Archives For grace

Creative Commons user Marc Wathieu, edits mine

It’s “sexy” to talk about your past. Where you’ve been. The grit you’ve experienced. The pain you’ve had to bear. The crazy life you used to live. When you talk about your past, you get looks that say

Wow. You’ve come so far!

OR

Wow. You’ve overcome so much!

OR

Wow. You had a lot of fun!

It’s “sexy” to talk about your future, too. Nobody gets upset when you’re talking about where you’re headed in life. Whether you’re talking about heaven (where there will be no tears or crying or pain) or something a little shorter in focus (your goals and aspirations), these are fun conversations. When you talk about where you’re headed, it’s cast in a bright, positive light. Nobody clams up talking about that!

But your “present”? It’s not so sexy to talk about where you are right now. In fact, it’s quite awkward. And I’m convinced awkward conversations need to be had.*

It’s not cool to say,

“Yeah, I still struggle with ____.”

OR

“I still need help with ______.”

OR

“That thing that we talked about last week…I messed up again.”

The awkward humiliation

It’s humiliating, really. It’s like saying, “I know I told you I was headed to Nashville, but somehow I ended up in St. Louis. You told me to turn left, but I just went right.” Silly, no? Turns out they didn’t listen to directions, look at their map, or heed the signs that said, “Nashville, turn left.” And they did this for 450 miles.

Talking about your present struggles is like swallowing a spoonful of medicine. You know it’s going to help, but it tastes rancid going down.

Talking about your present struggles admits, “I’m not where I need to be,” “I’m not who I appear,” and, “I don’t really know how to get where I want to go.”

The beeline to shame

Where we go wrong when someone begins “talking about their present” is that we make a beeline for shame. Instead of the Prodigal’s father, we play the role of the older brother (Luke 15:28-30). Our arms are crossed and our head swiveling back and forth in judgment. We say things like “How are they going to ever learn?” or “Someone’s got to give them the truth.” or “If they’d only followed God like me” We think it’s our job to convict their hearts with the truth.

When we’re quick to convict, we inadvertently shut down a potentially life-changing moment of confession.

The good news about grace is that grace doesn’t keep a record of how many times you’ve messed up. In fact, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” (Romans 5:20) Grace celebrates a step in the right direction. Even when it’s followed by two steps backwards.

Grace welcomes home

Grace doesn’t mean that you become a doormat that’s walked on. It means you welcome someone home when they “talk about their present.” More than likely, conviction’s already happened. (hint: that’s why they’re talking with you!) Your role isn’t to convict…you can let the Holy Spirit do that. He’s better at it than you are, anyway. What someone needs, in their moment of taking a step of faith by saying, “I’ve messed up…again” is a “welcome home!” embrace.

Next time someone opens up an awkward conversation by sharing something they’re counting to struggle with, try being full of grace. Try showing them that we serve a God who never leaves or forsakes us (Deuteronomy 31:6), even when we’ve followed a stupid decision by a stupid decision. In those moments, you’ll find that truth acts more like a weapon.

Grace is what’s needed, because grace moves the ball forward. Shame throw it backwards.

* catch up with the “this is awkward” series HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

I recently said this on Twitter and Facebook:

You’re better off maintaining a friendship than winning a theological argument.

Apparently, that’s something that’ll stir people up. :)

Some people view that statement as an attempt to comprise the truth. Let it be known: that was never my intent.

photo credit: Creative Commons user Sepehr Ehsani

I want to balance grace and truth. And I think that means a few things.

How to balance grace & truth

 1. Don’t be a jerk. Even if the truth you espouse is rooted in the Bible.

2. Know what’s theologically vital and what’s not. The non-vital truths should be held with an open hand. The vital truths should not be held in a fist ready to sock someone in the gut with, though.

3. Know who you’re talking to. “Exegeting” your audience is key. Seminary students are not the same audience as the barista behind the bar at your local coffee shop.

4. Stand for truth. Don’t compromise. Balancing doesn’t mean you have to callous your convictions.

5. Be patient with people. How long did it take you to arrive on the theological camp where you now reside?

6. Be humble. Even when you know you’re right.

7. Remember that destroying a relationship leaves no chance of redemption. I’m not downplaying God’s sovereignty here…if God wants to save them, we can’t stop him. Are there times when people part ways and don’t do ministry together? Sure. Are there times when beliefs cause us to head in different directions? You bet. But destroying a relationship isn’t wise or redemptive.

Balance. Fight hard for both grace and truth.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14, emphasis mine

Question: 

Which do you tend to gravitate more towards: grace or truth?

 * photo credit: Creative Commons user Sepehr Ehsani

 

The beauty of a new name

Ben Reed —  March 1, 2012 — 3 Comments

image credit: Creative Commons Kiss the Lava

The story of the Prodigal Son, from Luke 15, is one of those stories that you’ve probably heard so often that it goes in one ear and out the other.

It’s a story that’s easily taken for granted, filed away in the folder: “I’ve got that one figured out.”

Read it too quickly and you’ll miss its beauty and depth. Check this out:

There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need….But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:11-14; 17-20)

When the Prodigal son returned home, his father didn’t greet him with a new set of rules and regulations and expectations and guilt.

Because grace doesn’t heap burdens. It releases them. Grace doesn’t tighten restrictions. It frees prodigals to receive joy. Instead of chaining, it loosens bonds. In fact, “grace” says you were in bondage before, and that now it’s time to be free.

Even when you’ve squandered your life. Even when you’ve destroyed relationships. Even when you’ve walked away from those who love you. Even when you’ve done that thing again…and again. Even when you’ve held on to bitterness. Even when you’ve acted the fool. Even when you’ve spit in the face of those who love you the most.

When what you deserve is to be cut off from the family, left out in the cold, and shut out from all blessings. When what you think is coming your way includes condemnation and shame. When your stupidity has landed you in a heaping pile of your own mess, your Father smiles and says,

“You were dead, but now you’re alive. You were lost, but now you’re found. You. Are. My. Son.”

And there it is. God rewrites your story, changes the ending, and gives you a new name.

It’s easy to find ourselves broken by life, by the choices of others, and by our own poor decisions, stuck in a hole we dug ourselves into. No matter how deep you’ve gone, how far you’ve strayed, or how many broken lives you’ve left in your path of destruction, it’s not too late.

Turn back now, and your eyes will meet a Savior running towards you with arms open and full of Joy.

* photo credit: Creative Commons user Kiss the Lava

 

BE the Church

Ben Reed —  November 11, 2011 — 2 Comments

I learn a lot while flying on an airplane. Last time I flew, this post happened: HERE.

Photo Credit: Creation Swap user Suaz Carranz

Last time, I sat beside a couple of ladies that brought along hard-boiled eggs.

This time, I’m not sure it was any better. Here’s what I would’ve tweeted if I had had internet capabilities:

  • Gosh, I love kids, but seriously? Do you really need to scream the whole flight? And I know that you, mom, are trying to help, but yelling louder than the screams isn’t helping.
  • Did that guy in front of me just exhaust that whole bottle of Germ-x? Is he drinking it? I’m pretty sure my nose is now germ-free. And on fire.
  • I think the person behind me has passed enough gas to fuel the plane. This is bad…and I can’t go anywhere.
  • Truth: Snores are much louder on a plane. Something gets amplified when you’re that high in the air.
  • I got in “trouble” on the plane because I didn’t listen to the pilot when he said to put away all electronic devices. Apparently, a Kindle can take down a plane.

But I sat beside a couple of single parents and had a great time hearing a bit of their story and understanding who they are. We struck up a conversation about parenting, and they both have 16-year-old daughters. They were throwing ideas around for their daughters’ upcoming birthday parties, and I quickly felt out of my league. Partly because I have a 3-year-old son. Partly because they think much more extravagantly for birthdays than I do. I can get my son a $.99 matchbox car and he’s thrilled.

I also felt like a great parent after hearing their birthday suggestions. There were three that rose to the top.

Top 3 Birthday Suggestions from 10,000 feet

  • You could take your daughter to this make-up artist I know. She charges $400/hour, but it’s worth it. I go there every once in a while…
  • You could send them with their friends to Dallas. Dallas is a fun city, right?
  • You could send your daughter to Las Vegas for the weekend. I’m sure she’d love that. Oh, wait…do you think she should have adult supervision?…

It was at that point that I really started feeling like, though I often feel clueless as a parent, I am a pretty awesome dad. And I was reminded that common sense isn’t common.

Inevitably, all of my conversations on a plane end up coming back to a conversation about God. This one was no different. Both of these single parents grew up in church, but were burned for various reasons. I asked

Are you and God on speaking terms?

They were. But they wanted nothing to do with a local church. Nothing. “I like your God, but not the whole religion thing.”

So I got the chance to advocate for a ‘better’ Church. And I took the opportunity to show them that there are churches in America that aren’t burning people. Churches that are making a difference in their communities. Churches that are speaking Truth and hope and grace and mercy. Churches that are based not on maintaining programs, but investing in people. Churches where it’s safe to explore faith. Churches where you’re encouraged to come as you are.

As I’m sharing this truth with my two new friends, I was struck by the fact that everywhere I go, I’m a living, breathing, talking billboard for the Church. And if we (the Church) are ever going to overcome the perception that we’re just a group of judgmental, self-serving, stingy bigots it’s got to start with me.

You may not think of yourself this way, but you are, too. The conversations you have paint a picture for others.

Can we start painting a better picture? One that looks a little more like our Savior?

My new picture will look like this:

Be generous.

Be loving.

Be full of grace.

Be full of mercy.

Be the Church. 

*Photo credit: Creation Swap User Suaz Carranz

 

No more daydreaming

Ben Reed —  October 24, 2011 — 9 Comments

They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.” – Acts 1:11

photo credit: Creation Swap user Jared Rarick

I don’t know what your situation looks like right now. Maybe it’s bleak. Maybe it’s tough. Maybe there’s no hope, and you don’t know what your next step needs to be. Maybe your plans, and where you want to be in life, haven’t panned out.

Maybe you are undervalued, overworked, and underpaid. Maybe you aren’t appreciated at home. Maybe your “best” still isn’t good enough.

In these moments, it’s easy to wish our life away. It’s easy to complain, sulk, and be angry that life’s not how we want it to be.

And if you find yourself wishing your life away, do you know what’ll happen? You’ll wish it away. Life will pass you by, and you’ll be caught for years just staring into outer space, going nowhere.

That’s what the men in Acts 1:11 were doing. They were staring up into the sky, frozen and ready to wait right there until Jesus returned. They were completely unproductive and unmotivated. They had watched Jesus teach and heal, then be crucified on a cross. He died, was buried, then resurrected and ascended to heaven. They had placed their hopes on Jesus, and he’d left them. I can expect that they were frustrated, confused, and worried. Their Hope and their Promise was gone.

And the problem was that before Jesus would return there was still work to do.

Don’t get caught daydreaming your way out of where you are. Don’t want things to just be over. God’s got work for you to do now. People to invest in and gifts to give. Missions to fulfill and communities to transform. Relationships to heal and hope to give.

There Ain’t No Easy Way Out

Quit looking for the easy way out. Maybe there’s not one. Maybe God’s not going to swoop in and supernaturally make life easy for you. Maybe His plan isn’t to heal you of that disease. Maybe His plan isn’t to reconcile that relationship. Maybe His plan isn’t to make you financially secure.

Maybe, though, just maybe…His plan is to comfort you through it. And give you hope and mercy and grace. And use you to breath life and hope into someone else. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Question: Ever been caught daydreaming?

*Photo credit: Creation Swap user Jared Rarick

 

Defined by Grace

Ben Reed —  October 19, 2011 — 2 Comments

Photo Credit: Jon Ashcroft

There are many words that people can use to define you.

  • Young
  • Haughty
  • Mean
  • Depressed
  • Lost
  • Dumb
  • Bi-Polar
  • Driven
  • Angry
  • Obsessed
  • Liar
  • Cheater
  • Hyper
  • Boring
  • Addict
  • Divorced
  • Widowed
  • Scorned
  • Lazy
  • Thief
  • Loser
  • Used-to-be
  • Worn out
  • Beggar
  • Dreamer
  • Old
  • Out-of-shape
  • Bitter
  • Aloof

But did you know that you can choose how you’ll be defined? You don’t have to continue to wear the label you’ve been pinned. You don’t have to wear the hat that’s been forced on your head.

Those things don’t define you unless you let them.

I’m choosing my label. And my choice is “graced.”

Despite my past. Despite my failures. Despite my weaknesses. Despite my challenges and frustrations and “personality.”

I am defined by grace.

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted  the church of God. But by God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not ineffective. – Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:9-10

*photo credit: John Ashcroft via Creation Swap

 

Love & Fire

Ben Reed —  September 6, 2011 — 2 Comments

Creative Commons: Will G

 

Love is a lot like fire.

The more you give, the more it grows.

Come to think of it, so is

  • grace
  • hope
  • mercy
  • generosity
  • acceptance
  • joy
  • peace
  • truth

Try to hoard any of these, and the flame goes out.  For you and for others.

Share them copiously, and you’ll see the blaze take over your life.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? – James 2:14

 

 

 

The sound of hope

Ben Reed —  May 20, 2011 — Leave a comment

What does hope sound like?

I love what Jason Roy, of Building 429 (and of Grace Community Church…Jason’s one of the worship leaders at my church) has to say.

‘”I forgive you.  Daddy, I love you!” Isn’t that the sound of hope?’

‘We have this huge God who loves us, who says over and over to us, in the moment of our sin, where we need Him most desperately, He says, ‘I love you!  You’re forgiven!’  That’s the sound of hope to me.”

We all need hope.  We’re sinners living in a broken world.

Thankfully, God’s grace and forgiveness is free.

but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more – Romans 5:20

* While you’re at it, pick up Jason’s new album on iTunes HERE.

 

I am a learner.  And as such, I actually enjoy learning.

And when I started out as small groups pastor at Grace Community Church, I had no idea what I was doing.  Some days, I still feel like that.

So I started looking for a tribe.  I read books.  Blogs.  Twitter accounts.  I went to conferences.  Sent emails.  Made phone calls.  I just knew there had to be a tribe out there.

And I grew a ton through this process.  But I got a myriad of no-responses.  Or responses that went something like,

Well, I will be at this conference, and we can talk there…if you’re able to get to Dallas…tomorrow by 6 am.

I was just trying to build some relationships and learn from guys who had been blazing the path I was peering down.

The problem was that these guys were ‘too big’ for me. They were a bit too important to talk with a rookie in Tennessee. (although rock stars Heather Zempel, Alan Danielson, Mark Howell, and Rick Howerton (just to name a few) actually did take time to answer emails and phone calls…thanks guys!).

I never want to get so important that I can’t schedule time to talk with another person who wants to learn from my mistakes.  I never want to be the big shot that can’t walk someone else through principles that have helped me grow as a young pastor.

If I ever get that ‘important’ I have done something wrong.  The day that happens, please unfollow me on Twitter, block me on Facebook, and unsubscribe to my blog.  I’m not worth following at that point.*

Pride goes before destruction,
and haughtiness before a fall.

Better to live humbly with the poor
than to share plunder with the proud. – Proverbs 16:18-19

Will you give up the plunder with me?

*Note to future self: you’re not as awesome as you think you are.

 

If you’d like to catch up on this 11-word series, click HERE.

Grace and Forgiveness

Grace is the fertile soil through which forgiveness roots and grows.