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Vagabond Grace

Grace is birthed in a stable and though it is homeless, it welcomes whoever celebrates its coming. Grace pulls back the veil between heaven and earth; it turns the night sky into the glory of God. Grace is where shepherds dine with Magi and humble young parents play host to perfect strangers.

Grace wanders; he does not build a house. Grace searches for welcome. Grace calls at every door, but never trespasses. He stands at the door and knocks, ready to bring a feast inside. Vagabond grace is the beggar bearing treasure. We welcome the wretch into our home; he reaches into his threadbare bag and pulls out gifts more precious than gold. His satchel holds love, joy, and peace. He bestows patience and kindness. He fills the room with the fragrance of goodness, and leaves behind a map to faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Grace is the subtle hand of God before our very eyes. Grace gives thanks for a humble meal, and thousands sit and eat. Grace never condemns, yet somehow commands us to go and sin no more. Grace walks the pavement and it turns to gold.

Grace supplies our deepest need. We want a deliverer; God sends grace. We want to see power and the glory; God sends grace and truth. We want a king; God sends a Servant. Grace rules the world without title or rank. Grace has legions at his command, and never once calls for their aid.

Grace is never a tyrant—but forever a king.

A Grace Too Small

Here’s our problem: we suffer from a grace too small. We’ve lined up the chairs in neat little rows and called it grace. We never noticed: it has broken free. Right now it’s running wild in the streets. We suffer from domesticated grace. We think grace is pleasant to receive. We think it’s ours to give, as if could ladle raindrops from Niagara.

Grace isn’t safe: it’ll wreck your world. Grace assaults and grace subverts. Grace grabbed one man and knocked him off his ass. It rendered him blind and healed him three days later. Grace put him in danger time and again: shipwrecked three times or more, beaten with rods and sticks, stoned and left for dead. Grace used him like a ragdoll, overthrew an empire, and saved us all—even him, the foremost of sinners.

Grace assaults us in so many ways we are dizzy and dumb from its constant battering. We seldom see it coming, and after it’s gone we rarely know it what, exactly, just happened. Grace whispers and howls at the moon. Grace asks, and it’s the one telling us how it’s gonna be. It binds the strongman.

Grace sneaks into a crackhouse and holds the baby in the crib. It breaks into prison and sets the dealer free. Grace says, “Come, let’s reason together” even when the other side is incapable of true reason. Grace has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

Grace will pick you up in Kansas and set you down in Oz. You’ll pick up crazy friends along the way and discover the boss behind the curtain is just as screwed up as you are. Grace gives you ruby red slippers stolen off a dead woman’s feet, and they show you the way home.

Grace is a strong man’s game. It’s God’s game. He invented it and plays it full out. Good luck against Him. Grace huddles with the opponent, calls the play, and then runs the ball right up the middle. The enemy knows it’s coming, but grace never audibles: it executes the play—just try to stop it.

There’s only one way with grace. Surrender.

Why We Must "Die To Self"

Obedience is hopelessly out of fashion. The very word obey carries with it ridiculous notions of ancient kingdoms, stupid henchmen, or marital imbalance. Even among parents, the idea that we should teach our children to obey doesn't sound quite right--who are we to demand mindless obedience? Disobedience has always existed, but the idea that someone else should determine our actions is passé among North Americans of all kinds: believers and unbelievers alike.

Isaiah dwelt among a people of unclean lips. We dwell among a people of an independent spirit.

Our distrust of obedience flows from our fear of the other--the one whom we are to obey. Why should a woman pledge obedience to a husband who is filled with selfishness and pride? Why should a soldier vow obedience to a government pursuing injustice and oppression? Why would anyone put themselves in the hands of another? We are afraid of the other. What agenda does the other person have? To what purpose does someone else demand we do things his way? Following someone else’s will exposes us to exploitation and opens us to abuse. No one else could possibly have our good as the highest goal. And even if by some crazy chance someone else did have our best interests at heart, how could we be sure they had the wisdom or strength to bring it about?

We refuse to obey because we see the call to obedience as something foreign and alien to our souls. We hear the voice of the Other and put up our defenses because we think something from the outside is trying to invade our lives, our very being. Our life experience has taught us no one possesses the combination of good intentions, perfect wisdom, and effective power to win our trust. We have become convinced we must protect ourselves.

This lies at the heart of our reticence to obey the Heavenly Father. We resist the commands of God because we are not convinced he is good, or his intentions toward us are safe, or he has the wisdom or power to act on our behalf. It is an issue of trust. Church people tell us of his goodness, but our experience and fear tell us otherwise. A drowning man fights against the very lifeguard who is trying to pull him to shore, but the only answer is submission and harmony with the rescue effort. These are the very things our panic and fear tell us to resist. “Work together with me,” says the lifeguard, “and we will get to the shore.”

What if the Person who loves us most is also the one capable of showing us how to live? What if the Person who has the wisdom to see life as it really is the very one whispering instructions to our heart? “This is the way,” he says, and we feel his breath on our face. “Walk in it.” What if the one who has infinite power and authority wants to use his strength for our good? Our struggle flows from the fact that the news is too good to believe: the most powerful Being in the universe is also the one who loves us most. We are afraid of power because we have seen its abuse. We distrust good intentions because we are sure no one has the wisdom to navigate the maze of life.

It requires a daring imagination: what if we were created to sing in harmony with the One who writes the perfect song? To resist him would be to resist our own good. To harmonize with him would be to sing the song of life. What if obedience is not the requirement of an alien invasion but an invitation to our highest good? What if a life of submission is actually walking in concert with perfect love? All fear would be gone. Our stumblings would be met with our own desire to get back in step.

There is more good news to believe, even for those of us who call ourselves people of faith. We must dare to believe that the One loves us most is the truest guide, the surest hand, and fully capable of showing us the way. His way really is the best thing for us. We must see obedience as harmony with the Source of life, not rules and laws and regulations and requirements and chains and bondage. We must discover again that He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Start Christmas with a Thanksgiving Gift

At last: A Christmas devotional for incredibly busy people.

Each December day until Christmas, in one minute or less, you can capture inspiration that will enrich your journey toward Christmas day. Everyone's busy—and the holidays only add to the list of things to do. Yet Christmas is something more than a celebrated ancient ritual or a modern holiday centered on shopping.

God is still speaking through the Christmas story: the gospel narratives of Jesus’ birth are filled with encouragement and revelation: they proclaim the love of God and his wisdom for us today.

The practical eBook format means you can catch a devotional moment on the go: from your e-Reader, at your desktop, holding your tablet, or on your phone. If you can create enough space to read these one-minute devotions, you can carry their thoughts and ideas with you the rest of the day. Best of all, it's just ¢99:  Available for Amazon Kindle and Kindle Apps.

The paperback format is for bedside, fireside, or children-by-your-side reading. It’s also something novel—a Thanksgiving gift: imagine walking into your Thanksgiving meal and giving your host a Christmas gift. Or (if you are the Thanksgiving host) imagine your table with this devotional at each place setting. No one will forget the year they received a Thanksgiving gift. Available at Amazon.com.

Here’s a sample of the devotional:

From the Life of Joseph:

DAY TWELVE

Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19)

The narrative shows us what a righteous man looks like. In his confusion and pain, Joseph’s first concern was for Mary. How many of us would have this priority? Perhaps this is why the scripture labels him a “righteous man.” Joseph's righteousness is rendered not in terms of his relationship to God, but in terms of his relationship to Mary. True righteousness extends two directions—toward God and toward others.

Crackpots

Walk among the tombstones in any cemetery and you’ll see signs of the sure and certain hope of resurrection. Apart from Jesus, the grave is a place of grief and finality. But, to borrow Michael Card’s neat phrase, in Jesus the grave became a place of hope.

Our Lord had a way of turning things around. The cross, that Roman instrument of terror, became the sign of love without borders. The cross was built to bend others into submission; in Jesus the sign of the cross is an invitation to a kingdom filled with righteousness, peace, and joy.

One sure mark that “Jesus was here” is where the signposts of despair are set on their heads and become the evidence of his presence.

Nor is the mark of Jesus consigned to history: in Jesus, his people gather the sick to hospitals where we will pray for them, and if we cannot see them healed we will care for them. If our care is not good enough we will remain with them, because no one should die alone. We make a place for the orphan; the very ones cast aside by fate or the corrupted values of society become the objects of our affection and treasure. We go into the streets to find the homeless and hungry, and—even if they have no interest in our gospel—we give them food and warmth day after day in the hope that one day the message will take root.

All the while we ourselves are a disordered people, in need of these very ministries and more. We, who bear the good news, struggle to believe that anything this wonderful applies to us as well. Sometime God’s people will share news so good we dare not believe it ourselves. This means we ourselves are markers of the kingdom: flawed, broken, incapable, and often ridiculous, we are the vessels of unspeakable grace. We are the cracked pots who carry and leak the eternal treasure poured out from heaven.

This is why I love His church, because even as we carve hope into tombstones, we ourselves marked for death. Though we work in places of healing, we ourselves are subject to sickness. Even as we open our homes to others, we ourselves struggle with feelings of alienation. Who else would choose to use so mixed and fragile a collection of misfits? Only him who delights in turning refuse into treasure.

We ourselves are the markers of God’s kingdom who declare, “we have absorbed the worst the world and the devil have to give, and in Jesus, we have seen darkness give way to dawn.”