Tips of Grace

Not too long ago, LeSean McCoy, running back for the Philadelphia Eagles, was singled out by a restaurant owner for leaving a lousy tip.  The receipt was pictured and placed on the web to embarrass and shame him for his action.  According to McCoy, the service was terrible and the low tip ($.20) was all that was deserved.  In tipping poorly, McCoy made the statement that you get what you deserve and waiters & waitresses must earn their tip.
receipt3Another story that reached headlines was about Steven & Makenzie Schultz, who received less than stellar service due to the busyness of the restaurant.  Their wait was longer than most typical Americans would handle well.  In fact, they heard many customers complaining and saw some even walking out.  So, what did they do?  After a long wait and meal time, they gave their waiter way more than what was deserved… a $100 tip.

These two stories show two different approaches to similar experiences of poor service (though most likely not identical).  One approach is that a reward (tip) is based on earning it.  The other is giving a reward regardless of whether it was earned – which is based in mercy.

Whether they knew it or not, the Schultz’s demonstrated grace, that is, unearned favor. This tip of grace was given to the waiter, even though he was unable to perform to the standards of the customers.  The Schultz’s were aware of the waiter’s inability to measure up to these standards.  Their patience combined with their concern for his well-being led them to act with their grace-filled gift.

This act is an illustration of the grace that God gives to us…His unmerited favor for those He loves…us.  We know we will never be able to measure up to His standards of being righteous on our own.  It is impossible.  Yet, though we are incapable of measuring up to these standards, He is patient with us, and His great love for us led Him to act with giving us an unmerited gift of Jesus Christ.

Just as the waiter accepted the gift of the tip (though he knew that he hadn’t earned it), we are also given the choice of accepting the gift of Jesus Christ.  When we accept (believe in) Him (His death for our sins), we are stating that we cannot earn our way to heaven and we accept His sacrifice for us.  Jesus earned which we could not – eternal life in heaven through meeting the standard of sinlessness.  And we are given the gift of eternal life based on His merits and not on our own.  This is what it means to be “saved by grace” (Eph 2:8-9).

May we accept this grace given to us by God through Christ and may we demonstrate this same grace to others who have not earned our respect, love, tips, or our favor.

When You Are Disappointed in Your Spouse

couple6[1]As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, disappointment has been a regular occurrence.  Just when my hopes would raise on a great play, someone fumbled or threw an interception.  Real fans remain fans, even in such disappointment.  When there is continual disappointment, however, faith begins to wane and hope becomes hidden in the sea of disappointments .

As a married man, I can say that disappointment occurs on a regular basis.  Sometimes such disappointment is my feelings towards my wife, and other times it is my wife’s feelings towards me (I think even moreso).  It’s an occurrence that happens more frequently than I’d like to admit.  And as a marriage counselor, I can also say that disappointment occurs in every marriage to some extent.

This is not something we want to have inside of us, but we’d like to be happy with our spouses and the choices they make on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, though, this is not the case 100% of the time.  What causes such disappointment in our spouses and what can we do about it?

Disappointment in our spouses (or at any time) is often caused by three things:  Our expectations for them, our expectations for God, and other’s actions.

1) Expectations for Them – If our expectations are high, then chances are others will not meet them and of course, we will be disappointed.  We have set standards for our spouses and they remain unmet.  Sometimes certain standards are high and also appropriate.  For example, it is appropriate to have a standard that you will not be physically hurt by them, that they will remain faithful, that they will treat you with love and respect, etc.  It is inappropriate, however, to expect your spouse to do what you want when you want it.  If you come home and expect the house to be cleaned, laundry done, for them to clean up after themselves at all times, kiss you when you desire, be open to talk when you desire, etc. then you are clearly having inappropriate or high expectations.  You will be disappointed.  Our happiness is never found when others meet our expectations.  A happy marriage is not when others meet your expectations.  A God-honoring marriage is when spouses practice forgiveness, over-look offenses, and they recognize that their spouses are fallible – meaning that they are not designed to measure up to our expectations.  How could they?  They are self-centered sinners, just like us (see #3).

2) Expectations for God – Sometimes we look at God as the cosmic Santa Claus or the Soda/Pop Machine where we give Him our prayer dollars and expect to receive what we want when we want it.  We want God to live for us so that we become happy in this life.  If our spouses make us happy and do not disappoint us, then we are happy.  If there is no suffering, then we will be happy.  If we are disappointed, then we say that God did not hold up His end of the deal.  The death of a loved one, an unfaithful spouse, sickness, loss of job, whatever that may be – we blame God for not meeting our expectations.  Isn’t he a loving God?  Well He allowed this pain and suffering to happen!  If God allowed such pain and the end result of my prayers do not end as I would like, then He failed or God “didn’t work.”  In our marriages, we will be disappointed.  We may also be disappointed that God hasn’t “changed” our spouse or answered our prayers in relation to our spouses.  Perhaps this would be a good time to recognize that “His ways are not our ways,” that He has never promised us that we would not go through suffering, but that He has promised he would be with us always (Mt 28:18), even in our suffering.  The time of never-suffering will come, but not until we are with Him in eternity. (For more on this, read Philip Yancy’s “Disappointment with God“)

3) Spouse’s actions – Truth be told, we will be disappointed in our spouses…and probably many times.  We will be disappointed not only because we have high expectations, but because they are like us; sinners in need of a savior.  Their hearts are like ours, self-centered.  Their loving actions towards us are like ours towards them, tainted.  Some actions are out of pure love, some loving actions appear to be loving, but are self-centered.  And sometimes there’s a mix of both.  They also have expectations for us and when we don’t meet them, they get disappointed and angry, too.  As sinners, they will not only be focused on themselves, but they will intently harm us with hurtful words, by ignoring us, or by doing something they know we will not like .  When they purposely do these things, we are hurt.  We are disappointed.

The one thing we can expect in marriage is that we will be disappointed.  This disappointment is sometimes our fault and it is sometimes our spouse’s fault.  When we are disappointed, first we need to look at ourselves and our standards and expectations for our spouses and also for God.  We must understand that our spouses’ goals, as well as God’s goals, do not surround our expectations as though we are at the center of our lives and others exist to please us or meet our expectations.  On the other hand, we must recalibrate our lives and recognize that God is at the center and then practice forgiveness, adjust our expectations, over-look certain faults in our spouses, and love and honor our spouses.  We must also recognize that we are sinners first and we are in desperate need of a Savior.  If we solely focus on our spouses faults, we will place ourselves above them, judge them, and we will fail to recognize the change we need in ourselves…and we will remain disappointed.

For more in the “When You Are Disappointed…” series, click on the following links:

When You Are Disappointed in God

When You Are Disappointed in Your Life

When You Are Disappointed in Yourself

The Miracle at the New Meadowlands

Yesterday I saw one of the best Eagles football games I have ever seen.  Down by 21 points at half-time, the Eagles came back to tie it, 31 – 31.  With only 14 seconds left in the game, the Giants punted it (mistakenly) to DeSean Jackson, who returned it for a touchdown with no seconds on the clock, resulting in a 38-31 final score.  The media likened this “miraculous” ending to another win by the Eagles against the Giants many years ago at the (late) Meadowlands (1978).  Due to such an unlikely win and come from behind, the media have dubbed this the “Miracle at the New Meadowlands.”

With respect to the media, I can’t help but wonder why they would call such an event “miraculous.”  Unlikely, incredible, amazing……. yes.  But miraculous?  By definition, for something to be miraculous, it is has to be beyond unlikely.  It would have to be impossible!

This Christmas we are reminded of the miraculous by the Giver of miracles.  A virgin gave birth to baby boy, and they called him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Mt 1:18-25).  We know that in Jesus’ life and ministry, he had accomplished the miraculous.  He healed the physically disabled.  He cast out demons.  He healed the blind.  He calmed the storm (controlled the weather).  He healed the lepers.  He died for our sins.  He rose from the dead.  Nothing is short of miraculous in the life of Jesus.

Living in the 21st century, we read of all the good that he had done while on earth.  How does that apply to our lives today?  In addition to understanding the compassion, care, and love of God, the greatest miracle that still has affect today is the miracle of turning a heart like stone into a heart of flesh.  Due to the self-centeredness of our hearts, we cannot help but to sin…and the more we sin, the more we are powerless to stop it.  So, what is so miraculous about dying for our sins?  Well, we might die because of our sins, but we cannot die for our sins.  We may stop sinning in the flesh because of death, but we cannot, in ourselves, stop sinning.  We might be able to stop certain behaviors on our own, but if the motives of our hearts are not to glorify God (not self), than we are still in sin.  The miracle of Christ is that in his death, he died for our sins and rose from the dead.  This means that Christ took the power of sin over our lives (past, present, and future) in death and defeated that power by raising from the dead.  For those who believe, he has given us the Holy Spirit, and in this power we can not only stop a sinful behavior, but our hearts can now be free to glorify God (not self).

For the Eagles, I believe the turning point in the game was when Akers delivered an excellent, on-side kick recovered by the Eagles in the 4th quarter and they were on fire from then on.  For us, the turning point in our lives is Christ.  Recognizing his miraculous birth, his death, and resurrection for the atonement of our sins.  As much as I enjoy a great “miraculous” Eagles game and hope they make it for a Super Bowl win (which almost makes it to “miracle status”), I know that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is the greatest miracle we could ever ask for.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

PS:  If you would like to contribute to Foundations’ “12 ‘Yays’ of Christmas” campaign (12 new monthly supporters, 12 end of the year donations, 12 new ministry partners by 2012), please click on http://www.foundchristcounsel.org and click on the “donate” button!