Grace for days: The greatest love story ever told

When I think of my life, the moments of pain, stress, and disappointment, I wish I could say that I am quick to give grace to other people or even myself. Grace is a mystery. This is especially true when it comes to the grace of God.

I love how James Emery White defines it, 

“Grace, at its heart, is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do.” 

The crux is this, we don’t deserve it, especially when it comes to God’s grace. This is why grace is part of the greatest love story. Understand, I don’t think that we don’t deserve (to use White’s words) because we are vile, or as one hymn states “wormwood and gall.” What makes us undeserving is, well… we do dumb stuff. We hurt people and ourselves and create destructive patterns and pass them on to our kids. We push God’s love away. 

Yet, God continually comes and gives us unbounded grace. My favourite verses on this are found in Romans 5:6-8

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

We were powerless when we received God’s grace. We are like Steve Rogers (before being transformed into Captain America) being beaten up in an ally having to be saved by our best friend, Bucky. We are not the heroes in the grace story. It is God. It will always be God. Why? Just as verse 7 points out, as a whole, us humans rarely would give up our lives for a completely innocent person. We maybe, might possibly, if we’re in a good mood, give up our life for someone who has done nice things for us (what “a good person” is insinuating).

As verse 8 points out, we were none of those. We are not innocent. We have not given anything “good” enough to deserve the unmerited grace we have received. Simply while we were still sinners—while we were still opposed to God—Christ died for us. Unrequited grace. We didn’t want it, even though we needed it.

It is because of this unrequited grace that I love the theologically contested song, “Reckless Love,” by Corey Asbury. For God to love the way God does, while we reject Him is reckless. If it were our child who was chasing after someone they loved and that person continually rejected them and pushed them away, we would say they are being reckless. We might even say the same thing to a parent who has experienced incredible hurt and brokenness from a child. We might say they are enabling them by giving unrequited love. When we anthropomorphize this divine love, it is reckless. 

Saying all that, a love that perseveres is the thing that the greatest stories on earth are written of. Knights and dragons, princesses and witches, sleepless nights in rainy cities—as compelling as authors and directors have made these fantastic stories— they still don’t compare to the love that bestows grace and sheds it abroad upon our hearts freely to us.

We must always remember that the prerequisite for grace is, and will always be love. Tina Turner may ask, “what’s love got to do with it?” but our answer was, is, and will always be everything.

As John 3:16 famously states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his son.” It’s all for love and love for all. God’s love is bigger and grander, and because of grace. God would rather love us, give grace, and be hurt than to not have us a part of His family. Now that’s amazing grace.

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Keep the conversation going: Let’s keep talking about mental health

In my country, the phone company Bell has started a movement called Bell Let’s Talk. Over the years, it has brought a lot of awareness to the issue of mental health. Throughout January and February each year the conversation is revived, lingers for a few moments and then disappears. To be honest, it is a commercial for Bell, but at least it’s a commercial that benefits a good cause.

As great as the one day a year is at heightening mental health awareness, it’s more than a one-day event in a person’s life. Mental health is an issue that, for some reoccurs seasonally, others it is situationally, and unfortunately, for many, it is a struggle that will last years or even a lifetime.

Mental health should never be exploited. It is not a publicity stunt, it’s real life.

Bell Let’s Talk day needs to be the beginning of the conversation, not the start and finish. Depression, anxiety, bipolar, and the like affect families, careers, and friendships. It is life and death and not a conversation we should have once a year as part of an advertising slogan.

What we need to do is to keep the conversation going.

It is why I talk about it so much on this blog. Over the last few years, I have had to wrestle with my mental health. Better sleep, physical activity, better eating habits, recovering from injuries, has helped, as well as sharing it openly. The reason I write about engaging in community, having love and grace for others and ourselves, and sharing our heart with God is that it is a must.

The dark feelings that sometimes overshadows our light should never be a conversation but a continual conversation. We need outlets. As long as we hold the words in, they keep us captive. We find freedom when we speak our truth. It doesn’t have to be loud. It just has to be loud enough for a caring person who’s close to us to hear.

We need friends, therapists, and God.

Keeping our broken spirit to ourselves isn’t even Biblical! I’m sick and tired of a “positive confession” faith that says trust in Jesus, believe and it will happen. I once heard a preacher say that if you are Christian there is no room for lament. Well, what a burden that is. It’s certainly news to Jesus and the Apostle Paul.

The Scriptures spell out to us in numerous places that we must express the pain. Moses and Jonah ask God to kill them. David and the other Psalmists mourned, raged, praised, and poured out every imaginable emotion you can fathom. The book of Lamentations, one of the most beautiful pieces of art ever, is a book all about pain and anger. It is a book with no resolve.

Yes, Jesus changes the lament. He turns the cry, the mourning, the rage, but it’s not extinguished.

We must not forget.

You’re not a bad Christian. Jesus wept. He cried over loss. He wept over a city. He mourned in a Garden. King David sang song after song of struggle. Moses travelled through all of the emotions while trying to lead. These stories are not stories that say bottle it up, keep it hidden, stuff it away for one day a year. It is a plea for us to share all the broken pieces of our lives. Kinnaman and Lyons write,

“Pain, brokenness, and suffering are not to be avoided; they are to be endured because God redeems those experiences in order to renew us and bless others.”

Or as the Apostle Paul says,

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

There is no need for shame. Let’s share the pain. When we do, I believe that is when we produce perseverance, character, and, ultimately, hope through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and others. In turn, the shards of our broken soul are formed into a beautiful mosaic that articulates hope.

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In what ways have you dealt with your mental health?

Before you spend the holidays with family

Family can be great.

Family can also be stressful.

The issue is that it’s easy to let our guard down when we’re with family. I believe that subconsciously we think that we can say and do whatever we want, and the people that are close to us will love us regardless.

And this is why Christmas can be stressful.

We’ve eaten excessive amounts of refined sugar, we’re secretly dreading the impending post-holiday bills, we’ve stayed up too late watching Boy Meets World on Disney +, the kids have been acting like wild orangutans, and you’re about to have to put on the fake faces of appreciation when you open that sweater.

As much as family can be great, they also can be overly honest (let’s call it what it is, opinionated). “Have you put on weight?” “Have you lost weight?” “Are you ever going to settle down?” “If that were my kid, I would give them a smack.”

As much as family can be great, they can also be stressful.

What we must remember is that we are to be like Jesus. We’re to love indiscriminately. Maybe your family aren’t your enemies, but if we’re supposed to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), then we need to love our family too.

Love is a nice sentiment, but what does it mean?

1 Corinthians 13 spells it out perfectly,

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

While this may be an ideal we may never live up to this entirely, this Christmas when we reflect on what it means that Jesus came to start a kingdom of love let’s keep 1 Corinthians in mind. It may be hard but, this is what love looks like.

When your mother asks you again when you’re going to give her a grandchild, remember, love is patient. When you have to drop the kids off at the ex’s, remember, love is kind. When your husband gives you a spatula for Christmas, remember, love keeps no record of wrongs. When everything is going wrong—things aren’t adding up—remember, love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

When we can remember that love is a choice—a choice that is sometimes hard with those close to us—it can revolutionize our relationships.

Maybe your parents, spouse, kids, aunt Ruth, or grandma give judgemental stares and weighted nuanced comments that drive you completely nuts! You just want to react. I know I’ve been there. I’ve even done it. But there is a better way.

That better way, is to choose love. We choose to be patient and kind. We choose to love because it is what God chose for us. Romans 5 says it,

“While we were still sinners, Christ gave up his life for us.”

In a small part, we are now to do the same. Essentially, while your mom still judges your life, love. When your grandma comments about your weight, love. When you Dad disapproves of your life choices, love. When your ex is being difficult about seeing the kids, love.

If God does it when we oppose him and gave up his life at that, we can at least try this holiday season to pass the gravy in peace, loving despite the family drama, and demonstrate why there is good news for all people.

Why Jesus is better than Santa

My kids are all in on Santa. When I was their age, I was all in too.

I’m not down with those curmudgeon Christians who feel the need to destroy the folklore of Santa and flying reindeer.

Saying this, I don’t want them to get lost when it comes to the meaning of Christmas. I love that my kids love Santa, but I want them to love Jesus more.

I wanted to explain this in a way that even my youngest (who is four) would understand. So, I began to think.

Santa comes once a year on magic reindeer, magically slides down your chimney and leaving presents—like actual tangible, ready to open and use gifts that fulfill a young child’s lusts. Plus, he does all of this while you sleep.

That is pretty hard to compete with when it comes to the mind of a young child.

I began to think a little more…

“You better watch out / you better not shout / you better not cry I’m telling you why?”

Basically, you better be on your best behaviour, or Santa will rescind your gifts! And that’s when I realized that Santa is the exact opposite of Jesus.

They both bring free gifts (unlike your inlaws). The difference lies here in the simple fact that Santa’s gifts are based upon your behaviour. Jesus comes to bring a costly gift that has nothing to do with my good behaviour. Instead, it has everything to do with whom I belong. Jesus took our place and took the eternal consequences of our misdeeds upon himself.

I like how the Apostle Paul put it in Romans 5:6-8

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

When we had no power to save ourselves, while still rejecting God, He gave his life for us. It is the often-overlooked verse 7 that really sets poor Santa up for the fall, though. This verse points out the harsh reality of sacrifice. You probably would never give up your life for another just because they are a really good person. However, you might if that person has been good to you.

Here is where Santa falls. Santa requires our belief. Santa requires us to be on our best behaviour before he brings us a gift.

BUT GOD.

That’s all that needs to be said. But God.

Here’s the thing. Santa is a lot like us. Do good, and you will receive good in return. Jesus gives good because it is outside his character not to be.

But God shows us that He loves by giving up His life in our place, not because we were right in our thoughts and deeds, not because we have done something for God.

No, while we rejected him, denied Him, were complicit or active in crimes against Him, He gave His life for us.

Do you know what I said to me kids, “Do you know why Jesus is way better than Santa? Because it doesn’t matter whether I’m on the good list or the naughty list, Jesus loves me and gives grace to me no matter what.”

Yeah, there is more to it. But that is what is most important. Though I deserve a big lump of coal in my eternal stocking, I’ve been given unbounded relentless love. As the Apostle Paul says later in Romans.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38-39

Sorry Santa, but it isn’t even close.

Grace ≥Forgiveness

One of the revolutions that Jesus taught us was the power of forgiveness. During a time of revenge and equal compensation, Jesus flips everything on its head and says, “Forgive.”

The problem is forgiveness is hard!

Yet it is freeing.

Sometimes freedom is hard. Sometimes freedom is a push. But when you taste freedom, you realize just how worth it, it is. As Cook and Baldwin point out in their fantastic book Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness, “Forgiveness is not compromise.” However, when is enough, enough?

One day Jesus has a little powwow with his disciples. They are talking about so many of life’s issues. Greatness, sin, hurt. It is here when Peter, whether it be that he takes exception or just requires a little clarity, asks an important question that we have probably all asked.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matt 18:21-22

When confronted with how many times we are to forgive the repentant a person Jesus answer is, always. While Peter wants to quantify the number, Jesus states that true repentance’s response is continual true forgiveness. As Russell Brand points out,


“Forgiveness means letting go. It means being willing to accept that we are all mortals flawed and suffering, imperfectly made and trying our best.”

This doesn’t mean that there are no boundaries or consequence. It just means that both parties choose to live free of the infraction. Jesus articulates one of these critical boundaries as he explains what forgiveness is supposed to look like in our lives.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Mt 18:23–35

What becomes clear is that the reason we are to forgive is that we have been forgiven. No matter how many times we fall at the feet of Jesus confessing our wrongdoing, admitting that we can do nothing to make it right, Christ welcomes us. Again, Brand rightly points out,


“How can I expect forgiveness if I am unwilling to forgive?”

Though we live and fight the double standard that seems natural to us, Christ calls us to forgive just as we have been forgiven.

However, if we think forgiveness is all there is and you are waiting on the sidelines holding that grudge, waiting to forgive that person when they finally ask for it, you might have a rude awakening. While Jesus talks about the power of forgiveness, the reason that you can forgive is that we have done something first—we have extended grace.

So what is grace? To this, I look to people who are much smarter than me. Bell and Bell write,

“Grace doesn’t brush over our sins and failures and faults—it sees them clearly in all their Technicolor mess.”

Grace isn’t about ignoring what has happened. It sees it in its fullness. It considers the immense brokenness in what has happened. Brennan Manning points out,


“The gospel of grace announces, Forgiveness precedes repentance.”

Grace goes before. It is the first move. Grace says, whether you repent or not I’m going to be free and I’m going to free you. They may choose, and we often to do, to remain captive, but we refuse to and refuse to put them in the cell.

But why? Shouldn’t we want justice—for things that were wrong to be made right? Yes, we should. However, it is knowing that God is the perfect judge and choosing to say, in the words of Sting, “I could be you in another life, in another set of circumstances.” The apostle Paul explains grace to the church in Rome like this

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Rom 5:8

While we were still opposed to who God is—while we even walked our own direction—while we still admitted no wrongdoing, Christ gave his life for us. The day of the crucifixion, Jesus could have taken himself off the cross and said, “forget about helping all you ungrateful people.” Or while in the grave, as we waited for Saturday to end said, “well, they abandon me in a minute. They don’t really believe. Peace out.”

Though we didn’t deserve it, God showed us, love. He made the first move. This is the picture of a desperate Father running to his kid. Augustin writes,

“He did not delay, but ran crying out loud by his words, deeds, death, life, descent, and ascent—calling us to return to him.”

God knew we couldn’t do it on our own. That’s what the law was all about. God stoops his ideal to reach us. However, He knew we could never do it, that is why the law is proceeded with, “when you fail.” Though we had no power to pick ourselves up out of the muck of life, Christ can. If we back up from verse 8 to 6, we God’s love shining through. The Message puts verse 6 like this,


“Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway.”

Ro 5:6

If asking forgiveness is putting the power into someone else’s hands, then grace is God saying, I will put the power back in your hands. However, this isn’t power so you can lord over others. This is the power that allows you to step out of the prison cell Christ has opened for you.

This power Christ puts back in our hands is the power of humility. It’s the power to say, I can’t do it on my own, I need the eternal God. While forgiveness can create superiority, us waiting for someone else to look up and say I’m sorry. God gives grace. Grace lifts the other up and admits you are not superior, we are all the same. We all make bad choices, some more destructive than others, but we are always one decision away from finding ourselves in the same shoes. Grace is saying, but for God, I too would be lost to the eternal consequences of my misdeeds.

Grace is always greater than forgiveness

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