On the Extension of Grace.

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By Steve Bell

 The denomination I grew up in owned a year round camp on a lake in New Hampshire.  And so every summer, from the time I was 10 years old to around 16, I was shipped off for a week or two of fun and adventure. Actually, no one cared if I had fun or adventure- my parents were just glad to have me out of the house for week or so.


I wasn’t that interested in going each year.  In my mind it was just another set of adults telling you what to do, but because it was Bible camp, it seemed like it was Jesus telling you what to do.  This didn’t help.

 

At any rate, I don’t recall it bothering me that much until I was 16 years old and still getting sent off.  I had gotten my drivers license by then and, after finally getting that wallet sized passport to freedom, to be marooned in the   New Hampshire  woods seemed a bit of an insult.

 

The directors for Teen Camp were a young married couple from church that I didn’t know very well.  But they must have known a little about me.

 

Shortly after the start of the camp, Bob came up to me and began chatting about cars.  I loved cars and after a few minutes, Bob asked if I’d mind doing some bodywork on his Datsun.

“I’d love to,” I said.  “But when would I do it?”

“Whenever you want,” he said.  “You need to be at meals and chapel services, but any other time is up to you.”

“Just me?”

“Unless you need help….”

I couldn’t believe my good luck. I hated swimming, any sport, and all the other standard camp activities. And so I started right in.

 

Looking back, I’m sure I made a mess of his car.  Neither of us had any tools beyond bondo and sandpaper, but I labored day after day, starting as soon as I could every morning.

 

My work won me a little social cash. My cabin mates would ask where I’d been all day and I’d shrug and say “You know, bodywork on Bob’s car.  It’s looking pretty good. I hate missing swimming lessons, but what‘re you going to do?  Just my skill set, I guess…”

 

Bob stopped by regularly to compliment my work and tell me how much he appreciated it. I feasted on those compliments.  For someone who grew up in a church climate of chronic disapproval, it was fresh manna, day after day.

 

Camp ended and I went home and everything was the way it was.

 

But a few years ago I found a typewritten letter from Bob, sent a few weeks after camp ended.  In it he thanked me for my work and the chance to know me a little better. He further commented that my diligence in working showed him areas of his own life he needed to be more intentional about. His letter was half compliment and half confession, and he addressed me as an adult.

 

If we accept Paul Zaul’s definition of grace as one-way love, this is what Bob modeled for me.  I was a hostile teen with no particular interest in church or the faith and Bob offered me a little breathing room.

 

That typewritten note remains one of my more valued possessions.

 


Grace in Practice.

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By Jeff Liddle

In his book called Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life, Paul Zaul says that from scripture, and from Paul’s letters in particular, we can pull out two principles that are worth meditating on for their application in our everyday lives:  Grace brings life. Law brings death.

This is true in a broad theological sense. The law brings death. It always has. Right from the beginning, God gives Adam and Eve the freedom to eat from any tree but one. What do they do? They eat from that one tree, and so sin enters the world. The scriptures tell us that the wages of sin is death. Through Adam sin and death entered the world, and we cannot escape it. We cannot escape it, except by the grace of God. Grace brings life. It always has. From Abraham in the ancient world to us today, it is through God’s grace, fully revealed in Jesus Christ, that we are made new, made alive again, are reborn.     

These principles are also true in a practical, everyday sense. The application of grace and law can have profound effects on our individual relationships, and can also be felt at a societal level. First, let’s define our terms. Paul Zaul defines grace as one-way love. Grace is love without any strings attached, without any regard for what is flowing back the other direction. It should not be confused with unrequited love. There very well may be love coming back at the person extending grace, but the point is that grace means loving that person whether or not there is love or anything at all coming back from them. The New Testament scholar N.T. Wright agrees: grace is unconditional love, love that overflows with self-giving, without any regard for what you’re getting in return or whether they “deserve” it. In short, grace is the kind of love that God shows to us.

In this series of posts, the concept of “law” in practice will refer primarily to some form of judgment. Judgment when someone does not meet a standard that has been set, either by a person or by society or an institution. This could be a moral standard (e.g. do not lie), a cultural standard (e.g. you must dress or look a certain way), a political standard (e.g. you must subscribe to such and such party’s ideas) or some other type of standard. Really, some kind of law and judgment are present whenever grace is not fully present.  In general, “law” will not refer to actual laws in a legal sense (though more on this later).

Next post: Grace and Law are Right Behind You.


VBS: Vacation Bible School or Vehicle for Blatant Signs?

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By Keith and Tracy Anderson.

“We should feel joyous when we run into

problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.

And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our

confident hope in salvation.” Romans 5:3&4

Recently, my wife and I have been dealing with some issues from our pasts that have challenged our faith and relationship.  We came to the conclusion that for a long time we were just going through the motions of life.  We had lost a lot of the passion and fire that you have in the initial stages of dating and sadly we were on a downward slope with our faith as well.  The issues we are dealing with are grim and they made us question God.  They made us doubt who we were as individuals and as a couple.

It wasn’t until 07/07, that God finally said enough.  It wasn’t until 07/07 that God said, welcome back my children.  This day may have been one of the most difficult days in both of our 32 year lives, but God would not allow us to go through this alone.  He would not allow us to abandon our faith, and instead he began to talk to us, and for the first time in a very long time we listened.

That first day, when our world was rocked to the very core, God told us he didn’t care at all about our pasts. He told us we are more than our pasts.  Over, and over, and over.  He used music.  He used devotionals.  He used books.

And then he screamed so loudly, we couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
He used St. Paul’s Vacation Bible School.

VBS began on 07/09, only two days after our D-day.  Our 3 year old son, Chase, had been looking forward to the week for a long time.    We were both eager for him to be learning about God, but selfishly we were still dealing with our “stuff.”  With a month long trip for me only a week away, I was concerned with a lot of the logistics of my trip as well as what this month away from my wife would mean.  

Well God continued to show us that he doesn’t care about “logistics.”  In the midst of pain, anxiety, fear and regret unlike anything we’ve felt, Chase came home every day last week delivering exactly what we needed to get through that moment.  So spot on, so insane, that there was no denying that it was God pouring through memory verse bookmarks and art projects, through our son, and into our marriage.  

For the sake of time, we won’t attempt to match up the exact moments with the exact ways God spoke. Know that everything was spot on. Undeniably, supernaturally spot on.  And during this entire time, Chase was expanding in his faith as well.  His prayers were developing each night, and you could really begin to hear the passion in his little voice.  He was praying for more than just our food, and you could see a real relationship with God begin to develop.

So if you were a part of the week long “Adventures on Promise Island,” THANK YOU.  Thank you for taking a week out of your busy lives to not only develop the faith of a three year old, but for assisting in the restoration of faith and hope in and 8-year marriage and in God.  A God who is alive and well and who has begun revealing to us that even though we may have strayed from him there were signs of Him surrounding our pasts as well.  There were signs that we missed and ignored, over and over.  So open up and pray with your spouse today.  When we pray together, God can perform miracles in our lives.  He can change our hearts and allow forgiveness in an instant.

“Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil.  Cling to what is good.” 

Romans 12:9


Motorcycles and Beer-Can Pyramids: On Initial Impressions

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By Steve Bell. 

  Laurie and I recently returned from a week of camping in the Finger Lakes region of New York. This time, I managed to stuff the motorcycle in the back of the truck.  That way I could ride during the day and Laurie would actually be able to relax without me pacing back and forth around the camper.

  The trip was great.  Apart from being the first vacation in memory without rain, I was able to circle a number of the larger Finger Lakes, stopping only to snap photos of the bizarre and unusual.

Further, it was our chance to see my sister before she and her family headed off toKenya for three years.  Her husband had accepted a teaching position at an academy in Nairobi and the family was attending an orientation week in western NY.

 

We were staying at a state park, which many of you know can be an adventure in itself. In spite of being a loud guitar player, I’m actually a huge fan of quiet and appreciate a campground that seems to like the same thing.

 

When we returned from a day trip on our second day, we found that a large portion of Appalachia had taken over the five or six campsites adjacent to us. About a dozen toothless adults, wallpapered with illegible tattoos, milled around setting up tents.  Country music blared. At least 50 small children ran around the playground, screaming at the top of their lungs, as if this was the one week they were allowed to open their mouths all year.

 

Turns out they didn’t live so far away and one of their half dozen vehicles would leave occasionally, perhaps to go to work or do some quick shopping.  They all drove trucks with the mufflers sawn off, as well as any other parts that didn’t seem necessary, like bumpers.  The trucks may not have been late model, but they were all V8s, by golly. 

 

The showers and bathrooms were located on the other side of the camping area, so we had to pass by this traveling village to get there.

“Good morning, sir.  How you doing this fine day, sir?” one older fellow addressed me.

“I’m doing well,” I allowed.  “Quite a tribe you’ve got settled in here.”

“Yes sir.  We go camping every year.  The young’uns love it.”

“Well, I hope you have a good time.  I’m making my way to the showers,” I said.

“Yes sir.  You enjoy yourself, sir”.

 

And so it began.  I was addressed each time I passed with a respect I had not earned and did not merit.  I can only assume the grey beard had something to do with it.

My bike was a great conversation piece.  One of the fellows approached one day.

“Sir, that’s a fine looking motorcycle.  Could I see it up close?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Come on over.”

“Esther!” he turned and hollered. “Come over and look at this motorcycle.”

He was joined by a young woman in a tank top that highlighted all her ink. We talked about bikes for a while and shared stories before they wandered away, thanking me profusely for my time.

Despite my initial annoyance at their collective presence (I like a campground to myself), I began to note their behavior a little more closely.  They respected the quiet hours and the kids were in bed by 10 pm.  For all the bickering and yelling they did, they clearly loved their children and spent the day playing game after game with them on the lawn.  I watched one of the adults calm a tantrum-throwing child down to a few sniffles and a popsicle.  And as I walked the gauntlet to the bathrooms, I was showered with respectful greetings, whether it was late at night and all they could see was my flashlight, or whether it was morning and I could admire their beer can pyramids.

 

And so I felt that familiar flush of shame, that I had so quickly summed up and dismissed an entire crew of folks before exchanging a single word with any of them.

“So tend to your knitting.  You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.”  Romans 14:22 MSG

When we left to go home, I drove slowly through the campground so I could wave to everyone.


Many Thanks!

Hello St. Paul’s Blog Readers/Contributors:

First off: thanks to everyone for reading, writing, commenting, liking, etc. Since our blog re-launch a year ago, we’ve gotten great feedback, both online and in person, and we’ve also had a whole bunch of fantastic posts from Vince, from staff, from regulars, and from the occasional contributor here and there.

We welcome anyone who is interested or is gifted in the way of writing to join in. Have an interesting thought pertaining to a sermon? Have you had a recent spiritual experience you’d like to share? Are you excited about something you see God doing in our church community? Do you have a nagging question that you’d like to discuss with other people somehow? Please join in; we’d love to have your post on our blog. 

…However!

We do have some basic rules and guidelines for you all. And guidelines are good: we want this blog to glorify God, build His Kingdom up, and build one another up. I think we have all seen how blogs can often be hurtful and destructive, and we do not want St. Paul’s blog to be like that. 

The Rules:

  1. Keep it positive! You may have a problem with someone/some institution, and there is a place for rebuke in Christian community (Matthew 18:15-19), but that place is not the blog. 
  2. Acknowledge Diversity! It takes all kinds to make a world… and we have all kinds at St. Paul’s; this means not everyone subscribes to the same politics, opinions, tastes, etc. And again, while there is a place for debate in the Christian community, that place is not the blog (or the pulpit, either!) 
  3. Keep it Free and Public! This is a free, public forum; therefore we do not want to ask for money, push agendas, or advertise non-church related projects/events. There is a place for this sort of information (ie. church bulletin board), but again, not on the blog. 
  4. Have Fun! I don’t think this needs an explanation. 

So there you have it! We hope that you will continue to visit here, and we hope to continue with another great blogging year. And if you would like to become a contributor (regularly or sporadically), we’d love to hear from you!

Happy Reading, and God Bless,

 

The St. Paul’s Communications Team.

communications@stpaulswired.org