2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” Romans 12:17
Do you ever pay much attention to bumper stickers? I find them fascinating! You can be driving along and in one minute see a sticker that says, “My child is an honor roll student at So-and-So Middle School,” and then turn the corner and see another car sporting the bumper sticker, “My child beat up your honor roll student”! Paul Harvey tells a great story about a car with two stickers decorating its back bumper. On the left side, were the words: “Jesus is coming!” On the right: “Escape to Wisconsin.”
Often, bumper stickers tell others where your loyalties are. Your choice of automotive adornment may declare your allegiance to a favorite sports team, a chosen political candidate, or a specific issue or cause. The sticker proclaims that you are committed enough to the cause, issue, team, or individual, that you are willing to let even perfect strangers know where you stand.
Even in the church-world, we have gotten into the bumper sticker thing. Options range from a simple fish, to a cross, to a clever slogan (such as “Warning: In Case of Rapture this Car Will Be Unmanned”). It might be a fun way to proclaim your loyalty to Christ, but I’m not sure that pithy comments on a car bumper are what’s needed to effectively communicate God’s grace to a world that is mired in sin and hopelessness.
In today’s text, after the apostle Paul instructs us to submit ourselves as living sacrifices to God (the only appropriate response to God’s mercy and grace), he spends the rest of Romans 12:9-21 talking about how that allegiance to God shows up in the life of a Christian. He gets right down to the heart of what sets us apart. In essence, he says that as Christians our lives should be marked by “reliable grace” toward others.
What do we mean by reliable grace? I’m glad you asked. Here’s a definition: “Reliable grace is the predictable action of abundant kindness, regardless. . . even to the most undeserving offender.” It means that people can count on you to pour out grace—active, predictable kindness—into their lives. It is unconditional and available even to the most undeserving of offenders. Anybody have an undeserving offender in your life? Your boss? Your spouse? Your boyfriend? Your kids? That’s your target. More than a bumper sticker, more than a fish or a cross on your car, more than a T-shirt or a WWJD bracelet, we demonstrate our loyalty to Jesus by extending His reliable grace to others.
You see, His reliable grace and abundant kindness has been poured out on undeserving offenders like you and me. So extending it to others opens up opportunities to talk about the real source of grace. God has asked us to proclaim the goodness of God’s forgiveness and mercy, but that can only be done in the context of our own extension of grace and mercy.
So today, look for moments to extend “reliable grace” to the people in your life. When you do, your loyalty and allegiance to Jesus will be more on display than if you had a bumper sticker emblazoned across your forehead.
“Accept what I say… I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.” Proverbs 4:10-12
My biology professor, Max Dowell, was an unapologetic southerner with a drawl as thick as deep-South molasses. And while I’m sorry to admit that I don’t remember a whole lot of biology (I never was much for the Latin names of frogs and the smell of formaldehyde), I don’t think I’ll ever forget the professor who probably had the words to “Dixie” scrawled on his boxer shorts.
Having grown up in New Jersey, I needed to listen carefully in class since his accent seemed like a whole different dialect to me. But through all the cross-cultural stuff, there is one thing he frequently said that has stuck. I even find myself repeating it with a southern twang of my own. What it had to do with biology I’ll never know, but periodically he would come out with the phrase, “Do right ’till the stars fall!”
We’d all agree that “Do right” is a terrific piece of advice. But coming to grips with that advice may be a challenge. I usually feel pretty good about what I do. And I rarely think I am wrong. But my best-intentioned moves in life are more like ready, fire, aim, instead of well-thought-through strategies on how to do what is truly right. Emotions have a way of pulling the trigger before I fully think the moment through. Rationalizations and excuses have a way of fogging my perspectives so that things that are clearly wrong look like pretty good options. Admittedly, most of the twisted and lame moments of my life have been a direct-connect to times when I have not done what is right. Times when I’ve said the wrong thing, expressed the wrong attitude, caved in to wrong thoughts and desires—and the list goes on. And if you are honest with yourself, you’re thinking that you have the same “Why did I ever do that/say that?” regret now and then as well.
We need help!
God clears the air by reminding us that, if left to ourselves, we are a risk to most anything or anyone nearby! So, admitting our tendency to repeated misfires is a good beginning. But where do we go from there? Embrace the wonderful fact that His will and ways are always right. When we take our clues from Him, we start being right more often than we’re wrong as we measure all we do by His will and His Word. He is right about forgiveness, generosity, patience, tolerance, humility, and giving our boss a good day’s work. In fact He is right about everything! That’s why He is a righteous God.
We nicknamed our professor “Do Right Dowell.”
I wonder if anyone would give you a compliment like that? Try living in such a way to give them a chance!
“You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:14
A short clip on the evening news recently featured a suburban high school’s attempt to address the spiraling epidemic of teenage drinking. The reporter attended a parents’ forum at the school and then spotlighted reactions from the parents after the session. One mother had it right when she said, “I was reminded that I cannot be my child’s friend right now. I have to be my child’s parent. One day we will be friends, but for now, I’ve got to be the parent.”
Ever since I heard that, her comment has been Velcroed to my brain. Not just in terms of parenting, but in terms of our relationship with God. Quite frankly, most of us would rather think of God as our friend rather than our parent. Thinking of Him as our buddy, or as the one who “has our back,” has a nice ring to it. And there’s nothing wrong with that perspective. He actually welcomes us to a friendship with Him. In John 15:14, He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” But it’s more than just friendship; it’s the obedience part as well.
In fact, it’s not until we understand and appreciate the parental authority of God the Father in our lives by heeding His instruction and seeking to align our ways with His, that we will ever understand the true joy of being His friend.
But we need to be careful here. Even our thoughts about God as Father can be a little out of whack. We like the idea of a benevolent Father who supplies our needs, who protects us, and who loves to give us good gifts. And while all those things are true, let’s not forget that it’s the parenting of God that puts protective boundaries in place through His law. It’s the gracious parenthood of God that provides warnings along the way when we choose to turn away from God’s commands. Then, when necessary, it’s His loving discipline that reproves and corrects us—even painfully, if necessary—to draw us back to Him and to His good and perfect will.
Let’s face it, no one really likes discipline. We don’t want to be corrected. It’s not pleasant. But where would we be without it? Most of us, when we look back across the landscape of our lives can see numerous times when discipline was necessary to get us back on the right track. As the writer of Hebrews advised: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves . . . . Endure hardship as discipline” (Hebrews 12:5-7). But here’s the good news: “Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
Just as parents look forward to the day when the reproof, correction, and discipline of parenting give way to companionship and friendship with their kids, it’s no different with our heavenly Father. Our humble response to His correction and discipline will allow us to enjoy more and more of His friendship. So the question is: When God thinks of you, does He say, “I look forward to the day when I can be her friend, but for now I have to be her parent”—or, have you matured to the point where you are enjoying God as your friend? If I hear Jesus correctly, glad and grateful obedience is the key!