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It’s been said there are only about seven stories in the whole world and the story line of every book and movie are simply variations. The most common is the battle against good and evil and usually features a savior figure.

"The Rescue of Guinevere"

“The Rescue of Guinevere” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One familiar story is that of King Arthur, Guinevere and Camelot. It’s a Utopian setting until a bit of evil in the form of temptation enters the scene. The queen is seduced by Lancelot, the king’s best knight. When the king discovers their infidelity, he is faced with a painful choice: abandoning the law or the death of his beloved Guinevere. But he knows her death is the only action that will satisfy the law and serve justice.

The tale of Arthur and his queen comes in many versions, but parts of it remain constant: just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, Guinevere gave into temptation, messed up and needed to be saved.

But here’s where Camelot diverges from the original story and the truth. While Arthur agonized over the decision to let the love of his life die and serve justice or let her go and negate the law, God’s decision and plan was clear from the beginning. Unlike Arthur, God is not subject to the law, rather he created it. He in no way agonized over balancing the scales of justice because he himself is justice. His plan to die in our place wasn’t about fulfilling any requirements of the law.

Some look at grace and see a great balancing act, with mercy on one side and God’s holiness on the other, as if he has set limits on how much he can forgive. What Jesus did is sometimes called the Great Exchange, which makes it sound more like a transaction and not the greatest act of love ever performed.

Humanly speaking, we think everything has to work out evenly and be fair. Remember the parable of the workers in the vineyard who began at dawn? They received the same amount of pay as those who showed up at the end of the workday. To us, this seems quite unfair and even a bit extravagant. But God doesn’t use scales of justice like humanity does. God’s love and grace are outrageously unfair. When Jesus went to the cross, everyone was forgiven. Everyone was invited to the eternal banquet with Father, Son and Spirit. No sin is too great to be wiped out. No one is beyond help. No one is out of his reach and no one must be punished as a way of balancing grace and justice.

If God were to use scales, one side would be up in the air and the other resting on the table. How can grace be so lopsided? His love and grace far outweigh even his own laws to the point of seeming like the ultimate lack of balance. Lucky for us and unlike King Arthur, God is more powerful than the law. He uses a different scale, a scale of mercy balanced only with more love and grace.

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The population of the world is about seven billion. According to an article on wikipedia, about one fifth of all the humans who have existed in the last 6,000 years are alive today. That’s a lot of people. But how many of them can you name? A hundred? Five hundred?

How many names of all the billions of people ever born on this earth are remembered today? All those names, faded on headstones (if they were on headstones), are now forgotten. Only the names of the famous and the infamous can be recalled, and only some of those.

How sad to think of all the lives over the centuries lost to the mists of history. How sad personally, to think no one will remember our names or the names of the ones we love. The reality is, not too long from now, our names will be forgotten. But there’s One who can remember every name of every person ever born. God knows and remembers each name of each human, and not only their names, but everything about them.

The song “He Knows My Name” by Tommy Walker reminds us we won’t be forgotten to history. God knows our names, even our middle ones. He knows our every thought, sees each tear and hears us when we call.

It seems to be a basic need – we want to hear our own names and we want others to remember them. Anyone who works with the public will tell you to learn and say a person’s name when speaking with him or her. It adds a personal touch to a sales pitch. Hearing his or her name from a doctor helps a patient feel cared for. We don’t want to think others don’t care enough to remember who we are. Of course, as we get older, it does become harder to remember names! I often have to ask, even if I know the person. And then at times I can’t remember my kids’ or my own!

This world seems impersonal at times. It can be a sad and lonely place. Some days we all feel like we’re just a number, obscure and unimportant. We wonder if anyone really cares. But every time a tear falls from my eyes, God sees it. He understands and even cries with me. If no one else in the world cares, he does. Knowing God knows my name and will never forget who I am is a comforting thought.

Is life getting you down? Feeling a little sad, lonely, unappreciated? God knows and he cares. He knows your name and knows your pain. He has your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8) and his heart is for you. He has even written your name in his book of life (Luke 10:20).

Next time you feel like a number, like no one cares or remembers who you are, think of the One who saves your tears, has numbered the hairs on your head (Luke 12:7) and takes care of your every need (Matthew 6:30). He knows your name and hears you when you call.

Psalm 63 (NIV, 1984) is one of my favorite psalms—but only the first eight verses. I must admit I stop reading there. I have memorized these verses and often make them my prayer or my meditation. For me, this psalm contains and highlights the goodness of God and helps me focus on him rather than on myself or my problems. I hope you find this psalm as inspiring as I have.

“O God, you are my God.” Only you are my God, not money or fame or any of the glittering idols this world offers. Help me be more single-minded in my devotion to you.

“Earnestly I seek you.” Help me desire and seek you more than anything my fickle heart wants.

“My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you.” I need and enjoy you. Please give me a stronger desire to spend time with you in prayer and in your Word and remind me simply to enjoy your presence.

“In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” This world is like a dried up leaf, in great need of your healing, soothing balm. I get dry too; lead me to the river of your Spirit and quench my thirst.

“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.” When I look at the moon and stars and gaze on the beauties of nature, I am in awe of your majesty, power and glory.

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” Nothing is better or stronger than your unconditional love. I have experienced your love and grace and know you will never leave me or stop loving me.

“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” You deserve continual praise; I lift up my face to receive your blessings and lift my hands in surrender to your love.

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” You and your goodness are a feast for my weary soul; you fill me up with heavenly delights and satisfy me as only you can—with yourself.

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” You watch over me as I sleep; when I awake, you are there. I am always in your tender loving care and feel your loving kiss on my cheek as you sing me back to sleep.

“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” I have nothing to fear from my safe place near your heart.

“My soul clings to you.” I hold on as tightly as I can. Help me never let you go.

“Your right hand upholds me.” Thank you for holding me with the ferocious love that went to the cross for me. Amen.

Freedom is precious. Most cultures protect the freedoms of their people, but sadly, some allow other priorities to get in the way and don’t allow as much freedom as they should. Those of us in countries where it is protected and defended often take it for granted until it’s encroached upon.

Chain expressing freedomGovernments can take away any or all of our freedoms but not our freedom in Christ. It comes with a guarantee more ironclad than any constitution. With his blood, he bought us back from the slavery of sin and death. Nothing can reverse the redemption we have in him. He has freed us from other shackles as well: fear, guilt, addictions, selfishness and worries about the future.

We are free, but what has he freed us for? What are we to do with our precious freedom? We certainly ought to cherish and appreciate it as it was purchased with so dear a price. God wants us to be thankful to be out from under sin and death, but he also wants us to use our freedom in positive and constructive ways.

We are free to live under grace, which means we are able to accept God’s gift with gratitude and joy. This allows us to live gracefully by turning around and freely extending his grace to others.

We are free to be the unique individuals we are. We can enjoy and appreciate the gifts God has given us and use them for his glory, without worrying we or our gifts might not be good enough. This opens up opportunities to serve God and our neighbors in ways we wouldn’t dare if we were still shackled by the need to conform or measure up to impossible standards set by others.

We are free to love and be loved. One of the sad consequences of legalism is that it often convinces us we aren’t good enough to love or be loved. It makes us feel we’re letting everyone down, God, family and friends. The grace of God lifts us up and tells us we are worth loving and we don’t need to measure up. Jesus measured up for us. Freedom in Christ means no more wondering if God really loves us. We have the freedom to accept his love, enjoy it and never worry it will be taken away. His love is ours to keep forever.

We are free to have our significance in God, rather than anything this world has to offer. The search for significance sidelines many from what’s really important in life and bogs us down in a mire of self-centered anxiety. Knowing God values us because we are his allows us to get our focus off ourselves and on loving God and our neighbors.

We are free to share in the fellowship of the Father and the Son through the Spirit, which is the biggest blessing of grace and is why we were created. Participating in the secure, loving relationship of Father, Son and Spirit gives us the foundation we need to follow Jesus and help others to a relationship with him.

Our freedom in Christ makes it possible to live confidently, be loved and loving, secure in our worth to God and free to have full, rich lives, doing all to his glory. We are free to be the best we can be and grow into the kind of human being Jesus was.

No kidding – I really did see this on store window! The message is no longer subtle or unstated – ‘tis the season to be greedy. Retailers begin the advertising barrage earlier every year, inundating us with catalogs, email and commercials. More and more people buy gifts for themselves while they’re out shopping for others. It seems all that matters is we buy as much as possible, whether we need it or not. I want to shut it all out but it’s everywhere.

O Holy Night

No one likes the commercialism of Christmas but it seems not many do much about it. Is the craziness unavoidable – the frenzied shopping, decorating, parties, cooking, company and all the stress?

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. I love the line “the world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing.” The phrase solemn stillness makes me think of a universe-wide pause of all activity, everything and everyone holding their breath, as Jesus is born and the angels announce his birth with their amazing song.

While I shop, cook and have company during the Christmas month, a big part of my celebration is stillness. I love to sit and look at my nativity set while listening to Josh Groban sing this song as well as my all-time favorite, O Holy Night. I enjoy the silent glow of lights from my tree and fireplace mantle. As I take time for solemn stillness and holy silence I feel a sense of expectation, of waiting with the whole creation for the coming of the Messiah.

The world waited for thousands of years for the One who would change the course of human history and usher in New Covenant grace. It doesn’t seem much of a stretch to think a hush came over the angelic world as that moment drew near. It was a birth like no other and nothing has been the same since.

The world is full of noise and clamor. It seems to me our Christmas celebrations would be much more meaningful if we celebrated with less noise and activity, rather than trying to cram in more. Get the shopping done early, decorate only a little, scale down the activities and spend the rest of your time in solemn stillness. Then when it’s over, instead of being exhausted, you’ll start the new year with a sense of wonder at what happened two thousand years ago.

The Christmas message isn’t one of stress, exhaustion and frenzied activity. It’s a message of expectation and change, of an event so momentous the whole universe might indeed have held its breath as the Christ child made his appearance.

The last verse of the original lyrics of the hymn also looks forward to a future time,

“when peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.”

As we drink in the marvel of the incarnation, let’s take time for some solemn stillness and then give back the angel’s song in joyous celebration.

Many Christians like to say God is in control. He has a plan for your life and everything that happens is part of the plan. Some will tell you he arranges the events of each day for us, including the trials. When you hear people talk like this, do you feel relieved at the thought God has every minute planned out for you—or do you chafe a bit, like me?

I’ve always wondered why I don’t like hearing people say God is in control. While I believe everything is ultimately under his control, I have a problem with the notion that he micromanages our lives. What about free will and making choices?

I think the answer may be in the Trinitarian relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit do what they do together. Jesus said the Father, living in him, did his work (John 14:10). It’s all about participation: the Father with the Son with the Holy Spirit. Jesus called us friends (John 15:15) and what do friends do? They participate in a relationship together. Friendship isn’t about control or planning things out for each other. It’s about love, freely given and freely accepted. It’s about sharing experiences and helping each other.

Friendship with God works the same way, with some differences of course. God isn’t just a friend; he’s the sovereign Lord of the universe and as such, a relationship with him is on a higher plane than the one I have with my human friends. My relationship with God is in Christ, through the Spirit and is more of a participation in the relationship Jesus has with his Father. It happens because God loved me first and not because of anything I do.

Based on that concept, when I read Jeremiah 29:11-13, I envision an overarching plan for my life—salvation, life in Christ, knowing God in and through the Spirit, and eventual life forever in God’s eternity. I don’t discount God working in the little things in my life. I see his hand every day, from the ways he encourages me and reminds me of his love, to the way he guides and protects me. Because he lives in me, we go through life hand in hand so to speak, and each day my prayer is that I will listen to the Spirit and respond to him as he leads me.

Did he provide the parking place I got at the store or arrange for me to break a glass and cut my foot? I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure God doesn’t micromanage my life. What I do know is he leads me, guides me and is always with me and reminds me of his presence throughout each day.

 As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’m riding a bicycle for exercise. I really enjoy it and go almost every day. One day last month, believe it or not, it rained—in the summer, in California!  Well, it wasn’t really rain, but enough moisture I decided not to ride. I don’t have rain gear and didn’t want to get wet. Not that I’m afraid I’ll melt, I just don’t like going out in the elements without the proper clothing. So not wanting to miss a workout, I pulled out an old exercise DVD.

I started to laugh as Tony Little appeared on the screen, telling me to “conceive, believe and achieve.” I used to work out regularly with Tony and realized I’ve missed his wit and wisdom. As we started into a nice stretch for the back, Tony reminded me to go only as far as I can go. Well, of course, I always say. What else does he expect?

Tony may not realize it, but he has hit upon an essential element of grace. As we each work our way through life, we can go only as far as we are able. We may see someone achieving something wonderful and think, Hey I should be doing that. But if or when we can’t, we may become discouraged and may even give up. We compare ourselves to others, then judge and condemn ourselves. Or others judge and condemn us because they feel we should be just like them.

Grace, that which we receive from God and extend to others and ourselves, allows us to go at our own pace, fall down and get up again, without fear of condemnation. God knows our weaknesses and faults. He knows our strengths and abilities. He doesn’t expect everyone to look alike, act alike or be in the same place in their growth. Some of us have been there and done that and it didn’t work too well.

God values our unique personalities and his grace gives us room to be who we are. We can be happy we have different gifts and talents and give glory to him as we use them to serve him and others. How can we do less for each other? Just as we have received forgiveness and are learning to extend it in return, so we are to honor and respect each other by showing grace in our everyday interactions.

Paul was careful to stay away from making comparisons: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12, NIV).

Even nature teaches us each star, tree, flower, animal—everything—has its own value, glory and purpose. We are the same, each with our unique place in the world. We have the freedom to do what we do best and not worry about what we can’t do.

God’s grace is a marvelous gift and touches every part of our lives. Go as far as you can go and may his grace be with you on the way.

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