering their Bible reading habits. Here are some reflections from my own journey with this issue.

  1. Plan & Persevere – develop a routine based on a program vs. open it it like Bible lottery (funny thing is, if you keep opening it at the same place, that’s where it will keep opening). Chose a plan that is suitable for you – https://www.biblegateway.com/reading-plans/?version=NIV . Fight the temptation to be defeated along the way – Satan’s desire is to keep you ignorant of God’s character and will. And that is what it’s all about: revelation, not just information. Keep going, like a marathon runner.
  2. Bible in a year – unless you’re a seasoned veteran and you’re used to reading the Bible cover to cover – please consider doing this. In terms of weight loss lingo – this is the equivalent of changing your lifestyle rather than cutting out one thing from time to time. It’s harder but so much healthier. In this way you will have a much better understanding of the whole counsel of God, you will have to deal with tricky passages and you will avoid the pick & mix syndrome about what you like/dislike of God’s revealed character.
  3. Get some good tools – a study Bible will be very helpful. Investing in a hard copy will prevent you from distractions, but a digital one might be cheaper – I like both the NIV Study Bible as well as the ESV Study Bible (apps are about £9.99). Also get highlighters, a nice A5 day a page diary and a pen – to help you jot down the good stuff for reflection or further discussion.
  4. Season with plenty of grace – unless you’re amazing – you might get behind. That’s when you’re at crossroads and the easiest thing is to give into guilt and shame, followed by a defeatist attitude. And Satan wins. This isn’t so much about God – but you. God loves you, as you’re hidden in Christ’s righteousness. Even if you miss one of your readings… But if you give into shame, guilt and defeat – you will have all the undiscovered treasures of Scripture laying unopened…
  5. Share – let the encounter with Scripture become and overflow. Post what you read and think on your social media or blog. Spend some time reading a portion together at tea/breakfast time as a family. Talk stuff out with your spouse and build one another up with it. Let it become a lifestyle, an attitude a joy rather than just a reluctant healthy habit.
  6. Pray – work on both fronts. Prayer and Scripture reading should be like coffee and cake. Great combination. Pray that the Holy Spirit will explain and create affection for the Bible as you read it. Then, let your reading fuel your prayer life!

At the moment I’m using BIOY app from HTB/Alpha – http://www.bibleinoneyear.org/. It has 3 sections daily: OT/NT/Psalms and it works via apps or even email. No excuse. This might help as usually get ‘stuck’ in the ‘cover to cover’ at Ezekiel/Isaiah. This way I will have two other passages the sweeten the battle. Just don’t cheat – read the passages first in the morning maybe – then later in the day read Nicky Gumbel’s devotional thoughts.

What works for you?