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There’s a persistent misconception propagated by a certain segment of the church that coming to Christ will make our lives somehow better. This is a nice sentiment, and certainly a prima facie case can be made for its veracity.

There’s just one small problem:

It’s not true.

Jesus Himself said “In this world you shall have tribulation.” In other words, trouble. He promised us trouble. Not only this, but He also counsels us to “take up your cross, and follow me.” That doesn’t sound like much fun.

Elsewhere, we are told to “consider the cost,” “deny yourself,” and that we will be hated.

The fact is, Jesus never promised a best life now, but rather lives full of trouble, where we are often at odds with the world… and with ourselves. “The Spirit lusteth against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit.” Point is: being a Christian ain’t easy. In fact, it’s harder to believe than not to. It would be far easier to go along, to stop swimming against the stream–to surrender to the voices and vices clamoring for our attention.

But who else has the words of life?

To whom else may we turn?

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. There’s no other. The world screams that this is too exclusive, and something in us wants to whisper consent: it is too exclusive–there’s got to be another way.

There isn’t.

The late, great Chesterton said it best [regarding Christianity], “God and man made it, and it is making me.” And that is our problem: we don’t want to be made, or re-made. We’re just fine thank-you very much. Which proves how not fine we are.

And how much, loath we are to admit it, just how much we need Jesus. Which is just where He confronts us: right in that place of need. But we don’t want to need. We’re strong, independent… and full of pride.

Just what, I wonder, is easy about confronting the pride inside? Yet this is what Christ requires: this unflinching look within. It’s… painful to say the least. And pain is the one thing we instinctually withdraw from–because that instinct counsels self-preservation. Which is what Jesus says will kill us: “He that saves his life shall lose it, but he that loses his life for My sake and the Gospel shall find it.”

We, as Jesus did for us, must give up that one thing which is most precious to us: our one and only life.”

And it hurts.

And it frequently does not make this life better. Because Jesus didn’t die to make this life better, but rather to give us a new life–one filled with live, yes. But one marked with sacrifice, denial, pain.

Much like His was.

Have you consider the cost?

I find the older I grow, and the longer I walk with the Lord, I’m less apt to pray for justice when I’m maligned, slighted, hurt, what have you. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I pour out my frustrations to Him with Whom we have to do. It’s just that when I’m just about ready to hurl damming imprecations heavenwards a funny thing happens:

It dawns on me that I’m a sinner, too. That there but for the grace of God go I. Because if I start praying that God would exact righteous justice upon those who have hurt me, what can I reasonably expect from Him? I deserve His justice just as much.

So I beseech Him for His mercy. For those who have hurt me (who are so obviously hurting themselves), and for myself. As it says in the Scriptures, “In wrath remember mercy.”

We are all of us alike before Him. We are all alike in our need of Him. “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has the caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”

Remember: hurting people hurt people. Don’t be so eager in your quest for swift justice that you forget it’s justice you yourself deserve, too. Thank God for His mercy today, my friends.

Because none of us deserves it.

This year, my favorite Christmas present wasn’t a gizmo, a gadget, a phone, or some other compellingly cool technological marvel.

I didn’t get:

An Amazon FireTV

An AppleTV

A new laptop

Or even any books (e, or otherwise).

No, my favorite gift this year was from my eight-year-old daughter (with an assist from mom, who took her shopping), and uses technology that’s been around for centuries.

While the other things would have been nice, displaying a knowledge of the things I like (and would have been appreciated), what I got shows me just how special I am to a certain little.

It shows me how loved I am.

It’s not really even so much the gift itself as it is the sentiment behind it. So just what is this magical gift?

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Just a couple of bracelets–which happen to mean the world to me. Thank-you, Bella, daddy will wear them with pride.

Love you.

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Today my wife and I are celebrating our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary. While it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses, it’s been good. It’s had its ups and downs, its victories, defeats, and disappointments. In short, its been a real relationship–one where it has been safe to know and safe to be known. My wife is a wonderful woman, full of life, love, and forgiveness. And I’ve needed every bit of it. If I were Catholic, and believed in their process of canonization, I would nominate her for sainthood.

I love you, Lisa! You’re my best friend now, forever, and always. I thank God for you everyday.

Happy anniversary!

Grace is a subject inexhaustible. A well whose depths we could never hope to fully plumb, a tower so high we could never hope to scale its heights. Perhaps then it’s easier to begin a post on grace by stating what it isn’t:

Grace isn’t mercy.

Mercy, for the purposes of discussion here, is simply the withholding of something deserved. For instance, let’s say you’ve been pulled over by one of our boys in blue for speeding. Both you, and he, know you deserve that ticket. You were speeding. Instead, the officer lets you off with a warning. You’ve just received mercy. A deserved consequence has been withheld.

How would grace play play out in a similar situation (for the sake of argument, please bear with me here)? You were speeding in your battered, beaten old Chevy. You stop. The officer approaches your car. You figure you’re going to get a ticket for sure. You’re not getting out of this one. When the cop asks you to exit your vehicle, you know you’re toast.

And then…

Not only does he give you a warning, he also hands you to the keys to his supercharged Dodge Charger. He says it’s yours, and to go on your way. You deserved a ticket, and instead got a new car!

That’s grace, my friends. Erstwhile theologians the Newsboys put it this way:

“When we don’t get what we deserve it’s a real good thing.” (Mercy).

“When get what we don’t deserve it’s a real good thing.” (Grace).

Put another way, and let’s say you’re a parent, the difference between mercy and grace is the difference between merely withholding a deserved consequence from your child (mercy), and instead bearing that consequence yourself–and then taking your kid out for ice cream! While the two go hand-in-hand, there’s nevertheless a vast divide betwixt them. As defined by the theologians, grace is “the unmerited, unearned favor of God.” We did nothing to earn it, nothing to deserve it, and yet He pours it out upon us.

Why?

Because Jesus.

Not only did He take our deserved punishment on the cross, He now pours out unearned, unmerited blessings upon us. Like the example above, we deserved a ticket, and instead got the new car.

All we have to do is believe.

The late science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein coined the phrase “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” (TANSTAAFL). Respectfully, Mr. Heinlein I disagree. There is, and it’s called Christianity. Specifically, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Romans 5:8 says, “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” All who call upon His name shall be saved.

Have you called upon His Name today? Have you experienced His grace?

You can–if you will but believe.

Thanks for reading!