Tag Archive: Grace

Acting – or Authentic?

Marketing isn’t new. In the first century, actors went out to the city streets and put on short parts of their drama to attract crowds to their performances. Reminds me of when my mother and I were in Vienna and saw gentlemen and ladies dressed in eighteenth century attire, advertising Mozart and Strauss concerts.

Marketing for Mozart and Strauss concerts

Marketing for Mozart and Strauss concerts

Don and I are excited about an upcoming trip to Israel and Jordan. In preparation to visit this land we’ve heard about all our lives, we are reading devotionals prepared by our pastor, Rene Schlaepfer (www.jesusjourneybook.com/day16). He says one of the most impressive buildings in the town of Sepphoris was its beautiful theater.

Schlaepfer writes: “I can imagine Jesus and Joseph on their way to a job in Sepphoris, walking past a busy street corner where actors loudly strutted while wearing their grotesque theatrical masks (in Greek theater, actors typically wore masks to portray their characters instead of make-up as modern actors do — in fact, the Greek masks representing comedy and tragedy are the icons of the acting profession to this day).

“Jesus’ impression of these street performers might even be evident in the Sermon on the Mount. He used the word ‘hypocrite’ several times in this message. That’s a word that has developed a very specific meaning in English, but in the Greek language of Jesus’ day it meant one thing:

“An actor.

As a teenager, I was fascinated by the life of Ferdinand “Fred” Demara, Jr., known as “the Great Pretender.” The man must have been brilliant. Throughout his life he performed as a monk, surgeon, deputy sheriff, doctor of psychology, cancer researcher, and prison warden, among other roles. During the Korean war he faked credentials as a Navy doctor, and even performed several successful surgeries on his ship. While the patient was being prepped, Demara would disappear with a textbook on surgery and speed-read the appropriate procedure!

Every time, he was eventually caught. He could fool people on a temporary basis, but eventually his mask slipped.

I had forgotten, but Schlaepfer reminded me that Demara “finally settled down when he became a Christian and graduated from Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Oregon. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a well-loved hospital chaplain for the rest of his life. But after a lifetime of pretending, Fred Demara found the satisfaction of authenticity. He said that for years he was afraid to be real, that he was trapped in pretending.”

Jesus encourages authenticity, not acting. If we get trapped in a rigorous legalistic system and check off the boxes … gave money, helped the poor, didn’t miss a month’s worth of church services … we will want kudos for our achievements; and who determines how many points each action merits? That’s acting–putting on a front to gain merit points or approval. Jesus wants authenticity, authenticity which is possible because of the grace– unearned love and favor–of God.

I love Schlaepfer’s conclusion: “Grace, because it emphasizes God’s unconditional, initiating love, encourages honesty. That’s because you know you can’t do anything to make God love you more, and you know you can’t do anything to make God love you less. You might as well be authentic.”

So are you acting … or authentic? Do you live for the praise or approval of others; or by the grace of God?

BUT GOD …

P1090285Like most of us, I want to live with purpose. And yet at times I find my purpose wavering … I’d like a rest; I’m not equipped to deal with that issue; that person’s pain is too much for me to handle.

But that’s the beauty of God’s empowering. Many challenges are too much for me to handle. I am inadequate. I don’t know what to do. But our pastor reminded me this weekend that God will enable me if I take one step at a time, believing He will meet me at the next one.

I experienced many God-moments when my first husband was waiting for an organ transplant in Florida. Three thousand miles from home, we needed housing, local support, and insurance approval. In one email to friends I expressed the challenges we faced, then listed some of the ways we had seen God’s empowering.

“We are in big trouble on our own (health, costs, housing, ongoing tests) … it isn’t a bed of roses …

BUT GOD … allowed Jerry’s test results Friday to be positive, removing a potential obstacle to transplantation …

BUT GOD … ensured final dollar authorization for the dual transplant …

BUT GOD … led our California pastor to connect us with Pastor X here in Gainesville, with whom we’ve already started to have wonderful fellowship and support …

BUT GOD … led Pastor X to follow up with us and to allow us to share with his church body, which is actively responding to our needs.

BUT GOD … has shown us His faithfulness over and over through people we’ve met, the kindness of strangers in antique shops who’ve offered us housing or suggested resources, and by giving us incredible opportunities to connect with people and share our lives and His faithfulness with them.”

Dr. Helen Rosaveare was a single missionary working in the Congo from 1953 to 1973. During the political instability of the 1960s she was brutally gang-raped by rebels. As she tells it, during that terror one word kept recurring in her mind. “Privilege.” She had the privilege of suffering for Christ. That is truly beyond one’s capability, strength or adequacy.

But GOD empowered her to survive that and continue to minister for Him.

Grace. It’s all God’s grace. It’s not good when someone is raped, murdered, terminally ill, depressed, or insecure. But it is grace, the grace of God that shows up when we most need it, that empowers us to take one step at a time, experiencing His presence which then empowers us to take the next step. Sometimes I think I’ve done something of value … but Rene reminds me that it is all about the grace of God. He uses our availability even more than our ability.

So what are the “But Gods” in your life? I’d love to hear.

Thanksgiving

Holiday MealTurkeys and cranberry sauce; creamy mashed potatoes and raisin stuffing. The fragrance of freshly baked rolls and pies wafting through the warmth of the house. Thanksgiving is coming…a glorious reminder to stop and count the many blessings we enjoy.

But one day is not enough! The Apostle Paul tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

He doesn’t tell us to give thanks FOR all things. I don’t thank God that my friend has incurable, untreatable cancer. But I do thank Him that He is with my friends and will guide them on this new journey. I didn’t thank Him for my first husband’s diagnosis of end stage liver disease. But I thanked Him for the love my husband and I shared, the years we had together, and the ways He showed His love and care during Jerry’s illness and subsequent death.

A thankful attitude is a choice which can be developed, starting with small things. It runs the gamut from stretch fabrics to a good medical report; from another year of life to the joy of another baby born into the family.

When I realized I had made a major mistake on my bank record, I was thankful I had enough margin to cover the mistake, and the loss didn’t impact me in any life-altering way.Pumpkin Pie with Pastry Leaf Crust

When a colleague wrote, telling me she was angry that terminal illness had entered Jerry’s and my lives because we were “good people,” I was able to respond with thankfulness. I told her that God has not promised we would be exempt from trouble and pain; but He has promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us. And He never did. When I cried out for help, He lifted me with hope, joy, and peace that were clearly not from my own inner strength. By His grace I was renewed day by day. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

How do I respond to those who are undergoing severe trials? I can’t promise that God will deal with them in the same way He did with me; I can’t promise a positive outcome. My friend Constance Plett expressed it well on her facebook page when she said:

“I am grateful, when I feel helpless listening to the news, that God knows places like Liberia, Senegal, Nigeria and every single individual and family affected by the Ebola virus. That their suffering and passing is not lost on Him because He created every single one down to the last cell.

I am grateful that the PROMISE MAKER is the PROMISE KEEPER.
* I will never leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:16
* I know what I have planned for you. Jeremiah 29:11
* I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. Psalm 32:8
* I will guard your going out and your coming in. Psalm 121:8
*I go and prepare a place for you… (and) … will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:3″

In any circumstance, I can choose to be thankful, knowing my God knows the Way (MY way too); and is the Truth and the Life. How have you developed an attitude of thanksgiving in your life?

“As We would Like to be Treated”

Downtown Los Angeles. Business professionals, highrise office buildings, hustle and bustle surrounded me as I walked toward my destination. A few yards ahead, I watched a well-dressed woman pass a homeless man who sat on the sidewalk, asking for help. “Good morning!” her cheerful voice rang out as she looked directly at him, smiled, and kept walking. While she didn’t give him what he asked for–money–she did acknowledge him rather than treating him as if he were invisible.

The respect and dignity of her response spoke volumes to me. And yet Jesus also tells us that if someone is in need and we tell them “be warm and filled” but do nothing practical to help, what good is that? “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” How often have we heard that phrase? How often have we acted on it?

The other day I was in Burger King’s drive-through lane. Out of the corner of my eye I saw an unkempt man walking toward the car. From about 15 feet away, he asked, “Would you buy me the cheapest hamburger they have? I’m starving.”

"I'm hungry. Can you help?"

“I’m hungry. Can you help?”

From the safety of my car, I responded. “Sure, I can do that. Do you want fries?”

“Yeah. I really appreciate it.”

“I’m happy to do it. God loves you!”

He smiled and pointed his index finger at me. “Jesus loves you. The Holy Spirit loves you.”

I grinned and told him I’d meet him at the end of the drive-through, then ordered for both of us. After paying, I handed him the food and coke, and a packet of protein bars, juice, wet wipes, etc. that I keep in my car for such an occasion. “Here’s a little something for later.”

“Really?”

“Really.” I asked his name (Thomas) and told him mine, then, “Is Jesus your Savior?”

“Yes. I love him.”

“God bless you.”

He raised his elbow to touch mine. “And you … peace up!” as his thumbs pointed upward.

It’s easy for me to judge someone who is homeless…to think they must not be trying hard enough, might be using the system. And while that may be true, Jesus didn’t tell me to check someone’s worthiness before giving. What if he required me to be ‘worthy’ before he would love me? I don’t know what caused Thomas to become homeless. I don’t know about his family, education, the experiences and relationships that have made him who he is. But his request gave me an opportunity to serve–and his response about Jesus made us family.

Today, because of God’s grace, I was able to treat Thomas as I would like to be treated if I were in his shoes–with dignity and compassion. The experience reminded me of something I just read. If I try to do something on my own, it doesn’t quite cut it. I may do the “right thing”, but without joy, without grace. But if I allow Jesus to respond through me, then it’s truly an act of joyful service.

Dr. Kenneth Brantly of Samaritan’s Purse ministered to patients in Liberia and contracted Ebola; Mother Teresa used up her life in service to “the poorest of the poor.” These are just two examples of individuals living out the Golden Rule and treating others as they would hope to be treated.

Service often brings great joy; sometimes it brings suffering. But it is Christ’s call. I struggle with putting others before myself, especially when I’m tired, preoccupied, running late, or just focused on my own needs or wants. In my selfishness I don’t necessarily want to reach out to give to another in meaningful ways. But when I do, I am reminded that the act itself is often energizing.

Can we think of a time when we were treated in a respectful, compassionate way? Have we had, or missed, opportunities to treat someone else as we want to be treated? Let’s ask God to help us be open to situations where we can treat someone as we would like to be treated–and even more, as Christ has loved us.

Grace, God’s Grace

I feel bound. Working in a ministry with legalistic leadership, I had lost the joy in service and felt only anxiety and tension. Some mornings it was all I could do to get up and go to work. Many evenings I cried myself to sleep, praying “Lord, please hold onto me. I have nothing with which to hold onto you right now.”

This is one of the results of legalism that our pastor spoke about last weekend. Loss of joy, feeling like I need to “work harder” to please Christ, wondering if I’m following God’s plan for my life or someone else’s.

At the time, I felt my leader was asking things of me that God was not asking … signing a vow to commit to a somewhat nebulous goal (“Sign it or leave” – but where would I go? I wasn’t prepared to leave this organization I had helped establish); telling me I should not attend the church I did because they would pull me away from the ministry…not from Christ, but from the ministry.

I Tried Harder

I signed the vow. I went to the church where most of the staff worshiped. Sermons were excellent. But I missed my old fellowship and friends, and resented being told where to worship. If I didn’t follow the unwritten rules I was considered rebellious. I was told I “should” have joy. But I didn’t.

Legalism and my response to it resulted in some severe health problems. Finally the leader suggested that, since we had worked together for ten years, I take a month to rest. Before meeting him at the end of that month, I went to Yosemite to read and pray and seek God’s will. I didn’t hear a voice; I didn’t get a clear direction. What I did sense was that God was giving me a choice, with the assurance that He would be with me regardless of what I elected to do. I chose to leave that organization, but it took several years for my spirit and body to recover.

That’s a clear picture to me of the difference between legalism and grace. One said “You haven’t done all we required.” (You’re a disappointment. You failed.) It’s all about control.

Jesus said “What would you like to do, my child?” Grace is a free gift, unmerited favor with God. Wow!

In Galatians 5:1 Paul says “So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” (NLT)

My husband is very gracious. He pulls my car out of the garage and next to the side door on cold mornings so that when I get into the vehicle it’s already warmed up and ready to go. He often empties the dishwasher first thing in the morning, before I’m up. He starts the laundry if I’m out for the day. But he does these things because he loves me amazingly, not because someone put a list up saying “Do this and that and the other …” These are acts of love, not of duty. There’s a huge difference between the two.

Isaiah 30:15 states “The sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says, ‘Only in returning to me and waiting for me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.’ …” That reads to me like grace, not legalism – not “doing,” but resting, waiting, basking in the love of God, and then responding in love.

I’m still learning about grace. How about you? Are there areas where you feel bound rather than free? I’d love to hear from you.