I had a brief conversation this morning with a friend who believes in God and Christ. The conversation started with his question, “Do you hold to some sort of judgment day?” I replied, “yes I do.” I continued, “God has given us too much, not to hold us accountable.” He thinks there is one too. But then he said, “I just can’t get past the thought that I have to earn it.” I encouraged him, “our rescue from judgment has to be by grace.” What is interesting is that just this morning, as I reflected on a sermon by John Wesley, I wrote in my journal: “Your grace gave me life. Your grace gives me life each day. Your grace has given me faith to believe. Your grace has given me the gospel of Jesus Christ and the blood of the covenant. Your grace guides me. Your grace teaches me. Your grace confronts and corrects me. Your grace seals and secures me in faith. Your grace is my hope. Your grace is my joy. Be praised, O Lord of grace.” There are reasons it has to be by grace that we find resolution and peace with God. 1. All we do is tainted. Nothing we do is with unmixed motives. You know the phrase, “happy wife, happy life.” It reflects our problem. Even when we try to do good, we often do it for our own benefits. We obey road laws, so we don’t get a ticket. We please God so we don’t get punished. That’s not love. That’s not real righteousness. 2. We are at best, inconsistent in our goodness. We may do good things, but we don’t do good in every area all the time! Why? See number 1. 3. Jesus’ death would have been in vain. If his death didn’t pay for our forgiveness, then it was no gift, but a horrible mistake. Actually, there is only one reason we don’t have to earn it! Because we can’t. So, grace is not something to be preferred. Grace is our absolute need. How do we learn to live in the grace of God? 1. We begin to recognize and thank God for the daily graces that He gives to all humanity. All anyone has is a gift from God. 2. We trust that Christ’s death was sufficient to pay for the sins of humanity, and therefore was great enough to cover my sins. 3. We live in the grace of God daily, yielding every gift He’s given us back to Him for His pleasure. Judgment day will still come. But we won’t have to face it with fear. What makes grace hard for us to trust in? How are you blessed to by the grace of God?
God chooses weak things and makes them weaker still so He may reveal Himself to the world.
Years ago, my wife and I lived in Aplington, Iowa. I was the pastor of a small town church. This time I was just passing through on my way to see my kids in South Dakota on June 16th, 2014. I was on my first day of a motorcycle trip from Illinois to California. As I approached Spencer, Iowa, all I could think about was that about 27 years ago we named our new Scottish Terrier, Spencer after the name we found on the map.
The weather was changing as I approached. I put on my rain gear and battled a pretty strong wind from the south. As I got to Spencer, it was dark and raining. I filled up with gas and looked a weather radar on a gas station tv on the north end of town.
I turned back to the A & W to sit for a bit. After about an hour, I checked my phone and it looked like the heavy stuff had moved north of highway 18. That seemed to give me a window of opportunity. So, I quickly loaded up and moved out. The road was wet, but clear. As I got about 5 miles out of town, the wind shifted. It now was moving out of the north. And it was strong.
Gusts were blowing me into the oncoming lane. Occasionally, it just about lifted me out of the seat. It was about then, that I regretted losing those 65 pounds. I looked for a wise place to pull off. Although some might think it was too late for wisdom. There were a few farms, but I really wasn’t ready to be an uninvited guest. One more big gust and then rain began to fall. I had to stop.
To the right, I saw a red steel building with an awning on it. I turned to the right, into the wind and into the deepest gravel I had ever seen. I got all 900 pounds of motorcycle down the driveway and moved it close to the building. The rain really began to fall. I parked the bike in the gravel and jumped under the awning.
The wind was so strong, I was sure it was going to knock my motorcycle off the stand. So, I went back out to try and move it. Everytime I tried to go forward or backward, the bike sunk deeper into the gravel, until the gravel was holding it up without the kickstand. It wasn’t going anywhere. “I think we have another problem,” I said to myself.
It was about this time that I heard a loud bang. I looked up and saw huge pieces of ice falling from the sky. I grabbed my helmet and thought of the potential newspaper headline, “Motorcycle Riding Pastor, Killed by Hail.” I put on the helmet and hid back under the awning, just hoping the cover would hold. (see the video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2f2IK8vEoE) The hail bounced off the building and all around the bike. But no strikes! It was at this point, I knew I was going to need some help. After the hail stopped, I tried to flag down a couple of cars, to no avail. Finally, I gave in and called 911.
The dispatcher asked where I was. I looked around for some indication and then I saw it, “The Shrimp Shed.” I said the words haltingly, thinking maybe I had been transported to Louisianna. No, it was the Shrimp Shed, and it was Iowa.
It was on this phone call, my love for Iowa returned. The operator explained that it was a busy night and since I was safe, they would call back when someone was on the way. Just a few minutes later I got the call. Someone would be here soon. He showed up just as the downpour started again. We loaded my bags into his car. His name was Dan Heissel. He was off-duty, but decided to come out and rescue me.
On our ride to a hotel, he asked what my plan was. After getting dry and warm, I figured I would call a tow truck in the morning to help me get my bike free from the gravel and on my way. He encouraged me to call dispatch in the morning and have an officer take me out. And then he gave me the dispatch number and his own personal cell number. He assured that if an officer couldn’t take me out, he would be happy to come over and help. “Wow, I love Iowa, I thought.”
I slept as long as I could and about 6am, I finally called dispatch. A young officer went out to look at the bike and then came to the hotel and picked me up. His name was Spencer. “Well, that fits,” I thought.
At the hotel, I had been talking a 79 year old Harley guy from Wisconsin, named Brad. When officer Spencer showed up, Brad asked if the two of us would be able to get the bike out without help. Spencer looked a little worried about that prospect. And Brad jumped in his car and followed us out the Shrimp Shed.
There the bike stood, just like I left it the night before. I put the key in and it started right up. The three of us grabbed the 900 pound monster and together we pushed and pulled to break it free of the gravel. I got it loaded up and said good-bye to my new friends. I stopped for breakfast a few miles away and there the mayor gave me some advice on which roads were open.
As I travelled north toward I-90, I got a text. I stopped to look at it. It was Dan! He had driven by the Shrimp Shed to check on things and saw that I was on my way. He wished me safe travels. It is true that God puts people in your way to help you out. But it is also true that it takes people willing to be part of what He wants to do. In Iowa, I found a few of those people. Officer Spencer, Dan and Brad (from Wisconsin) are why I love Iowa again.
Yesterday, I saw another story about a middle school in Wheaton, IL that is dealing with a sexting scandal (http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140609/news/140608605/). You must know that historically Wheaton is a bastion of evangelical life and thought and this stuff is happening here! As a parent and pastor, my heart breaks for these kids whose innocence are being ripped from them at such an early age. We could blame technology, or we could blame the degredation of society. We could blame teachers, parents and even the church. There is plenty of blame to go around. My question is what and how should Christian parents be teaching their kids in the face of these pressures and dangers?
Yesterday I had the privilege of spending about an hour with my wife, at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL. My wife and I went to the Celebrate Life event put on in honor of cancer survivors. I was invited by Corie Rectenwald, one of my church members, to offer a closing prayer for the event.
As I looked around, I saw life! There were young and old, men and women, a few different ethnicities. Some people had hair, some didn’t. Some clearly had families with them, others were there alone. They had door prizes, vendors and face painting. We didn’t participate in any of that. But we watched! The one thing that showed up again and again were smiles.
These were people who had struggled, were struggling and would struggle again. But they were treasuring their day. They were treasuring those who were striving with them. They were treasuring the opportunity to give thanks for the life they’ve been given. The scene was encouraging and thought-provoking.
This morning, I am renewed in my passion to live life and celebrate it for the gift it is. Here are 4 reasons to celebrate life no matter what.
1. Life is found in the trouble. Continue reading
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “ This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “ Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.