Candy Basket

My Boss carried a basket of candy toward me. “You get one for doing a good deed.” She wanted me to know that I had earned a piece of candy. She encouraged me to take a piece of my choosing.

Meanwhile my coworkers wandered up and a few asked for a piece of candy too. She grinned, nodded, and said something about me taking two pieces then. I turned around to continue with my work and another coworker wandered up the hallway.

My Boss held out the candy basket toward her.

“Do you want a piece of candy?”

The coworker paused at the basket and moved her fingers over the candies.

“How much?” She said. My boss looked a tad puzzled and responded, “One.”

My coworker clearly meant something else, “No How much? Like how much does it cost?”

My Boss laughed, “Ooh nothing!! They’re free!”

Immediately I thought about that basket of candy was a representation of salvation. My coworker fully expected a dollar amount in relation to that candy but the candy wasn’t for sale. She couldn’t earn it, she couldn’t purchase it, she could only receive it and receive it she did.

Ephesians 2:8  (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

chocolates-3193666_1280

When the Tables Are Turned

A young friend in her late twenties came to me recently with an unusual concern.

She is the only one in her small group who has chosen not to drink alcohol because of her Christian faith. It’s not that she’s never tasted alcohol. Nor is she rigid, prudish, or legalistic. It is a conscious choice she has made.

I don’t know all her reasons. Our conversation was more on the reactions she had received to her choice than on the choice itself. She had made that decision when she realized that alcoholic beverages offered no benefit to her and didn’t draw her closer to God, and that there are always risks associated with drinking alcohol. So she made the intentional decision not to use alcohol. In my mind I immediately thought of the verse in 1 Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable,” and I understood her decision.

But that was not the case with others she had encountered. At a small group meeting the prior week, she had found herself conspicuously being the only one not consuming alcohol. She did not feel out-of-place in her spirit and was enjoying her fellowship time. She also had the strength of character to not feel compelled to drink just because the rest were. So where was the issue? One of the young men approached her offering a drink. She declined, and he reacted!

He was offended that she wasn’t drinking. He chastised her for it and questioned her on it. She explained that she wasn’t judging him; she had just chosen not to consume any alcohol. A discussion ensued and suddenly she was the one feeling judged for her abstinence. We are told in Romans 14:16 to “not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil.” So she had to stand up for her convictions to another member of the body of Christ, one who should have been encouraging her and building her up instead of undermining her convictions.

Has our society so infiltrated the church that this is what we’ve come to?

Has it become a world where it is “politically correct” in the body of Christ to be so open-minded about alcohol that we condemn those who choose to abstain?

In another situation, a family friend in her early 30s recovering from alcoholism encountered her church friends, who knew her well, drinking at a class gathering they knew she would attend. She was surprised and let down. How could brothers and sisters in Christ choose to exercise their “freedom” at the jeopardy of her sobriety? Is Paul’s warning forgotten? “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” (Romans 14:21)

A skewed view of grace has been slowly rising to the surface over the years, one that says a follower of Christ can do anything they choose and it doesn’t matter because God will forgive. Has the church bought into this so much so that a person who walks in purity and holiness is seen as an affront to this false interpretation of grace? In Romans 6:15, the apostle Paul admonishes us, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” Are we so caught up in our freedom, that we are careless with our responsibility toward other believers?

Just as Christ has given us grace, we are called on to offer grace to those around us. In our Christian walk, let us extend compassionate love and care by respecting others weaknesses and not causing them to stumble by our actions. Let us also refrain from judging another for choices they make, that while they don’t go against scriptures we would perhaps consider a sin for us.

And on the other side of that coin, let us all also refrain from undermining a brother or sister in Christ who has chosen a higher standard than we are living. That is often difficult, especially when we feel conviction or condemnation simply by being in their presence. Instead of questioning the high road they have taken, when that conviction comes upon us let us pull aside, and seek God to see if He is using their example as a way of calling us to a deeper walk of holiness.

A Transformational Love

I have shared this on Facebook before, but I feel like it is a message worth repeating.

There are lots and lots of people in the Bible and very many of their life stories are listed for us. I have quite a few that are favorites because they teach us of the goodness of God. There’s one simple story during Jesus’ ministry that always strikes me though. And it sticks with me and warms my heart, but also convicts me.

There was a man who lived in Jericho who was despised by everyone. He was lavishly wealthy primarily because as a Hebrew tax collector for the Roman government, he stole money from his Jewish brothers and padded his own pockets. One day, Jesus was passing through Jericho and the crowds came out to see Jesus as He came into town.

Zaccheaus,

bartimaeus_and_zacchaeus-luke_18_35_-_19_10a

Luke 19:1-9

being a short man, wanted a glimpse of Jesus but couldn’t see above the throng, so he climbed up a nearby Sycamore tree. As Jesus came through the streets, He parted the crowd and walked straight way to that tree. Ignoring the gasps and snarls of the people of the city, He told the most hated man there that He should come on down out of that tree and go home and prepare a meal, because Jesus would be dining there that evening. This flew all over the religious crowd. Jesus was scandalous in his love for broken people. He sought the ones who needed him the most. His love and lack of disdain for them chipped through their hardened hearts and changed them.

After Zaccheaus met with Jesus, he gave back all of the money he had stolen multiplied by 4. Who does that? Someone who has felt the love of God and been transformed by it! This evil, broken world will not be changed by our disdain and pious attitudes. But it will be changed by displaying the love of God in his Son Jesus through loving people who seem to least deserve it. 

Love Big Today!!!

pexels-photo-109919
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11

Back to Basics: Authentic Community

Hello, my name is Gina and I…

Lately the ladies in our office have been discussing sharing and how important it is to share your life with others. Not just what you did over the weekend or the latest thing your child did, but real, authentic sharing. Sharing of struggles and hurts and dreams that did not come true. It’s easy to share our wins with others but why is it hard to share our struggles? Why is it that we always want to put on a front and not be real with the community that God has put around us?

Ladies, there is someone out there who has struggled with infertility, who has lost a job, whose filed for bankruptcy, whose husband has left them, whose child is away from God, whose loved one has an addiction to drugs, pain killers, pornography, or alcohol, who has suffered a miscarriage, who is battling depression or another mental illness, who has a child with special needs, who has post-partum depression, who is struggling with having an empty nest home, whose spouse has cheated on them, who is caring for an aging parent, who has been physically or mentally abused, who has an eating disorder, who has had an abortion or an unplanned pregnancy, who is struggling with being single, who is lonely, who is grieving the death of a child, who is in an unhappy marriage – the list could go on and on. We all have stories to tell.

S9LA9E7JI0.jpg

Our Father doesn’t want us to keep these hurts and struggles bottled up inside and hidden from the world – I believe He wants us to share so we can help others and bring Him glory. Your struggle is part of your story, your testimony and your journey with Him. You never know what someone else has walked through but how are we to know who that person is unless you share? Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief]” (emphasis mine).

Since this topic first came up in my life it has come up in many conversations the past few weeks and I have seen people talking about it on social media. I keep going back to work and saying – “guess what I talked about with so and so today – sharing”! I believe that the Lord can really heal our hearts and bond us together through this.

We need to embrace the community that God has placed in our life. This community is there to lift you up and pray for you when you are struggling and having a hard time. Community is there to call you out (in love of course), community is there to make sure you are not alone – Satan wants nothing more than to isolate you and make you think you are the only one. You do not have to be overwhelmed alone! There is wholeness and transformation when we share our stories with each other. Galatians 6:2: Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

women-praying.jpg

Pastor Pete Scazzero says, “The church is hopefully the place where people can come and it’s safe. We want to be in a place where we admit we are broken, we are vulnerable and we are authentic. If we really believe in grace, we can come out of hiding and hopefully be something that will make the world a little thirsty for Christ. Without transparency I’m not sure we have much to offer the world.”

Ladies, we need each other and it is so important to never stop sharing the stories…your story…my story…so let’s not stop. Keep sharing, keep loving, keep encouraging and keep talking to people around you.
pexels-photo-110440.jpeg

I’ll start it – Hello, my name is Gina and in January I had a miscarriage. What’s your story?

One Size Fits…ALL

When you read the words “one size fits all” you may think first of an article of clothing. One size fits all means that no matter your size, height or stature this garment should work for you. I am personally thankful for such garments around bathing suit season!!!

pexels-photo-66414-e1487601368936.jpeg

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!”

I was preparing a devotion a few days ago and thinking about these “one size fits all” tags, just thinking of those words and how broad they are and how they really can speak to us as Christians about “covering”. The one thing we all are in need of as sinners who fall short of God’s glory is grace. Grace to cover us, protect us and shield us from the enemy who seeks to destroy us and our lives. I thought of how God’s grace is offered to all in the way of salvation and how no matter where you have been or what you have done HE is enough to cover you and shield you and protect you from all who seek to harm you, no matter what you have done or where you have been. We can never sin so far that HIS grace cannot cover us.

As I began to write down a few thoughts, I thought of things I had done and maybe places I had been that were not uplifting to the call He had placed on my life years ago and GRACE just kept coming back around. I remembered words I have spoken that were unkind and choices I had made that caused me to miss opportunities to share about God’s love. The enemy would have loved for my mind to stay right there BUT GOD’S GRACE covers me. You see, as a 15 year old, I gave my heart and life to God and promised to follow and serve Him for the rest of my life. There, at that moment, I received salvation, grace, forgiveness and a promise that I belonged to Him. His grace covers me. His grace “fits” over my  sin. The times I have been so bold in the choices I have made and the sins that committed, even in those times, HE has prepared a way for all of those to be washed away, to be covered. Grace is for all of us, offered freely and with the promise that HE will never leave us.

“One size fits all” may be just a simple tag in a garment, but those words to us as believers mean that we are covered by our Heavenly Father and that His love for us is immeasurable. We can never sin bigger than His grace can cover. Our choices could never take us so far that His grace cannot reach us. Our faith can be and should be strengthened knowing that without a doubt we are covered and loved so much that GOD gave His Son to die on a cross as the covering for our sin. This covering, this salvation is offered to ALL, no exception. In a society where size and beauty and social status seem to be the measure of all (according to the magazines and news stories), what an incredible blessing to know that no matter who you are this grace, this covering from GOD will fit. Grace is “one size fits ALL!!

person-clinic-cross-religion-54333

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished upon us. Eph. 1:7-8

 

A Place for Grace

Subtitle: Why is the one place grace should be easiest to give, the hardest place to give it?

By Michele Mann

I remember the moment like it was yesterday. It was a Wednesday night service. I hadn’t planned to be there. I was a newlywed and this was our first church. We’d only been part of the church for a few months and my husband encouraged me to go and get to know some folks. So I went. The service began uneventfully. A worship song, prayer, and then the announcement of a business meeting.

I had never been to a church business meeting, for good reason. All I wanted to do was run for the nearest exit, or maybe go hide under a pew. I’d heard horror stories about how “business” was conducted in church, and I really didn’t want to stick around long enough to see if the stories were true. But I was stuck. And sure enough, it got ugly. Something about the colors of the pews clashing with the carpet. It was so stereotypical and so shallow. It got so heated my young, immature, impressionable heart started to ache. I quietly excused myself and left the sanctuary in tears. I spent the rest of the meeting in a bathroom stall—discouraged, dejected, and just plain sad.

Growing up, church and I had a distant relationship. Oh, I rode the “church bus” from time to time when I was in elementary school (mostly for the bubble gum). But, strange as it may sound, by the time I reached middle school, Jesus and the Bible were integral parts of my life, but church was not. I started noticing the same kids I saw at church were the same kids who were cruel and vindictive and cliquish at school. I decided, as a very pretentious 13-year-old, if those kids were the product of the church, then I’d like none of that. I knew I was a sinner and needed Jesus, and I loved Him, but His church, no thank you.

This began years of struggle. As I read the Bible and grew as a believer, I knew I needed to allow God to change my stinky attitude. In college, I began to serve at a local church where I got a closer glimpse of the body, and it wasn’t pretty. There was gossip and judgmental attitudes and cliques and jealousies and conflicts. It seemed those who were most in need of the love of Christ were the ones who were the most soundly rejected by the church. The people who grew up in the church didn’t welcome the newbies, and heaven help you if you had serious mistakes or wounds in your past. After one dear friend was wounded deeply by a church member, it was all I could take. I was done. I’d be just fine with small group Bible study and campus ministries. Church was way too messy for me.

Then I met my husband. This godly man who grew up in church and saw the mess, but also saw the beauty. He knew how necessary and vital the church was to spiritual growth, to reaching the community, to serving others. I still wasn’t convinced. But I knew the Word. I knew my role as a wife was to be submissive and to follow his leadership. So when we searched for a body of believers, we prayed, we looked for a church that did not compromise the truth of the Bible. We looked for a church close to our community so we could really love and serve our neighbor. We finally felt God’s drawing to a local body. But it was hard. I’m so thankful for a husband who made me go on the weeks I really wanted to stay home. Pretty soon we found a precious group of friends, found places to use the gifts God had given us, and we settled in a bit.

pexels-photo-185432Then came the business meeting. All the emotions I had been keeping at bay piled up and could no longer be contained. I wept bitterly in that church bathroom. I cried out to the Lord from a long wounded place, “This is not how church is supposed to be! This can’t be what you intended! God I want to love your church, but it is so broken. So fractured. All I see is the ugly stuff, God help me see the beauty of your body.”

After a while, I finally gathered up my fractured heart and went back in the sanctuary just as the “meeting” was coming to a close. As I quietly slipped in a back pew, I heard a sweet voice at the microphone. It was Mrs. Thelma. She was an older lady, a tiny thing with eyes filled with love and fire. “Friends,” she said sweetly and gently. “One of my favorite verses is Psalm 19:14, ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Now I don’t think our words have been very pleasing to the Lord. Maybe we should spend some time talking to the Lord and making sure our hearts and minds are acceptable to the Lord before we continue.”

I was undone. My heart melted. God used this little lady with the boldness to speak truth in love to begin the alteration process in my heart. God whispered to me that day, “The body is broken because it is full of sinners, like you. But it is not beyond repair. My Saints are here. You’re looking for perfection. You won’t find it this side of heaven. But you can learn here, grow here, serve here. You need to learn to give grace and to offer mercy. You need to look for the true beauty in my Body. The beauty is Jesus Christ. I am the One who gave Myself for broken, messed up souls. I am the beauty, Michele. Seek ME and you will find ME—even in the broken places.”

I’d like to say the journey since then has been easy and pleasant, but it hasn’t. It’s been joyful at times, and it’s been excruciating at times. But what I keep remembering is Christ died for this. The body, as wounded and broken as it is, is His gift to us. We love each other through the ugly, through the pain, and through the victories. The body of Christ is not the perfect utopia I, in my immaturity, thought it should be, but it is a real place, with real people, who are really struggling and need the real love of a real Savior. So I can say, after many long years of seeking Him in the midst of the mess, I love His body and I am so thankful to be a receiver of grace–even in the hard places.