This is a helpful and insightful thread by @timwilson@mastodon.world for those of us doing pastoral work in a context outside of the mainstream. mastodon.world

AN ALWAYS PRESENT GRACE

Often, as we read through the Old Testament, it feels like God is some sort of angry deity. We read some of the stories and think, “Woah dude, chill out.” Yet, when we read closer, we see how many times God warns the people.

And then warns the people again,

and again,

and again…

Now it feels like a loving parent who has asked their kid to pick up their shoes for the 100th time and finally loses their cool. It seems like that’s a more apt description of how God relates to the people in the Old Testament.

I wonder if we can hold that image in our head while we read the stories of the Old Testament, if we can begin to really understand the God who is,

“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”

  • Psalm 103:8, NIV

This psalm, in particular, paints a picture of the gracious God.

What strikes me is this line, “He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:”. When the people of Israel thought of the writings of Moses, they thought of the first five books of the Bible. It is in these five texts that we have the revealing of God to Moses. As I have read those books over the years, I have struggled to see in them a “compassionate and gracious” deity. Yet, recently, I’ve been reading them while trying to hold this image of a loving parent reminding their children of what they need to do. As I do, I see the “slow to anger” bit come to the forefront. Particularly so when I try to imagine that the narrative bits of the text are not moments after one another. But are likely weeks or months, or maybe even years apart!

Grace is not something that showed up with Jesus. Grace is all over the Old Testament in as many diverse ways as it is in the New Testament. The God of the people of Israel is understood as the all-loving, all-forgiving, all-gracious God. Jesus is the perfect display of that grace, compassion, and loving-kindness. But it’s not as though grace burst onto the scene with Paul’s writing about Jesus.

Consider the opening lines of this Psalm:

Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.

This is not from Romans or Ephesians. This is not from 1 Peter or James. No, this is a Psalm.

When we read the Old Testament, we have to remember that there is something bigger happening. This vision of God is the overlay for the entire Old Testament.

The next time you read a story in the Old Testament where it seems that God is an angry, judgmental deity, ask yourself, “What else is going on here?” I think part of our responsibility as we enter into the stories of the Old Testament is to try and understand why the people were writing the way they were writing about God and remember that the overarching narrative is that of a gracious, sin-forgiving, justice-working God.

I’m beyond proud of this kid. He’s a college baseball player and he’s also demolishing it in the classroom. Tonight he was honored for making the Moot Court Nationals at LSU and inducted into the Pi Sigma Alpha Honors Fraternity. #notjustanathlete #smarterthanme

Golfing with my pops today was good for the soul. I’m so grateful for these days.

I get to play golf with my Dad today.

Can.

Not.

Wait.

This is the best perk of being a pastor, the flexibility to spend time in various ways. Tonight I will be bowling with men (and friends) from our faith community.

These are good days. 🏌️‍♂️🎳

Beginning a week from today I will be hosting a virtual book club on my Telegram channel. We will be reading and discussing Eugene Peterson’s “Leap Over a Wall: Earthly Spirituality for Everyday Christians.”

No meetings or anything like that. Just read and reflect as you go. One chapter a week. Share thoughts and respond to others as you feel comfortable.

The book: amzn.to/3GvoA6O

The channel: t.me/+vVZtv7kB…

The mornings are getting sunnier! I can’t wait to sit on the patio in the morning drinking coffee and reading. Soon!

Christ is risen!

This was a challenging and hope-filled Lenten devotional. I’m grateful for the time spent considering the deep and weighty things of Scripture these last forty days.

Finished reading: Wondrous Encounters by Richard Rohr 📚

“Jesus dies “for” us not in the sense of “in place of” but “in solidarity with.”” - Richard Rohr

This struck a chord with me.

I have been thinking a lot about the crucifixion and how cheap it often feels to me. The idea of it being nothing more than a payment for services rendered, so to speak, a mere transaction, has sat less well with me over the years.

Thinking of it in terms of Jesus dying in solidarity with us, changes the perspective a bit. Particularly as I connect this back to the Christmas idea of God with us in my mind.

Jesus’ death on the cross is the ultimate display of incarnation, the divine being in the flesh. We do not typically think of the Divine suffering and dying. Yet, here is Christ suffering and dying. Here is Christ demonstrating, in solidarity with us, what it is to suffer well and to die well.

His suffering was purposeful. His death was meaningful.

God dying to God’s self and God using that death to reconcile all of creation to the Creator.

This is indeed Good.

Amy and I had an absolutely marvelous time tonight! Our neighbors, Noah and Kandice, invited us and a few other neighbors to their home for the Passover Seder. It was just beautiful on every level. So thankful!

Scored some new vinyl today. What a beautiful album not just musically but also in physical presentation.

“No child is just a child. Each is a creature in whom God intends to do something glorious and great.”

Currently reading: Run with the Horses by Eugene H. Peterson 📚

Sitting in the garage with a pipe of really nice tobacco, a book that is blowing my mind, and watching a storm roll in?

This fantastic.

In August, Amy and I are participating in something called, The Mammoth March.

You hike 20 miles in 8 hours.

Training starts now.

My daughter’s sorority, Pi Beta Phi, is raising money for the Spartan Strong Fund. If you’ve wondered how you could help after the shooting at MSU, this is a tangible way to do so.

msugw.crowdchange.co/32554

KARMA? NAH... GRACE!

“Karma’s a bitch.”

Did that get your attention? 😏

I am sure it did. Pastors are not supposed to use that kind of bad language.

This little sentence is something that we hear often in our world isn’t it? It points to this sense that “what we put out into the universe will return to us.” If we do bad things, then we get bad things in return, so the thinking goes.

Karma can be useful as an answer to the age old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Well, you did bad things in a previous life and those bad choices are being visited on you in this life, so the thinking goes.

Karma can also challenge us to do better. If we believe that any bad action will ultimately be returned to us in some way, we will likely try to choose the better.

In a nutshell, karma argues that every action has consequences.

That resonates, does it not?

We like the idea that when a bad person does a bad thing that they will face consequences of their bad action. But, what do we do when we are that bad person? Most of us don’t really think we are bad. We are able to see how those people have bad karma, we don’t really see how we deserve it.

I think this is something that I love about grace. It breaks us out of the karma cycle.

A real and true grace is not cheap. A real and true grace has two key components. First, it acknowledges the bad. Grace is not naïve. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his seminal book, The Cost of Discipleship,

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Grace needs a cross. What wrong has been done must be dealt with. If you offer a cheap grace it is not truly grace, it is simply looking the other way. Cheap grace, a cross-less grace, is nothing more than ignoring one’s bad actions for the sake of avoiding conflict. Grace necessarily engages conflict because it refuses to ignore brokenness.

Second, a real and true grace deals with the bad. What do I mean by this? I mean that a grace that simply acknowledges the bad but doesn’t actually deal with the consequences of that bad is no grace. This is often why we find so many public acts of confession to be hollow. Their words are nice, but we see no resulting action that supports the words. Grace is costly precisely because it demands a cross. It demands for justice to be restored.

At the core of our bad actions we ultimately become purveyors of injustice.

When we hurt another in word or deed we are practicing injustice by demeaning the image of God in them. Too often there is a doubling down by not redressing the issue. Then finally, we try to pretend as though we were maintaining our moral uprightness.

Grace seeks to set this right.

Unllike karma that is ultimately retributive in nature, grace goes a different way.

What we see God do through Christ is to deal with the bad at its most fundamental level. For justice to be restored the bad ultimately has to be dealt with. At the deepest level, injustice is an affront to God. What we see throughout the Scriptures is that separation from the divine presence is the ultimate consequence for the bad. In the cross, we see God through God’s own self-sacrifice meet the requirements of separation but then overcomes it in resurrection.

The cross and the resurrection of Christ not only restores justice at the most fundamental level but also opens the door for all of creation to be redeemed, restored, and reconciled.

This costly grace frees us from the consequences of our bad actions and intentions.

But more than this, it frees us to live as agents of the very same reconciliation!

Grace is amazing because it frees us. We no longer look over our shoulder. There is a freeing to follow in the self-sacrficial-loving way of Jesus.

Grace drives us beyond our ego and self-concern. Karma locks us into primarily worrying about self.

A cold day at the ball field, wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Currently reading: Deep Work by Cal Newport 📚

I’m going back through this book and creating a list of questions to process. As a pastor, I feel like I need deep work and somehow maintain connection via modern digital network tools.

Curious what others think…

Fridays are leg days for me at the gym. They are always hard. They always hurt. Amy asked, “Since they always hurt, maybe you’re doing them wrong?”

“I’m pretty sure they always hurt because I’m doing them right,” I said.

What do you consider to be the ideal length for a solo #podcast with no guests? 🎙️

Pastors, what rhythm do you have for creating space for deep work and at the same time being connected and available through the digital networking tools at our disposal?

I am really liking using Obsidian to craft blog posts. It’s a nice interface and makes it easy to drop onto micro.blog.

Fireside Coffee in Flint, MI for the win! This Brazilian “Sweet Yellow,” is dang good! ☕️

Today marks my favorite weekend of the year. It is #OpeningDay for MLB ⚾️! There is hope and expectation and a dream of warm summer nights at ball park or sitting on the patio with a cold beer and the game on the radio.

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