Where Sin Runs Deep, His Grace is More

Where Sin Runs Deep, His Grace is More

I grew up along the banks of the Allegheny River, which is one of the rivers that flows into the great city of Pittsburgh. My home town hosts the huge dam near the source of the river which keeps the river fairly low for the majority of its journey to the Ohio River. Typically, the depth is 2-6 feet and it is a fairly fast flowing river. When we would go canoeing or kayaking, life was pretty easy, especially when going through the shallow areas of the river. The main goal was to steer well enough so you didn’t land on top of one of the rocks in the middle of the river. The best part? You didn’t have to paddle in these shallow areas.

But there are areas in the river where some gravel companies dredged. Dredging is excavating rocks, sediments, and gravel from the bottom of the river. But when a river is dredged, it makes the river significantly deeper. And with a larger depth comes a dramatic drop in current strength. You could always tell when you would hit these areas as the canoe would slow to a crawl and the water became as smooth as glass. These sections were the places you’d have to paddle the most, especially if you were in a hurry. As a kid, I hated these sections because I would have to work to get through these areas, especially if we were in a hurry.

There is something to be said about the work required to get out of deep areas. The deeper the hole you dig, the deeper the river, the deeper into a situation you are committed, the more work is needed to get yourself out. When it comes to sin, the deeper the sin is entrenched in our lives, the more disciplined work is required to get rid of it. But in reality, this is the wrong way of going about it.

There is a song lyric that sums this up well: “where sin runs deep, Your grace is more” which is undoubtedly inspired by Paul’s words in Romans. Often we think that we have to deal with sin on our own, whether it be resisting temptation, finding ways to guard ourselves, or dealing with our past sins that cuts deep to our souls. But thanks be to God whose grace is far greater than our deepest sin. God’s grace extends beyond forgiveness and into our daily lives to defeat sin. His grace is sanctifying, purifying, transforming. So that we can live our lives completely in His grace. Sin becomes less of an issue than before because of His presence.

Now this doesn’t remove a disciplined life from our responsibility. This life is a partnership with God, not a life that is dictated and controlled minutely from on high. It requires effort from us, but when we accept His sanctifying grace our effort isn’t an obligation, but a privilege. A privilege to live a life completely in Him and without the chains of sin.

I think the metaphor of the dredged river works well in this moment. Even though the dredged area of the river was deep and slow, the current still moves the canoe. Sin’s deepest hold on your life will be sometimes the slowest and hardest place to move through, but God’s grace is like that current, still moving and guiding you through the deepest darkest areas of your life. And if you accept that grace and willing to work with God, your paddling will only help you in your life free from the bondage of sin.

So if a sin runs deep in your life and it always seems like you aren’t moving, remember that God’s grace is greater than that sin. It will still be moving you towards God. But remember it won’t hurt to paddle either.

-M

The One Thing We Shouldn’t Be Shopping For

This might come as a surprise to you, but I actually enjoy shopping, well, as much as a man can enjoy shopping. I enjoy looking at different companies if they are selling similar products and finding the best product for the best price. I enjoy reading reviews online before going out and making a purchase. This can be from cars, to electronics, to backpacks (backpacks are HUGE decisions). It’s understandable why I enjoy shopping. There are plenty of companies and services to shop to find what suits me for whatever I’m looking to buy or need. We have this luxury where we live simply because of our economy. But this is understandably bleeding into our church life, which hasn’t been the best thing.

Have you ever church shopped? You know, the action of finding the right congregation for you and your family? Now, I’m not talking about church shopping that involves you changing addresses, states, or countries, because if God is moving you places, it’s important to find a congregation in the new place you are living. I’m talking about the kind of church shopping where you stop going to a church because of something you didn’t like, a sermon that rubbed you wrongly, or had conflict with a leader and you did not want to deal with that person at all? Here’s a good reference point of the kind of reasons I’m talking about for leaving a church.

Sadly, our freedom of religion, the rise of individualism, and the over saturation of churches (denominations & actual church communities per square mile) has turned us into consumers of religion. If we want a certain kind of worship style, a specific kind of preaching, a polity where we can have more power, a hipster pastor, an old school minister, a specific ministry for our kids, we can find a church that will fit our wants just down the street. Our understanding of conflict culturally has also done us wrong as well. If a person in the church or the church sees something differently than myself, then I have every right to leave, not seeking any kind of resolution and moving on with my life. Seriously, how many of us can think of a situation in the church that was resolved any differently than how the rest of the world resolves conflict? Let me put it in a different way, it’s the church’s version of tolerance when people say, “If it works for you, that’s cool but I’m going to go find something else.” We have lost the ability to love one another, forgive one another, and live a holy life together. Instead of loving one another in holy community, we are tolerating each other as we get what we need from the church service.

This is doing incredible harm to our life with Christ, life with each other, and to the perception people outside the church have about following Christ. We can’t preach love each other and simply tolerate one another.

Now addressing this issue could take up an entire book. So let me provide something that can answer it as easily as possible.

Your relationship with God and personal holiness is not actually yours.

Let me explain. The guiding principle that Jesus places at the forefront of a life with Him is His response to the Pharisees in Matthew 22: Love the Lord God with your heart, soul, and mind and the second is like it (with equal weight), love your neighbor as yourself. This comes after Jesus speaks on the mount when he also mentions: Do unto others as you have done to you (Matthew 7). Paul’s specific letters to churches in the midst of conflict speaks how to deal with conflict. It must always be addressed in love. That is the main thrust of 1 Corinthians 13.

The relationship that we gain through Jesus’ love on the cross and the life we can live through His resurrection and Spirit is designed to be constantly in relationship with others. The holiness that He gives through His Spirit is only enacted in our ability to love one another.

What We Can Learn About Prayer from Moses

What We Can Learn About Prayer from Moses

Prayer. You wouldn’t believe how many people in my church say that we need more of it. I’d be interested to see how many people who believe in God actually do it. And me being from a generation that doesn’t pray very often, I (and many my age or younger) would prefer to go out and do good, visit the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the homeless, and help with bills rather than simply kneel for large chunks of time, spouting off specific prayer requests and being hopeful for God to move positively. It’s not that young people don’t believe in prayer, we just don’t want to simply sit by and let God to do the work without us involved.

But prayer has been essential for life. Especially in recent days, and not just personally. You wouldn’t believe the number of requests that come across my e-mail, told to me, or I see while living life. While I may be able to help in some of these situations, many of them don’t involve me personally, and there is nothing I can physically do about these situations.

So I have discovered that as soon as I see or hear of a request, I pray for these situations immediately (2 Reasons for This: 1. If I say I’m going to pray for a situation there is no reason not to start then. 2. I will likely forget if I don’t pray immediately). Now a cynic might not see this as a fruitful endeavor or see the prayer as me getting into other peoples’ business, but I was recently encouraged by Moses in his prayer life during the Exodus. I’m learning how essential it is for the disciple of Christ to pray for others.

As I’ve been reading Exodus, something has stuck out that hasn’t before. When Moses and Aaron are pleading with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go and upon his denial bringing the miracles (or plagues) on Egypt, there comes a point when Pharaoh actually submits. This is not during the last plague of killing of the first born, this happens a few plagues prior. Pharaoh concedes and asks Moses to go and pray to God to remove the plague(s) from his people. And Moses gracefully does this on behalf of Pharaoh and Egypt. After this, Pharaoh changes his mind back to restricting the Israelites from leaving, but nonetheless in a moment of desperation, he asks Moses to specifically pray for God to take away the plague. God responds to this prayer and lifts the plagues.

What struck me for the first time ever was the communication relay from Pharaoh, to Moses, and finally to God. God did not simply listen in on the conversation, but waits for Moses to come to Him to ask on behalf of Pharaoh. Moses becomes the middle man in this situation. He becomes a mediator, sharing God’s will to Pharaoh and sharing Pharaoh’s pleading for mercy to God. This not only foreshadows Moses’ role later for the Israelites, but it puts a lot of peoples’ lives in Moses’ hands.

For being a man who was trying to lead his people out of slavery and had a pretty significant distain for the Egyptians (he did kill one of them for mistreating an Israelite slave), Moses is pretty compliant and graceful to pray on behalf of Pharaoh. He is literally praying for his enemies. And as he prays to God to lift His wrath from Egypt, God responds positively by relenting some of these plagues.

Moses, though, didn’t have to do this. He could’ve checked his grace at the door and simply spouted truth back to him. He could’ve said, “See? If you would just let us go God would’ve stopped sending plagues at turning the Nile into blood!”  But Moses didn’t, he prayed on behalf of his enemy, showing the love of God when God didn’t seem so loving.

If Moses can pray for Pharaoh and the Egyptian people who were unjust towards the Israelites, shouldn’t we be praying for each other, regardless of our particular opinion of a person? It is no wonder that Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute (Matthew 5:44). This precedent was not started by Jesus, it happened thousands of years before as Moses prayed on behalf of Pharaoh!

So if you follow Jesus or call yourself a follower of Christ, praying for anyone is a part of our daily lives. This isn’t simply just dropping some words off at Jesus and calling it a day, but legitimately pleading to God on behalf of those who are in need of his saving power, whether that means in a life circumstance, an injury or sickness, or on behalf of someone who doesn’t believe God even exists. These kinds of prayers are words that we believe that God can do amazing things for all, especially if it is His will. And our prayers are not to be limited regarding only the people in your church or your prayer chain, but the people and powers who seek to do you the most harm.

We have a teenager in our church who consistently prays for ISIS during youth group. Now from what is said and seen in the public sphere regarding ISIS, it would be pretty hard to concede a legitimate prayer to God on behalf of a group of people who does horrific things in the world. But they are still people, who Jesus loves and who for whom He died. If we do not pray on behalf of them, who will? Someone who doesn’t believe in God? Someone who is simply moral?

Today, we have the chance to make a difference, whether it is being involved in someone’s life directly, spreading God’s love or by becoming involved by praying on the behalf of others. Take the time to pray for your family, your neighbor, your enemy, your friend who has an opposite political affiliation, your spouse, your kids, or even that person who is riding in the ambulance that drove by a few minutes ago. But don’t do it if you don’t mean it or believe it. Love others through your prayer and allow God to move as He wants, and I think we’ll be amazed at what is to come.

-M

Why So Serious?

Why So Serious?

I’m sitting in my office preparing some things while there is a group of women in the other room counting pennies that will go towards supporting people who are blind in third world countries. To say they are enjoying themselves would be an understatement. I hear talking, laughing, clapping, and even singing. And I sit here, doing my work and smiling, blessed by the joy coming from that room. At the same time, I’m reading a post by a pastor, church leader, a media outlet, or some random guy on Facebook, sharing their serious opinions about acceptance, morals, structure, philosophy, or politics.

And I just had a thought, why are Christians so serious these days and when did their opinion become more important than loving each other?

When I read the Pentecost account, there is a specific verse that describes the disciples of Christ that gives me pause. I paraphrase it here: “Those disciples are weird. When they get together, they love on one another so much, say weird things, and are so happy that I can’t tell if they’re drunk or not.” -Paraphrase of Acts 2:13. Apparently, the Spirit in people causes them to act differently.

When was the last time you were around a drunk person, in particular a “happy one”? This might be an odd question because many folks within the church would critique a disciple of Christ for being around an inebriated person. But someone who is drunk lose their inhibitions. If they are a “happy drunk” you will find that the simplest thing will make them laugh hysterically. Many will sing for no reason (probably Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places”). Others will lose the ability to understand “personal space” to share something incredibly funny or personal. And there are no reservations of doing any of these things, even if what they tell you is embarrassing, or incriminating.

Now being a disciple of Christ and a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene, I do not believe that alcohol is something we should partake to satisfy ourselves. But I can think of a person that Jesus raised as an example of faith that are very similar to someone who has lost their inhibitions to alcohol.

When was the last time a child grabbed you by the face, hugged you randomly, sang at the top of their lungs (regardless of their intonation), told you something that would be embarrassing if they were a mature adult? Children are the most joyful people in the world because the philosophies and social expectations of the world have not been solidly ingrained in their minds. Children trust unabashedly, laugh uncontrollably, and sing randomly because, well, they’re free from all the things we learn as we get older.

The amazing characteristic of following Jesus is being defined by Christ instead of all the social expectations, financial woes, and philosophies of the day. And when you are defined by Christ, all those other things fade, and you are able to embrace life. Embracing life doesn’t mean there aren’t problems, but you’re able to embrace all of life as a gift. Just like a toy you get as a gift as a child, you embrace it to the point of it even breaking, and yet you still love it and enjoy it even if the toy car is missing a wheel or the plush bear with a torn arm. And if the gift of life by Christ is embraced, we become overly joyful, like a child (or a “happy drunk”).

The story of God, which is full of joy, is being stamped out by our seriousness. This isn’t just evident online, it’s seen in our Sunday services, in the way we talk to one another in our churches, our small groups, our life together. People come with serious business on their minds. They see the service as an essential check mark to their journey with God. They see the pastors as overseers of church business instead of friends to talk to about the silliest of things. They see the small group as a place of Bible study, instead of simply being together, sharing experiences together over a meal.

We need to get back to being kids, laughing with one another, singing uncontrollably with one another, eating and sharing life together. And I say this as being a person who loves to get business done and has plenty of opinions. So I’m talking to myself here. We need to start having fun and being honest with one another, unafraid of judgments (because of love). We need to stop playing the social game with people and play an actual game with one another. We need to just sit, around a fire, a table, telling the stories that make us happy and make us suffer.

If we get to that point of uncontrollable joy, and start being mistaken as drunks, then maybe we’ll living into the identity of being Spirit-filled disciples of Christ more than we have in years.

-M

Absence

Absence

I know it’s been 10 months since I’ve seen this website. For this absence, I apologize. My only excuse for this absence is the tasks and duties needed to be done in my current ministry context. So I ask for your grace.

However, I’ve recently been reignited to learn and dialogue. And so I hope that this is not just a fleeting attempt to write once again, but a discipline redeveloped for our community.

So, I hope many of you (who have read this site before and possibly new readers) join me in the coming days.

-M