Tag Archives: Favor

The Grace Response

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecutedthe church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them….
1 Corinthians 15:9-10a (NIV)

I was reminded yesterday of a high school teacher who showed me grace. That is, he showed favor to me that I did not merit. As I recall it was the last day of the semester and my grade was teetering between an A and a B. There was one assignment, a book report, that was sitting there blank in the teacher’s grade book. I hated reading when I was that age, a condition that didn’t change until late into my college years. I simply didn’t want to read a book and write a paper on it. I kept putting it off until it was too late. And so it was, I was called up to the teacher’s desk. He explained that the missing book report was the only thing standing in the way of me getting an A in the class.

I didn’t do it,” I told the teacher honestly.

He looked at me curiously. “You ‘didn’t do it’?” he asked. “That’s all you have to say?”

Look,” I answered, “I could stand here and tell you that the dog ate my paper or give you all sorts of excuses about why I didn’t get it done, but they would all be lies. The honest truth is that I simply procrastinated and didn’t get it done. I understand. I’ll have to accept a B for the course.”

Weeks later when my grades came in the mail (In the old days, you had to wait for the Postal Service to deliver your grades to your home), I was shocked to discover that the teacher had given me an A. Perhaps he was rewarding my honesty and candor. Perhaps he was simply doing a good deed. I don’t know why he graciously gave me the grade I didn’t deserve.

I can tell you that I was truly humbled by the gesture. I didn’t feel like I’d gotten away with something. It didn’t motivate me to try blowing off other assignments assuming that the “honesty ruse” would work again. Quite the opposite, the teacher’s grace motivated me to not do it again. Making sure I got my assignments done, even the book reports I didn’t want to do in college, was a way of honoring and showing gratitude for the grace that my teacher showed me. The favor I didn’t deserve.

During the early years of the Jesus Movement, there was a group within the community who argued that Jesus’ forgiveness and grace was a moral “Get Out of Jail Free” card. “If I’m forgiven from my sins,” they reasoned, “I’m going to sin all I want! Jesus will forgive me! In fact, if I increase the rate of my sinning it means I get more of grace!” Paul addressed this foolishness in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome (see Romans 6).

In today’s chapter, Paul points to the unmerited favor he had been shown by Jesus when, as a murderer of Stephen and a persecutor of Jesus’ followers, Jesus forgave him and called him to be an apostle. Paul knew he didn’t deserve to be an apostle. He deserved to by punished for what he’d done. Paul knew he deserved Jesus’ forgiveness and call to apostleship less than any of the other apostles. It motivated him to work harder than all the rest – to show his gratitude for the grace he’d been shown.

Along the journey I’ve come to observe that you can tell a lot about a person’s faith by the way he or she responds to grace.

 

Faith to Reach Out Amidst the Shame

“Then Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favor, and the Lord listened to him….”
2 Kings 13:4a (NIV)

One of the things that I’ve learned in my years as a corporate coach is that most people are quite aware of their own faults. When I give someone the opportunity to assess themselves I find they are usually quite accurate about the opportunities they have to do better. In fact, I find that people usually have a harder time identifying their strengths even though they can provide a laundry list of their weaknesses. They are generally harder on themselves than I would ever be.

Along life’s journey I’ve found that it’s quite common for my guilt (i.e. “I keep messing up by thinking/saying/doing [fill in the blank]”) to sink into shame (i.e. “I’m such a hopeless case that I’m sure I’m so unlovable/unforgivable/unworthy that I don’t merit anyone’s love or forgiveness“). As I’ve spoken to people along my path I’ve found it quite common for people to feel convinced that God would never love them as they are or forgive them for the things they’ve done (or not done).

In today’s chapter, it is pointed out that Jehoahaz had, throughout his reign, continued to do what he knew was wrong in the eyes of God. He committing idolatry and allowed it to continue in the nation. Yet, Jehoahaz got to the point where he was willing to approach God, despite his guilt, and pour out his heart in seeking God’s favor. Despite Jehoahaz’s awful spiritual track record God listened. God loved. God granted Jehoahaz unmerited favor (e.g. “grace”) and provided deliverance.

This morning I’m reminded that there are times when God seems distant and remote, but it’s my own actions and emotions that have created the distance. Jehoahaz is a great reminder that I must have enough faith to approach God even when my guilt and shame have convinced me that I’m unworthy of doing so.

The Self Centric View of Blessing and Curses

source: 61056899@N06 via Flickr
source: 61056899@N06 via Flickr

“Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
    so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”
Job 5:17 (NIV)

As a child I remember seeing life in very simplistic terms. Life circumstances, I believed, stemmed from God’s approval or disapproval of me and my actions. When the Minnesota Vikings lost the Super Bowl each year (They were in four of them during my childhood), the loss could surely be pinned on a curse that was rooted in some wrong I had committed which resulted in God punishing me. If that cute girl I had a crush on just happened to walk down my street as I had desperately wished for her to pass by, then the granting of my wish must have been a sure sign I must be in good standing with my genie-like Almighty.

When I grew up and matured in my understanding, I realized that this simplistic view of suffering and blessing was not only misguided, but completely entirely self-centered. The outcome of the Super Bowl was dependent on me and my spiritual ledger sheet with God?Wow. That’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of a nine year old. Yet that’s what I believed. Each day’s good and bad events were dependent on these big spiritual scales next to God’s throne which constantly weighed my thoughts, words and actions. When the scale tipped towards good then good things happened. When the scale tipped towards bad, then I was in for a really bad day.

In today’s chapter, Job’s friend Eliphaz continues to give the suffering Job a piece of his mind. Eli’s words reveal his core belief, which aligns nicely with my childish, self-centric world view: Suffering is a clear sign of God’s punishment. His counsel for Job streams from the source of that core belief. To Eli, it is very simple. If you do good, then you’ll have abundant blessings that reveal your good standing with God to the world. If you do bad, then you’ll find yourself suffering like you are right now. The conclusion of the matter is simple: repent of whatever it is you did wrong, confess your wrong to God, and God will have compassion and ease your suffering.

My experiences along life’s road and my long sojourn through God’s Message has continued to reveal to me how incongruent this type of thinking is with the heart of God that I find revealed in God’s story. Suffering is not necessarily punishment from the Almighty, but this fallen world’s spiritual proving ground in which eternal character qualities of perseverance, maturity, wisdom, humility, and fortitude are forged. Jesus said to prepare ourselves for suffering, not to be surprised when it happens, and to embrace it when it does. Likewise, material blessing is not necessarily a sure sign of God’s favor, but may very well be a spiritual snare. What we commonly esteem as God’s blessing or favor may simply be the result of wise life and financial choices, but it can also be the result of deep seeded greed and heinous corruption. In fact, Jesus was quick to point out that material “blessing” is a common spiritual stumbling block and repeatedly told us to be wary – even shunning it if it’s getting in the way of our spiritual progress.

 

Confession and Blessing

Psalm Tats LR

Praise the Lord.
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who finds great delight in his commands.
Psalm 112:1 (NIV)

Years ago I read Psalm 112 as a part of my normal reading routine. I can’t explain it, but that day it penetrated deep into my soul. I memorized the psalm and I recite it regularly and prayerfully. I realized that the description of the “blessed man” that the lyricist describes is a description of the man I want to be:

  • God fearing
  • delighting in God’s message
  • successful father
  • gracious
  • compassionate
  • righteous
  • generous
  • confident
  • steadfast
  • fearless
  • secure

This past summer I had a tattoo inked on the bicep of each of my arms. On the left arm the tattoo reads Psalm 51 and the right arm reads Psalm 112. Psalm 51 is a song of confession and through ages the left hand has been associated with folly. Psalm 112 is a song of blessing and through the ages the right hand has been associated with favor. I placed the tats on my biceps because it is a muscle that men traditionally associate with strength.

My tats remind me daily that my strength for life’s journey is not rooted in my effort, social standing, intelligence, gifts, finances, career, or abilities. My strength for the journey is found in:

  1. Humility and daily confession that I am broken, make mistakes, and am in continuous need of God’s grace and forgiveness.
  2. God’s unmerited favor and blessing as I daily seek to be the man God calls me to be.

Confession and blessing. Every day. Every step. Confession and blessing.

Favor

M

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout - Hannah presenting ...
Gerbrand van den Eeckhout – Hannah presenting her son Samuel to the priest Eli, ca. 1665 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

eanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people. 1 Samuel 2:26 (NLT)

Favor is not something I hear commonly discussed in today’s world. And yet, I’m aware that throughout my life I have enjoyed the favor of others. Thinking about my social circles, I can pick out certain individuals who seem to enjoy an unexplainable amount of favor. They are held in generally high regard by all who know them. You go out of your way to help them in need and joyfully to what they asked of you without question and without quite knowing why.

Since my girls were young, I have prayed that they might be granted favor with God and with others just as Samuel is described having in today’s chapter. I still pray this prayer when I pray for them. When in school I prayed that they might enjoy the favor of their teachers. I pray that they might have the favor of their employers and their community.

I am well aware that, to a great degree, favor is generated by one’s own life and character. The way we treat others, the attitude we generally display in life, and the words we use all contribute to how others react and respond to us. In today’s chapter, the sons of Eli earned the lack of favor with their destructive intentions, words, and actions. Nevertheless, I am equally aware that there is an intangible quality to favor that goes beyond what is easily defined and explained in the natural realm and simple consequences. There is a spiritual favor, like that which is described in young Samuel, which I have seen in others I have known. It is far deeper than the simple consequences of being a generally nice person. It is hard to quantify, and yet I see it and feel it.

I regularly pray for favor with God and with others, for my family members, friends and for myself. As I do so, I am motivated to live in such a way that favor will be a natural social consequence. But beyond that I pray that I might know God’s spiritual favor which God alone has the power to bestow, to know favor like that which Samuel experienced, to be one “on whom God’s favor rests.”

Whose Side Am I On?

English: King Henry V at the Battle of Agincou...
English: King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For he breaks the pride of princes, and the kings of the earth fear him.
Psalm 76:12 (NLT)

My personal favorite of Shakespeare’s plays is Henry V. It tells the story of a young man who had spent his early years acting much like the prodigal son. He squandered his youth partying it up with common people and a largely discredited nobleman who was given to indulging his appetites. When his father dies and Henry is suddenly placed on the throne, no one thinks the young prince is up to the task. In leading a war against France, he is underestimated by the enemy, betrayed by friends, and driven to do a lot of soul searching about himself and his role. The play ends with a retelling of the historic Battle of Agincourt. Henry and his Englishmen are outnumbered by the French 5 to 1, but Henry leads his band of brothers to an unlikely victory. In the glow of victory, Henry refuses to take credit for the win:

  • Henry: Come, go we in procession to the village.
    And be it death proclaimed through our host
    To boast of this or take the praise from God
    Which is his only.
  • Fluellen: Is it not lawful, an please your majesty, to tell
    how many is killed?
  • Henry: Yes, captain; but with this acknowledgement,
    That God fought for us.

Today’s psalm was written in time of war. The lyrics reminded people of God’s sovereignty and judgment which the writer proclaimed would ultimately prevail over earthly kings and rulers. Ancient tradition holds that the song was written in response to another improbable victory over Sennacherib‘s army when they threatened Jerusalem.

Over the years I’ve grown increasingly suspicious of those who like to cloak human actions and activities with God’s will. Henry’s humility is noble, but the English motives for invading France were far from godly. God’s will is used to justify all sorts of human tragedies and terrors. Everyone claims God is on their side. God’s will is regularly cited by those who wish to cloak selfish and greedy motives. Shakespeare himself ends his play reminding the audience that while it appears God fought with Henry, He must have switched sides after Henry’s death because France reclaimed all that Henry had fought for. It gets muddy when you humanly start bestowing God’s favor on things that God hasn’t explicitly bestowed Himself.

This morning I’m reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words when someone asked whether he, like King Henry, believed God was on his side. Lincoln replied: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

Common Love & Unique Relationships

English: Esau Sells His Birthright for Pottage...
English: Esau Sells His Birthright for Pottage of Lentils; illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible; illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, and published by P. de Hondt in The Hague; image courtesy Bizzell Bible Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 25

Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Genesis 25:28 (NLT)

In the discussion of families and family systems, the subject of “favorites” comes up a lot. I have witnessed in many families that there is a clear ranking of favorites in the truest sense of the word – in which one child receives a greater amount of favor at the expense of the children. Sometimes, however, the way parents show favor can be incongruent. I know one family in which the rebellious child, with whom the parent struggled, was granted more favor at the expense of the other children because of the parent’s guilt with not getting along with him. It can get messy.

In my own experience as grandchild, child, sibling and parent, I’ve found that relationships between family members are really no different than relationships in your broader social circle. There are some family members with whom you relate easily. There’s a natural affinity, personalities and temperaments are similar, there are common interests and world-views, and etc. Notice that Isaac’s love of Esau hinged on a common love for wild game. In fact, I’ve come to realize that it’s wrong for me expect that a genetic or experiential family relationship would create some kind of emotionally unilateral relationship between all of the members. We are human after all.

My mother has often said that the love she had for each of her four children was equal, but her relationship with each child was as unique as the child him/herself. Well said, mom. I’ve come to accept that the relationship between family members can be very different while the love with which you share and act pours out and washes over each from a common inner reservoir. When it comes to children, it is my role as a father to love each of my children fully and to love each child well despite the diverse differences between them, their personalities, and the course that each relationship takes.

Bonehead #1

bonehead

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 9

Then [Noah] cursed Canaan, the son of Ham: “May Canaan be cursed! May he be the lowest of servants to his relatives.” Genesis 9:25 (NLT)

The other day I wrote that God’s favor bestowed on Noah was not because Noah was so deserving. We see that come to fruition in today’s chapter as the post-flood story of Noah continues. Noah gets drunk, passes out naked in his tent, and amidst his hangover he ends up cursing his grandson, Canaan, to spite his son, Ham. “Nice. Well done,” I think to myself sarcastically. “Your grandson and his family have to live under a curse because of something you did and said in a drunken stupor. What a boneheaded thing to do.”

And yet, that’s just the point. People are people. We all do stupid, hurtful things in our lives and you can place me up to the front of the line of people with a track record of stupid stuff done. As much as I want to shake my head and point the finger of judgement at Noah, there are three more fingers on my hand pointing back at me. God has shown His love, grace, and favor to me just the same as He did with Noah – and I am no less of a bonehead.

Today, I am mindful of my own boneheadedness. As I head out to a day of meetings, dealing with co-workers, service workers, family members and drivers on the road – I am reminded of the undeserved favor that God has shown me, and to Noah. I think it’s appropriate to pass a little of that grace and favor forward to those I encounter in my day.

Finding Favor

English: God Appears to Noah, c. 1896-1902, by...
English: God Appears to Noah, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902), gouache on board, 8 15/16 x 4 3/8 in. (22.7 x 11.1 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 6

But Noah found favor with the Lord. Genesis 6:8 (NLT)

Favor [fey-ver] noun.

  1. something done or granted out of goodwill, rather than from justice or for remuneration; a kind act:to ask a favor.
  2. friendly or well-disposed regard; goodwill: to win the favor of the king.
  3. the state of being approved or held in regard: to be in favor at court; styles that are now in favor.

Favor is such a murky thing. There’s no reason given why Noah found favor with God. It never says that Noah was better than anyone else. It doesn’t say he had been faithful or particularly good or honest or deserving. Yet Noah received God’s favor. You see it in other stories across God’s message. Joseph finds favor with God, and Potiphar and Pharaoh. Daniel finds favor with God, and Nebuchadnezzar. Esther found favor with Xerxes and his eunuch. Peter, James, and John found favor with Jesus despite being total boneheads.

I don’t pretend to understand it, I don’t think there’s a formula for it, and I hope that my heart is never misled. Nevertheless, I know that finding favor with God and others can be  an important ingredient in accomplishing God’s purposes. When I pray for my children, I pray that they might find favor with God, with their teachers, and with their employers. I regularly pray for God’s favor and the favor of others. Then, I do my best to live and love so as to be worthy of it and prove grateful for it.

Chapter-a-Day Ezra 7

Prophet Esra (Bibelhandschrift des Arnsberger ...
Image via Wikipedia

Blessed be God, the God-of-Our-Fathers, who put it in the mind of the king to beautify The Temple of God in Jerusalem! Not only that, he caused the king and all his advisors and influential officials actually to like me and back me. Ezra 7:27 (MSG)

When I was a young man, I heard the adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” If I were to write a book on the most important life lessons I’ve learned along the journey, this one would be included. I was reminded of it again in today’s chapter.

Ezra was a bright man, there’s no doubt. He had a lot going for him. Nevertheless, the reason that he was allowed to return to Jerusalem with a “letter of transit” signed by King Artaxerxes (feel free to make your own Casablance reference here), was that he knew the king. More than knowing the king, he had the kings favor. As a result, the king gave Ezra “everything he asked for.”

In business, in church life, and in the community, I’ve found that knowing the individual who can make things happen is critical. But just knowing an individual is not enough. Having favor with the right individual is the key to accomplishing certain things. This is where character and attitude play a key role. In my experience, the granting of favor is derived from a mixture of God’s providence and grace and earning respect through a loving and genuinely faithful attitude of service.

God grant me favor with those whom you bring along my path, that I may accomplish your divine purpose in this life.

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