Today Was Not My Day

My toddler class had a rough day. We had a child who stayed home sick, a teacher who stayed home sick with something else, and another child who threw up in the classroom. We had several fussy kids who were tired and teething and I’m not sure what else.

After everyone finally settled down for nap, one little guy who had already had a rough day woke up way too early. No matter what I tried, he was still fussy and uncomfortable, crying in a sad little voice unless we walked the halls together. Poor guy had to be held the rest of naptime, so my long “Things To Do While They Sleep” list is still…long.

Every Single Blessing

Paul wrote Ephesians while he was in prison, to a church who faced growing uncertainty and the challenges of living as Christians in first-century Roman territory. He opened Ephesians characteristically, with praise to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). Wait. Every spiritual blessing.

Every?

Continue reading Today Was Not My Day

Paul’s Catchphrase

I say it all the time. Every conversation, with friends and strangers, I start out, “How are you?” They always say “Good” or “Fine, how are you?” I assure them that I, too, am fine, and we go our separate ways.

It has started to bother me, though—even as I say it. “How are you?” It feels like a robotic courtesy without the genuine concern the phrase itself seems to hold. Too many times, the words have automatically tumbled out while I whiz by someone. Neither one of us stops to truly honor the question.

Eight Different Letters, One Phrase

It was in Ephesians that I first noticed it, but I would soon find it in other New Testament books, too. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:2).

In all, Paul began eight of his letters with this same phrase. Word-for-word.

Why would he include identical greetings in so many of his letters? “Grace to you.” Wouldn’t his readers start to tune that part out?

Grace, Grace, Grace

The most powerfully evident display of God’s grace was at the cross, where, as John Wenham said, “evil did its worst and met its match.” That grace—the undeserved favor of God—fills our every moment, before and after our eyes are opened to Christ’s great gift and we join the family of God. We are saved by grace, absolutely. But grace doesn’t stop flowing into our souls after conversion.

Grace tells us that when we fall short, He provides the difference. When we fail, He comes through. When we are tired, He provides strength. Grace shows us that no matter how deficient we are, He is enough. Always.

We are saved by grace. And we live by the grace He gives us every day.

Pay It Forward

We are enriched by grace (2 Corinthians 8:9), we are strengthened by grace (2 Timothy 2:1), and Peter encourages us to “grow in…grace” (2 Peter 3:18a). For the believer, all of life is grace. But the grace God gives us is not for us alone.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Grace enriches us—so we can give. Grace strengthens us—so we can serve. Grace equips us to do those things God planned before the ages for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). And when—through grace—we speak and serve, write and sing, work and create, listen and love, grace is passed on again.

Paul poured himself out for his beloved brothers and sisters. He labored in prayer for them. He wrote theologically-rich, heartfelt letters to them. He lived among them when possible, often at his own inconvenience.

Paul wished more grace for his brothers and sisters. The goal of his relationship with them was to bless them, to strengthen them, to encourage them—to be a channel from the Father to them, bringing them more grace.

No Robots Here

So Paul desires more grace for us. Thanks, Paul. But you say that to all the churches, right? It’s starting to sound like a robotic courtesy again.

Why would Paul wrap up such deep truths in a canned little catch phrase?

Paul wrote several books in the New Testament, fully understanding the weight of his words to the early church and all who would come after them. He would not flippantly include any words without meaning what he wrote.

When he wrote to the Ephesians, the Romans, the Corinthians, to the Philippians and the Thessalonians, he desired grace for them. More grace. Deeper grace. Grace for them to grow in, grace to strengthen them, grace to enrich them in ways they may not have even realized they were lacking.

But why would Paul just say that? “Grace to you”?

He didn’t just say it.

Paul opened most of his letters by saying “Grace to you” and then diving right into his teaching, expounding on the works and ways—the grace—of God. This was Paul’s stewardship of God’s varied grace. This was his work, his love offering, his sweat and tears spent for his brothers and sisters.

This was grace.

As Paul poured out his heart, laboring to encourage and strengthen them, he was passing on the grace he had received. And that’s what he told them: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We may have varied ways of saying it. It may be, “I’ve been thinking of you all week,” or “I’m so glad to see you today!” It may be a hug, a card, or a phone call that seems out of the blue. It may be an act of service, a gift, a listening ear, or hard words in a very needed conversation.

In other words: “Here. Let me share with you the grace that I have been given.”

You may still ask, “How are you?” I know I do sometimes. And that’s okay. Whatever we say, whatever we do, however we reach out, it can all be sharing the grace we live and breathe everyday, as long as we build our words and our actions on what we were given first.

Grace to you.

Thou Mine Inheritance

The Israelites pressed forward, spurred on in their quest to obtain their inheritance by conquering the enemies around them and claiming enemy land as their own. They were following the charge God gave to Joshua, courageously taking hold of the inheritance they had been promised. They faced enemies and danger and exhaustion.

They fought.

What is Our Inheritance?

The New Testament also has this idea of inheritance. Peter tells us that, as Christians, our inheritance is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4). He compares this incredibly perfect inheritance with the pointless customs handed down to us as our earthly inheritance.

But just what do we inherit? What is it we are promised as children of God? Continue reading Thou Mine Inheritance

Neighborhood on a Hill

I left my house and walked down the street. A neighbor I’ve talked to many times was trimming her bushes. A teenage boy I have never talked to parked his car and went in his family’s house, closing the garage and locking the car as he went. I heard the beep as I walked by. Two women living together were working on their yard and preparing for errands. I waved at one as I passed by. When I came back around, the other turn to the first and asked something. Then she turned back to me, grinned and returned my wave.

I made a couple more laps through the main road in our neighborhood. A new neighbor was watering plants. I had briefly checked my phone to see what my Facebook notification was, and didn’t see that I had walked right by her until I had already passed. I called out a good morning, and she turned to see. Her response was eager but betrayed hesitant English. The two women drove by me and waved. A man and a woman were working in their yard and garage as I walked in their cul-de-sac. He looked up briefly but never said anything. I don’t think she ever knew I was there.

My family moved to a small town when I was eight. My mom still talks about when Mrs. Wingard first stopped by. An elderly widow with a severe heart condition, Mrs. Wingard had likely spent most of her day on the pie she handed to my mom. Over the few months we lived there, she showed us her birdhouses a few times and welcomed us into her home, always glad to see us talkative and noisy kids.

I can tell you so little about my neighbors now. So few of their names, occupations, likes, dislikes, or joys and heartaches. We are called to live as light that can’t be hidden (Matthew 5:14-15) and we have good news to share that every person on this earth needs to know (Mark 16:15). That responsibility doesn’t end with a wave and a cheery morning greeting. But perhaps it can start with no less.