Honest Christianity – grace is always greater

Prodigal
This is a quote I re-read from one of my favourite writers this week on retreat. It is from Henri Nouwen’s book about the prodigal son. He explores the story from the perspective of the prodigal, the father and the stay at home son. It is a classic and will always speak afresh or anew to me when I pick it up again.

When we think about how God thinks about and treats us, it is helpful for our mental and spiritual wellbeing, to remind ourselves that God’s goodness, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, is always for us, available and accessible even when our lives are not what they can be. As Paul asks us shall we continue to sin that grace abounds (Romans 6.1), we answer no, but we do, we remind ourselves that we do live in the benefits of greater grace.

Read or reread the book, you will be inspired by God’s favour towards us.

Wondering Wednesdays – recipient of grace

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You know when you volunteer to do something and it sounds so very simple! Well I did that and it was so very complicated! All I offered to do was be a signatory on a bank account for a charity I am a trustee of – I had forgotten how all the regulations had changed. I needed to prove who I was, I gathered all my information and went off to the post office and was told that they didn’t offer that service although their website says they do! I finally managed to find a day where I had time to visit a lawyer to get them to endorse photo id and a utility bill. I was immensely blessed when told that there would be no charge as it was for a charity!

I appreciated that Zoe had the autonomy to do that for me, not all organizations allow their staff to exercise grace in such a way, there are rules and regulations that have to be followed. It happened the other week too when I had made a mess of a rail booking, the lovely person at Virgin made it work for me without charging me extra! On both those occasions I was full of gratitude and felt immensely blessed. I get frustrated some times at work that I do not have the autonomy to make gracious decisions in response to things that students have or have not done, there are regulations and fairness to consider. But there are days when we all benefit from a bit of grace.

Honest Christianity – random acts of kindness, pale imitation of grace?

Random acts of kindness

What are our reflections on how we have lived this year and how we want to live next year? Acts of kindness will always be a positive conducive way for us to individually and corporately live. To be spontaneously nice to people is always a good thing to do but is
it good enough? Should we have a greater intentionality in our acts of kindness? Should it be a perpetual action rather than just a random one? This is how I understand grace, it is not random, it is continuous, perpetual, for all time…

Christmas, the birth of Jesus, when God became a human being, a vulnerable baby, is not a random idea and action, it was an intentional, considered response to a problem, a need, the situation the world was in.

If we are considering any new year resolutions then perhaps one might be to set our minds, spirits and actions to be intentionally generous. Wishing and hopefully contributing to you having a gracious new year.

Honest Christianity – wasteful grace?

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There is a wonderful story in Mark 14 where a women anoints Jesus with costly perfume. As I read the story again this week, I was struck by the phrase, “She did what she could” (verse 8). What a wonderful thing to be said of any of us. There is no sign of striving to impress Jesus or the others with him. She does not seem to know the significance of this gesture, she does what she can. But this doesn’t stop her from being misunderstood, but is this not the common sign of the essence of honest Christianity, grace. Did Jesus understand before she did it, did she understand? She was faithful in the next step. Grace is sometimes
misunderstood as a waste, the pouring of this oil was seen as an obscene waste.

What can we do to portray honest Christianity for 2015? Do what we can, simple generous acts of graciousness. Do what we can, do what only we can do. If we are accused of it being wasteful then maybe it might be grace.

Friday photo – great signs

stupidity

I have  friend who is blind who regularly laments at how inconsiderate people are parking on pavements and in all sorts of places you don’t expect to find a car – particularly when you can’t see them!  I saw this sign walking back to my (properly parked in a car park) car from the doctors yesterday – it was outside a store that needed access for its vans so that people could do their jobs.  While acknowledging that handicap is not a preferred word to use, the sign does highlight how expedience can make us do things that are stupid, lacking in grace and which can be harmful for other people.  This is genuinely my photograph not a funny picture I found online!

Honest Christianity – in your mercy…

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This morning one of ministers used an often used response for the intercessions.  The leader says Lord in your mercy, and our response is, hear our prayer.  It struck me afresh why is it we call upon God’s mercy to answer our prayers?  Why not because you love to answer prayers, your kindness, your generosity?  There are lots of options that connect our human desires and the nature of God.

I had always thought I understood mercy, especially in relationship to grace.  Grace is receiving from God what we don’t deserve (forgiveness, love) and mercy is not being given what we do deserve (punishment, separation).  I have done a reasonable amount of study around grace over the years, but never given the same the same attention to mercy. Grace has always seemed so rich and mercy seemed so deficit, not getting something because I am undeserving and unworthy.

I think this is why it did not make sense to me when applied to prayer, what kind of God wants to not give me something when I pray.  I do not want God’s pity in my prayers nor any other part of my life.

On further study, mercy seems to be more about receiving God’s compassion, kindness, relief from distress. The Hebrew word, racham means compassion, tender affection as in the care of a foetus within the womb. Mercy also has been translated as loving kindness,

According to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “mercy” is defined as: “a form of love determined by the state or condition of its objects. Their state is one of suffering and need, while they may be unworthy or ill-deserving. Mercy is, at once the disposition of love respecting such, and the kindly ministry of love for their relief.”

Now this seems a much more helpful understanding of asking, an invocation for prayers to be heard and answered calling upon God’s mercy. If this is the nature of God, then I am happy to call upon this kind of God.

Lord in your mercy, protect me in the safety of your womb with lovingkindness, compassion, relieve my suffering and distress.  Hear my prayer.

Amen

Honest Christianity – liberty or licence or love?

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I am keen on memorable quotes, one of my all time favourites is this:

What ever I do, God cannot love me any more or any less.

I referred to this quote today a part of a talk at Sally’s first communion today. I was doing the loving yourself part, others talked about loving God and loving your neighbour. (We each had only five minutes – perhaps the most challenging part of the task!) As much as I love and believe these words, they are full of danger as well as affirmation and blessing. If I misunderstood this quote, I could take it to mean that I do not need to try and be the person God wants me to be – I can do what I like and God still loves me! It could be misconstrued to mean something like the danger Paul warns the Romans about in Romans 6.1 “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” I think the answer to this was no!

Also it is not to say that we cannot grieve God, make God sad, hold back how much kingdom God desires to come. Let’s not kid ourselves, we can upset God, but it does not and cannot change how much God loves us. However, I do not have a licence to do what ever I want, the statement for me, it more of a reflection on the power of God’s love and the risk God takes in the liberating licence I have when I live in this truth.

This is God’s gracious, generous promise to Sally in her Priesting, in her ongoing ministry, to the people of God to whom she has the privilege of serving and to all of us.