Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Point Of It All--Part II

I purposely ended my last post before launching into one of my favorite subjects—Grace.

This topic has come up in some recent threads on The Ooze, so I’ve had a few opportunities to put words to my emerging beliefs about it.

What I’ve noticed is that when you talk to Christians, the responses you get to grace are as varied as the number of mainline denominations in America. I know that my understanding of the concept of grace has deepened and evolved over the last 16 years.

What I’m beginning to grasp is that grace really is a free gift from God, but it is a gift unopened and unused (I can hear diehard Calvinists cringing at the thought). In other words, God placed the hugest, best, most sufficient present under the cosmic Christmas tree, but it is up to us, the recipient, to unwrap it, to use it and to enjoy.

The point of it all is that grace is to be shared. Jesus said, “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In other words, the more we use it and share it, the more we enjoy it. God wants His grace multiplied in the earth. And we are the conduits of that grace.

If all we do is talk about grace as a concept, in theological terms, then we become a bunch of windbags. God has not called us to be the pied pipers, hoping our song and dance will lead others to the gift of grace. He’s called us to action. We are participants in this redemption narrative called the Good News. We are the conduits of God’s grace in the earth. That requires action, not just words, concepts or theologies…and certainly not some song and dance (a shout out to my charismatic friends).

I truly believe this is what the apostle James was getting at when he wrote, “faith without deeds is useless.” I’ve always struggled with that verse in James 2:20. I always wondered where the balance point was between grace and works, because I was taught that praying the sinners’ prayer and making an honest confession were all that God required.

Grace is as useless to humankind as the unopened present under the tree holding all that blessed potential. The only way grace can be enjoyed is to be used in some way. That is where good deeds enter the faith equation. We must actively put grace into practice daily, so that its potential to change the world is unleashed. After all, who wants to play with an unopened gift? That’s all this concept of grace really is unless we use it, share it. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Jesus said that we should feed His sheep, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit those in prison and so forth. Food to a starving person is Good News. It’s like the manna raining down from heaven. A friend to someone who is incarcerated and possibly shunned by their own family is Good News. Grace in action can take many forms, large or small.

God’s purpose is not just to fill some cosmic void called Heaven. He’s not a spurned lover looking to mere mortals for companionship. He wants His creation restored, healthy and whole. He’s poured out grace sufficient for the task at hand. What are we doing with it? Are we active participants in sharing the Good News? Are we conduits of His grace?

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Point of It All...

“What’s the point of it all?,” you may have asked once or twice before. I’ve been asking that a lot lately…not because I feel hopeless and desperate for answers, but because I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and rethinking my faith.

In my last post about being destination minded, I touched on what I think is a root issue with too many professing Christians. They say they have this “great commission,” but if you ask them what that is, they’ll probably say something along the lines of “winning souls, making converts or leading others to Christ.” I’m not saying that this is misguided or wrong, but I often question the motivation and techniques. It’s not the “what” so much as the “why” that bothers me.

It has been my experience that most Christians are concerned with how many folks they’ve led to Christ…meaning led to an altar somewhere (not necessarily in church), but definitely resulting in something resembling “the sinner’s prayer” (as if there is a script). They are concerned about getting these folks “cleaned up and in church,” because that’s the natural progression of things.

The central motivation seems to be that we need to “save” as many people from hellfire as possible. We feel that the only good fruit is the number of converts we’ve “won.” We envision The Father keeping a scorecard just like our Sunday school teachers used to do on the chalk/poster/felt board.

Likewise, we support church plans and programs that promote our evangelistic agenda. We imagine that if we combine our efforts with some slick church marketing we’ll double and triple our production of converts. After awhile, it becomes increasingly apparent that we’re just small cogs in the assembly line to mass produce baby Christians. And that’s what Jesus was about, right? Winning souls by the millions? Increasing the size of His kingdom through mass marketing?


The real point of all this is to expand His kingdom one person at a time, which may or may not include you “walking them down the Roman Road” or “leading them through the sinners’ prayer.” God is totally capable of bringing in all the lost and wayward souls He wants or needs in His kingdom, but I don’t think He’s trying to reach some occupancy limit in heaven.

I believe He’s building His kingdom right here on the earth. His purpose is to reconcile, repair and restore. He’s using Jesus-centered people of every race and walk of life to accomplish that. He’s given us grace…and it is sufficient enough for every person with whom we come into contact.

Stay tuned for more on the subject of this grace…

Monday, March 20, 2006

Destination Mindedness

I have always wrestled with my propensity to look beyond where I am to where I’m going. The destination has always been foremost in my mind and it has caused me to miss several “points of interest” along the way. I have made a conscious effort ever since adopting my girls to try and embrace the present, to savor the moment, to stop and smell the flowers.

Case in point, we were at the neighborhood playground on Sunday, just the three of us (my girls and I). I had a headache and was ready to get home. My oldest daughter (4 ½) insisted on going to the swings at the other end of the playground. Begrudgingly, I took my youngest daughter down there, too, and began pushing them both…my 2-year-old in the baby swing and her sister in the “big girl” swing adjacent to her. When the younger of them began giggling, I was jolted out of my “let’s hurry this up and go home” thought pattern. I immediately recognized this moment for what it was…precious…priceless.

As I continued to push my daughters, alternately, one hand on the eldest’s backside, then one hand on the baby swing, I cherished the moment and forgot about the destination. I soaked in the warm afternoon sunshine, enjoyed my baby’s giggle and relished the time with my daughters that seems to be passing so quickly already.

I’ve thought about this for the last 20 hours or so…and have come to recognize my destination-mindedness. It has always been this way…on long trips with my wife, on weekend excursions with my daughters, in my relationship with God.

God didn’t just put me here on this planet to always be thinking of heaven, my final destination. He didn’t send His Son to this planet in a big hurry to get “home,” either. If I am to pattern my life after that of the Good Shepherd, then I need to be less about the destination and more about the day-to-day journey…helping people when and where I can.

Thank you, God, for making me less destination minded. Help me to enjoy life’s journey, every little part.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Places of Worship

One of my favorite places to worship is at Camp Suwannee in Dowling Park, Florida. This beautiful campground is situated on the Suwannee River in North Florida and is adorned with huge cypress, oak, pine and plenty of Spanish moss. But what makes this place so special is a retreat weekend that is held there twice a year, called North Florida Tres Dias.

I made a Tres Dias weekend in October 1989 and have served on several weekends since…all of them at Camp Suwannee. The campground has several buildings, including a large gymnasium with windows across the back wall that allow a majestic view of the river’s meandering black water. At that end of the gym sits our makeshift chapel.

Imagine evening chapels at sunset, moss-draped live oaks silhouetted against an orange and purple sky, vibrant colors bouncing off the ripples in the river bend. It’s more beautiful than any painting.

In this surreal setting, 150 men gather to offer scripted and unscripted prayers, to meditate, to sing hymns and spiritual songs and to simply spend time with God. Miles away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, we’re offered this special place in which to worship our Creator.

Not only does the beautiful, natural setting inspire worship, but the almost tangible presence of God does so even more. We can thank the prayers of many saints for that. During a Tres Dias weekend, people of faith from all over the world are lifting up prayers on our behalf. Many men and women from our own community, mostly North Florida and South Georgia, plus others from far away lands, like Brisbane (Australia) and Florence (Italy) and points in-between. I believe that the massive amounts of prayer coupled with the spirit of service among the men present are what truly usher in God’s presence on the weekend.

Sadly, very few “houses of worship” I’ve attended had this same atmosphere. It just goes to show that you can “have church” anywhere that you have a gathering of faith-filled people, but the natural ambience, the prayers of the saints and the right attitude also help a lot.

To find out if there is a Tres Dias community in your area, visit

Monday, March 06, 2006

House Mouse

I'm sorry, but as soon as I saw the star of Fox's new melodramatic med-drama I knew that I wouldn't be watching. For years, I've known Hugh Laurie as the bow-tied father of a furry little CG-animated rodent. I see right through his modern day scruffiness and tussled coif. He's still Mr. Little to me!

Friday, March 03, 2006


Yep, that's me, the bearded one, standing in front of my newly leased White H3. Can I tell you that I love this SUV? So do my wife and daughters. With just 400 miles on it, the H3 is barely broken in. I took advantage of my employee status and got a tremendous deal on a 24-month, 15k mi/year lease. Thank you GMAC!

Now, if anyone else wants to own a HUMMER--or a Buick, Cadillac, GMC or Pontiac for that matter--you know who to contact.

Thank God for the beautiful, sunny 80-degree weather we're having. I'll have my windows down and sunroof wide open this weekend!