Christian Living

A Fall to Grace

One day morning will dawn, your eyes will open, and you will awaken with the literal reality that the dream you had for yourself is over and it’s time to move on.

I can think to specific days in 2000, 2003, 2008, and most recently in summer 2011 when I rolled out of bed with the knowledge that I’d just crossed a line. The dreams I knew were gone. And I had to find new dreams.

In each case, those mornings felt like I’d just fallen from a place of positional power, security, and recognition. Even in going from one role to another– even if that new role was “better” than the one I’d left, it still felt like a fall.

Perhaps it is a guy thing? But much of who you are and how you think of yourself on a day-to-day basis is wrapped up in what you do, who you work with, and the people you do stuff with. When that’s gone– whether by choice or not– you experience this unmooring free fall feeling.

While other leaders have experienced ugly falls from grace I have never experienced that. Instead, in times where the things I knew are suddenly gone because I’ve moved on to something else… I’ve experienced something I can only describe as a fall to grace.

The free fall feeling of change always lands in the loving arms of a God who has nurtured and cared for me from the beginning. And those strong palms support my back as I try to get my bearings. God’s grace supports me, lifts me up, and the warmth of that palm reminds me that I’ll be fine.

To know Hope you must know Despair

Despair is not the enemy of hope. Frustration and anxiety may not be your friends but they are repeatedly wrestled on your way to hope. Over the years, plenty of people have called me overly hopeful– almost stupid hopeful. From my eyes I only know summits of hope because I have been in great depths of despair. In the darkness of that valley I’ve cried out to God, “What am I doing here! I can’t do this anymore. I hate every last step of this! AAAAHHHH!!!!” The echoes of those moments haunt me.

But when you’ve been there– when you’ve screamed in that valley and heard those cries echoed back empty? Then you discover that any step above that is a step towards hope.

But knowing hope, truly living a hope-filled, is a reflex against despair.

To know Faith you must know Doubt

It perplexes me that some have made doubt the enemy of faith. I would argue that you can’t know what faith is until you know what doubt is. Both are invisible. Both are real. And both are internal, silent motivators of our daily actions.

In putting both feet on either side of the faith/doubt teeter totter I desire balance while one always wins over the other. I’m either standing on faith or standing on doubt.

Falling into the arms of grace isn’t an action of doubt or faith. But the resolve that comes through pushing against doubts gravity to take action is a step of faith. That is what reassures me that grace truly will catch me.

To know Grace you must know Failure

One of my mentors, at each of these moments over the past decade, has asked me… “What are the things you are running away from by doing this and what are the things you are running to?” Even in roles where everyone has labeled me a success I know there were failures. I know there were expectations unmet. I know I expressed attitudes I shouldn’t have. There were many times when I worked on what I wanted to work on to the neglect of what others thought I should be working on.

Even on the road to success there are many failures you have to deal with. Being honest about that with myself and with others helps me discover what grace really means in my life.

Because of my failures I don’t deserve anything good. But good keeps coming my way. That’s not a reflection of my character or timing or anything else. But it is a reflection of the character of God.

Friends- I have no idea what is going on in your life. But I do know that we will all encounter times where we experience free fall. My encouragement? Fall into the receiving hands of grace.

Christian Living

My Own Casey Anthony

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You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.

Matthew 5:21-22 The Message

I don’t live in Florida. And I barely keep up with the news. In fact, the first thing I heard about the Casey Anthony trial was that people were upset that she had been acquitted on charges of murder.

There’s no way I can put myself in her shoes, having stood trial, and been declared not guilty on accusations that I’d killed my own child. As the foreperson read the verdict you could see her breath taken away. How her knees didn’t buckle I’ll never know.

In that moment, either a burden had been lifted or one had been applied. Either way– she wasn’t going to go to jail.

Tears were natural. I don’t know if I could have stood up to that moment with my future literally written on a piece of paper for a woman to read like she did. She stood there and took the verdict. And in the moments afterward I am sure her mind raced… “Now what?”

There hadn’t been a next step in her life. But suddenly, in a breath, there was.

I’m not Casey Anthony.

While I’m not Ms. Anthony– I am Mr. McLane. And I can put myself in my own shoes. My shoes aren’t much cleaner than hers.

According to Matthew 5 I am a murderer. And one day I will stand trial and be found guilty on hundreds of counts of murder according to Jesus’ standard. I’m a hopeless case. As I think about my trial, there may be some counts in which I’d plead guilty. And there might be others in which I plead innocent. And, who knows, there might be some in which I’m guilty of both the charge against myself and providing a false report to try to get myself out of trouble for committing the crime which I’d been charged.

I’m my own Casey Anthony

I have no idea what really happened with the real Casey Anthony. But my life is full of excuses and lies and manipulations of fact, too.

Just like her I need a second chance on life. Who am I kidding? I need a 4,635,128th chance on life.

That’s what is so amazing about second chances in Jesus’ eyes. I might be a hopeless case. But, hanging on the cross, Jesus bore my punishment so I could continue on. In a breath and suddenly, tetelaste, my second chance on life was given.

Just like Ms. Anthony’s life– from this day forward– her life will be defined by what she does with her second chance.

So will mine.  So will mine.

Check out more stories in this series at People of the Second Chance

Christian Living

Let Grace be our language

Is grace enough for you?

Maybe I’m a cynic but I don’t think grace is a hallmark of a lot of Christians. We’re too busy having unrealistic expectations for one another and then wallowing in the disappointment of failed relationships.

I’m too busy judging you for judging me for grace!

Let’s get past this oddity of evangelical culture and descend into the heart of what we believe.

We’re all perfectly imperfect. We need to expect imperfection from the people around us while individually, through the power of Jesus, trying to make our live more like Jesus. Not to celebrate it. But build it into our expectations for one another.

I sin. I am messy. I hate things about my nature. Loathe even. I sadden myself with my sinfulness. Sometimes I disgust myself.

Failure is a part of our walk with Christ. Some would say it is the beginning of our walk with Jesus. It’s part of being a leader. It’s part of maturing. It’s part of learning.

You simply cannot walk with Jesus in a state of false perception of yourself, your mess, and your unique ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong moment.

Think about it like this…

The whole reason God created Eve was not for a sin bringing playmate. It was because the Father looked at his creation and said, “Its not good for man to be alone.”

There is no more alone place than in a broken relationship. Conversely, there is little more powerful on this world than a grace-filled relationship with two people.

Here’s my encouragement

Every day you are given the choice between grace and judgement. In all things, chose grace.

Christian Living

I’m a walking contradiction

My life in a Bible verse:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” Romans 7:15-17

I’m a walking contradiction.

Outside of the sin world– and boy am I a sinner– this verse speaks into a lot of other areas of my life.

And in the gray areas of life, things where it isn’t abundantly clear it’s a sin issue, I’m literally a contradiction.

  • I love my kids, but boy do I love to spend time alone with Kristen.
  • I love spending time with the students in the youth group, but every Tuesday night I struggle to make time to go to youth group and hang with them.
  • I love my church, but I’m quick to wonder if we’re going to the right church.
  • I love the people of Haiti, but to live there? Not in this lifetime.
  • I hate big box stores, but when I need something in a pinch you’ll find me at Target, Home Depot, or Costco.
  • I hate disappointing my children, but I also know that if I give them whatever they want they won’t become the people we hope they become.
  • I hate discrimination against people, but if I’m honest I do it without thinking all the time.
  • I hate people who talk on their phones while driving… even with a headset on, but I do it all the time.

This is the problem I face every day. I want to be a person of integrity. I want to be a person who makes the right choice for the right reason every time. But life is full of so many contradictions that I’m often left feeling like a hypocrite. I intend to do everything based on my convictions… but I fail a whole lot.

I do the things I don’t want to do and I can’t stop myself. I even do the things I don’t want to do without thinking about if I want to do them or not. People say I’m a good person and I’m quick to say thank you. But when someone points out my faults I’m just as quick to try to justify myself.

What’s the moral of the story?

I’m no better than anyone else. I’m just as much a mess as the guy next door. I need to remind myself constantly that the Gospel is just as much for me as it is for my neighbor.

To take a stance that I’m somehow better or less a sinner only validates a position that I’m a hypocrite.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Through Christ, I’m a walking contradiction, forgiven purely by grace.

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Grace vs. Karma

Without karma, how do you get stuff done in the church?

Yesterday’s message got me thinking about the mistake many people, even church people, make in regards to grace. Here’s what those two terms mean and why they are opposites.

Grace is receiving unmerited favor. In other words, you get what you don’t deserve.

Karma is the effects of your past deeds is your future experience. In other words, you get what you pay for.

The Karma Conspiracy. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Most people in ministry believe in grace but practice and perpetuate karma in their ministry. Not all, but nearly all.

1. I missed my kids soccer game because I was preparing for my message on Sunday.

2. Come be a part of God’s vision and serve at the spaghetti dinner.

3. Partner with God in the vision of our church by tithing.

4. Join a small group this fall and be a part of what we’re doing.

Now, you’ll see those statements and not see the karma connection. Since I’ve been guilty of all four of those let me translate into what most (nearly all) pastors are thinking when they say these things.

1. If I work hard good things will happen in my church.

2. I am capitalizing on your false belief that working in the church will merit favor in order to fill a job roster.

3. I am exploiting on your belief that if you give to God He will give more back to you.

4. By asking you to do something you don’t want to do, I am perpetuating your false belief in karma with the hope that you’ll discover grace.

See, this is a tricky thing. And I don’t think any pastor does it intentionally. Yet I think that karma is so engrained in our culture that we perpetuate it unknowingly.

Question: How do we stop this? How do we allow grace, true unmerited favor from God, to permeate everything we do in ministry and in life?

Hint: I think both the problem and the solution are found here.

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The injustice of grace

Define GraceHave you ever thought about what Jesus did and thought, “eh? I’ve been having this thought lately and I just can’t shake it:

It’s a complete injustice that I experience grace.

First of all, I need to be clear what I mean by grace since there are several definitions for this word… even the Bible uses it 5-6 different ways. By grace I mean “the active communication of divine blessings by the inworking of the Holy Spirit, out of the fullness of Him who is “full of grace and truth,”” (Louis Berkhof, 1949) In other words, grace is the good stuff we are blessed with because of our relationship with Jesus.

Have you ever been comped on something? You know, you show up to a place and because you are with “him” or “her” you get free stuff. That’s a practical expression of grace… and it’s a total injustice! In my life I’ve gotten comped on some very nice things. Rounds of golf, meals, retail stuff, vacations, stuff like that. It’s always a weird feeling as you of look at the person whom you’d normally pay and then flash a glance over to the “big guy” and the need to pull out your wallet goes away. (Sometimes a half thumb pointing at the big guy helps.)

Why is that an injustice? Well, you get stuff you can’t afford for free! Other people have to pay big bucks for the round of golf I play for free… that’s really not fair to those who have to pay, is it?

It’s the same way in a lot of areas of my life right now. God is granting my family a lot of injustice lately. When I look my kids I can’t help thinking… what an injustice, I don’t deserve this awesome family. Even as a family, there is so much good stuff happening to us and all around us we’re kind of left simply shrugging our shoulders and pointing at the “big guy” and admitting… “we’re with Him.” God is comping us on little things (stuff) and big stuff (a family who choses to honor God with what they do) and the only word I can use to describe it is overwhelming injustice.

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Mercy: Some practical theology here

Last night at Light Force small groups we talked about the difference between mercy and grace.

Grace = Getting something you don’t deserve.

Mercy = Not getting something you deserve.

I could see the students wrestling with this. Here are students completely covered in both. They have parents who bathe them in both on a daily basis. Yet they don’t see it. I think it goes back, for them, to a fundamental misunderstanding of what “deserve” means. They think that they deserve mercy and grace.

I left thinking that most of the students expect to deserve grace and mercy. (By their birth they feel they have merited favor with others and even God) And I wondered how I could communicate that they don’t deserve to deserve grace and mercy better?

What are some practical areas of grace and mercy the students in your life experience but fail to acknowledge?