Every Circle Grace

Grace is an interesting topic. In my years in the church, the focus of grace has mostly been on the grace we receive from God. Rightly so. And during this Lenten season, it deserves top of mind.

Devoted followers of Jesus’ teachings believe we are to give what we receive. Everything we receive from God we are to pass on. Love. Mercy. Forgiveness. Faithfulness. And even Grace.

My observation is we tend to gift grace in various degrees. Some people give themselves plenty of grace…much more than they give to others. Some people disproportionately give their family members grace in comparison to others-some more, some less. One amazing observation that stands out more and more is the grace people in the church give to themselves compared to the grace they give people outside the church. Again, it goes both ways. Some people give better grace to their fellow churchgoers while others give better grace to those outside the church.

For better or worse, I’m the latter. For the record, neither is correct. Grace is to be shared with all people equally.

Looking at Jesus’ relationship circles, we observe supernatural grace giving. He gave Peter as much grace as he gave the woman at the well. He shared his grace equally with Nicodemus and Judas. His mother and Pilate both received appropriate grace. What an example he left us.

I most often fail at giving grace to those in my closest relationship circles. That awareness provides growth opportunity so whether in the next hour I engage a stranger in the store, a friend on the phone, or a colleague in the office, my grace is for every circle.

Jesus practiced every circle grace. His resurrection power says, “So can I.”

Too Comfortable?

This quote is a screenshot from a Sunday morning message given this past week by Pastor Jordan Easley of First Baptist Church, Cleveland, Tn. He’s in a sermon series entitled “How the Church Acts.” In this message, he addressed that the church is to be made up of people who live with purpose. It wasn’t a message that churchgoers haven’t heard before, but this statement shed a different light on the message.

What is a non-negotiable anyway? My words-something that a person won’t budge about. For instance, I’m an Alabama fan-not going to budge on that one. I don’t eat brussels sprouts-pretty sure that’s not going to change. You get the point.

So when it comes to churchgoers, how is it possible that they have non-negotiables? According to Pastor Easley, it’s possible because they’ve become too comfortable. He wasn’t necessarily referring to being too comfortable in our lifestyle; he’s referring more to our view of God, our relationship with the Giver of Life both now and forever.

This statement made me think the rest of the day. Made me question what non-negotiables I may have. Made me wonder if I could be drawn to making some and what would be the result. Made me wonder enough that I’m sharing it with you.

Non-negotiables won’t exist in heaven. Makes me want to eliminate them today.

A Toe-Dip Re:Christian Nationalism

I follow Pastor Jarrod Jones’ blog. His last post expressed his feelings following January 6. The title? No More of This. Pretty well expressed my sentiments.

In the blog, Pastor Jones used the term “Christian Nationalism” three times. This line of content and dialogue isn’t my normal pool, but I’m going to dip my toe in. Why? Because I believe most of my fellow American Christians need to enter the dialogue. And I’d rather not sit this one out.

I felt pretty good about what I understood the term meant, but I decided it would be helpful to read how others-more learned and versed-were defining it. And it wasn’t hard to find their viewpoints. In an article published in December by The Gospel Coalition entitled “Christian Nationalism vs. Christian Patriotism” by Thomas Kidd, Matthew McCullough was quoted to define American Christian nationalism as “an understanding of American identity and significance held by Christians wherein the nation is a central actor in the world-historical purposes of the Christian God.” 

I then found notes from Christianity Today‘s Quick to Listen podcast episode that aired January 13. The episode title was “Christian Nationalism is Worse Than You Think” and featured Paul D. Miller, a research fellow of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Miller said this: “Christian nationalism is a political ideology about American identity. It is a set of policy prescriptions for what the nationalists believe the American government should do. It’s not drawn from the Bible. It draws political theory from secular philosophy and their own version of history as well.”

These definitions are alarming. They are most alarming to me because they convey what I’ve observed more and more in my own experience in the church. I must add, in the American church. Why the addition? I haven’t traveled much internationally; but in the three nations I’ve visited (Belarus, Jordan, Guatemala), I had the opportunity to visit and attend worship with fellow Christians. On reflection of those visits as I returned to worship in the States, a glaring difference emerged. Those believers love their countries; they are proud to share about their cultures and accomplishments to the visiting American Christians. But that doesn’t lead them to expect what American Christians expect when it comes to politics and freedoms. They seem to know where the line is between worshipping God and worshipping country. For example, the idea of arguing over the placement of national flags in their worship center would be foreign to them and would never reach the pitch of causing permanent division in their church body. So imagine their reaction to seeing the usage of Christian flags in the Capitol’s desecration.

One day following January 6, Relevant, in an article about the rise of Christian Nationalism, recounted the April 2019 shooting in California where 19-year-old John Earnest walked into a synagogue and opened fire, killing one woman and injuring three, because he believed killing Jews would glorify God. We Christians, who love our country but love God more, have the opportunity to set things right, like Reverend Mika Edmundson. Reverend Edmundson is the Presbyterian pastor of the church where John Earnest attended. He expressed after the shooting that his church bore some of the blame for Earnest’s beliefs. “It certainly calls for a good amount of soul-searching. We can’t pretend as though we didn’t have some responsibility for him.”

Church leaders, American Christians, we can’t pretend we don’t have some responsibility for January 6. We can’t pretend any longer.

Photo by Štěpán Vraný on Unsplash

Prayer for Assumers

I pray you’re better at this than I am. It’s a work in progress. Unfortunately, it’s a thing for many professing Christians. I’m talking about assuming.

There are many reasons why we do it, but none of them are good. Assessing society, it seems unlikely Christians recognize assuming’s impact when we make assumptions based on…

…where someone goes to church, or that they don’t. (In 2020, are they attending in person or online.)

…how someone is dressed.

…how they respond to current events.

…what they drive.

…where they live.

…where they went to college, or that they didn’t.

…what we read, hear, or observe about them.

…what they are or aren’t passionate about.

…how they view past history, or that they don’t.

…what we believe the future does or doesn’t hold.

This prayer by author Stephen Mattson was on my Facebook feed today. It spoke to me because I had already confessed more than one assumption today-assumptions made in church of all places. As I said, a work in progress.

I’m grateful God’s mercy and forgiveness are unending-something assumers should add to this prayer.

Uniquely

Recently-well, before “stay in place orders”-a ministry leader stopped by the office to leave some information. He was with The Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network. Check out their website; you’ll learn some things like I did.

One of the pieces this leader left with me was a book, Uniquely Bivocational: Understanding the Life of a Pastor who has a Second Job, which I’m reading now.


For sure, there are unique things to consider about a man finding himself living this out. However, after reading chapter 8, The Need for Balance, there are general things for believers, and particularly any ministry leaders, to keep in mind. For instance, here’s the list of twelve keys to achieving balance Gilder mentions:

  1. Put God first in your life
  2. Establish priorities
  3. Link your calling to your calendar
  4. Have a clear purpose and direction for your life
  5. Be proactive rather than reactive
  6. Maintain a clear conscience
  7. Find an accountability partner
  8. Have a family council
  9. Find the secret of contentment
  10. Realize you are not superman
  11. Make regular deposits into your emotional bank
  12. Do what you do as unto the Lord

Look like a list that could help your balance? 

Yes, I’m reading this book as designed. But I’m finding that much of it could be generally applied to anyone desiring to live as God would have them-Uniquely.

God of My 20’s: My Walk with Him

(Post #2 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger Art Fahy

I was twenty years old when I was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1967. The country was in turmoil. Demonstrations against the Vietnam Nam War flooded the television nightly news. The political arena was turned upside down. Families were divided concerning the war and politics. The world was experiencing complete mayhem. People turned a deaf ear to each other. The attitude was, “I’m right, and you’re wrong.”

Our language incorporated new phrases like, “Do your own thing,” “Down with the establishment,” “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” It was as if there was a green light dangling in the sky giving everyone permission to do anything they desired. We were all doing our own thing. We thought freedom was doing what we wanted as long as it didn’t hurt anyone. Consequences meant little. In fact, we rarely thought about consequences.

By the ’70’s, I was married with two children. I was journeying down a very dark road and didn’t know it. My wife pleaded with me to attend church. I would tell her, “Church is not for me.” My bible knowledge was limited to the “Thou shall nots.” It was like the seed found in Matthew 13:4: “The seed fell along the path and the birds came and devoured it.” The small amount of religious education was lost in the clammer of the outside world.

I finally crashed and burned. I had nowhere to go. I felt lost. I didn’t know where to turn. I didn’t know who to talk to. I cried out to God, and I wasn’t sure if He heard me. Why would he? January 1981 I found myself in my pastor’s office accepting Jesus as my Savior. I was thirty-three years old.

Unfortunately, I was not a serious student of the Bible or following Jesus. I returned to my old ways for over three years, and in that time I was divorced and lost a good job. In 1987 I cleaned up my act and became a member of a twelve-step program. This program brought me closer to God, and I began to begin a relationship with Him.

It wasn’t until I was fifty-four and at the urging of my second wife did I attend church and join a small group that my relationship with God began to flourish. I was baptized in, of all places, Las Vegas. I look back and wonder why did it take me so long to follow? Today, I know and believe I am on God’s time. He is in control. His plan for me is far better than any I could come up with.

Jesus tells us in John 16 we are going to have trials, but He has overcome the world, and we can find peace in Him. That is where I find my peace today-in Jesus Christ. When I react to people, places, or situations, I must ask myself what is my relationship with God right now? This allows me to alter my attitude and return to the path He wants me to walk on.

At 72 I look back over the years from the time I accepted Jesus as my Savior until I actually began living the way He wants me to live. I feel saddened. What I learned is, that was His plan for me, the way He wanted it.

I’ve had some rough times while walking with the Lord. I know and believe He is with me during the good  times and the tough times. The more I lean on Him the more comfort and love I feel. The more I studied His word life began to open up for me. I always wanted to write, and in 2010 I self-published a book. That same year I began writing a column for a Christian newspaper in Las Vegas called The Answer. I wrote for them for almost five years.

Following Jesus has given me a new outlook on life. Looking at life the way He does broadens my knowledge of who He is and how He sees me. I am blessed I have the opportunity to live the way He wants me to live. I stumble at times but regain my balance by asking for forgiveness and repenting.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Sin is no longer my master. I am free from its grip because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He gave His life for me. I certainly can turn my life over to Him.

Suffering: A Story To Share, Accept, and Embrace

Came across this tweet yesterday from a soon-to-be-released book by author K.J. Ramsey:

I wonder how much less anguish we would experience in suffering if the church treated suffering like a story to tell rather than a secret to keep until it passes.

Then this morning our pastor, while focusing on Jesus’ coming to experience human life, categorized suffering into three types:

  1. Suffering we can avoid
  2. Suffering we cannot avoid
  3. Suffering we must not avoid

Both of these thoughts need sharing and dialoguing.

There is power is sharing how our choices led us to suffering we could have avoided. Our focus can be directed to the truth of scripture and the forgiving, unconditional love Jesus came to bring.

There is healing in accepting how circumstances out of our control don’t go unnoticed by God. Our focus can be directed to his sovereignty and the relatability Jesus has to offer.

There is strength in embracing how running from something we don’t want may keep us from what we need. Our focus can be directed on God’s promises and the model of endurance and commitment Jesus completed through his resurrection.

Heard

(Post #4 in a 5-part series collaboration)

By Aaron Pilant (bio below)

When I was preparing to get married twenty years ago, I remember some very important advice that the marriage counselor gave us both.  He said that communication is the key to any successful relationship.  He went on to say that if we could learn to communicate well with each other, our marriage would be a success.  No problem.  I like to talk.  She likes to talk.  Done.  Twenty years later, I have learned that communicating is not just talking, but being heard as well.  I have also learned that communication is not always verbal.  Actually, most communication is non-verbal.  The communication you are reading right now…non-verbal.

I am a Christian who committed his life to Christ at the age of thirteen.  My “salvation” experience occurred when I was alone in my bedroom late at night.  I had been struggling with this decision for some time.  I was wrestling back and forth.  That night was different though.  I remember being in bed trying to sleep, but I was unable to stop thinking about God and my relationship to Him.  I was raised in church.  My parents dragged me and my siblings to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.  I participated in church clubs and activities, but secretly I was battling in my inner heart and mind.  I knew how to give my life to Christ by surrendering to Him, but for some reason I resisted.  That night in June, I was back wrestling within again.  This night was different, though.  This night, I felt that I could no longer put this decision off.  There was a sense of urgency within me.  This is where I first remember hearing from God.

I think it’s important to know, I have never audibly heard God’s voice.  I have never seen writing in the sky.  What I heard was within.  I was given a vision of my reality apart from God.  Then I heard within myself, “Why are you waiting, Why are resisting me?”  The vision was unpleasant.  The question burned within my mind, my heart, my soul.  I finally yielded that there was no good reason.  I then poured my heart out to God asking Him to forgive me of my sin and stubbornness.  I then committed to following Him as my Lord.

So from that day I have worked diligently and sometimes not so diligently to hear God in my life.  I will say this-there are times when I can’t hear God.  But there are many times where I hear God speaking to me in my heart.  Every time I hear from God, it is within.  Sometimes it is words.  Sometimes it is peace.  Sometimes it is just a feeling.  I am usually able to determine that it is God when the communication that I am receiving is far from what I would naturally want to do or like to do.  They are always in line with His word and often confirmed through scripture being brought to my mind.

I want to conclude by saying God doesn’t always speak to me when I want him to…or speak to me in the way I want Him to.  There have been many occasions when I have pleaded God for answers and none came.  I have spent hours, days, weeks, and months waiting.  I do get frustrated when waiting for these answers.  Funny, though, I am soon reminded of Isaiah 40:31 or a verse very similar.  I think, though, there are very good reasons for the lack of answers at times.  I know that when the answers are not readily available I spend more time talking with Him, calling out to Him, pleading with Him, crying to Him.  I wonder if the reason that answers are not always so available is because God wants to spend more time with me.  Or probably more accurate, He knows I need more time with Him.  I have often been told that life is not about the destination but the journey.  I believe that our walk with God is the same.  If you can’t or don’t hear Him, He doesn’t want you to give up.  He wants you to spend more time with Him until He knows you are ready to hear what He has for you.  God speaks to us all.  We just need to learn to listen.


Blogger Bio:  Aaron Pilant married Erin Pilant nearly 20 years ago. They have a 16-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. Their very favorite thing to do as a family is go to Disney World, and they do it often.

Hey Leader…Get Some Help

A copy of this Carey Nieuwhof book was given to me recently. Just finished reading it. Worthwhile.

I want to pass along one paragraph that may be one of the most helpful practices in the book. In chapter five entitled “Don’t Quit,” Nieuwhof lists five practices that have helped him, the founding pastor of a multi-site church near Toronto, persevere. The second practice reads:

2. Get some help. A decade ago I sat down with a counselor for the first time. Jim helped me get through some key issues, and he helped my wife, Toni, and me navigate some of the pitfalls common to couples when one is called into ministry. I’ve seen a few counselors over the last decade during different seasons and am quite sure I wouldn’t be in ministry today if it weren’t for their influence in my life. When I’ve been tempted to quit moments before a key breakthrough, my wife, prayer, wise words from others, and the help of a counselor made all the difference. I really believe God uses other people to speak to us. Interestingly enough, I don’t know of a single influential ministry leader who’s made it over the long haul who hasn’t been through some form of formal or informal counseling. My only question is why I didn’t go sooner.

Leader, consider the practice of your colleague. Get some help.

Are We Doing Church Right?

A friend (thanks, Pat) recently loaned me a copy of David Platt’s latest book, Something Needs To Change. If you’ve read anything by him, I’ll go ahead and suggest you haven’t read anything like this one. Platt chronicles his week-long journey through the Himalayas where he came face to face with some of the most difficult questions and challenging needs in the world. Because he’s reacting, you react. Because he’s questioning, you question. And nothing is outside the realm of analysis. Even the church.


In chapter six, Platt shares the lives of church leaders in the Himalayas. Their work is not easy. And it’s quite different than the majority of church leaders in other countries-vastly different from American churches. At the end of the day, he was asked to do some teaching and training. Here’s an excerpt of his thoughts about that time:

Over the coming hours, we walk through all kinds of pictures and passages in the Bible describing the church as God designed it. As I’m teaching and we are all discussing what we see in God’s Word, I am struck with a fresh realization.

Looking at the Bible to see how God has designed the church is exactly what needs to be done. As I had reflected a couple of days ago, these villages needed the church in them, but they don’t need an American version of church; they need a biblical version of church.

As I walk through the Word with these leaders, it hits me that so many of my conversations about the church in America are often focused on cultural traditions that are extrabiblical at best and unbiblical at worst.

For example, as I read the Bible with these brothers and sisters, we don’t see anything about constructing church buildings or organizing church programs or managing church staffs, topics that so many church conversations in America revolve around. It makes me wonder, Why are Bible-believing, Bible-preaching churches in America so focused on what is not in the Bible? As I ask myself this question, I can’t help but think that one of the greatest needs not just in the church in the Himalayas but in the place where I live is for us to open our Bibles with fresh, unfiltered eyes and ask, “Are we really doing church the way this book describes it?”

American Christian, it’s a fair question. If you aren’t convinced, get a copy of this book. After you’ve read it, come back to the question. We must be open to the possibility that we are not doing it right. And if that’s true, what are we going to do about it.