Saturday, March 15, 2014

Bitter-Sweet


Today was my last at Spiffy Lube.

About a month ago, I applied for a new job with a non-profit in the mental health industry, and after a few interviews, background checks and tests, I was hired. 

I worked at Spiffy for 11 months. So many times in the last year, I promised myself I'd find a new job -- after finishing the maddening battery of computer-based training, I promised myself I'd have a new job by the time I needed to be recertified; after preparing for, stressing over and executing annual corporate reviews, I promised myself that by the next time they came up, I'd be employed elsewhere; when Christmas time came and went, with a mere one day off, no bonus, and a Christmas party that I wasn't allowed to bring my wife to, I said I'd have a new job long before next Christmas rolled around; with every rude customer, burned wrist, poor sales day, cut shift, or open-to-close workday, I swore I'd get a new job soon.

There were so many things I disliked about that job.

And now I'm finished.

I never had to re-do the computer-based training.
I never had to do another corporate review.
I got a new job before the Christmas party rolled around again.
I never have to deal with another rude customer, burn my wrist, or work an 11.5 hour shift there again.

I've left for a new job that pays more, works fewer hours, offers better benefits, has weekends off, and doesn't require me to wallow in carcinogens on a daily basis.

You'd think I'd be thrilled.

And I am. It's sweet.

But it's a bitter-sweet.

The new job brings with it its own share of challenges. However, the transition is made bitter by more than that.

I'm going to miss Spiffy Lube.

No. More.

I'm going to miss the guys I worked with.

I didn't just have co-workers, I had friends - men who had my back, who supported and respected me. Men who I laughed with, hurt with, got angry with, and made fun of far too many people with.

It's unfathomable, but Spiffy and the frustrations found there, forged a bond between the five of us that went beyond that of just colleagues. We became friends.

Truth be told, these guys couldn't have been more different than me -- aspiring rappers, former gang members, sarcastic atheists -- but in many ways, I grew closer to these guys in the last year than I have to even some of my friends from church, and it's surprising and beautiful. For the first time in a long time, I have friends who are different than me, who think differently, act differently, speak differently, look differently.

And somehow, in the process, in the crucible, I changed. I became a better man - more hard-working, more self-sacrificial, more knowledgeable, wiser, funnier, more discerning. God used Spiffy Lube to change me for the better.

Somehow, this hard year was grace. In the midst of it, I experienced provision - financially and relationally. I learned more and better how to trust in the Lord's strength. I learned how better to love my enemies, and to pray for those who are different than I am. I learned how to lend counsel to someone who's spiritual starting point was different than mine, and how to show them glimpses of God's goodness in the process.

One of my co-workers sent me a text the other day. It said, "...we miss you already. Not just for your [customer service skills], but for your character...and 30% for your 'stache."

That meant a lot. It humbled and blessed me.

So, yeah. I've got a new job. It offers better pay, better benefits, a better schedule, better work experience, in a better environment...

But it's going to have it's tough aspects as well.

However, my time at Spiffy Lube is now an Ebenezer - an altar of rememberance - that even in the midst of difficulty, in spite of difficulty, and sometimes by virtue of the difficulty itself God is faithful. God is good. God provides.

And sometimes provision can be bitter-sweet.



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Thursday, November 21, 2013

You Don't Know What You're Missing


My wife and I are trying to adopt a stray.

It's not going so well.

We don't want to adopt just any old stray cat. There's a specific one we've got our eyes on. She's
been coming around for about a month, on a near-daily basis. She is a black and white, medium sized cat, with bright yellow eyes. Honestly, she looks like she could be Moto's sister, and that's what we want her to be. We've been wondering lately whether  Moto might be lonely, so we're interested in getting a cat. "What a cool idea," we thought, "if we were able to get a black & white female, and name her Lola. Then our two cats would be named "Moto" and "Lola".

Get it?

Moto-Lola (harkens back to Moto's Korean heritage).

Anyway, Fauxla (as we've been calling her, pre-adoption) isn't trying to have any part of it. She's just here for the food. She tolerates us. We've noticed her becoming less and less fearful of us as the month has worn on. She'll even come into the house to eat her daily ration. However, if we close the door behind her, she forgets all about the tasty morsels in her bowl and starts to search for a way out, howling loudly. She also isn't very nice to Moto.

Two strikes.

She won't abide being indoors, and she can't get along with our cat.

We know we can't adopt her.

We also know we can't stop feeding her. Not until we move, anyway.

We thought that perhaps we shouldn't feed her anymore, since she wasn't going to be ours, but decided against that idea.

Mercy requires that we continue to feed her. It would be cruel not to. If we can't bring ourselves to feed a cat on our doorstep, how can we expect ourselves to have compassion on men and women out in the world? We can't. So we are practicing mercy, on a stray cat who may never love us back.

After all, isn't that what God did?


"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."


My Calvinist friends would chastise me. God is sovereign. He knew before the foundation of the world, those who he'd chosen and elected to be his own... and yet, He gave us the freedom to choose. The Bible says that He desires that none should perish... but some will. He gave us the freedom to not choose Him... Why any would not baffles me. If only they could see the beauty, know the love, experience the mercy of our Lord. And I suppose that's the difference. God may have given me the freedom not to choose Him, but He also called me. He chose me. He made Himself known to me, and that knowing was irresistible. (Now I know my Calvinist friends will be happy.)

A few days ago, Ferial told me that this situation with Fauxla reminds her of something C. S. Lewis once said. Here this cat is, in a warm house, with people who want to love her, another cat who wants to befriend her, all the food she can eat, safety, security, family - and all she can think about is how to get back out. She climbs into the window, presses her paws against the glass, and cries to be back out in the cold, rainy, winter-freedom. Her very own security, a place of great insecurity. Lewis said that,

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I wonder at that cat. She doesn't know what she's missing.

In the same way, I wonder at those who don't believe the gospel, who don't desire a relationship with God.

You don't know what you're missing. 
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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Pleasure


Going to Chik-fil-a is strikingly dissimilar from going to almost any other fast food restaurant. From the moment you arrive at the counter / drive-up speaker-thingamajig, you're greeted with such a refreshingly genuine desire to serve that it's almost foreign. It can be startling the first time you experience it. One doubts the sincerity of such service, and service it is. Actually, service is in the very fabric of the phrasing, which makes Chik-fil-a so unique.

When you pull up at almost any other fast-food establishment, you're greeted with a canned, "Welcome to ____________. Would you like to try a (insert seasonal item, here)?", as if you don't have an idea of what you want to order already, or you haven't spent some time perusing the menu board. The first thing they're trying to do is sell you something. It doesn't matter what you want. It's what corporate wants them to push. And honestly, they're not even really trying. It's just what they're supposed to say.

When you're greeted at Chik-fil-a, the employee says "Welcome to Chik-fil-a. How can I serve you today?" Now, I know that this is also what the employee is "supposed" to say, because it's said the same way every time, but do you know what the difference is? I truly believe the employee at Chik-fil-a genuinely wants to serve me. When you make a request, or express gratitude at Chik-fil-a, they say "My pleasure", and I believe they are pleased to do it.

Service, pleasure, gratitude. These things are in the very DNA of Chik-fil-a. It's a part of their culture, and I think it's a culture that the employees have bought into.

I understand a thing or two about service. Having worked as a server for two different restaurant chains, and a service tech at the nation's largest quick-lube franchise, I have experienced many of the ups and downs that come with working in the service industry. Whenever someone I greet or serve thanks me for something, I usually respond with "my pleasure" or "I'm glad to do it."

Is this true?

Am I glad to wash the insides of your windows, when our service specifically states that we wash "exterior" windows? When, after setting their tires to the manufacturers recommended tire pressure, a customer asks me to set them to something different, causing me to fall behind in the middle of a rush, am I glad to be of service?

Yes.
Usually.
And if I'm not, I'm in the wrong, and I regret my attitude later.

You know why?

Because that's my job, and I'm grateful to have one.

Whether I'm changing the tire pressure for the second time, or moving on to the next vehicle, I'm doing my job. It's what I get paid for. It's what I was hired for, and it's my pleasure to do it.

More importantly for me, as a Christian, I believe that God is my ultimate provider. He provided me with a job, the body and brain to do it, and the money it pays me. I see Him as my true boss. Doing my job well reflects on Him. In Colossians 3, Paul admonishes his readers to "work at [your job] with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."

True, sometimes the encouragement from the book of James feels more appropriate, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

However, at the end of the day, it's the Lord I work for. It's the Lord who's given me my job, and to work for the Lord, no matter what it is that my hand finds to do, nor how bad or tiresome the work may be, is my pleasure.



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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fighting For Five


Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author of Quitter and Start, coined a concept which he calls "being selfish at 5:00 am." It's a pretty simple idea, but profound at the same time. If you want to do things for you, like work on a dream, or pursue something you love, and not steal-time from your employer (graphic design on the clock) or take time away from your family (holed away writing, when you could be with your kids), then it's probably not the best idea to do it between the hours of say 7:30 am - 11:00 pm. There may be time in your schedule to chase your dream during those hours, but chances are, if you're like me, you're ignoring something by dream chasing in the middle of the afternoon. However, outside that window, there are very few people making demands on your time, and there's still quite a bit of day not in that [flexible] window. You're probably not filing TPS reports for your boss at 5:00 am. Your wife probably won't be jealous of your laptop if you're teaching yourself to code at 5:00 am. The kids don't have soccer tournaments at 5:00am. You're the king of your world at 5:00 am and you can do almost anything your desire.




You just have to get up.

And that's my problem.

Unless I have a time sensitive obligation, I find it very difficult to motivate myself to wake up at 5:00 am. Even for things I want to do. I love cooking breakfast, having coffee, reading, journaling, and enjoying the morning coolness. These are all things I love to do, but at 5:00 am, guess what I love more... sleeping.

And you can talk yourself out of almost anything, when you're half-asleep. My wife and I call it "sleep logic". You may not have showered for two days, and have a cow-lick that rivals the Eiffel Tower, but somehow, you can convince yourself that it'll be ok to skip the shower again today. "I'll wear a hat...."

It really comes down to what I want more. Do I want to be a morning person? Do I want to be productive with that part of my day? Do I want to enjoy a leisurely morning, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, spending time alone with God, writing, reading and preparing for my day? Or do I want more sleep?

It's my choice. Both options are [positively] selfish and affect almost no one but myself.

Truth be told, I think I want the mornings more.

Jon Acuff wants the mornings more. And he uses them to chase his dreams. His readers started something called FIVE CLUB, and created an accountability app, for dreamers who collectively wake up before 5:00 am and hustle. The app only lets you actually use it, to check in, for one minute per day - from 5:00 to 5:01 am.

My co-worker, Jimmy, understands this concept of morning hustle. He wakes up daily before 5:00, and goes running. Then he'll have breakfast, spend time cleaning, grocery shopping, and running errands before he has to be at work at 9:00. He wants the mornings more.

My father-in-law works for a major computer company, specializing in content management. On most days, he's up around 4:00, getting ready to have early morning meetings with clients and employees from around the world. He travels 50% of the year, commutes to San Francisco 40% and works from his home office the other 10%, but almost every day of it, he's up before 5:00 am. He wants the mornings more.

Jonathon Swift is quoted to have said,

“I never knew a man come to greatness or eminence who lay abed late in the morning.”


So here's to 5:00 am. I know it won't happen overnight. That's not a healthy way to start a new habit. However, by God's grace, and a bit of determination, it can happen. 


I want the mornings more. 


Remind me of that in the morning.




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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Green Grass Grows All Around


Other than how little I'm paid, and the copious amounts of sweat I produce while doing it, I like my job.

Most days, anyway.

I didn't think I was going to when I started. I've never been the type to gravitate toward manual labor. I've always been more of a thinker; a creative. I prefer pursuits that are intellectually stimulating, rather than physically demanding.

However, as I started to gain new skills, to understand my job more, I found myself enjoying it. I found it satisfying to work hard for 6 hours, sweat a bunch, and to have something tangible to show for it - 25 properly maintained cars and about $45 (after taxes).

One thing that made my job especially difficult to adjust to was the fact that within 2 shifts, I already had a new arch-nemesis. He was smart, sarcastic, good and his job, and angry. He quickly decided that I was going to be the target of his wrath, and would antagonize me whenever he got the chance.

Then, about two months into my employment, I received what was to me, a golden opportunity. My boss, seeing that I was finally becoming half-competent, asked me to temporarily transfer to another store, where they were short-staffed and needed a hand. At first, I was nervous, but the chance to get away from Newman more than allayed my fears.


Once there, I found the other shop to be a veritable wonderland! Our shop was much nicer, in terms of aesthetic and functionality, but this new shop was so much friendlier! They were patient, kind, nice to each other. They didn't seem to harbor malice toward the world. They liked to work, and were usually happy when customers arrived, as opposed to my shop, where arriving customers were usually met withvexpletives. 

I found that the grass truly was greener on the other side, and I very seriously inquired about whether a permanent transfer was possible. I needed to get away from Newman. I liked the slower pace of this new shop, and found the folks there to be so much more pleasant. 

Alas, as it turned out, a transfer was not in the cards. My shop couldn't spare me, as there were a number of people leaving via transfers and good old fashioned quitting. In addition my boss was going on sabbatical, so after a week or two of bouncing between the two shops, it was back to home base for me. 

Months went by. Newman quit and moved to another state. I got better and better at my job. Our team grew stronger, and more closely knit. Things were going well, and as I said, most days, I enjoyed my job. 

Then a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to fill-in for a day at that same shop. 

It was...unpleasant. 

The work was easy enough. Not only was I a better tech than the last time I was there, but I was almost completely unneeded that day. It was so slow. 

It was unpleasant, because of the people. The guys were being rude, complaining, harassing each other, participating in racist banter, and being general slobs. It was no longer a pleasant place of patience and encouragement. 

The grass was definitely not greener. 

There in that place, I was so thankful that I was never transferred, and that my shop, which was at one time such an unbearable place to work, was now the place I preferred to be. 

The grass was greener on my side. 

More importantly, I realized that the grass is the greenest in the pasture God places you. 

If you're a believer, you can be confident that wherever you find yourself, no matter how difficult the circumstances, is precisely where God wants you to be... and there is no greener grass than in the center of His will. 

If you find that the grass isn't so green, that you're grazing on bitter weeds and thistles, realize that even this is part of His plan for your life and His Kingdom. He is working things in your life for your good and His glory. 

Sometimes the color of the grass is merely a matter of perspective...and patience. 

You can be confident, however, that the Good Shepherd is leading you into pleasant pastures, and that for those who love God and are called according to His purposes, 


"Green grass grows all around, all around. Green grass grows all around."

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Inside Out


I'm not allowed to tell you where I work.

Seriously.

When I started my job, I signed an agreement stating it was illegal for me to name, describe or mention my place of employment by name, in photographs, on blogs, or in social media. So, if we were to hang out together, I could tell you where I work. I could tell you all about my job, but since this is a blog, I can't mention it.

I can, however tell you that I work for the nation's largest quick-lube chain, and that if you bring your car in, we'll get you out in a jiffy.







As part of my job, I get to see a lot of cars. Some are complete beaters, driven by hoarders, loaded from floor to ceiling with more clutter and junk than I have in my entire home. Others are beautiful pieces of automotive machinery, like the Scion FR-s in cobalt blue with custom Lamborghini-inspired doors. 

I've always liked cars. However, up until this job, I never knew much about what was under the hood. I merely appreciated them from a driver's point-of-view - how they look, how comfortable the interior is, what features they offer, how fast are they, how they handle, accelerate, & how cool I might look driving one. Now, I know a bit more. My knowledge and appreciation is now deeper, and therefore, my care and concern that they are properly maintained. 

One of the most frustrating aspects of my job is when a customer comes in with an amazing sports car, or a beautiful European luxury car - they look beautiful on the outside, freshly washed and waxed, after-market rims and low-profile tires gleaming - with the inside in a state of complete disarray. When you lift the hood, you realize that this person either can't afford to properly maintain their vehicle, or they don't care to. 

They aren't putting quality oils and fluids into it, instead opting for the cheapest grade possible. They aren't performing regular preventative maintenance, according to their manufacturers recommendations, nor according to the advice of the knowledgable professionals servicing their vehicle. They want their car to look good on the outside, but they aren't concerned enough with the care of it's most vital parts. It can be all too easy to skip a service here, ignore that clicking sound there, or neglect the things you may not even be aware need doing.

From the outside, you'd never know the difference. Once you see the inside, however, there's no denying the decay. 

Believe it or not, this reminds me of something that Jesus once said:

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

The Pharisees were the ├╝ber religious guys, the spiritual elites. They were given special honor in Jewish culture - people stepped out of the way when they passed, gave them the best seats in the house, treated them with honor everywhere they went. 

Here, Jesus basically calls them used coffins. They may be beautifully adorned, polished and waxed, and look very expensive, but inside it's all death, stench and rot. 

The Pharisees, not unlike many religious people today, were full-of-themselves - prideful, self-righteous, condescending. Jesus says that that kind of hypocrisy is like washing only the outside of a bowl that had moldy food inside, and trying to serve someone soup out of it. 






If Jesus' disciples had been auto-mechanics, instead of fishermen; if he were preaching in our time, he might have worded the metaphor a bit like this:

"You holier-than-thou religious hypocrites are like a luxury car that looks beautiful on the outside, but under the hood - it's all grease and dirt and leaks. You spend so much time cleaning up the outside so that you and your status symbol look good on the streets, but you ignore the insides. Pretty soon you're going to find yourself stuck on the side of the road with a really good-looking piece of trash. Where will you be then? Worry first about the inside of your car - the parts that make it run - and then take care of the paint and the rims."

Whichever metaphor you use, the point remains the same. If you don't feed your dog, all the brushing and bathing in the world won't keep it healthy, and the same is true for your spiritual life. Things need caring for from the inside out, whether cars, dogs, dishes, our bodies or our souls, and we need to be especially careful of the latter, specifically those of us who are more of the religious-types, we Christians. As far as society was concerned, the Pharisees were the good-guys, the church-going, upright religious folks, the ones who had it all together. Jesus says that they're spiritually blind, and what's worse, spiritually dead, but so conceited that they can't see it.

Jesus said that folks like that have received their reward in full. They may have gotten the admiration of strangers. They may have stacked street cred like Kanye stacks cash, but that's all they're gonna get. At the end of their days, none of it will do them any good. They gained the world, but forfeited their souls.

What about you? Are you trying to live a life that looks squeaky-clean, but neglecting preventative maintenance for your soul™? If you're like me, you like others to think you've got it all together, but you aren't nearly concerned enough for your soul's most vital parts. It's all too easy to skip a prayer time here, ignore that discipline there, or neglect the things you may not even be aware need doing.

But they do need doing. 

Ultimately, it's God who cares for your soul. Sanctification is something we do in partnership with the Spirit. There are things we need to be doing regularly, maintenance parameters established by your manufacturer to help keep your spiritual self running at optimal levels.

A few examples include:

~ Prayer ~
~ Meditation on the Scriptures ~
~ Spiritual Singing (even if you're not musically inclined, singing is commanded in scripture more than almost any other thing) ~
~ Service ~
~ Humility ~
~ Silence & Solitude (great spaces for reflection and spiritual meditation) ~

I know there are a number of things on that list that need more attention in my life. How about you? Together, let's pray that God might grant us the grace to desire more of these things in our lives, and provide us with the strength to commit to them. That He would give us both the motivation and the ability to follow through on His commands to care for ourselves from the inside out. 



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Friday, July 26, 2013

Control


"Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." -Matthew 16:25


This verse is not merely about martyrdom. 

Certainly, there is an element of that in Jesus' words; perhaps even the bulk of his rhetoric thrusts in that direction. However, there is another meaning inherent in this homily. All throughout the ebb and flow of Matthew's gospel, we see Jesus preaching about the coming of a kingdom - 
The Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven. He instructs us to pray for it's coming on earth (6:10), tells us what it is like (13:24, 31, 33, 45, 47; 18:23, etc.), and with John The Baptist instructs his hearers to repent for it "has come near" (3:2; 4:17).

The overarching theme of the book is that the Kingdom of Heaven - the Kingdom of God - has come and is breaking forth in the world of men. Listeners are instructed to repent, prepare and proclaim the coming of this Kingdom. 

--------------------------------------

Imagine, if you will, the proclamation being given: a kingdom is coming. There's no stopping it, no fighting it. To do so would be in vain. This kingdom is taking over, and you can submit to it, or be crushed by it. Thankfully, it is ruled over by a goodly king. He wants nothing but fruitfulness and blessing for his people. However, he will tolerate no rebellion, no insurrection. The land, and it's people are rightfully his, and he will have his due. 

What would you do? How would you prepare? 

Would there be fear? 

Undoubtedly.

Would there be excitement?

For most. 

The land has been in turmoil for so long. The coming of the king is good news for many. 

There are some, however, who like the idea of life without a king: the bullies, the brigands. 

For those, the coming kingdom is news most foul. 

--------------------------------------

Here's the thing about a kingdom - it is ruled over by a king, a lord, a sovereign. 
There is only one person who exerts full control over those realms - the king. 
His subjects have freedom, as he allows, as he sees fit. 
To fight his will is folly.


And yet we do this daily.

We too, as Christians, are under the rule of a King. 
And there is not room in His Kingdom for yours. 
Little insurrectionists we are, fighting to wrench control of our lives from the grip of our goodly king. 

And in part, that is what Matthew 16:25 is about. 

It's about relinquishing control of our lives, submitting to the rule of the King. 

Often, I find myself fighting. Pining for a different job, a different physique, a different bank balance, a different set of talents. Truly, there's probably nothing wrong with desiring a different career, working at becoming more healthy, working to earn more money, or practicing at a new skill. It's the fighting that's the foul play. Instead of being thankful for the life I have, and provision given, I grumble, complain, envy, strive and fight for more, better and different. 

But here's the funny thing about control -                                            

                                                     We've never truly got it to begin with. 


We only control what He allows us to. 

So, the control we fight and strive for, that urge to take the wheel and steer, 

is and always was an illusion.

Maybe, in the end, the verse is fundamentally about death, both death at the hands of persecutors, and a death to self, a laying down of one's life, one's rights, & the illusion of control. 

Perhaps it's time. 
Time to submit to the rule of the King.
Time to ignore the illusion. 
It's time to let go. 



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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fruit


The Lord said that "a tree is known by its fruit."
If that be true, then what kind of tree am I?
An inconsistent tree, sometimes bearing fruit
and sometimes barren?
A tree full of impure thoughts and anger, producing fruit rotten from the bud?
A cruel tree surrounded by briars and covered by thorns,
with poisonous sap and bitter fruit?
A weak tree, bent and blown by the wind?
A listless tree, with shallow and unbalanced roots?

One thing be true.
If a tree is known by its fruit, then I must be a grace tree.
For all of those darknesses influence my life, but through the Savior,
the miraculous harvest is grace.
Not that I am gracious,
but that I am soaked in it,
saturated to the depths with it,
in constant need of it.

And He provides it.

If a tree is known by its fruit,
then His be a tree
of mercy
of grace
of hope
of forgiveness
of peace

And I throw myself at the foot of His tree, in desperate need of it all.

To taste the fruit from the tree of life: His life in me and I in He.



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Friday, July 12, 2013

Reminder Sticker


There's a oil change reminder sticker on the floor of our bedroom. It's been there for days. No... the carpet doesn't need its oil changed. I work at a quick-lube shop, and I know how it got there, having fallen out of a pocket, whilst I changed clothes one afternoon this week. It's still there for one very simple reason:
I don't want to pick it up. Not in some psycho-metaphysical sense. I'm just lazy. So I pretend not to see it.

Here's the thing, though - I see everything.

Really, I do.

I see the dime on the floor of the entryway, the box of recyclables in the guest room, the spots on the bathroom mirror from brushing too close, my towel on the bedroom door, the socks at the foot of my bed. I notice the cat litter under-foot near the box, the smell coming from the garbage disposal, the old Tupperware of mystery food in the back of the fridge…

I see it all.

This is a big confession for me. Admitting you see something means taking responsibility for it. I can now be blamed for the sticker on the floor. It means acknowledging that something needs to be done. To not do it is to simply shirk that responsibility. To pretend to ignore it is to be dishonest. It's a subtle lie, but a lie nonetheless.

I see other things as well - interpersonal stickers on the relational floor. I can see times, when fighting, that my wife really wants to he hugged, the young guy in my college group who secretly wants to hang out, the members of my family who wish that I'd call more often. I see those, too, and selfishly choose to ignore them when it suits my needs to do so.

There are also things I see on a macro-level - giant stickers, covered in floor-fuzz, tangled in the carpet of our world, that many of us choose to ignore - the homeless man on the corner, the neighbor that may be abusing his wife, the third-world villagers who who are dying for lack of clean water, the struggling missionaries and charities who desperately need our dollars and prayers.

I see them all, and you do too.

We choose to ignore them for the sake of another latte, a new pair of jeans, a meal out with friends, or a few nights of vacation. To admit that we see would be a huge confession, though. Seeing it means we're responsible. It means we could help to change it, but choose not too, out of laziness or selfishness.

It's not always willful, however. After ignoring the problem for so long, we eventually become blind to it. We don't even notice the dust on the shelf, or the friend who skipped lunch again. We become so engrained in the patterns and habits of our own lives that we fail to see anything that doesn't fit into or affect them.

We wear blinders, so focused on our own lives, our own tasks, our own issues that we are literally blind to the things around us. Sometimes culture contributes to our blindness, sometimes it's the way we're raised, sometimes it's by choice - slow, habitual, and infectious. Usually, it's a combination of them all, and more.

It doesn't remove the responsibility, though.

If I ignore the cobwebs in the corner, I'm still culpable...

I didn't even create the cobwebs! However, they're in my house. Being part of a household, a community, a family means we take responsibility for the things that need to be done. Ignoring them, hoping that someone else will do it, is inconsiderate. It's unloving.

This is true whether we're discussing cobwebs, or conflict chocolate. Ignoring it makes you guilty.

Perhaps you're not in a place where you can make a difference financially. That's fine. You can still give something. You can give of yourself, your voice, your prayers, or perhaps you can cut corners, carving out space in your budget to be able to donate dollars. That decision is up to you. One thing is sure, though. You can't ignore it. You mustn't ignore it.

Because either it's time to change the oil...or we need to get that sticker off the floor.



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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Buoyancy (or I Don't Think You're Ready)


Upon moving to South Korea, my wife and I were certain that one of the lessons God wanted us to learn was how better to relate to "stuff" (material possessions) in our hearts, home, and lives. Part of that was learning to live more simply, learning to save, learning to be more frugal, and learning the discipline of self-control.

We've always loved stuff - nice stuff, cute stuff, cool stuff, trendy stuff. We're nesters, who love building our home from the inside out, and designers who love matching colors, textures, and styles. We're snappy dressers who love a well put together outfit. And for a time, we were absolutely addicted to shopping, buying, collecting, and amassing.

These are the continuing confessions of a recovering materialist.

Slowly, surely, we are being redeemed from these things.

Moving to Korea was a big part of that.

There, our apartment was smaller. There were aspects of it we had little control over. Much of our furnishings came with the apartment, and we didn't get to choose what they would look like. Clothes were almost all Asian-sized, and therefore didn't fit us tall Amurricans.


And so, not wholly unlike rehab, living in Korea helped us as we travelled down the road to recovery.

There were indeed struggles along the way. We made good money as foreign English teachers, and could therefore afford to upgrade, replace, and supplement our apartment furnishings. And not all the clothes were too small, and we would allow ourselves to buy new clothes on occasion, like the wonderful shawl-collar sweater with wooden toggle clasps from Zara that Ferial bought me for my birthday.

However, all in all, by God's grace we learned. We learned to live more frugally, to dress ourselves and our home more simply, and to find our contentment, not in our stuff, as much as in our relationships - those with the people around us, and with our God.

Until we moved back to Amurrica.

We thought we'd travelled a good deal further down the road to recovery than we had. We thought we were stronger than we really were.

However, upon moving back to the US, we realized that the strength we'd gained in Korea, was forged in a protected environment. It was as if we'd been lifting weights underwater - the dumbbells were indeed heavy, but they were more buoyant, and were therefore, easier to lift.

Once we'd crawled out of the water and back onto the dry ground of a land where clothes fit, and we were no longer making more money than we needed, a land where we actually needed to exercise discipline, we realized that we still had quite a bit of learning left to do. Now we're learning the discipline of living month-to-month, of paying off credit cards the old fashioned way - bit-by-bit, trying to design, decorate, and dress on a budget, and the ever-important discipline of saying "NO" to ourselves.

The weight is heavy. However, the muscles have not atrophied.

What's more, the Bible says that God's strength is shown best in our weakness - in situations where we cannot possibly make it on our own, He shows Himself to be the Savior that He is. It's by His strength that we're learning discipline, by His power that we're able to exact self-control, and only by His grace that we didn't drown in the first place.


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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Jealous of Myself


I'm a solid 10 years older than my sister, Eva. When I was a teenager, she was in elementary school, and she thought I was the coolest guy on the planet. Truly, there's no accounting for taste, but at that age, she wanted to play with me all the time. I had two tactics that I employed in order to continue doing what I wanted, and still placate her. For example, if I was playing Zelda when she wanted to play, I'd ask her to "help" me play the video game. I had a saved file for just such occasions. I'd open it, and she'd narrate what she wanted Link to do, and where she wanted him to go, all the while, I'd be providing helpful clues and doing all the actual game playing. Truthfully, she was too young to be able to handle the game on her own, at least not without a lot of help and explanation, but this way, we both got what we wanted.

The only worse time for her to want to play was at 6:00 or 10:00pm, central standard time, because those were the hours, that my favorite show aired -- Star Trek, The Next Generation. I became a fan in the later seasons of TNG, so I wasn't able to watch original run episodes for very long, but they played in order in syndication. I convinced my sister that the show was called Pretty Pretty Princess, and that Counselor Deanna Troi was the main character - a princess, lost in space, trying to find two things: her prince and her home. My sister bought it hook, line, and warp drive. So whenever she'd want to play while I was watching, I'd be able to easily convince her to join me and watch what kinds of adventures the princess and her friends had gotten into.

As you can tell, I'm a Sci-Fi fan. I love the genre. Not enough to be called a "buff", but certainly enough to be called a geek. I've always had an extremely active imagination, and sci-fi is like a playground for the imagination. In the world of science fiction, man travels at great speeds to distant planets, traverses the depths of our oceans, discovering lost and ancient mysteries, & traipses through time, hoping to not upset the timeline.

One of my favorite sci-fi ideas is the infinite universe theory.

This theory states that there are multiple and infinite alternate universes, in which everything that can happen, does, in one or another of them. Simply put - this morning, you may have had a couple of choices for breakfast: cereal, eggs, French toast, or to skip it altogether. If you chose eggs, the infinite universe theory states that in another universe, your life proceeded exactly as you've known it to, up until this morning, when the alternate you chose another breakfast item and his life is now forever on a path different than yours. That's the mundane part of the theory - there are some realities, in which there is nothing very divergent and therefore look very similar to the universe in which we live. However, the theory gets more exciting when you imagine a universe in which you had eggs for breakfast, but they were scrambled pteranodon eggs, which you stole from the nest of the beast that has tormented your neighborhood for many long years. Now it's getting a bit more exciting, right?

Sometimes, when I start to ponder the infinite universe theory, I begin to dream and get excited. You see, there's a version of me in an alternate universe that's in great shape - strong and ripped. There's a universe in which I'm independently wealthy, or a celebrated public figure, and one where I drive a Ferrari. There's a universe in which I have a better job, one that is satisfying and relevant; a universe in which my wife and I don't fight, where we have children, where I don't have asthma, eczema, or an astigmatism. And to top it all, there's the fact that there would be a universe out there where all of those things are true in the same reality - a universe where the grass is truly greener... and I can fly.

If I think on this long enough, I become jealous of myself - alternate me, rolling around in my money like Scrooge McDuck, then going for a quick fly around the city.

One thought helps to keep me grounded, however. You might think that it's the fact that we're talking about science fiction, and none of this is real... but that's not the thought. Remember, in this theory, there is a universe for every possible scenario imaginable, since the beginning of time. Ergo, there are undoubtedly universes in which I don't even exist - billions of them. And for every reality in which alternate-me is rich, famous, beautiful, and successful, there is another (or maybe more) in which he's poor, homeless, wretched, and diseased.

There are realities in which alterna-me is oppressed and tortured by a tyrannical government, sold into slavery from birth, or perhaps worst of all - unloved, alone, disrespected, and depressed.

That version of me is jealous of me. Compared to him, I've got it made. My life, even at it's worst, is his dream-like fantasy: a wife who loves me, family and friends who care for me, a home, a job, a car, a frige full of food, a closet full of clothes, freedom to live, love, speak, and worship as I choose.

He thinks my life is a dream.

The truly tragic part is that aside from marauding raptor-vikings, you don't have to go to an alternate dimension to experience some of those tragic injustices - homelessness, disease, oppression, persecution - you just have to leave your neighborhood. Our world has no shortage of tragic injustice. It's all around us. From human-trafficking in our own back yards, to poverty disease and oppression in other parts of the world, horror stories are alive and well, right here in our reality.

For those who live under those circumstances daily - they think your life is a dream.

So when my mind wanders into other dimensions, and I'm tempted to become jealous of myself, I remember some of the hardships others face in this reality, and I'm reminded of just how blessed my life really is.


GraceAndPeace


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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Pet Peeves


This stuff really ruffles your feathers.
It totally troubles you.
It positively pisses you off.
It absolutely aggravates you.

You get the idea.

Here's a list of my top bottom ten pet peeves.

1) Wet Socks - Not sopping wet socks. Not like you jumped into a puddle with your shoes on. That I can handle. Like when you're walking through the kitchen in your socks, and some uncaring person dropped a tiny chunk of ice, which subsequently melted, leaving a tiny frigid droplet for you to step in, and get your sock .27% wet.

2) Toilet Paper Striplets - This is when you go to tear your toilet paper away from the roll, and the perforations work exactly how they're supposed to, leaving you with a clean rip - 94% of the way across the sheet. Then that last 6% hangs on so tenaciously that it causes the paper to start to tear vertically down the length of the toilet paper that you've just prepared for your nether regions. Yeah. That frustrates the heck out of me.

3) Out-of-reach Objects - That thing you need is just barely out of reach. You can't quite reach it without getting up (the horror) or at least leaning as far as you comfortably can. You've almost got it! Your finger-tips approach the structural surface of the object... just. a. little. more! -- nope. You've pushed it four more inches away with the tips of your fingers. Get up you lazy bum.

4) Mis-spelled Tweets - Not major mis-spellings. Not like mis-spelling the word liscensce. No one expects you to get that one right on the first try. However, when you've just slightly mis-spelled something, or auto-correct guesses the wrong word, leaving you with who instead of when, that's just unnerving. "#thatawkwardmoment who you step on a tiny piece of ice, and start dancing like you're trying to bring the rain."

5) Run-Away Droplets - When you're washing your face, and a drop of water runs off your cheek, over your chin, down your neck and onto your chest; or runs from your hand down your fore-arm. This phenomenon is worse when you're wearing a shirt...especially long sleeves.

6) Rodeo Change - Sometimes, it's still convenient to pay for things with cash. I don't know why, but when I'm making a purchase of $5 or less, I just seems wrong to use my debit card. So, I occasionally carry around cash (invitation to mug me). I hate that when making a purchase, the cashier has a certain order in which they hand things to you. This is an almost across the board conspiracy. They all do it. They count out the bills, place the receipt on top of the bills, and then place the coinage on top of the receipt. Now you tell me, what the heck am I supposed to do with this pile of chaos that you've just placed in my hand? Should I just shove the whole wad into my pocket and deal with it later? Usually, when this happens to me, I've already got my wallet out, in one hand, prepared to place my change inside. However, I neither put receipts or coins into my wallet! So, I've got my opened wallet in one hand, and your champion bill-rider coins in the other, and if we're all lucky, they'll stay there for 8 seconds while I contort my wallet-hand and place the billfold back into my pocket, so that I'll have free fingers with which to deal with those cowboy coins. Sometimes, they're just not very good riders, though, and they end up falling off the stack. Why do you do this to me? Why? I've still got a whole line of people behind me, waiting for me to get out of the way, and laughing to themselves as I collect my change from the floor!

7) The Crosswalk Standoff - If you're in a car, and I'm on foot, chances are you can move much faster than me. Unless of course, you're driving a Ugo and I'm late for dinner. In that case, I've got you off the line. However, when I come to a cross walk and you're speeding down the street at 45mph, please just continue on your way. I hate it when drivers stop suddenly, and wait for me to cross the intersection. It's going to take me around 15 seconds to get across the street, while you sit there and stare at me and my worn-out footwear, glancing at your watch every couple of seconds, impatient look on your face. I tried to wave you on, to give you the courtesy of not waiting on me, but you insisted...and now you're going to try and act like you're in a hurry. Sorry, is my form of auto-locomotion inconveniencing you? Hey! Wait! Is my shoe-lace untied? I should definitely stop right here in front of your car and tie it. It could be dangerous to cross a street with a loose shoelace, and since you know I'm here, I know I'll be safe. Thanks, pal.

8) 

9) Hi. Where's your bathroom? - I hate arriving at someone else's house, and needing to immediately use their bathroom. It's even worse when you're visiting for the first time, or meeting for the first time. "Yeah. Sorry. Can I see your collection of decorative owls later? I need to blow up your bathroom... oh, great. The guest bathroom is right off the living room." Don't expect many people to chat you up at that party...

10) Unfinished blog po
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Monday, April 29, 2013

The Secret of Growth


One of my favorite children's book series is Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad.

The funny thing is that I didn't discover this fantastic set of short stories until I was an adult. If you've not read them, you should pick up a copy as soon as you're able. The stories are about two friends, Frog & Toad. Frog is green and wears brown. Toad is brown and wears green. They are good friends, who work through problems and have simple adventures. To be honest, I think the simplicity of the stories is what drew me to them. Toad is somewhat of a bumbler. He means well, but he's a complicated character, fighting more base urges like gluttony and sloth. He's also a bit dim, often making mistakes or misunderstanding things. Instead of bothersome, though, his faults are endearing. Frog, on the other hand, is a amphibian without pretense. He enjoys simple pleasures in life - a fine friend, a clean house, a good cookie, a healthy garden...

Actually, the story about the garden happens to be one of my favorites.

One day, Toad stops by Frog's house and finds him working in his garden. Toad admires the garden and wishes for one of his own. Frog offers him a bag of seeds, and gives him a very short lesson in gardening 101. The rest is both funny and heart-warming.




I need to confess that I've been a bit discouraged lately.

I'm on the leadership team of a new Young Adults Ministry (YAM) at my church, and things haven't been growing so well in our garden.

We've been meeting with increasing regularity since last November. However, as our event frequency has increased, attendance has decreased. We had only two people attend our last meeting - the time before that it was three.

I know people will say that you shouldn't focus on the numbers, and I understand that. I'm not trying to build a mega-YAM here. However, if no one's coming to your events, what's the point of hosting them to begin with? So, in that sense, I do want to see good attendance at our events.

In another sense, the more people who come, the more people will hear the Gospel, experience the love of God, the beauty of Christian community and the more lives will be changed - so in that sense, I want a huge group... because I want to see more lives changed.

Granted our group is still young. We've been working at this for only around 6 months. In addition, we've made a few mistakes along the way - poorly chosen programming, unpredictable dates and venues, bad communication.

We're also not the only group focused on this age group. There's another small group for young adults in our church that has been meeting for a couple of years. They've seen a lot of growth, encouragement and relative success with this group. My wife and I are a part of it, and have benefited from the community there.

One question that has been lingering in the minds of some of the people on our leadership team is "why has the other group had such success, while we're struggling to grow?" The other group only represents a small segment of the total population for this age group, so it's not that we're falling prey to program cannibalism. So, what then is it?

To be honest, I think this is an unfair question. For multiple reasons, the two groups are very different. However, it's usually not healthy to compare the growth of any two groups, because ultimately, we're not in control of whether or not the community grows.

We can't control it.

A friend and I were discussing this just the other day, and he directed my attention to a very short story Jesus told in the book of Mark:

Mark 4:26-29
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” 

Notice the bold text: whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows though he does not know how.

The farmer scatters the seed. He goes to sleep. He wakes up. BOOM! Crops have grown. He grabs his sickle and reaps the harvest.

Like Toad, he had no control over it.

To be sure, he had a part to play. Could the crops have grown without his having scattered the seed? No. However, once the seed was scattered. He could do nothing to make the seed sprout, to make the plants grow or to speed along the process.

Now, one could assert that the growth happens naturally - that with the proper combination of environment and element, plants grow by themselves. From a scientific standpoint, this is true. However, in another sense, the way in which life begins is still a mystery to us - how something new exists where it did not before is nothing short of a miracle.

Likewise, we know not how spiritual growth happens. We cannot fathom the mystery of how or when God transforms one dead in their sins to someone spiritually alive in Christ. The same is true for our young adults group. The same is true for your church. We cannot cause growth. We can do nothing to make the seed sprout, to make the plants grow or to speed along the process. That's all on the Holy Spirit. All we can do is provide the right environment for growth, do our best to ensure that all the elements are there, and plant the seed...

Then be prepared for the harvest.


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Friday, April 26, 2013

It Pays Off


My father is one of the hardest working people I know.

A blue-collar jack-of-all-trades, he's done everything from delivering newspapers at 3:30am to renovating floors at 11:30pm. He's owned his own small remodel business-on-the-side for most of my life, while working as a truck driver, sheetrocker, a framer, a warehouse manager, a mill-man in a lumber yard, a hand-gun safety instructor, and general construction worker. He and my mother worked as custodians for the private school I attended as a child, so that they could off-set our tuition costs, he was an unpaid youth pastor for a time, and he's been on the volunteer fire department for more than 10 years.

If income was based on hard-work, my father would be a multi-millionaire.

Unfortunately, though, that's not how wealth works.

Sometimes hard work just doesn't seem to pay off.

Despite what many boot-strap conservatives say, it is not necessarily those who work hard that get ahead. Sometimes, that hard work pays off. Sometimes, by savvy, scrimping, and no small amount of luck, those who work hard are able to amass sizable savings. These are the Rockefeller's, the Fords, the Walton's, the Jobs', the Gates'.

It was never that way for my family, though. My parents have always found themselves in that unfortunate limbo of lower-middle class, with too much money to qualify for government aide, but not nearly enough for anything other than surviving. Not that my parents would ever have applied for any sort of government assistance. They've always been prone to the belief that God would provide for their needs in His own time. In addition, they believe that the pay-off is, in fact, there, but not necessarily measurable by dollar signs.

In contrast, there are those in this world who are extremely wealthy, and have done very little actual work for their money. Those who've inherited fortunes, those who have had some lucky break or other, inventing the right thing at the right time or taking off the right amount of clothes for the right price, those who've made fortunate investments, won the lottery, found some treasure, married the right person. We all know who they are. These people are not necessarily dishonest. However, they haven't really worked for their wealth. They more or less happened upon it.

I was recently perousing facebook, when I saw this comic: 


Of course, it's sort of humorous, but it mostly makes me angry. 

Not because I'm a Socialist. I'm not. I'm a Christian. That can sometimes be a confusing distinction, what with all the charity, grace, forgiveness, and community-mindedness. However, I do not believe in a forced leveling of the proverbial playing field. I do believe that charity is something we are compelled to do, though. In view of God's great mercy and grace towards us, it's a fairly natural expression of gratitude. I also believe in hard-work, and in being paid a fair wage for a good days' work. On principle, I agree with half the sentiment in the above comic. 

My problem is with the condescending assumption that people on government assistance are lazy takers, attempting to get as much as they can for free. It's the idea that those in need must be slackers... and the fact that that just isn't necessarily true. 

Are there people who take advantage of the system?  Of course. 
Are there people who take food stamps and then use their paycheck to buy drugs, alcohol, electronics, and other luxury goods?  Indeed.

However, there are also hard-working people out there, who no matter what they do, just can't seem to get ahead. Those people are reluctantly getting government assistance, and using it to feed their kids. And when they read or hear your blanket generalizations of disdain, demeaning the poor, and deriding the needy, all they hear is hate. 

It's worse when this attitude is expressed by Christians. 

Is this how you were treated, believer, when you were a beggar at the gate of grace? 

Does God condescendingly grant you mercy, all the while grumbling that He wished you'd just work harder?

Or do you not understand just how needy you are? Do you suppose that your hard work and morals make you rich in the Kingdom as well? 

Remember that our Lord said that "it is more blessed to give, than to receive" (Acts 20:35) , and "blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20). Remember also that the Apostle Paul described your condition well, saying "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Or do you believe that you are saved by grace, but have worked for the rest yourself? Remember that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of Heavenly lights" (James 1:17).

Am I suggesting that you joyfully surrender your property to the government, so that they can do with it or give it away as they please? No. Not really. My hope is to encourage you to have compassion on those who are less fortunate than you.

I also want you to remember that ultimately, everything you possess has been given to you by the Lord, from your granola bar, to the job that paid for it, to your very life. None of it is really yours, and in the end, you won't be able to take it with you. This life is but a vapor. Everything we have, we should see as not only a blessing, but as a tool - given us by God for work in His Kingdom. We should ask ourselves, "How can this [thing] help me to better love my neighbor, encourage my brother, serve the body, or bless my family?" Your home, your car, your television, your electronic devices, your pets, your yard, your food - all these things are tools at your disposal to help you to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do (Eph. 2:10).

Our care for the poor and those Jesus calls "the least of these" is one of the things that marks us as disciples. The grace we extend to others, whether they deserve it or not, points outsiders toward the God of grace who loved and forgave us who were definitely undeserving.

Besides, we have better and lasting possessions - eternal life, peace with God, adoption as children, yea, even Christ Himself.

So, I suppose that, in the end...


It really does pay off.


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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Problem With Grace


A few months ago my wife came home with a present for me. It was completely unexpected. She bought me this really nice mint colored dress shirt from the GAP.

She also decided to surprise me with a few clothes for herself. Nope. Not neglige, you dirty interweb creeps. She bought a new dress and a new blouse and some new perfume. So, what began as a surprise present for me, quickly became $120 worth of "You spent how much?? On what??"

For a split second, I felt like Ricky Ricardo. If I could have ranted and raved in Spanish, I would have.

My immediate reaction was to take it all back...except the perfume. She really was out and needed a new bottle. However, neither of us needed the new clothes. She argued that she really wanted me to have the shirt, that she'd take the other stuff back, but I had to keep the shirt. I felt bad. It was very sweet of her to have gone in to buy me a shirt, so after asking her to model the dress and the blouse for me, I forgave her, told her I loved her and said she could keep them.

"Forgave her?" you might protest. "What did she do wrong?"

Well, for starters she spent over $100 of money we didn't have on clothes we didn't need without talking to me first. She and I talk over decisions like that. I suppose it's up for debate as to whether or not the actual purchase was wrong. At least, though she didn't communicate with me, and made a poor financial choice. She knew this. She was sheepish and embarrassed about it from the start.

I was upset, but I forgave her. That's what love does.

Later, I realized that she'd committed a pretty serious infraction, but that I'd let it go quite quickly. I decided to inquire about it. I asked her if she'd thought she'd gotten off easy. She admitted that that had been one of her first thoughts.

And that's the problem with grace. We all want justice. We want the people who have wronged us, or wronged at all, for that matter, to learn their lesson, to be punished appropriately for their crime. However, I'd already extended grace. I couldn't go back and try to force her to learn some lesson now, could I? No. That's it. She'd gotten away with something. There was nothing I could do.

We all deal with this fear, from time to time. Whether it's friends, a spouse, or a child...we fear that they'll figure out how to get away with something, and that once they've learned, they'll do it again if they get the chance. Ferial told me that she knew she'd done something wrong, and that she didn't plan on making a habit out of this. She said that she hoped that this didn't happen again.

So, I believed her. This is something else love does.

And here's the beauty of grace.

My wife and I are Christians. We've put our faith and trust in Jesus.

The Bible says that once a person does that, that they are a new creation in Christ. That they are literally re-created from the inside out. We've not got new bodies. That's yet to come. However, we've got new spirits. The old has died, buried with Christ. The new has come, resurrected to be like him. We still struggle with sin. We still wrestle with the world, the flesh, and the devil, but being a new creation means, in part, that we want to be good, charitable, and kind. Scripture says that the person who is born of the Spirit desires the things the Spirit desires.

Therefore, when my wife tells me that she wants to do good, I believe her. Her mind, her spirit, her will - are led by the Spirit of God. She is a new creation in Christ, in whom we've both received reconciliation with God, by his death on the cross.

Christ lived a sinless life, and yet he died the death of a criminal, betrayed by his friends and forsaken by God - forsaken by his Father. Why? Because in the act of sacrificing himself on the cross, he took upon himself the full force of God's wrath. He who knew no sin, became sin, providing forgiveness for sins, for those who would believe.

His death brought us life. His punishment brought us forgiveness.

Justice was served...and it doesn't seem fair, does it?

That is both the beauty of and the problem with grace.


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