Tag Archives: Grace

Self transcendence

Sanneh-What-If-Boxing-Were-Run-Like-MMA1-1200The world’s stage has become a boxing ring demanding comment. Perhaps it’s more of a cage fight or a backstreet brawl, but I’m sure you take my point. On one hand we have the liberal left, on the other the fundamentalist right.

The left’s iron fist is in a satin glove. The talk is tolerance and dignity for all, and these are good things. What is flawed is the underlying philosophy of self-actualisation and lawlessness. This is as intolerant as the right as it proffers rights without responsibilities. I buy into the dignity for all, and I think we should make a great deal of space for one another, but I’m against boundary-less-ness, and I don’t want any sinful, demonised fellow becoming the best manifestation of his sinful demonised self possible. Wrong will never be right, and no matter how fine the satin glove, the iron fist it clothes bodes deadly for our future.

The right is no better. The horseshoe strapped across its knuckles is Law – eye for eye and tooth for tooth. That sounds good until we remind ourselves that all are sinners, not unlike that sinful, demonised fellow. The right is as self-obsessed as the left as well, except self-denial replaces self-actualisation. I’m all in favour of the rule of law, but not of legalism, which carves a hard road into the future, littered with judgementalism, condemnation, pride, self-righteousness, idealism, exclusivity, elitism and prejudice.

Cage+Fighting+Held+Wembley+Arena+2Gf3OFQ5HVOlAs we watch these two worldviews slug it out on the world’s stage, the battle reeling from political to economic to religious arenas and back again, let’s remind ourselves of three important facts. Firstly, these opposing worldviews are the best that human wisdom have to offer. Secondly, no matter who wins, nobody wins. And thirdly, the Gospel is divine wisdom and the alternative to both. There we find news of sins forgiven, and of deliverance from the dominion of the same. There we find self-government anchored in God and re-creation, and actioned by the transformational leadership of the indwelling Spirit. There we find hope beyond self-actualisation and self-denial, neither of which have a track record worth perpetuating. For there we find the transcendence of self. Co-crucified with Christ and co-raised with Him, we are in Christ and Christ is in us. In the Gospel we find fullness and freedom within the absolute of the Altogether Good. There we find grace. There we find faith. There we find life. There we find hope. There we find God, who has already done everything necessary to find us.

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Serendipity Guaranteed

Brand Pots high quality picPottery is not easy. When we started out, we reasoned that the mastery of ancient crafts were well within the reach of modern man. “If the Neanderthals could do this, so can we”, I would chirp. Thing is, outspoken ignorance throws egg on its face. Mine sure did.

There are just so many variables. The ancients would dig and refine their clay. I buy mine. That probably works in my favour with consistency, but the material remains organic and variations occur. Then there are the challenges of construction. Wheel work and hand building are our thing. Construction includes decorating if slips or pigments are used. The dry wares are then bisque fired, followed by glazing. I buy my glazes too, tweaking the commercial stuff a little from time to time to give me what I want. Application is by dipping, pouring, spraying and brushing, or perhaps a combination of these. Then its back into the kiln, which peaks somewhere around the twelve hundred degrees centigrade mark, making us stoneware potters and our products vitreous.

Here’s the the thing. It sounds so simple. But it’s not. Materials interact with tolerances as fine as fractions of a gram. Temperature is sensitive to the degree. Factor in water quality (there’s water in everything), ambient temperature, humidity, and of course the kiln, and you’re stirring alphabet soup hoping to write a short story in the swirls. The only constant is inconsistency, and with every kiln opening the butterflies flutter a-frenzied in the belly.

Our_Pot_MergedA small percentage are good pots. Sometimes there are none. Occasionally a few. A tiny percentage of pots are real stunners. Even in the safe zone of white glaze over buff clay on an undemanding form, if you want six, make eight. This is because there is serendipity in every good result. Serendipity, when the variables coalesce into a smile.

But here’s the other thing. It is not serendipity alone. As Gary Player (famous golfer) reportedly said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get”. It’s a studied serendipity. A considered and nurtured serendipity. The more I apply myself to every stage of the process, the luckier I get, and the further I push the materials towards manifesting their flamboyant beauty to full potential. I’m no longer a novice, and I’m by no means yet a master, but my serendipity quotient is a pleasing rising tide.

Which brings me to the Gracious Potter. His wheel is this mortal coil, His kiln the furnace of life. Talk about variables, and that’s not to mention His impurity-ridden detritus-sodden uber-organic raw material, us. He is the Potter. We are the clay. He works in love, mercy and grace, bringing His genius to bear in His every thought, word and deed. His artistry is centered in the work of Christ, and songs of praise saturate the atmosphere as He works. There is pitch-perfect resonance throughout as His grace compensates over and above and more than enough, no matter what.

Cox_Pottery_2014_Collection_5835And out of the mud of sin and shame, saints from sinners, beauty from ashes, and the oil of joy for mourning. It’s life from death, glory from dishonor, peace from mayhem, and the eternal from what was only perishing without hope. What’s not to adore! There He is, ever redeeming, reclaiming, restoring, recreating, with the skill and patience of infinite love. His grace is a magnificent study in engineered serendipity. A carefully conceived, considered, constructed and nurtured serendipity. As such it is no serendipity at all, for a guaranteed serendipity is a contradiction in terms. His goodness is not of chance at all, but a reflection of His person and the fulfillment of His inviolable promises, which are firmly founded on the covenant of Christ.

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Where are the nine?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn His way to Jerusalem, somewhere between Samaria and Galilee, Jesus encountered ten lepers on the outskirts of a village. News of who Jesus was had reached these unfortunate souls, and so, staying at a distance as was their lot as outcasts, they cried out to Him for mercy. In response, He instructed them to go and show themselves to the priests. As they did so, all ten of them were healed. How kind is our God, loving indiscriminately, and curing the incurable.

The incident is recorded in a way that uses words economically, yet it is richly nuanced for those with enough background to read between the lines. The only fellow who made the effort to thank Jesus was a Samaritan, and the way in which Luke phrases things strongly implies that the other nine were all Jews. Jews and Gentiles were reluctant bedfellows, but these men had found community in their leprosy. Therein is a parable, for all men regardless are united in their sinfulness, and sin is nothing other than leprosy of the soul.

The ethnic divide in the group infers different priests and different temples – the Samaritan to Samaria; the Jews to Jerusalem. Does this not again speak to the modern church in penetrating ways. We, who were united in our lost-ness, are often divided in our found-ness, as church affiliations define us in polarising ways. This is so disturbing given that our very lives rest in a common salvation. A further noteworthy nuance is the way in which this incident blends into the broader story. Jesus was often rejected by Jews, yet received by the Samaritans and other Gentiles. Self-righteousness is indeed the enemy of faith, and Law is a ministry of death. It is so to those it disqualifies, and in another way it is also so to those who deceive themselves and permit their religiosity to craft and nurture pride within. Nothing quite carries the stench of death like fetid self-righteous arrogance, don’t you think?

10-lepers-slide2But Jesus healed them all! He healed the half-breed Samaritan who flung himself at the feet of Jesus in gratitude. He healed His Jewish brothers, whose testimony remained within the confines of the religious community in Jerusalem; the same community that campaigned vociferously for Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Romans. How ironic. Nevertheless, Jesus healed them all. Is this not an essential lesson for all who love to bless and minister to others? Love them all, no matter how leprous or self righteous they are. Love the grateful and the ingratiate equally. This is grace.

I’m not suggesting that loving and expecting nothing in return is easy. The only way to travel down that path, albeit with stumbling steps, is with the help of the Spirit, and in the recognition of that being the way in which God loves us. Perhaps those who struggle the most with this are church and ministry leaders, for the success of our churches and ministries depends on others being willing to sacrifice alongside of us. For us, giving and giving without substantial return on investment spells vocational disaster, and so we – the professional lovers – are somewhat surprisingly the most likely to resent the “other nine”. When Jesus drew attention to these other nine (the account is in Luke 17:11-19), He was shaping our personal responses to grace. His philosophy of ministry remained unchanged – He healed them all. And so should we. But let’s you and I be like the one, responding to grace in faith and gratitude, and allowing these to move us. In doing so, we will be those who give praise to God in all things.

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Loving Jesus well

imagesJesus loved us well. He laid down His life for us. In His death we find our redemption and our true value; no one pays that high a price for junk.

Loving us with unconditional extravagance includes not treating us as our sins deserve. This is an extraordinary notion, for everywhere else, at least in measure, the converse is true. The Scriptures reassure us of this – we will reap what we sow. This universal law is less than comforting in a fallen world where sin, weakness, carnality and lawlessness are interwoven into the fabric of life. What it means is that on a macro level what goes around comes around, and that we all experience an unintended proliferation of weeds come harvest time.

Not so with the Lord. Thanks to the cross, we are the recipients of unmerited favour. We do good; we get good from God; we do bad, we still get good from God. The mystery of grace is that this transforms us. We love because we are loved. We love Him because He first loved us. Little by little we are moved from living for ourselves to for living for Him. Little by little we move towards that place where the deepest desire of our hearts is to lay down our lives for Him; to live for the proverbial audience of One. This was how Jesus lived; this is how Jesus would have us live; this is how Jesus helps us to live; and living this way is how we find meaning in life.

Living surrendered to the Lord Jesus is not complicated or difficult. It’s not something that we figure out or strategise for. It’s not about obeying laws, fulfilling demands or meeting requirements. Neither is it grandiose, elitist or only for the super-spiritual. It’s not even of necessity unpleasant, even though it is a way of life defined by sacrifice, because it is after all for another, and inevitably for the benefit of others. It is life in the moment, naturally supernatural, and extraordinary in the ordinary. It’s a cocktail of kindness, mercy, generosity, encouragement, embrace, joy, peace, miracles, signs, wonders and gratitude. In it all the universal law of sowing and reaping – which in the lives of sinful men and women must inevitably present as the law of sin and death – elevates to giving and receiving, which is the law of Spirit and life. To live for the Lord is to live by grace; not by just desserts, but by unmerited favour, and of doing unto others what Jesus has done to us.

Music_WorshipThe saints you and I most admire are inevitably only doing what Jesus tells them to. They’re following the Spirit, walking in the grace they’ve been given. This was true of the heroes of the faith whose stories pulsate on the Bible’s pages, and it is true of those who provoke us to love Jesus more by the way they lead their lives alongside us day by day. Let’s join them today, walking in the grace that is ours in Christ Jesus, and simply doing what He tells us – no more; no less. This is worship in it’s truest sense. This is loving Him well.

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SMGN guest post by Ros Otte

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Enjoy this guest post by Ros Otte. She was recently seen lurking on the fringes of a writer’s group, and once this indomitable encourager had been identified as a possible aspiring author, her rubber arm was easily twisted for a contribution. Here Ros muses, from the perspective of a parent, on the superiority of grace over law.


 

It has been said that the role of a parent is to prepare a child for the next level of life, and that is true. The means by which we do this include imposing rules and regulations, instituting boundaries, and ensuring that there are consequences for non-compliance.

Some parents, in doing so, are tyrannical and brook no opposition. Other so-called “helicopter” parents hover protectively over their children and monitor each and every move. For many children, acceptance is based on performance rather than on love. Other parents simply throw in the towel at the first hint of opposition or rebellion. The result is often a deep seated sense of insecurity in the child. This is the essence of Law. It sets rigid boundaries, and in its consequences for obedience or disobedience, it can be both tyrannical and “helicopter”. Behaviour is either right or wrong. Choices are limited and obedience is mandatory. Sadly, those under it develop few coping mechanisms, little sense of worth, and often a minimal sense of self control. Then, if there is rebellion, law has no means of recovering the rebel.

Grace, on the other hand, is at once fluid and constant. It operates within a framework of love and acceptance; it allows for getting it wrong; it never lets go, even in the face of rebellion; it sets free and permits individual choice; it unties the apron strings without letting go; it encourages and picks up the pieces when there is failure and brokenness; it enables progression from the tentative, tottering steps of a toddler, to the confident stride of a long distance runner. It says, “Come as you are”, not “clean up your act first”. Grace provides the ultimate security.

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I have the privilege of living in a home with a magnificent river view. There are three fish eagles that live in the surrounding cliffs. It is a joy to watch them and the amazing thing is that I have never seen them flap their wings. They glide effortlessly, reaching great heights or almost skimming the river. They find and catch the thermals, whether the wind is howling or it is completely still, yet have no fear of falling or sense of abandonment. That’s what grace does. It is by grace that we catch the wind of the Spirit, Who keeps us secure whether there is a gale blowing or it is quiet and still. It is by grace that we walk thorough life with confidence; it is by grace that we can make choices, knowing that we are firmly placed in the thermal of the love of God. It is by grace that we are set free from the fear of failure or abandonment. It is by grace that we are loved and accepted for who we are, and not by what we achieve or how well we perform. Grace enables us to be the best we can be because it is never disapproving or judgmental. If we had to read 1 Corinthians 13:4ff – the matchless passage on love – and substituted “Grace” for “Love” nothing would change in terms of the heart of what was written. That is because grace has a name, and that name is Jesus.

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