Resolving to be an Extremist

There are others in the Christian world who write blogs and books like me.  People who believe in the message of radical, messy grace.  Groups like "People of the Second Chance" and authors like William Paul Young, Brennan Manning, and Shane Claiborne.  These are folks who realize that none of us have it all together and we all need to be surrounded by a community of broken people. There are others who would call people like me "extremists"; people who believe that the message of messy grace cheapens Christ's work on the Cross if we give it away with no strings attached.  The idea that no one is beyond redemption and that grace is radical sends many people into a tizzy!  People who think they have it all together, often don't see the need for grace that is messy and willing to get low.

There are Christians who are much more concerned with morality than Jesus.

More focused on rules than redemption.

More gripped by being good than by grace.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:

“Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream"...was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand I can do no other, so help me God."....And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free."....So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?...Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."

The world is in dire need of grace extremists: folks like you and me, willing to take grace to the hooker and the hustler, the drunk and the deacon, the perfectionist and the porn addict.

Will you join the Grace is Messy team to proclaim the Gospel of Second Chances, messy grace, and the unfailing love of Jesus Christ?

Do You Have Grace for the Horn-Honkers?

I had just left a meeting at Children's Hospital and was walking across the parking deck. The place was packed. The concrete citadel was loaded with automobiles plus hurried and worried people and I had previously struggled with a place to park. Grace for the Horn-Honkers

 

I was weaving through the maze of cars and traffic, trying to remember where I had parked, when out-of-the-blue, a man zipped up behind me in his little black Beemer and blared down on his horn. To say that I was startled would be inadequate. My stomach was in knots and my heart raced.

The horn's honk resounded throughout the concrete walls and pillars, and I felt like I would have a stroke. It's not like I was some 90-year-old, barely shuffling to my parking space...I am not yet 30-years-old, and was moving at a reasonable pace.

I was shocked, scared, stroking-out, and ANGRY.

I was pissed.

WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS HE THINKING?! WHO DID HE THINK HE WAS?! Whether I had taken two or three seconds to pass in front of his vehicle really made no difference...but apparently it did to him. He was beyond impatient and I was more than aggravated. I had a few words I wanted to share with the gentleman, and I wanted to teach him some sign language as well.

And then there's Grace.

Grace for the impatient businessman. Or was it Grace for the father, hurrying to see his little girl before surgery? I will never know, but he deserves Grace for his erratic behavior, just like I deserved Grace for hurriedly weaving through traffic to make it to that same assignment on time.

The same Grace that has always been afforded to me, is afforded to every impatient so-and-so that drives us all crazy at 5 o'clock and that Grace calls us all to freely give away what we have been given. We must pray for patience and Grace to deal with all we come in contact with, every moment of every day, with the very same Love that is constantly being poured out for us.

We may not know their stories, but rest assured that each person we meet has a story. Each person faces their own struggles. And each person is longing for another chance. For belonging. For hope. For a little Grace.

There is Grace for the horn-honkers and, thankfully, there is Grace for you and me.

[clickToTweet tweet="Do you have grace for the horn-honkers? #graceismessy #AskSteveAustin #patience" quote="Do you have grace for the horn-honkers?" theme="style3"]

People Watching

Beside collecting shells, people watching is my favorite beach activity. You just never know. Three guys caught my eye, and not in the beachy eye-candy way. I guess they were in their late-40's/mid-50's, making their way to the water, and each were what I call "home grown" (think Paula Deen's cooking). What made me keep looking at this good ol' boy trio? They were standing oddly close to each other. Touching close. Three sweaty, half naked, middle-aged men, hugged up with each other, working their way through the sand to the ocean. Strange.

When they made it to the place where the waves broke on the shore, the one in the middle sat down. He had only one leg.

It seems he wanted to cool off in the waves, but could not make it down there on his own. I scanned higher on the beach and spotted an electric scooter- with wheels able to ride on the sand. Cool!

Waves crashed into the sitting man, spinning him around, knocking him over. The two friends stood behind him to bolster him, they sat him back up, and got knocked over themselves. All the while the three laughed like young boys!

After only a few minutes, the friends helped the man to stand. Apparently, it was just too much to be so vulnerably tossed about by the breaking waves. But instead of making their way back to the scooter, they went farther into the ocean! There the three friends stood, supported by each other, enjoying the crisp coolness of the rising and falling water while the summer beach sun browned their backs.

I hope I am a friend like that. To faithfully stand beside and support when life beats down. I am truly thankful for my precious friends that pick me up and laugh with me when I feel tossed about.

Since reading Bob Goff's book Love Does, I have been more aware of people doing love. Have you seen someone in action who believes that love DOES?

Those three guys- I took their pic with my phone (Judge if you must.... I take lots of pics of random people. I may have one of you.). Or look below for true friendship in action.

There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

Fascinated by the Light

It was a normal "Mr. Mom" moment: I was changing Ben's diaper. He has always been fascinated by lights: Christmas lights are the first ones I remember, because he was about three months old at that time, but he loves the lights in the youth room, the light from my phone, and light just about anywhere you can imagine.

Butt...back to the diaper changing (see what I did there?)...

As I finished changing his diaper, I picked him up and he was staring at the light in the ceiling. It's an old pull-string, one-bulb light, so I figured I would lift him up a bit and let him pull the string. I had to help him a bit, but once we figured it out, he had a blast pulling the light on and off, on and off, on and off, on and off...okay, Ben! Enough!

He was fascinated by the light.

It takes some truly brilliant light to fascinate me; basically, a sunrise or especially a sunset. The colors, the dimensions, the shapes, the shadows: God's handiwork is incredible. What an Artist! However, other than something like the rise and fall of the sun, I'm not as fascinated by incandescent bulbs and such, as Ben Thomas is.

Lights serve a purpose. They're a utility. They provide a function and I appreciate them, but I am not enthralled by their beauty or brilliance.

My Mom is like me...always fascinated by sunsets. You can bet that on any given day, with a particularly beautiful sunset, I will get a phone call or a text to say, "Look at the sky!"

What about you? Are you fascinated by the light? Or have your senses become dulled like mine?

Are you more distracted by darkness than you are rapt up in the beauty of light?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1zFaPYKOPw]

Here's a few verses on "light":

  • God has delivered me from going down to the pit, and I shall live to enjoy the light of life.’ Job 33:27-29
  • For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. Psalm 56:12-13
  • Suddenly, God, your light floods my path, God drives out the darkness. 2 Samuel 22:29
  • Light, space, zest— that's God! So, with him on my side I'm fearless, afraid of no one and nothing. Psalm 27:1-3
  • You're a fountain of cascading light, and you open our eyes to light. Psalm 36:6
  • Light-seeds are planted in the souls of God's people, Joy-seeds are planted in good heart-soil. Psalm 97:11

Is that you? Are you someone who plants "seeds" of light? I want to be that person! I want to plant the light of God in others! And I want to look for the light of God in everyone I come into contact with!

Jesus said, "You are the Light of the World"!

Gigi reminded us last week that we are all stamped with God's image, so I believe the light of God rests within everyone, no matter how dark their outsides may seem. Do what Romans 12 says and "look for the beauty (light) in everyone".

Just as lights have beauty and serve a purpose, every person on this earth has beauty and purpose. And that is truly fascinating!

Give To Caesar

Matthew 22 was the text for this morning's sermon.  I was taught something new, and I love that. The story was familiar. The Pharisees were trying to trick, trap, and kill Jesus.  One question they asked him was this:

"So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" Matt. 22:17 MSG

Jesus asked if anyone had a coin. He wanted to see it. So he was handed a silver piece.

"This engraving- who does it look like? And whose name is on it?" Jesus asked.

They said, "Caesar."

Jesus replied "Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his." Matt. 22: 20-22 MSG

Here is the part I had never thought about until this morning.

Jesus determined what belonged to Caesar by the image engraved upon it.  Then he said to give God what is God's. But what is God's? If we use the same standard of judgement, we should give God the things that bear his image.

Genesis 1:26 tell us that YOU and I bear the image of God.  He created us with such a fierce love, that he stamped his image in each of us so there is no question whose we are.

Will you give God what is his? He is asking for you.  And if there is any question, just look-  you will see that you already belong to him.

Grace isn't blind.

Remember "puppy love"? That time in life when love seemed blind and you felt on top of the world? Girls, your parents and your best friend told you "He is a loser", your Grandpa assured you, "that boy ain't nothing but trouble", but you were blind, deaf, and basically completely handicapped in love.

With a loser.

In those instances, we want to say, "love is blind", but really the opposite is true of both love and grace. It's the fact that love and grace see it all and still choose the "bottom feeders" of society just as often as they choose Mother Theresa, Corrie ten Boom, Billy Graham, and every other saint on your list, that make them truly unique.

I love the book, "The Hiding Place", Corrie ten Boom's story of hope, grace, dealing with weakness, anger, and so much more in the face of the Nazis. In the preface of the book, she is quoted as saying:

Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.

She goes on to tell a gripping story at the end of this book (pg. 215) that sheds such beautiful light on the lie that "love is blind":

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck.  He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time.  And suddenly it was all there--the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie's pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing, "How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein." he said.  "To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!"

His hand was thrust out to shake mine.  And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them.  Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?  Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand.  I could not.  I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity.  And so again I breathed a silent prayer.  Jesus, I cannot forgive him.  Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened.  From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His.  When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

Her memory was sharp.  She remembered the showers, the pain, the mocking, and all the other experiences from the concentration camp, yet God gave her His forgiveness to pass on to this man.

Grace isn't blind.

Grace is the strength I had to forgive my child molester.

Grace is the strength you have when you give your drunk spouse a second chance.  Or your cheating spouse.  Or your deadbeat Dad.  Or your addict of a Mother.

Grace is often more messy than beautiful.  It isn't blind.  Grace sees it all.

In a world full of judgement, where there seems to be no forgiveness, where hearts and minds are filled with hatred and segregation, Grace chooses to see it all and love in spite of it all.

Grace is Messy.

 

Just Breathe

It's involuntary.

It just happens. You don't have to think about it, it doesn't require focus and concentration, you just DO it...

Until you're underwater.

Until you're drowning.

Until that life-giving oxygen gets replaced with something that doesn't belong and your lungs and nostrils fill up with something that's not supposed to be there and you begin to choke and cough and clamor, just trying to breathe again.

HELP! You might scream inwardly or publicly.

HELP ME! I'm drowning! I can't breathe! I'm overwhelmed!

The bills are too much, the baby won't stop crying, final exams are a week away, my wife's a $#%^, my husband's an #$@*#, work is demanding more than I can give, and I just want to QUIT!!

Ever been there?

Have you ever said something like Daniel, "How can I, a lowly servant, speak to you, my master? I'm paralyzed. I can hardly breathe!" (Daniel 10:17)

I've been there a great deal lately, just barely breathing. Have to force myself to stop and take some deep breaths, relax my shoulders, and just BREATHE.

Later in that same chapter, the Master responds to Daniel and says, 'Don't be afraid, friend. Peace. Everything is going to be all right. Take courage. Be strong.'

Let Jesus come to you in your time of stress, frustration, discontent, and worry. Let Jesus calm your anxiety. Let Grace get messy with you and your issues and calm your sea.

It's all going to be alright.

Just take that one step that He has placed in front of you today.

Don't worry about tomorrow.

Just breathe.

 

Holy Tires, Batman!

Thursdays, I am the faculty sponsor for the Christian club at the high school where I work.  "First Priority" starts at 7:15am, which means I have to leave my house by 6:15am to arrive on time.  As I was backing out of my parking space, I noticed the tire pressure sensor was on, so I stopped at the gas station, which just happened to be half a block from the fire station where my Dad works.

I hurriedly pulled in to check the tire pressure and found a nail in the sidewall of the tire.  I'm no mechanic, so I called my Dad, hoping he'd be at work...and he was!

"Hey Dad, I've got a nail stuck in the sidewall of my tire, can you patch it real quick?  I'm at the gas station right by the fire station!"  And the former mechanic replied, "Sorry buddy, you can't patch something in the sidewall.  You'll need a new tire.  But come on over and I'll help ya get the spare put on so you don't miss work."

So I drove on over, a bit discouraged and more than frustrated (tires are about $100 apiece).

We swapped the tires out and my Dad said, "Let me take the old one and I'll replace it for you today while you're at work.  I know you won't be back before the store closes this afternoon."

You can't patch it, you need a new one.

And you can't do it yourself.

Let your Father handle it.

That's what Love Does.

Love doesn't just patch your holes and hurts.

Love replaces.

Love doesn't just mend.

Love gives you something brand-new.

Love goes out of his way to meet your needs.

Love does the impossible.

Love is a Grease Monkey with dirt under his nails.

Love fights fires.

Love coaches little league or takes you fishing.

Love sits through a choir concert or a school play.

Love works three jobs and shops at the thrift store.

Love does whatever it takes.

Love Does.

 

I Don't Like Messy

We have been taught to avoid messes. “Wash your hands.”

We have been taught that tidy is preferred. “Clean your room.”

We have machines that wash our clothes, clean our floors, and sanitize our dishes. Who doesn’t know the slogan for Bounty paper towels? I know in your brain you are saying “The Quicker Picker Up-er!”

Why shouldn’t God’s grace be neat and tidy too?

Here is how dictionary.com lists messy:

mess·y

1. characterized by a dirty, untidy, or disordered condition: a messy room.
2. causing a mess: a messy recipe; messy work.
3. embarrassing, difficult, or unpleasant: a messy political situation.
4. characterized by moral or psychological confusion.
Disordered! Messy work! Embarrassing! Confusing! Does this sound anything like the Grace of God to you?
It does to me. And it makes me smile.
Untidy, disordered- means EVERYWHERE, and not caring where that everywhere is. Under stuff, on top of stuff, around stuff- even if it’s yucky stuff. Grace has been shown to me at my lowest moments. At times when I could have and maybe should have been rejected. God’s grace wasn’t afraid of getting everywhere and surrounding my disordered condition. NOT tidying it up. NOT waiting until I was tidy before it came in. This Grace that gets everywhere is extended to everyone. On the cross, Jesus prayed "Father, forgive them; they don't know what they're doing." Luke 23:24
Causing a mess? Dirty work? Jesus caused a mess many places he went when he showed grace to others. I read today about the healing of the blind man, that required spit and dirt, touching a blind man's eyes with muddy hands, upsetting a down, and causing the man and his parents to be interrogated, intimidated and insulted by the church leaders! Then the leaders threw the man OUT in the street! That's a mess for sure! John 9
Embarrassing? Difficult? What about the looks Jesus must have gotten when he was found talking to the woman at the well? The Message says "No one said what they were they were all thinking, but their faces showed it." John 4 And not just Jesus- but the Samaritan woman herself? Having to admit she has had five husbands and currently the man she was living with was not her husband? That must have been quite difficult and humiliating to admit. But then GRACE! And out of that grace she witnessed to the town. Can you think of some of the many other examples like this?
God's grace is certainly characterized by moral and psychological confusion. It tends to go against what we have been taught. It goes against the rules created by man to keep order. I think that is one of the reasons we find it difficult to accept. Rocks were in the hands of those ready to follow the law and stone the woman caught in adultery when Jesus said “The sinless one among you, go first. Throw the stone.” They all walked away- I imagine with a lot of confusion to sort through. John 8
God's grace is messy. I don't like messy. I love it.

Maybe your favorite messy grace story is in the bible, maybe it's a story you lived. Will you share it?