Grace and Tacos

Taco

Several months ago I went out to lunch with a friend of mine to a tasty Mexican restaurant.
As we sat there talking and eating chips and salsa I had the thought that I should pay for his lunch. He had enough money to buy his own and he wasn’t expecting me to buy his, but I’ve had my lunch bought dozens of times by others and I wanted to “pay it forward.” So I decided I would buy, but I didn’t tell him. When the checks came at the end of lunch I was going to just pick up both checks and pay. You know, the smooth way.

Shortly after deciding I was going to buy, the waitress came to take our orders. I ordered some cheap lunch special. But my friend didn’t. He ordered one of the most expensive combination platters on the entire menu. Then I went in to “have-a-conversation-with-yourself-mode.”

It went something like this:

“I can’t believe it! Here I was about to be nice and generous to this guy and he goes and orders that!? Oh well. He can kiss his free lunch goodbye. I can’t pay for his now. It’s going to cost me way more than I had planned on spending. Good thing I never told him I was paying. He can just pay this time. Maybe next time I’ll buy his if he stays within a reasonable price range.”

After having the very normal, silent conversation with myself I immediately had a new thought—“I don’t like myself right now.”

Why?

Because my heart had just been fully exposed.

In that moment I was full of pride.

In that moment I was extremely selfish.

In that moment I loved my money more than my friend.

While pride, selfishness and greed are enough to make you feel bad about yourself, I realized there was a deeper issue.

In that moment I had forgotten grace.

Grace.

It’s at the center of the heart of God. It’s what separates Christianity from all other world religions. It’s beautiful to those who need it and offensive to those who don’t. It exposes the self-righteous and makes them mad. It’s living water to the broken sinner and makes them glad.

When we make a mistake in life we want it. It’s so easy to receive.
But when others make a mistake we don’t want to give it. It’s difficult to give away.

Grace is getting something good that you don’t deserve. It’s unearned by the one receiving it. And unconditional by the one giving it.

Jesus is the embodiment of grace. “While we all were still sinners He died for us.” Jesus didn’t wait to see how much we were going to sin and then decide if he would pay for it. He knew how much it was going to cost him and didn’t turn away. Even though we didn’t deserve it, he died in our place. That’s true love. That’s grace.

Maybe more than anything else, followers of Jesus should be known for showing people grace because we ourselves have been shown an immeasurable amount of it.

Currently I have a losing record showing it. I struggle at it. But I want to get better. I have a feeling you do too.

So the next time you’re cut off in line.

The next time somebody says something to hurt you.

The next time a waitress gets your order wrong.

Or the next time you have an opportunity to buy someone’s lunch…show grace.

And when you struggle to show it, remind yourself again of the immeasurable grace Jesus has shown you. And then show grace again. And again. And again.

It’s going to cost you. (Maybe even the price of a couple tacos).

And the other person won’t deserve it.

But that’s just fine.

That’s what grace is all about.

Do you struggle showing people grace?

Pic credit Here

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You Don’t Know It All…And That’s Okay

know it all

The older I get the more I realize I don’t know it all.

When I was younger, I thought I knew it all in at least a couple of topics. You did too (or do too) I’m sure. But then I went to college. And then to grad school. And then I moved from North Carolina to Florida. I met new people. I read more books. I used Google. And each day I realize more and more how little I know. But I also know more now than I’ve ever known before. How can both be true? Because the saying that your grandparents told you isn’t a lie: “The more you know the more you realize you don’t know.”

It’s a bit overwhelming, but it shouldn’t crush you or me. It should cause us to be humble in admitting we don’t know it all and hungry in pursuing what we want to know. Unfortunately the opposite often happens. We live like we know it all. We become arrogant and full of ourselves with what little bit we do know. We stop learning. We stop growing. And we start projecting an image of ourselves to others that is less than appealing.

Leaders struggle with this maybe more than anybody else. We think admitting we don’t know it all isn’t okay. We think it might show that we don’t know anything “at all.” We think it shows weakness. We think that people will trust us more when we act like we have all the answers and no questions. But in fact, the opposite is true. People follow leaders they can identify with. Those that are transparent enough to admit they don’t know it all attract followers. This doesn’t mean we as leaders can’t be confident in lots of truths. We can. And there is LOTS to be sure of. But it does mean that when we don’t know, it’s okay. And maybe we should let people know that. It humanizes us.

So how can you and I fight against thinking we know it all?

We have to be intentional about learning. And not just learning something new every once and a while. We have to commit to being life-long learners. When you learn something new, whether you realize it or not, you’re admitting you just gained something you didn’t have before. You realize that in fact you didn’t “know it all.”

Leaders cannot take people further than where they’ve been. And if you aren’t learning you aren’t going anywhere new. You’re stuck. And people don’t want to follow leaders who are standing still.

Whether you are a leader or not, you probably know you should read books if you want to learn and grow. And you should. More than that though, someone once told me that the best way to keep learning and growing is to ask a question in every situation you face: “What can I learn?” When I started doing that I began seeing things I never would have otherwise. I learned a lot and saw that I didn’t know it all.

But what if instead of asking “What can I learn?” you started asking “God, what do you want to teach me?” Do you see the flip? By asking that, you are no longer trying to teach yourself (learn) something from a situation. You’re trying, as best you can, to learn from someone who can and wants to teach you. You’re getting God’s perspective. When you start searching for what God wants to teach you, you learn and grow in ways beyond what self-reflection can accomplish. Why? Because God knows a whole lot more than you or I can figure out on our own.

You don’t know it all. And that’s more than okay.

What are your thoughts?

Pic Credit HERE

5 Things My 5-Month-Old Daughter Has Taught Me About God

avonlea smile pictureI’ve often heard it said that you can’t fully understand your own parents love for you until you have a child of your own. As I’ve loved on my baby girl, Avonlea, for the past 5 months, I’ve come to realize that statement is truer than I could have ever imagined. It’s not that I didn’t believe my parents loved me before having a child. I always knew they did. They’ve shown me thousands of times through their actions, words and sacrifices. But now, more than ever before, I get it. And it’s because I’m a parent, just like them. I’ve loved someone else like they’ve loved me all along. It’s not something that you can understand in theory. It has to be experienced. And now I have.

In a similar way, becoming a parent helps you better understand God. For example, before becoming a dad I missed the significance of God self-identifying himself in Scripture as “Father.” Beyond the theological meanings, he undoubtedly knew that we—people he created for relationship with himself—would understand that parent title. We all have parents. Most people will one day become parents. And “God as our Father” clearly tells us something about how he sees us. He sees us as his children. He sees us as his sons and daughters.

Now that I’m a dad with a baby girl I’m starting to get it. I’m starting to understand in a new way his actions, his character and his interactions with me. He’s my perfect, heavenly father and I’m his son.

Over the past 5 months I’ve had an absolute blast learning how to become a dad to my beautiful Avie Rose! There are many lessons I’ve learned and many more to come, but here are 5 things my 5-month-old daughter has taught me about God.

1. Struggling doesn’t mean God is absent.
Recently Avonlea started rolling over from her back to her stomach. As she rolled over, one of her arms would always get stuck underneath her body. She would pull as hard as she could until she got it out from under her. It was quite the struggle for her. Now I could have helped her. I could have pulled her arm out as soon as she began to struggle. But I didn’t. I would get down on her level and tell her, “You can do it. Pull it out!” I don’t think she understood what I was saying to her, but she understood I was right there beside her.
Often times during our struggles we get angry and think God is absent. But what if there is something to be learned in our struggles? What if growth can best come through them? Maybe God could rescue us when we are struggling, but he doesn’t. And that’s okay. He is right there with us cheering us on.

2. God wants to lead us.
Avonlea is dependent on us, her parents, for just about everything. We dress her, bathe her, feed her, etc. And I know that in just a few years she will become “Miss. Independent” and think she can do life on her own. But she will still need mom and dad’s leadership because we know things she doesn’t. We have the ability to help her.
In the same way we need God’s leadership. He desires to help us through life and give us wisdom for each day. He wants to help us make wise choices. He wants to keep us from the bad things of life and show us the good. But independent, know-it-all people like me, and maybe you, often miss it. We don’t think we need to surrender to his leadership. But we do. And he is willing to lead us.

3. God hurts when we hurt.
I’ve empathized with others before and I really do care about people. I’ve occasionally cried when I’m sad for others. I’ve heard things on TV that make me sick and break my heart. But I’ve never truly hurt for another person like I have with Avonlea. When she hurts I hurt. Whether it’s her screaming when she gets her vaccines or her crying from bumping her head, I hurt. I feel her pain.
The cross of Christ was the ultimate pain. The ultimate suffering. The ultimate hurt. We serve a God who knows what it means to hurt. He isn’t indifferent. He isn’t causing our pain. He cares. And he hurts when we hurt.

4. God wants a relationship with us.
I’m so excited every time I come home because I know I’m about to see my baby girl. She smiles at me when I smile at her. She reacts when she hears my voice. She enjoys being with me. She knows me. She likes me. She can’t talk. She can’t do anything for me. But that doesn’t matter at all. I just want to be with her, because I love her.
God doesn’t just want a relationship with you to save you from Hell. He doesn’t just want a relationship with you so you will honor him in your life. He wants a relationship with you because he loves you. You are one of the precious people he created. You are one of his sons or daughters. He likes you. He enjoys you. He wants to be with you.

5. God loved his son more than I’ll ever love my daughter. And I am called to love his son more than my daughter.
This is by far the most difficult truth I’ve learned. At the end of the day, my love for my daughter is imperfect. It falls short. It’s selfish at times. And it’s incomplete. But God the Father’s love for his son, Jesus, is perfect. And in his love for his son, I benefited (John 3:16).
Also, Jesus said we had to love our family less than him if we were to follow him. I’m realizing now more than ever how difficult that is to swallow as a dad. But what it’s revealing in me is not that loving my daughter is wrong. It’s showing that I don’t love Jesus like I need to. I don’t love him the way he deserves. He is God after all. The creator of the universe. The savior of the world. He died for me. He is the picture of true love. And he is worthy of being my greatest love.

Welp, there ya go. 5 things my 5-month-old daughter has taught me about God.

Which truth did you need to hear the most today? What would you add to this list?

It’s Okay to ask questions about God

Confused-Figure-with-Question-Marks-300x249Have you ever had a question or a doubt about God? Ever felt like you couldn’t ask it? You’re not alone. And guess what?

“It’s okay to ask questions about God.”

This is a statement I made several weeks ago to our students as we began a new series called “Unshaken.” (You can click here to listen to those messages).

When I made that statement the look on many of our students’ faces was shock. Others seemed encouraged to hear me say it, but acted as if they had never been explicitly told that before. Others seemed to already know it was okay. I’m thankful that at Bell Shoals it’s okay to ask questions. But unfortunately, the majority of local churches communicate—by what they say and/or the atmosphere they create—that asking questions really isn’t okay. And sadly, this anti question-asking stance is currently, and has for many years, been turning people away from having faith.

Two events in my life have taught me the value of asking questions and giving others permission to do the same.

First, when I was in middle school I learned that an adult I had assumed believed in God, in fact, did not. In her teenage years she started having doubts about God. She began questioning things that as a good, Christian girl growing up in the South she was simply supposed to believe. After years of asking genuine questions and searching she gave up on her faith. I remember being confused as to why nobody helped her with her questions.

Second, fast-forward to my freshman year of college when I’m struggling with my own faith. I’m invited to Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck)and after visiting for a few weeks the pastor makes the same statement I did above: “It’s okay to ask questions about God.” I was shocked! And then, weeks later, there was an entire Sunday morning dedicated to answering people’s questions. As biblical answers were given to questions, I was relieved that I could believe, released from not having to believe certain “cultural Christian” things and strengthened in my overall belief in the Christian faith.

Since my time at Meck I’ve had the opportunity to lead students. From the youth at Red Bud Baptist church in North Carolina to the youth at Bell Shoals Baptist church in Florida and other people in between, I’ve been giving permission to ask questions. And then, pointing to biblical answers, though at times admitting “I don’t know.” And the growth in people has been incredible to watch!

The cool thing is that letting people ask questions is not just something that was modeled for me by a church. Jesus himself modeled this all throughout the gospels! One of the greatest examples is in John 20:24-29 as Jesus interacts with one of his disciples, Thomas, after the resurrection. Check it out.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him,   “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now, we could talk about how Jesus appeared in a room even though the doors were locked (WHOA?!?!), but did you notice Jesus’ response to Thomas’ doubt?

Jesus didn’t give him a hard time.

Jesus didn’t avoid his doubt.

Jesus didn’t say “just believe.”

Jesus acknowledged it and helped him believe.

He engaged with Thomas’ doubt head on. And it even got a little bit messy. Thomas put his fingers in Jesus’ side and his hands!

It’s more difficult today than ever before for people to believe with so many conflicting messages coming at them. And in order to help people believe like Jesus did, we have to be willing to get a little bit messy. We have to get involved with people and listen to their doubts and questions. Be honest with them. And point them to answers.

Thomas doubted THE most foundational aspect of the Christian faith—the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15)—and yet Jesus did not condemn him or shy away from graciously helping him believe.

So here’s a couple questions:
If Jesus was okay with doubt and questions, shouldn’t Jesus’ followers today be okay with them too?
And if Thomas doubted THE most crucial aspect of the faith, is there any question that should be “off limits” for those trying to believe?
I think you know the right answers to those two questions.

There are many days that I still doubt and have questions about my faith. I don’t have it all together. And I never will. I’m a mess. And I’m thankful Jesus doesn’t condemn me. He doesn’t ignore me. He embraces me where I am. Just like he did Thomas.

It’s certainly not about encouraging people to question. And it’s definitely not about having all the right answers. But when church leaders start letting people ask questions—the questions our culture is asking—an important message is sent. That God is big enough to handle your questions. That Christianity can stand under any amount of intellectual scrutiny. That the church has nothing to hide. And just maybe, that Jesus himself is open to people like you and me who have doubts and questions.

If you or someone you know has questions about faith, below are several resources I highly recommend.

“The Reason for God” – Tim Keller
“Mere Christianity” – C.S. Lewis
“I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” – Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek
“Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” and “Can We Believe in God?” – James Emery White

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