Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

Sin is like a great train wreck; hideous, venal, deforming, lethal, but so glorious in its destruction one cannot pass by without a look. Sin abounds.

The convert Saul of Tarsus, the man who codified Christianity in the first century, the man who called himself  “Chief of Sinners,” could not look away from his personal failings. His conversion to a faith based solution finally led him to this knowledge; where sin abounds (everywhere) grace is overwhelmingly present, as well. This does not mean we sin so we can have grace but that we can have grace even though we sin.

Grace, then, abounds, to the Chief of Sinners.

Happy New Year, 2014.

 

January 2, 2014-You will be able to tell how my resolve ebbs, wanes, or gathers steam for the writing year 2014, just by coming to this one post. It will be my only one for 2014. This will prove unwieldy before long, I am sure. As long as Starbucks has coffee and reliable wi-fi, I will be ok.

Grace is my subject for this year. I start all my thoughts about grace with the idea in mind that I need to find out what Holy Writ tells us about grace. I know there are other ways we find out about the will, the work and the way of God, but, judge me if you will and condemn me if you must, I find myself looking fore the Scriptural opinion as my primary authority. Such a stance will be used against me and cost me votes later, but you probably need to know, I try to see what God tells us about grace in the written word, the Book of Books.

I freely admit I am not actually a Literalist. I do not feel obligated to execute my neighbor for planting the wrong crops side by side or using the wrong color thread. In fact, I am more like the ancient Hebrew teachers who weighed in on capital punishment for several odd reasons and then set up so many obstacles in its path the ultimate penalty almost could not be used at all.

Yes, I know, these imprecations are mostly in the Hebrew Bible, which Harold Bloom calls the Christian’s “greatest captive.” Bloom also prefers the gnostic stories of the New Testament period for their pronounced mythology (set aside by those who canonized the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament centuries after its written transmission) but I differ with Bloom, the genius there as well. He does not know and would not care but I still cannot walk that way. Myth is not fabrication, as you know, but, rather, the use of narrative to convey deep truth powerfully without resort to mere perceived fact.

So, I know the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, has in its early pages the oddest assortment of codified laws imaginable. By contrast, its religious teaching sets its readers apart from their neighbors in space and time. God is assumed in the Hebrew Bible, as though there can be no real doubt of God’s existence, as we have that doubt now, at least.  My MIT educated friend, JT, tells me he has looked at too much data to consider the universe as a random circumstance, or the happenings wherein our little lives collide and absorb over against one another to be only circumstantial.

Notice, I said it is the way our little lives collide and absorb each other that matters. If we collided, only, and then repelled, one could then accept the premise that all things are transitory, but our lives do not collide and repel, or even collide and catch. Instead, humanity constantly collides and absorbs other humanity. The result is fecundity; we are fruitful and multiply. This is grace. One cannot explain, or even describe, the human propensity to collide and absorb a portion of this being, a scrap of that sentience, without grace. We would only feel revulsion if not for grace. As certainly as the female needs security for brooding and the male needs approval for daring initiative, each gender needs grace for the other.

And the gender contract, now under attack around the world and at home, is the ultimate of the grace contracts, as seen by the fact that it is the only contract available wherein both parties assume suzerainty with the other. The Biblical model of masculinity is self-sacrifice, complete and total submission of one’s life for the brooding female. The female model is more difficult. Knowing her superiority, the woman practices virtue without spot or blemish, deflecting the blandishments of the male until she is settled. She is at once the recipient and transmitter of grace. She is like the Church. Even St. Paul knows it.

Each gender must “grace” the other. Yes, I know, I make it a verb, and that is grammatically inappropriate, but, then, so is the practice of grace, which, again, as I say, abounds to the Chief of Sinners.

 

January 3, 2014-Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all my sin.

I too often associate grace only with sin. It is a failing in my thinking.

In truth, grace is the great divine service of protection for one’s sinful heart or habits. Where sin abounds, grace superabounds. Grace is greater than all our sin.

Still, there was a time and place represented in Scripture before sin was introduced to humankind. Was grace absent because sin was not yet influential? Or, is Creation itself an act of grace? Is it an act of grace for God to keep company with humankind at all? When God comes walking in the cool of the day, as Genesis has it, is there an element of grace in God’s walk?

I think it must be so and if it is so it must be said and if it is said it must be said just so. Creation is an act of grace, if grace is unmerited favor. Grace superabounds in the presence of sin but grace does not require sin in order to exist.

Saint Paul, has to give us most of our information on grace. Count the number of times Jesus is reported to have used the word for grace. There are hardly any. Most of our information comes from Paul; take care not to throw Paul away. In fact, the scarce uses of the word for grace in the Gospels are applied either to Jesus as others recognized grace in Him, or as He applied grace as a corrective reference only. Paul has more to say of grace. His codification of the Christian faith is laced with references to grace. One could say Christians owe Jesus their deep devotion to grace and the subsequent tendency to love, but we owe Paul for his explanation of grace, an explanation Jesus lives but did not often describe.

Jesus and Paul are the place in time and space where teleology meets ontology. Paul is the person Jesus used to complete His mission on earth, a mission interrupted by the necessity of Christ’s death on the Cross. Jesus pointed to God and showed the way to perfection. Paul substantiated the Gospel story, as he pointed out our need to live by grace. The young man Jesus who died early needs an  older voice to say what it all means. He chooses Paul, the Chief of Sinners. Why not Barnabas, the Reconciler? Why not Priscilla, or any one of a hundred other possibilities? Why choose a man whose salvation experience pre-determined he would need to spend a life time proposing Jesus as the Mediator for his own misspent prior life?

Paul had to talk, to write, to preach, about grace in the light of sin, for he was the self announced Chief of Sinners. Grace abounds to him, Jesus chooses him. We dismiss Paul at our own peril.

Three days into this little sojourn, we are already at 1318 words, or an average of 329.5 words per day. At this rate we will get to about 120,267.5 words total in this post by the end of the year. Only the strong will persevere to the end. I hope to be one of them. If you bother to read it and find typos, let me know, please. You are my editors-in-chief.

January 4, 2014-What do you have to offer the world, Oh my fellow denizen of the Christian sub-culture? Your values do not fit, your practices do not matter, you must over explain the most familiar of your icons. Your icons mystify when they do not actually offend your non-believing listener. This, of course, presupposes you can get anyone to listen.

You are in a cultural subculture, as closely proscribed as a black in apartheid Southern American, circa 1955. How can you break out?

Open Communion.

Invite persons in your sphere of influence to the Lord’s Table. Go, get the least deserving of Christ’s brethren, the unclaimed, the offended and the offensive. Open the Lord’s Table, take time to explain and, so. pluck back a few from the fire.

The Lord’s Table is primary, as seen by the Church’s work to keep the Table within its own premiership since the night it was inaugurated. There is no actual Open Communion, not really, but there is no time like the present to fulfill the promises of the past.

Food was hard to come by for the ancients. Two meals in one night was anomaly for anyone, let alone the rag tag disciples of a doomed itinerant rabbi. By the end of the week Jesus would forever be vilified as “that man,” for the sake of those who would suffer at the hands of His misunderstanding followers and the Table would be closed for millions.

For that one night, the bitter sweet night before He set His salvation in “drippped blood and torned flesh,” there was an Open Table, admittedly marked by the departure of the Betrayer, but, still, filled with all those who wanted to be present, no matter how shaky they felt about Him and His work.

There is no more private, intimate, secluded internal happening than a single setting at a public meal. When I officiate the Lord’s Table in our local congregation I see all the torment, disappointments and hopes of the congregants as they cup their hands to receive His body and in the way their hands shake as they dip the element of His body in the element of His blood. This is truly a sacred moment, holy, as holiness is supposed to be, people cut out and set apart for God’s use.

And, as ever, there is some mystical connection between God, humankind and the other humans, connectivity within psyche and soma. The ritual is the blend, for ritual it is, repetitive actions replete with reverence and mystery. Religion is better with a cloud about it, not to obscure, but a mist that enshrouds. The mystic failure will be the end of this generation of “contemporary” worship; worship is not to common, but, rather, to be universal, sanguine and tragic. Poetry is the language of worship, or we would not divide our Bible into verses.

And, this Holy Writ is best understood in verse.

January 5, 2014-Sin is like a burglar, going about from house to house, in careful search of any vulnerability, that it may break in and conduct its business. Sin may not use force until it must for its craftiness is most often potent. Is a door left unlocked, a window ajar, a key in some place easy to find? If so, sin enters and the occupant of the violated home may never feel safe again.

Grace is the guard against the home intruder. Grace watches over the home even when the home owner might, be carelessness, invite the intruder in to his den. Faith is the means by which one appropriates grace and God makes it available to all.

January 6, 2014-If the (now forgotten) conscience is the ultimate moral expression of human consciousness and if humankind in its present state may only approach God as a marred image of the divine, then it might be considered important to find the language by which God approaches the human conscience in order to restore the full expression of the divine image. If inner change is the desired result from both parties (Human and God) then the unmarred Person must be willing and able to accept the marred Person. So, grace must be the language by which God informs and transforms the marred soul.

For this reasoning to matter, the marred Person must see his real estate. The marred Person is not only failed but offensive. There is no victimless sin for all sin is violation against divine holiness. In fact, as Paul helps us see, one great distinctive of the Christian faith is this; that in Christianity the Offended Person not only pardons the Offender but loves the Offender so much that God pays the redeeming price for the Offender, cf. Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 1:4,5; I Corinthians 8.

The theological trend now runs away from Paul. Paul has some culturally unacceptable things to say and it is instructive to see how Paul knows they are unacceptable in his day and time, no less than in our times. Today, when one encounters Paul’s culturally unacceptable expressions, one simply runs back to the Gospels, decries Paul and announces a love for the sayings of Jesus, who, of course, has nothing to say at all about the things that Paul contends, so busy is He in forming a new religious expression of ancient faith.

Still, as I have written, Paul has as much to say about grace as any later writer. The difference between Paul and the later writers is clearly this; he wrote it first and those who come after must cite, plagiarise, deny or defy. This is the burden of being right, or at least on record, too early.

If we want grace expressions, we have to lean on Paul, and it is hard to say just how to pick through his culturally unacceptable expressions (the ones we do not want) to find the grace statements (the ones we do want). Paul has to change. God changes Paul. No one seeks change, or we would not need it. Change is forced on us; friends offer their concerns, family intervenes, employers dismiss us, doctors order change. Change is the expression of someone’s conscience, isn’t it? And, if so, change might be the breath of God speaking to one’s conscience, and, if so, we have already said, the language of God for the conscience is, well, grace.

And for grace reasoning, from then to now, we are dreadfully, reverently, awesomely dependent on what God, the Holy Spirit wrote to us through the prickly old Jew, Saul of Tarsus. I might not have chosen that instrument, but there he is, and wrestle with his view for the favor of grace we must. There are a hundred things I wish he had not said, not literally a hundred, but so many things Paul wrote I still cannot explain and feel either gracious or honest. I want to establish rules, so we have order, and then I want to bend them for everyone who comes along. This is not grace, just pity, but I want to call it grace, so I can feel I am good. God’s grace perfects in love, unyielding, and so accomplishes the impossible, remaking the conscience, renewing the marred Person from the inside out.

The danger of being on record is obvious. Someone can follow along, lift ten words out of a million from context and ask you to violate your conscience to be in their company. There is a simple way to resolve this for a lifetime and that is to decide whose company you wish to keep. I say this is a simple exercise, for it involves fewer moving parts, but ease does not mean it is cost free and the cost may be daunting. Still, one has to go on record, sometime, somehow, somewhere, if conscience guides.

January 7, 2014-You have already caught on to the symbolic value in the one post approach. Even if no one reads the post (people are reading and recommending the post to others according to my hit count) anyone who wants can use it as a conversation starter on religion, as in, “There is this crazy guy writing a single post on his website for 2014. His subject is grace and he seems to say grace is over everything, under everything, permeating all, leading, following, directing, guiding, loving, forgiving, accompanying like a gentleman, flirting like a lady, passionate like a young man, ponderously thoughtful like an old person, fiery and just mostly everything for all.”

I do not mean grace is cheap or easy or even comfortable. Paul the Codifer was well along in his Christian sojourn, yet still did not think he had apprehended the prize of the high calling. I think he may have been chasing the prize so fastidiously he did not notice he was the one being pursued. Grace was after him, intending to have the wheezy old Pharisee for a lover. Paul was a law-loving anti-nomian, a rule giver who wanted complete liberty and even license. He was undoubtedly too conflicted to be free, or even a free thinker, but a thinker he was and into the highest heavens of religious thought he went. Somewhere there, with all his tortured conscience, Paul discovered grace.

January 8, 2014-As predicted, this one post is becoming unwieldy, impenetrable, almost unreadable. My hits have skewed wildly, naturally, with readers willing to go only so far with this whole grace nonsense. My tentative support for the Apostle Paul has not helped much. Those who wish to discard Paul and follow only selected ethical sayings of Jesus will not smile on this work. I do want to hear what the anti-Paulians want to do about grace, since Paul has more to say about grace than Jesus, Peter and John combined. Those who want to worship Paul, who quote the Codifier ad nauseam are equally nonplussed, since this long post (now averaging a rate of verbiage that would see it hit 160,000 words in its one year of life) find my devotion to Paul underwhelming. So, as ever, I am on record in such a way as to divide asunder two warring groups over my cold, lifeless corpus.

Left unsaid is this truth; the war these two factions fight is one that matters only a little to other believers and not at all to those one centimeter removed from the Covenant Community.

Here is a point that might matter. Without talking much about grace Himself, Jesus, the Christ, was repeatedly recognized by others as One who embodied spiritual works of grace in Himself. He was even said to “grow” in grace and knowledge, presumably in ways that would open the mind of God to those who viewed Him with favor.

And, now, having made and repeated these two points, I prepare to move on with them as my foundational statements. One, that it is impossible to debunk Paul, for all his cultural foibles, if one wishes to maintain the Biblical emphasis on grace. Two, that Jesus does not directly discuss the issue of grace during His recorded ministry, but He so embodies God’s unmerited favor toward humankind, others cannot help but see grace in Him, and call what they see in Him grace.

And now we move on to a third point, the validity of which I leave to your view of how Biblical information is transmitted to us. That is, the Biblical record has Saul of Tarsus on his way down the Damascus Road, toward the crown jewel of the Orient in his day, Syria, to further rend the reformist sect, not yet called Christians, but trending in that way. If the Biblical record is accurate (you decide, but only by conviction, not from convenience), Saul of Tarsus has an encounter with the divine Savior. The writer Luke, certainly working from secondary sources (Luke was not present at Saul’s initial encounter with Jesus), must show how and why Saul changes so radically from his prior state. Saul is interrupted. Saul is confronted. Saul is diminished. Saul is directed. Saul is befriended. Saul is converted.

I intend to spend some time in this post on Saul’s conversion experience. I want to spend some time on conversion experiences in general. For this moment, I wish to ask this question. Of all the persons he might choose, why does the Biblical record show God in Christ at work with Saul/Paul? Of all the people God might choose, if choose him God does, why Saul? Is God surprised to find that Saul, of all people, will preach and teach and write so movingly (and so much) about grace?

Jesus certainly had every opportunity to codify His faith around unmerited favor. Yet, His seminal works make the execution of His faith more rigorous, not less. For Jesus, it is not enough to behave properly. One must behave properly and do so inwardly, as well as outwardly. You can make the argument that the young rabbi Jesus moves away from grace in His teachings, while the older rabbi Saul/Paul insists on grace. Is Paul what Jesus would have been had Jesus been able to live a normal life span? Does Jesus choose Paul (and work with Paul) to bring grace to the fore?

Yes, I hear your objections to this argument, from the Right and from the Left. From the Right, you may feel I somehow diminish the work of Jesus and the transmission of the Biblical record when I offer this notion; Paul teaches what Jesus would teach if He were not so busy dying. From the Left, my detractors might say I take the Bible too seriously, too literally, and so open myself up to any criticism Paul attracts with some of his views, you know, the kind our culture cannot stomach.

I accept these criticisms from the Right and from the Left. I do freely confess I take the Scripture very seriously as sufficient for the foundation of all I believe about religion, but constantly in need of review, interpretation and explanation. I accept the view traditionally called historical-critical to look at Scripture and I still believe in the principles of interpretation attendant to the historical-critical method (fire away, fire away).

And, I believe in grace. I am stricken by Jesus’s choice of Saul/Paul, who, admittedly, could not function without heavy doses of grace applied regularly to his soul. Of all men, why Saul? And why does Saul, then Paul, have so much to say about grace, he who was raised to love the Law?

The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, to be sure, if they note what we say at all. I have to work this out for myself, so here it is, and welcome to my world. In the Jesus/Paul transition, teleology meets ontology, the young Jesus completes His work in the older Paul, and what could have been just another case of legalistic drudgery becomes, instead, a warm, precious work of spiritual release and sensual relief.

Grace abounds to the Chief of Sinners.

January 9,2014-I think if grace is unmerited favor, it must then be said that grace is divine condescension. And I have been up since  2 AM today, so you get no more from me today.

January 10, 2014-Today I spent my time experiencing grace. I was called to the Walnut Grove Middle School and allowed to mentor children who have some reading and math challenges. I was there for about seven hours. The love of the staff for the children was palpable. There is this enormous love of learning and behavior at Walnut Grove.

I spent my time helping teach reading comprehension and division in math. The children were respectful, hard working and grateful. Various ones thanked me for my help and wanted to know when I might return.

There was a great deal of grace there. And I was deeply moved. Grace.

January 11, 2014-Joan found grace in the eyes of the Lord. One wonders how, or why, or when. Somehow, Noah finds grace in the eyes of the Lord. One supposes this means God was looking. God wanted to find someone on whom to affix grace as an overarching premise. God wants grace to be the story line, not the destruction that is to come. In truth there can always be an end,  a destructive force can come on us, but God’s grace is something that intrudes. God is always applying grace in the oddest places and time.

January 12, 2014-A congregant should find grace each Lord’s Day in worship. I think a congregant should find grace in worship even if he or she is the minister. Grace is not so easy to find, sometimes, though it is available; open, loving, receiving, accepting.

Grace reproves as it calls out gratitude,or at least appreciation.

 

 

January 13, 2014-And, it is harder to write just now, because my Muse has mostly been some form of succor in suffering. Gladly, just now, I am not much suffering. My body hurts, yes, and the degeneration associated with various conditions continues, but I am, on the whole, much better and certainly happier than I was  year ago.

I am not suffering much. Yesterday, after a warm worship hour, I went 6.3 miles to my own home, where all my immediate family awaited me. My wife, our four grown children, their four beloved mates and all seven of our grandchildren. We prayed, we ate lasagna and I played with the older grandchildren in the backyard. They stayed four hours before going back to their lives. In this time there was not a cross word between them, just laughter and stories and hugs. I held the youngest grand-daughter and kissed her as hundred times while she slept. When she woke and wanted her mother, I spirited away the youngest grandson. I held him while I looked around with his large, luminous eyes, taking in everything around him, until he tired of it all and fell quietly asleep.

Our worship experience at Sardis United Methodist Church, 640 Sardis Road outside Midlothian, Texas 76065 (shameless plug for our church) was serene and charming. It was a family kind of atmosphere with our small group; all ages from babies to senior adults present. People being people, there were doubtless as many needs as persons present (about 85) but, unlike some places I have been, no secret meetings during the week to decide who has the biggest boat in the mud-puddle, no non-contributors wanting supreme power. Some churches seem to have a plethora of people who can only express their spirituality negatively; heedless, thoughtless, hateful and unkind. We just do not seem to have any of them at our place just now and I am glad.

We were just people together trying to worship God in the love of one another.

So I am not suffering much. My body hurts, but my body has been on the planet awhile and it is going to hurt. I am not in so much pain it takes away from any ability to hold the babies or chase the older ones or go places with Joan.

God, it appears, is gracing me in these days with happiness and joy, in place of the persevering grace attributes. I know what Paul meant, I think, when he said he knew how to abound and to be abased. I have not suffered as he, and certainly not unto death as did our Lord in His unique dying. I am continually amazed, constantly startled and fearful of my own fallibility, when I think this thought; What does it take to allow one’s own crucifixion? I do not know what is required to hold steady while a rough man drives nails in your wrists. I am pretty sure I would need to call a halt long before we got to Golgotha, if I had the power, as He did.

The bitter-sweet self sacrifice of our Lord is the touchstone of suffering. His story is told and retold because He suffers willingly but not madly and because there is great victory after His dying. I love Him for His dying and I need Him for His rising again.

And He, the Lord Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, by His Word and in His congregation, is filling me with grace. He is working with this poor clay instrument to perfect me in love by grace.

The teacher Nat Tracy once told me, “When you give your life to Jesus Christ, Heaven is no longer your goal. Heaven is your destination. Your goal from this time is not to get to Heaven. Your goal is to be like Jesus, to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, in order to be conformed to His express image. Strive to be Christ-like.”

The longer I live in this best of all worlds, the more certain I am Nat Tracy was right. I should strive to be Christ-like, trusting His sufficiency not only to redeem my soul, but to perfect me in His love, as well.

I trust Jesus, the Christ, to redeem, to fill with grace, to hold and to keep. I am a Christian.

January 14, 2014-When God pressed this vision on me, it was to write one long post on grace, adding a layer each day, and, so, to say that grace is the subject of which we are the object each day. My symbolism is not hard to get. One post, started on New Year’s Day, 2014, and ending on New Year’s Eve of the same year.

Grace, grace, God’s grace.

Beloved, stop and look, at the foreign, alien, otherworldly unconditional love the Father pours out on us lavishly, that now we might be named the children of God. And (as good as this is), we do not yet see (for it does not yet fully appear) what we are going to be in the end, but, we know this; in the end, we are going to be like Him (the Christ) because we are going to see Him as He really is in truth, I John 3, from the Rick Davis Reviled Condemned Version (RDRCV).

With the directness of youth a teenage girl recounted to me a dream she remembered from some time ago, wherein Jesus held her hand to guide her through a dark forest. There was a path, only it was not much of a path, and hard to see, because the forest was thick and dark, obviously an old-growth forest. I found myself wishing she would describe the foliage; colors and textures and smells, but she did not dream in 3-D. She only just knew it was Jesus and her in a dark, mossy, musty old growth forest. She did not remember how she felt about the forest or its darkness or the lost path. She just remembered she was in a forest, alone, except for The Savior of the World, who held her hand.

“And,” she ended her story, “I want to know what it means.”

“What? You want to know what?”

“My dream. I want to know what it means,” and now, her voice was more shrill and demanding.

“I think you know,” I replied.

“What?”

“I think you know what it means. Your dream. You know what it means.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Then, my child,” I remember telling her, “you must dream again.”

“Whatever…”

And, there we left it, for the moment.

She came back, some time later.

“Jesus will always be with me. Jesus will protect and guide me if I will walk with Him. And He will never lead me any place that is bad or hurtful,” she told me, and smiled.

“I guess you had your dream again,” I replied.

“Yes,” she said, and smiled.

For, as it is written, God sent not His Son into the World to judge the world downward, but to halt the downward spiral of the world, and to save out all those who will walk with Him John 3:17, RDRCV.

 

January 15, 2014-The cluster headaches I entertain come in clusters, hence the name. They move in, take over and suddenly all of one’s reality is built around the reality of stricken blood vessels. Vision blurs and is given to auras. Sounds are exquisitely painful, light is excruciating and movement is unacceptable. I started to entertain a cluster of narrowed vessels last night about ten, driving the 70 miles back to my hone after a ballgame. The game was a blowout, a fifty point differential between winner and loser, so the stress there is to protect the dignity of the loser and the life of the winner. Fouls tend to get a bit more rigorous when one is losing by fifty points or more and, of course, failing to put up much of a fight. There is great stress in all this and one must be careful to look for that little extra in a foul that  might occasion an intentional foul or even al flagrant foul.

None were forthcoming last night, but the girls on the losing team lapsed into some extreme vulgarity. They fouled with gusto but only borderline  illegal and then cursed the officials who administered the calls. I got called an MF, then an old MF, than a blind, stupid old MF and my partners got about the same. I ended up calling most of the fouls last night, for whatever reason. Our crew did enough to offer a release for emotions but to prevent broken bones or torn ligaments.

And, we showed grace. There were numerous violations that we explained before we called. Then we explained the violations a bit more so the players would see what we meant as they tugged, pulled and slashed at their opponents. One team was just better. The other team, the losing team, had a good deal more talent than the winners but the winners were better trained and coached. The winners were in better condition and knew what they were doing each time they touched the ball. Discipline, conditioning, training, experience; all of these things meant more than sheer ability.

So, we graced the losing team. We let some things go and then explained what was wrong before and after we started to administer all thee penalties. When we did blow a whistle, I noticed my two partners were searching their minds for the knowledge and experience that would enable them to give the least possible penalty to the offender, while coaxing them out of rough play It did not work, not always, nor was it accepted at all times, but we did try to train and discipline rather than just punish. So, there was grace all over the court.

And a major headache to follow; about a seven on a pain scale of one to ten, with ten the hightest. And, so far, nothing seems to touch it. Such is life.

 

January 16, 2014-Please remember we are writing one post this year at this site, 365 entries, all on the subject of grace. At this word rate (which I slowed down) we will still have more than 100,000 words here. Naturally, for those who have an immediate notice on your site when I post on mine, you will not get a notice this year after January 1. I am watching a dip in hits because I am only posting one post at this site, but I want to symbolically say that grace is the whole thing. If God does not grace us, does not bestow grace on us (and so call us to offer grace to others), then we probably have the wrong god, or, at least, the wrong concept of god, any way.

Ergo, I will plug away here on grace, the application of grace, the existence of grace, the happiness of grace applied even to the chief of sinners.

And let the hits be what they are for this year.

 

January 17, 2014-How long does a New Year’s Resolution last? I have proof right here that mine lasts 17 days thus far. I resolved to write one post at this website for the year 2014, and that my subject each day would be grace. Thus far, I am at 17 days, with this post.

I do not ask you to think of grace as cheap or easy, for that would make it mostly useless. There is too much useless, worthless, meaningless religion available today. I am of a generation so crassly unsophisticated we could literally “have the Hell scared out of us.” The dominant emotions of our cruciform religion were guilt and fear. Since guilt and fear dominated our bittersweet religion, naturally, the whole focus of the “worship service” was an “anxious seat” or “invitation time” that included hand raising, eye closing, aisle walking. We oddly treated aisle walking as though it were discipleship itself.

And it did work for some people. In fact it worked for many people, back in the day. There was a day when people could sit in long rows, all the men in white shirts with black ties and horn rimmed glasses. The women were less evident but were all in Full Dowdy, dresses to the knee or below and prim, proper, hair pushed to the top of their heads and sprayed to stay. These people had been born during the Great Depression and survived the World War. They emerged from the greatest blood letting in human history, only to find their path out of conflagration was graded by The Bomb. These people understood guilt and fear, really well. They understood decision making as word giving and looked down on people who broke their word. Grace was important but only later. Guilt and fear came first.

The next generation, my generation, wanted somethings settle once and for all. We understood business type decisions. Our “evangelism” was still linked to the church, but it was another step away, two steps now, as the stadium crusades had been one step from the church. We caught the ones who would not sign on at the Stadium, one at a time, door to door, hand to hand combat. We had our four spiritual laws, which were certainly nothing of the kind, but could congeal around such a title. We understood law giving and law breaking, or thought we did. We elected Mr. Nixon, twice, as the law and order candidate. Nixon, the Law and Order candidate. He had a secret plan to end the Viet Nam War, which he would unveil only after we elected him president. His plan, apparently, was to move the war into Laos and Cambodia, and violate the US Constitution along the way.

No matter, we elected him twice, to protect Law and Order. We did so because he repeatedly appeared at the Stadium crusades, even playing the piano one time, which he liked to do, anyway.

He allowed us to keep up our door to door presentations. He also let us segregate our schools, run to the suburbs and hold down the riff-raff. We could not get enough of him. He appealed to our guilt and fear.

I admit it was about this time I began to get suspicious. I had seen a President and a Senator and two civil rights leaders (King and X) gunned down on city streets, or in an auditorium, so I had fear out the wazoo, but I began to listen to speeches and sermons and sift through the guilt and fear parts. The first thing I threw away was the Invitation story about the family who did not accept Jesus and got hit by a semi on the way home. I inspected the Sunday roadways and could not find such carnage.

I decided that guilt and fear might be our most operative religious emotions but, I decided, that did not seem a healthy way to help a church. So, I began to explore the sayings of Jesus, of which we have more than a few. His bittersweet, short life seemed  ideal for guilt and fear; dying young, innocent, high minded. However, he did not seem to have much to say about guilt and fear, except that you needed neither guilt nor fear to follow Him. In fact, such emotions would get in the way more than anything.

I started to read Paul and to read about Paul. The left-wing scholars told me to let go of Paul, follow Jesus only, but all my reading indicated Jesus had a thing going with Paul to fulfill His divine mission. I read more about grace in Paul than in the Gospels, and so saw why Jesus would pick Paul to codify His religion. I have had the worst time giving up Paul.

There is the tired old story about the fellow who had been sick. One of his pals asked him if he had gone to see a doctor.

“Seen a doctor? I seen a half dozen doctors!”

“What did they say?”

“They all agreed I should give up wine, women and song.”

“So, what did you do?”

“I gave up doctors.”

You have heard that one. And you see where I am going here.

I gave up the people who thought I should give up Paul. I just started to look at him a different way. At points Paul describes himself in various, unflattering ways. When Paul tells me his is foolish, I believe him. When he says he is Chief of Sinners, I take him at his word. Paul is often a bit of a jerk, no matter how you interpret his words.

When he says we are not longer under condemnation, we who are in Christ Jesus, I believe that too. When he says that wherever sin abounds, grace superabounds, I find I can go with that a lot more happily than I can walk with the sickeningly sweet, sadly bitter leftists who want Paul to disappear and Jesus to come down off that inconvenient Cross.

I discovered the Stadium guys, the door to door Spiritual Law guys, the Law and Order guys and the Leftists agreed on this one thing, with two prongs; that religious people are most easily moved by guilt and fear.

Grace is harder to assimilate. I may put my children in time out when they misbehave and use the threat of it for much of their early years. However, I do not want to have to do that with a twenty year old. I want them to behave because they know how and because they love me, really love me. I do not want to punish them, ever, only discipline them and that only lightly.

Grace is the better way. Yes, I know, Jesus scarcely used the word grace. However, He was so grace-filled that others saw grace in Him. Others recognized His growth in grace and knowledge and favor with God and Humankind.

So, it took a long time but I decided for grace, replacing guilt and fear. Along the way I lost an army of people who needed guilt and fear and who needed me to operate out of guilt and fear. I exasperated those who needed me to need their approval, who absolutely despaired when I demonstrated I basked in their affirmation when it came but neither withered nor died when it was withheld.

Grace frees. Guilt traps. Grace opens the door to heaven. Fear shows us the shadows of hell.

Go in grace. Be happy.

January 18, 2014-You are certainly ready to hear something other than the droning repetition of the word “grace” from this blog spot. Some have made that rather clear.

But I do want to indicate my belief that grace (unmerited favor, divine condescension) is the primary element of divine salvation for the human soul. I am aware that the mission statement our Lord Jesus offers (Matthew 4:17) includes the word “repentance,” not the word “grace.” I am equally aware that one mostly has to wait for Paul’s appearance to learn much about the matter of grace, and that Paul has some other things to say about various earthly subjects that are somewhat, well, odd.

At the same time, it is necessary to say, Jesus lives out a demonstration of grace in all He says and does. He is filled with grace and fills other with grace. Jesus is all about grace.

January 19, 2014-In worship today, three different mentions were made of grace, none of them by me. The comments were apt, concise and meaningful. Perhaps writing on one subject for a year is not the worst idea ever.

Grace does not mean everything we do is alright. Grace does mean what we do is forgivable and we are redeemable. I have to think God wants to redeem us, in much the same way I have to believe we need redemption. And, as a Bible reader, I have come to think that redemption comes by grace, through faith, not of our own making, but of God.

And I have come to believe God intends our good before we know we need divine grace, apart from any knowledge we have of the operation of grace and in spite of repeated personal affronts of our race toward God. (There, I did it again. I always and ever arrange my arguments into little battalions of three; before, apart and in spite of, in this case. It is a bad habit, but those are the kind I never break, seldom recognize, scarcely abhor.)

 

January 21, 2014-People who take decisions in voluntary organizations, like churches, should come to understand this truth; decisions for the organization are not made in meetings. If you wait until the committee meets to make the decision, there will be the following: confrontation, stonewalling, sandbagging, side-taking and general calumny.

Decisions are made in gossip sessions. Good gossip, but gossip no less. This person of influence gets with that person of influence, extending outward in concentric circles, until, finally, one along with another, the good decisions (those made in concert with the better angels of human nature) get taken.

Grace grows good gossip. Grace cannot grow anything bad, or less than good, or some variation off of good. What do you love? It is most likely of grace, but, certainly, inspect what you love, for grace is not self-destructive. Sin is self-destructive, for it must first claim and condemn its host, from thence to destroy what stands nearby. The love of God is gracious love, which cannot be wrong or do ill, or even wish the less for others.

January 20, 2014-I always want to have simple, easy to follow rules to follow. Then, once the rules are established, I usually want to bend the rules to help the person in front of me, because they are flesh and blood and no one actually fits all the rules. I often want to go by the spirit of the rules, rather than the letter.

And, often, disaster ensues.

Let me illustrate it this way. In my years as a basketball referee (Division-I, thank you very much) I hear fans yell certain things over and over again. Since this is a family oriented website I will not repeat all of what I hear. Suffice it to say, you can go from a G rating, to PG-13 to R and beyond, all in the same game, sometimes in one quarter.

And, people yell predictable things. When their team is on the Offense, you will hear them call to you, “You have to call that foul. You have to call that foul. You %$#*^&) you have to call that foul.” Then, the same team will shift to Defense and you will hear the same people yell, “You cannot call that foul. You cannot call that foul. You %$#%$#@&*******^^^%%$^%$# you have to let them play.”

So, on one end, they are the Pharisees, puritans of the game, fans who want every touch foul called. On the other end, these Puritans become Nihilists, insisting the on-court guardians of the game (referees) allow virtual assault.

The referee has to decide where to draw the line. I am the referee. I know all the rules, all of them, their purpose and report. I know the rules.I can call something on every play, every time the ball comes into play. Basketball is an exquisite sport, highly technical and very precise. There is a violation of some rule on every play.

And many of the violations do not get called. You look to see if  a team gains an advantage, or makes the court unsafe, and then you decide on the call. You have roughly one-third of a second to see the violation, decide about it an blow the whistle.

So, the official lets a lot happen that is technically illegal. We give “grace” as long as one person does not take advantage of another or threaten, through conduct, to injure an opponent. No harm, is, quite often, no foul. However, this also means you may get into a tight game, a few seconds left, the game in the balance and you have to make a call you have let go all night because the violation in front of you is suddenly too egregious. You are right to make the call, right to not make the call in the first three quarters and wrong both times. You sin in omission and commission and only you can decide in practice.

Grace lets things happen, watches events unfold, all the while offering us safety and the chance to express ourselves with all our ability. Grace does not want to snuff us out, or keep us from happiness or let us get hurt. Grace lets us play.

 

January 22, 2014

Grace, Grace, Grace

Today I read a book to an autistic boy,

Then took him to his lunch.

He offered to share with me

 But not his  Fruit Roll-Up

Which was Grape

and I did not prefer anyway.

Grace, Grace, Grace

I spent an hour with a man older than me

Who is losing his wife of many, many years

to the Dim Transience of Dementia.

Grace, Grace, Grace

And a girl, dreadful scarred,

Who threw herself into a fire

for reasons only she could know

met me and let me touch her scars

but not with my fingers

for her scars are holy things,

I thought,

and not meant for human hands.

Grace, Grace, Grace

Then, somewhere in the day,

a woman asked me if I were bored.

I am never bored, never, not ever.

I have read too many books,

met too many people,

heard too many songs,

climbed too many hills.

If you are as old as me,

you can go deeply within yourself

to call up something you know

or at least think you

or believe you remember.

So, you are never bored.

Grace, Grace, Grace

In the rooms where I was today,

and through them,

strode all of humankind,

Champion, Victim, Opponent, Neutral, Native.

And none of us were bored.

January 23, 2014-Scripture (particularly the Pauline portion) assumes that grace will be accompanied by faith. In the heart/soul/mind of the congregant, the Scripture writers think, there will be continual response. When there is not a continual faithful response the various Christian faith traditions respond in different ways, but all with the intent to restore the “fallen” comrade.

Baptists and other Calvinists take the apostate back to the first step of salvation. Since apostate failed (it cannot be a little failure, or even a large failure of the acceptable kind; those can be handled by a simple “rededication”) there must be something wrong with their salvation. Since the failure cannot be attributed to God, there must be something wrong with the individual’s individual salvation. Perhaps they were initiated into the faith too early. Baptists and other Calvinists consign the Arminians to hellfire for infant baptism, failing to note that the rite only makes the person a baptized church member, not a professing Christian, which must wait at least for Confirmation. Then, Baptists and other Calvinists baptize (as professing Christians and Church Members) children as young as four, who lack frontal lobe development just as much as do infants, though they can parrot back what parents tells them.

One should note, in this discussion, that other Christian faith forms have developed. There are the Mega-Church Pragmatists, who accept anyone and anything, trusting God to sort it all out in the end. The excellence of their programs and aura of success, which is then accompanied by mass social networking and business contacts, will make them viable well into this century.

Then, there are the Reform Baptists, historical theologians all, who will not ask you to come to Christ. They will preach Christ, punctiliously and without fail, but their converts must show meaningful fruits of salvation prior to their baptism and acceptance into the church. As a result, their churches will be smaller and less prone to anabaptism.

Methodists, and other Arminians, baptize infants into earthly, local congregation membership, and then the congregation commits itself as a whole to raise the child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, portending, rather than pretending, salvation. The old-time Wesleyan Methodists thought and taught that persons must make a decision for Christ, themselves, and then must proceed in perfecting love by faith, as it were continually deciding for Christ life-long.

For by grace are we saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves (the grace), but it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

January 24, 2014-I have just enough time and energy left in this day and this body to write to you and say, “God’s grace is sufficient for all your good.”

January 25, 2014-Again today I get to this late and tired. I do want to spend the time and energy I have left extolling the grace of God, from which flow lovingkindness, mercy, compassion and all the other Pauline synonyms for previous, loving virtues.

 January 26, 2014-Now it is Sunday, first day of the week, the Christian Sabbath, the Day of Rest. And I will not rest today, to prove again I am Chief of Sinners, at least in this column.

A brief glance at my calendar indicates I will not rest this week, except in bits and snatches. Almost certainly there will be no hours of reflection, or even deep thought. There will be running to this city and that little town, meetings with clients and those we hope will join us.

I think that one of the reasons public people enter at least a low-level depression one or two years into their work and never come out, is this: we do not have the means, or take the time, to decide again the whys and what fors. We just repeat certain learned behaviors until we are told we cannot try them again.

The experience of grace, I think, for me, is best felt in those hours when my fingers still work on this keyboard. I once felt an odd, special strength, even a power, when I sat down to think/write. I was in a different place then, not on the map, no, the place I am in now is better than any place I have been for a decade.

No, the place I was in for ten years insisted on reflection. I was able to plum the depths of certain subjects and my own feelings about them. I still feed the same, NPR radio on for the endless miles, meditation, prayer, reading, conservation with persons both frail and fine. I feel like I will get back to the special place after I nourish myself for awhile but it is obvious I am not there now.

Still, grace persists.

January 27, 2014-Next year, 2015, the one topic here at www.rickddavis.com will probably be worship. However, it will not feature one long post, like this one. This year on grace is to make a point. You and I can depend on grace. The topic never changes. Grace changes in this way; as our experience with God deepens, we experience grace in a magnified way, but grace itself remains the same.

This one post in a year is hard to navigate. I reserve the right to start over in February, making this column more readable, but keeping on the one topic, grace.

January 28, 2014-And, as I have been hinting for a  couple of days, I am changing formats shortly. My topic will still be grace, but this one post idea of mine is too hard, apparently, for beloved readers to navigate, I am going to grace myself and my readers by just putting up daily postings, like, you know, a normal person, beginning on February 1, 2014.

The topic here for 2014 is still grace.

 

January 29, 2014-I am sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo glad to tell you this one. Our local Basketball chapter, Dr. Rick Davis, President, has now been accepted and approved by the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools. We are even on their website. God is good and we have felt God all along the way.

Grace, grace, grace.

January 30, 2014-Thursday, and I have written nothing of note all week. This is sloth, not grace. I spent the week running, doing this and that and the other thing over there. I have done it all, except think and write. So, it is Thursday, and I have written nothing I would bother to read.

There have been various good conversation with younger people. Of course, these days, mot of the population qualifies as younger that being a relative term.

My friend Roark would jump on that one. He would declare that all terms are relative. Indeed, he would add, all things must be taken as relative, since we cannot know absolutely, or even suppose more than hypothetically. But, Roark is a contrarian, which is one of the things I like about him, and the list is not that long.

I spent the bulk of my day with 6th and 7th graders, teaching them to read. By read, I do not mean sort out the letters or sift through the words. I mean I teach children (or try) about to enter full blown adolescence, to think critically about letters and words.  I spent a good bit of time last night reading and re-reading a three page paper from a graduate student, who delighted me with his prose. I knew I was delighted because i got through the three pages without triggering my gag reflex. This may not sound like a lot but it is something whenever someone writes something for me to read that does not make me retch. I have only the one grad student right now. He makes me feel I am not wasting my time.

And, grace goes on. On Saturday, 1 February, 2014, I will recast this post. as a daily, one column post at a time, so you do not have to sift through it. Some of my readers tell me this is too hard for them, so I plan to go a different route. The subject will still be grace.

And, perhaps, next week, I will write something I would read.

 

 

 

 

 

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