Saturday, July 30, 2011

Our Mutual Debt Whirlpool

There was a time in my life when I used credit cards; in fact, I overused them. At the time, I made excuses. “I need this.” “I’ll pay it back in a couple of months, no problem.” “It’s Christmas, and I’ve got to get the kids some stuff.”

There was ALWAYS some reason to keep spending.

The balance kept growing, and I kept getting further and further behind. Still, I would tell myself that someday soon I’d get a handle on it. Surely, I’d eventually start making enough money to pay it off. I just had to take care of the immediate “need,” and then I’d begin to pay it down.

Up and up went the balance. Deeper and deeper went my debt.

Occasionally, I’d reach my personal debt ceiling. It was the limit of my credit card.

That would stop me. Right? It was a hard stop. Right?

Wrong.

As soon as I would get anywhere close to that limit, the credit card company would raise my debt ceiling, and deeper I’d go.

Remember the line from the old song: “Another day older and deeper in debt.”

Sometimes, people get to the point with their debt where they start taking out other credit lines and credit cards in order to pay the payments on the debt they have already developed. They are trying to spend their way out of a crisis. They borrow from Discover Card to pay Mastercard.

The whirlpool gains momentum and the downward spiral begins to spin out of control.

When a person gets to this point, you know the end is near. Bankruptcy is imminent.

Thankfully, I never got to that point. I got a grip on reality and made appropriate personal changes.

If all this sounds familiar, it is because this is what our government is arguing about right now.

It appears that our government cannot seem to figure out these undeniable truths:

1. Living on credit is living on borrowed time, and time always catches up to you
2. What you borrow, you must eventually repay…somehow…someway
3. Just paying interest does not resolve the situation
4. Financial stability requires discipline and sacrifice
5. Sometimes, you just have to say “NO”
6. Spending less than you earn is the only way to get ahead

Try telling someone in the midst of living large on credit that they need to cut up their cards, and they’ll look at you like you’ve got a third eye in the middle of your forehead. (Is the Tea Party the ones with the third eye right now?)

Unfortunately, it often takes until the sheriff comes and takes the house before some people learn their lesson.

What is it going to take before the government of the United States of America learns this lesson?

They are arguing in congress and the White House about raising the debt ceiling…so they can just PAY THE INTEREST on our debt. They want to borrow more money to pay the interest on what they have already borrowed. They aren’t even touching the principal.

The swirl of our debt whirlpool is about to overwhelm us.

Common sense should tell us that we cannot keep doing this. Hard choices are inevitable. We better start being willing to make these choices or we will one day soon be the United States of China.

We have obligations. We have needs within our society. People need assistance. We cannot leave our seniors out in the cold. We can’t let people die from lack of healthcare. We need to have a strong defense.

Needs and obligations. These are undeniable, and we must be true to them.

Now, all that said…how many of us are sick and tired of the arguments between the Democrats and the Republicans? I know I am. So, how can we get past all of the rhetoric and bickering? Can common sense ever prevail?

It better….and soon.

Maybe it is time for some other folks to step up to the plate. How about a coalition of business and industry leaders joining forces with leaders from churches, non-profits, and labor to find a NEW solution? Leave out the politicians and the financial titans on Wall Street. Let some folks who have to run a business team up with the folks who daily care for the needs. Put them in a room and don’t let them come out until they have a solution. We need to get out of the box we’re in and look at things from a different angle.

In some ways, the problem is simple. If I have a budget deficit, I either spend less or earn more income, or a combination of the two if I’m ever to have a balance sheet that is in my favor. If I have debts to pay, I can sell stuff off and pay my bills. On the macro level, the equation is still that simple, but the factors playing on the needs and obligations are so many and so varied that we can’t see the solution. Raising taxes isn’t the answer, especially if we can’t control the spending. Arbitrarily cutting everything to the bone is painful and we are so far down the hole that it probably won’t drag our butts back out.  Raise employment and you raise tax income for the country, but to do that we're going to have to start making things HERE again, and to do that WE are going to have to start BUYING things that are made HERE...again.

Maybe we need to sell some territories. Guam? Puerto Rico? How long until Hawaii is up for sale?

Crazy? Maybe so. I’m not really advocating that we sell off parts of our country, but if we don’t get a grip on reality pretty soon, we’ll be seeing even crazier things. No doubt.

Take a look at history because we seem about to repeat it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood: The Year of the Squirt Gun

When I was little, it was Cowboys & Indians. I got a little bigger, and it was games of Army. In the spring of 1977, it became all about the squirt gun.


I was fifteen and a freshman at Muncie Southside High School. It was a time of high insecurity, blackheads, pimples, and voice changes. I had almost survived my first year of high school without getting a swirly, and I was still consumed by “The Crush.”

I don’t know how it started, but that May, Muncie South was overrun with squirt guns. They were everywhere. Wet shirts. Wet walls. Slick marble and tile floors. Rumors abounded that some of the hoodlums were putting bleach in the guns, but I never saw any real evidence of that little bit of craziness. I didn’t bring one to school. I was too chicken.

I was convinced that as surely as I brought one to school, I’d get caught. I’d never been in trouble in school, except for a couple of times at Roosevelt Elementary; once in second grade when Mrs. Birch gave me a whack for talking too much and  another time when I got a whack for basically being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’d never been in Southside's Dean’s office and I wasn’t about to risk that record just to carry in a Smith & Wesson knockoff loaded with water.

So, for the month of May, I walked around school dodging stray streams of water, and watching all the fun everyone else was having. I almost made it to the end of the school year.

We were down to the last week of school, and I was sitting in Study Hall. To my left was my good friend, Collin. Across from me was the one to which my heart was still bound…the object of “The Crush.” Of course, she didn’t know it. I was the only one privy to that little piece of information. Tena was studying. I was,…well…I was busy being a fifteen year-old boy.

In my puberty driven mind, a light bulb flashed on with a bright idea. It was brilliant. It was a stroke of genius.

You see, my buddy Collin, he had a squirt gun on him, and I just knew that if I borrowed the plastic weapon and shot a stream of water at Tena, she would….she would…well….she’d notice me. She’d look at me. Well, a guy can hope anyway.

“Hey,” I said in whispered tones. “Can I borrow your squirt gun?”

“Sure,” he whispered back, and he handed it over to me under the cover of the study table.

With stealth, I carefully angled it over the edge of the table. I took aim at the area where her beautiful brown locks of hair fell down across her homework paper.

I fired.

I missed.

The stream of water flew with a marvelous angle over her shoulder. It flew with grace, and it carried with it my avoidance of the Dean’s office. You see, it didn’t fall safely on the floor, nor did it harmlessly hit a wall. Nope. It hit a girl I didn’t know at the next table.

It would have been nice if she’d just said something like: “Darn. I’m a little wet, but it’ll dry. It’s only water.”

But, no. She said a bunch of other things…in a very loud voice. She said words that would scorch the earth. She said stuff that she wanted to do to me. Stuff that she thought ought to be done to me.

I said “I’m sorry. It was an accident!”

She screamed some more things that ought to happen to me. Stuff she was determined would happen to me.

By now, she had drawn the attention of the study hall monitor, a woman I wasn’t particularly fond of anyway. On the one hand, the woman intervened and prevented my premature death at the hands of a slightly wet teenage girl. On the other hand, I was busted.

Of course, I had carefully slipped the gun back to Collin.

“Did you squirt that girl?” asked the monitor.

“Um, yeah. But, I didn't mean to.  It was an accident and I said I was sorry,” I replied.

Turning to the raging mermaid, she asked: “Did he tell you he was sorry?”

“Yeah, but…”

“Be quiet and sit down.”

Whew! That crisis had passed.

“Give me the squirt gun,” she demanded.

Now, I’m in trouble. I didn’t have it anymore. Besides, it wasn’t mine to give to her, and I couldn’t rat out Collin.  I was stuck.

“I don’t have it.”

“Where is it?”

I just looked at her.

She pressed on: “I said, ‘Where is it?’”

“Umm. I don’t have it.”

“Tell me where it is!”

By the way, Tena is definitely looking at me by this point. What a brilliant idea.

The pressure was mounting. The monitor’s temper was getting short. I was about to be in some major trouble.

“Where is it? Tell me right now!”  She demanded!

“Ummm,…” I started.

Collin spoke up. “Ma’am, it’s mine,” and he handed it over. He gave himself up for me. Wow. I couldn’t believe it. I was amazed. I was relieved. I was sent to the Dean’s office, …where I was left to sit for an uncomfortable amount of time dreading my expulsion from school with only two days left in the year, ...before being released back to class.

I never got in real trouble from that event, but it just proved my original premise that I should have nothing to do with squirt guns in school. Later, I thanked Collin for fessing up.

“No problem,” he said. “That one leaked anyway.”

You would have thought that I would now be done with squirt guns, but that was not the case. I couldn’t have them at school, but I could still go crazy with them at home, so I went out and armed myself with one of the coolest water weapons I could find in the days before Super Soakers.

So, here I am wandering around the neighborhood looking for something to shoot. I could have been as mischievous as some of the other boys in the hood who targeted the gorgeous young woman who was lying in the sun…on her stomach…with the bikini top undone to avoid tan lines…but, I’m not that stupid. I’d learned that squirting nearby girls is not a good idea.

Nope. I’m not that stupid. Apparently, I’m even more stupid.

Instead, I learned that if you squirt a bumblebee, it gets waterlogged and can’t fly.

One wonderful sunny day, I was out in the back yard with my gun stalking helpless yellow and black critters, and enjoying the pleasure of seeing them struggle against the waves of water shoving them off of the clover blooms. Squirt, squirt, squirt! Bzzzzzzzz. Squirt, squirt, squirt! Bzzzzzzz.

Hours of fun.

Somehow, my stalking carried me over the fence into my neighbor, Betty’s yard. It had been her attractive daughter who had been lying in the sun previously, when I displayed enough sense not to fire at her lotioned up skin, but this day the yard was empty…except for me and the bumblebees. So, I soaked one up real good. I watched it struggle down in the grass and then crawl back up on the flower. Squirt, squirt, squirt. I did it again.

I had my fun and I sat down on the end of her carport that paralleled the side of her house. My feet were in the grass of the back yard.

I don’t know how I ended up with the large stick in my hand, but I had the gun in my left and a large stick in the right. I had probably been poking the bee with it. Anyway, there I sat relishing the joy of insect abuse, soaking up the rays of the springtime sun.

I looked down.

On my right leg…crawling over the side of my knee…ominously staring at me with tiny, hateful insectile eyes…was that water-logged bumblebee….threatening me with a wicked stinger!

“Aaaahhhhhhh!” I screamed like a little girl! I jumped up and began swinging that stick in self-defense!

Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! Over and over again! As fast as I could! Hard!

I don’t know if I ever hit that bumblebee…but, I sure beat the crap out of my own right leg.

I never picked on a poor, helpless bumblebee again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Christianity 101-Repentance

In the previous posts, we’ve been laying a foundation. Now, we are coming close to the point where we can truly put up the building. It is time for our part.


In review,…

God loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. However, we have all sinned. Because of His very nature, God cannot coexist with sin, and as a result we have separated ourselves from Him. Despite the sin on our part, God still desires that relationship, and He has devised a way for us. That way is collectively called Grace and is realized and provided in the person of Jesus Christ. The Grace of Jesus Christ is a gift, but we still have to respond to that gift. We have to take hold of it. In the last post, we read how Peter instructed those folks who were “cut to the heart” and ready to respond to the way that God had devised to REPENT and Be BAPTIZED.

(The Apostle Peter speaking…)

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Acts 2:36-39

Today’s topic is REPENTANCE.

What is it? Is it being sorry? Or, is it something more than that? Is there a difference between being sorry and really repenting? Since Peter said it should be done, I think it is critical that we each know and understand what it means to really repent. It isn’t a difficult concept, just one that has been watered down.

The word ‘repent’ is one of those religified words. What I mean by that is that it is a word that is a perfectly good English word, but its true meaning is lost because it has been relegated almost entirely to the realm of religion. These days, we are almost left to create our own definition.

The root of the word translated in the Bible as ‘repent’ means to turn or to return; to literally change directions. If I am walking east and I repent, then I am now walking west. I don’t just suddenly feel ‘sorry’ that I’m walking east. No, I have to go through a transition.

I realize that I am not going in the direction that I want to go.
I figure out what direction I should be going.
I decide to change directions.
And, I take action. I actually turn around and go the other way.

Repentance is an action word; not a feeling word.

So, what does this look like in action on a spiritual level?

The Apostle Paul gives us a very good description in 2 Corinthians:

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. II Corinthians 7:8-11

In this particular case, Paul had taken the Corinthian church to task because they were allowing a terribly blatant sin to continue in their midst without dealing with it. (You can read I Corinthians for the details.) Their response wasn’t to just feel sorry. They didn’t sit around and mope and think about how much Paul was mad at them. No, they took action. They made changes. The status quo was no longer tolerated.

They started out with sorrow, but they took it further. It drove them to repentance. See the difference?

Today, people feel sorry, but that’s all that happens. “I’m sorry,” they say, but there’s no apparent change of personal direction.

In thinking through this post, I began to consider just how much repentance I do in my own life. I have my own set of problems and things that I struggle with as any normal human man does. I fight and I win, I fight and I fail. But, the other day, I realized that I’ve been spending too much time being ‘sorry’ and not enough time actually repenting. In my case, I knew what I needed. I needed a friend to talk to, someone I could share my struggles with that I could trust and who would help me.

Suddenly, I had a choice. I could continue to be sorry and just fight these things all by my lonesome. Or, I could change course and do the things that I knew I needed to do to truly repent. I could take the path of least resistance and continue the viscous cycle I was on, or I could do the harder thing and be open and honest, taking the needed actions to create change in my life.

Which would it be?

I headed up the more difficult road of repentance. Last weekend, I spent some time with one of my best friends in all the world. I asked him if we could be what used to be called “prayer partners.” I let him know that I needed someone in my life that I could talk to, and someone who would understand and help me to be who I needed to be. It was such a very encouraging and refreshing time.

What about you? What is your course of action?

See, here’s the thing. If you are going to repent, you can’t do it under the cover of darkness. You can’t repent in secret. If you are going to do it, it needs to be apparent, out in the open, obvious.

John (the Baptist) said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”


“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “What should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
Luke 3:7-14

Trees do not bear fruit in secret. Real change can be seen.

Repentance is a simple concept.

For those just responding to the Grace of God found in Jesus Christ...
A. Realize you are on the wrong track
B. Decide to change tracks
C. Change

That is repentance.

The question is, are YOU ready to change?

Next topic: Baptism

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood: The Plight of the Enumerator

My youngest daughter is headed to college in just a few weeks. This summer, she has been trying without success to find a job to supplement her spending money while she is away at school. (If you are in the Indy area and you have a babysitting need or an odd job she could do for you, let me know.)  Her plight has brought back some memories. 

Thirty-one years ago, in the summer of 1980, I was doing the same thing in Muncie, Indiana.

Jimmy Carter was still President, and the economy was in awful shape. Iran was holding our people hostage, and we were learning the meaning of the word “malaise.” I was headed to college in West Virginia in August, and I desperately needed to find a short-term job so that I could get some money ahead.

That’s where the R.L. Polk Company entered my life, and I became an “Enumerator.”

The R.L. Polk Company was in town to gather detailed data from every single address in the entire city so that they could publish a new Muncie City Directory. They needed guys like me to go door to door to collect the necessary information. I found the ad in the Muncie Star and jumped on the job.

Now, on the face of it, it doesn’t seem like too difficult of a job. The way it worked is that the enumerators would show up at the Polk office out on Wheeling Avenue first thing each morning to get the sheets that listed the addresses that were to be covered that day. Then, he or she would head immediately to the appropriate area to begin the canvas. At the end of the day, we were supposed to just bring the papers back and turn them in.

Simple, right?

In concept, it was. In reality, they always gave you considerably more addresses to cover than any reasonable person could actually hit in a given day, and when you returned without completing your area….well, you’d have thought that you’d stolen the manager’s underwear or something.  Or maybe I'd started the Enumerating Apocalypse!

“You need to get this covered! If you don’t do better than that, we’ll have to fire you! Pick it up!”

The next day, you got your unfinished area, and then the next area too. Within a couple of days, I realized that I didn’t have time to walk from door to door. No. Rather, I was basically jogging or running pretty much the entire day, every day! By the end of the summer, I was in the best physical shape of my life!

Still, it was never enough. They constantly hounded me to get more done accompanied by more threats about my job. The whole month of July in 1980 I thought I was about to be fired.

When I started this job, I was one of maybe twenty or thirty enumerators and they had a constant flow of new people, but despite the constant threats, I was one of the last three that they held onto until the project was completed. I made it all the way to the end, and despite the threats, the company was a life-saver with regard to my money for school.

Along the way, I had a few interesting interactions in my door to door enumerating.

In a neighborhood near the Ball State University campus at a nicely kept older bungalow, I stood on a large porch and attempted to gain the personal information I needed from a guy who looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties. Today, it would be even more difficult to do this job because people are more careful about giving out personal information, but back then, I was expected to find out the names of all occupants. Their ages/dates of birth. Occupations. Did they own or rent. Phone numbers. Marital status. Etc.

So, I’m running down this list with this professional looking young fellow, and we get to the question about occupation.

“What is your occupation?” I asked.

“Jeweler,” he replied.

Time for a brain fart. I could not for the life of me remember how to spell the word jeweler. On top of that, being from the south side of Muncie, chances are that I was pronouncing it with one less syllable than the word actually contains… “Jewler.” So, I’m standing there a bit frozen in the process, trying to figure out how to spell the man’s occupation. He’s standing there watching me. I’ve got the paper on my clipboard held so that he could see what I’m doing.

I had a moment of brilliant stupidity. I thoughtlessly wrote the following:

OCCUPATION:   Jew.

Without thinking, I had abbreviated the man’s occupational status as a jeweler with a simple “Jew.” To make matters worse, what I had done sort of occurred to me as I finished so I gave a short little chuckle at what seemed to me to be a simple mistake. However, before I could acknowledge the error in judgment, the man said: “We’re done talking!” Then abruptly, he angrily stepped back inside and slammed the door.

I was left standing there, unsure of what to do next. Should I knock and try to apologize, or just leave? I can’t remember if I tried to knock or not, but I know I never spoke to him again.  I felt really bad that I had so offended him.

I promise, I’m not anti-Semitic. I was just a goofy teenage boy from the south side of Muncie who forgot how to spell jeweler.

In another occurrence, I found myself canvassing a little neighborhood of tiny two-room rentals on the east side of town, just off of 18th Street between Macedonia Avenue and Mock Street. In retrospect, it was probably ridiculous to even canvas these because I’m sure the turn-over there was fast and furious and the occupants would be completely different by the time the book was published, but there was no skipping it if I wanted to keep my job. After all, I was always on the edge of being fired.

As just a bit of background, I lived at 21st and Hackley Streets, which was just under a mile from this spot. For some reason, I decided it would be a good idea to park at home and walk over to this one, which was a mistake because it was further than I had really thought, and that turned out to be a major time-waster for me for that day.

The decision to park at home that day also gave me what I believe was a real brush with death. I had knocked my way into a few other uncomfortable situations, but this was the one as I look back that was the most serious.

2011 E. 18th Street in Muncie.  Sight of my dangerous encounter!

I entered the little community of tiny rentals and began my job. I worked my way around to the back, stopping at each little house and gleaning what useful (or useless) information I could along the way. About two-thirds of the way around, I stepped up to a tiny porch on which a rough-looking guy was standing, smoking a cigarette, and watching me approach.


“Good morning,” I said. “I’m with the R.L. Polk Company, and I’m going around getting information for a new city directory. Could I ask you a few questions?”

“No.”

“Are you sure, sir?” I replied. “This is an important project because it helps the police and fire departments in the case of an emergency.”

“No! I don’t want to be in your directory! Don’t put anything about me in that book!”

“Um, okay.” As I handed him a piece of paper, I added, “Here’s an information sheet. If you change your mind, just call the number.”

“I’m not going to change my mind. You’re not going to put me in there, right?”

“No sir, participation is completely voluntary.”

“Okay, then.”

I couldn't put anything in there about him if I wanted to because other than the obvious fact that he was paranoid, I didn't know anything about him.

I went on to the next door and put the man out of my mind. After all, I’d been doing this for a few weeks and he wasn’t the first one to refuse to participate. You just learned to move on. There was no time to dwell on the rejections. In the next fifteen minutes or so, I finished up enumerating the tiny collection of what looked like Monopoly houses and headed back to my house where my car was waiting to take me to the next neighborhood on my list.

I was walking briskly west on 18th Street and mumbling to myself about being so stupid as to park at home, when a car rolled up next to me. I looked over at the older, plain-looking sedan as it slowly paced me. It was the man from the little rental house who had adamantly rejected participating.

“Hey! You’re not going to put me in that book are you?” he asked with a serious and somewhat scary look on his face.

“No sir.”

“Are you sure? Because I really don’t want to be in that book!”

“No problem, sir,” I replied. “We won’t put you in there unless you want to be in it.”

“You’re sure now?” he pressed me a bit more.

“I’m sure.”

Frankly, I was significantly uncomfortable by this point. I had never had anyone act like this before, and the company had not prepped me on what to do with a reaction like the one I was facing. It was the middle of the day, but I was on foot with my car almost a mile away.

“Well, okay,” he said. And then, he seemed to think about it for a moment, and he asked, “Do you need a ride?”

“Um, no sir. No thanks.”

He looked at me a moment longer, and then drove off.

In the years since then, I have often wondered who that guy was. Was he a serial killer? Based on his reaction, he was obviously hiding. Hiding from whom? Hiding why? What would have happened if I’d been na├»ve enough to jump into that car with him expecting a quick ride over to my house?

Somehow, I just don’t get the feeling that he would have taken me home.

In August, my job with the R.L. Polk Company came to an end. I never got fired even though I was threatened with it right up to the last. In fact, about a week before I was to move to Williamstown, West Virginia for my first semester of college, I got a phone call from someone at the R.L. Polk Company.

“We were wondering if you’d be interested in considering a career with the R.L. Polk Company?”

My response? “Um, no thanks.”

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Christianity 101-Responding to the Gift of Grace

For new readers of this series, if you are just finding this particular series, please don't start here.  Go and find the other posts that pre-date this one, and start from the beginning.  The basis for what I am sharing here is built there.  Thanks!

Folks, it’s been a while, so let’s have a quick review.


A. God is all about the relationship. He loves us and He wants us to love Him back.
B. Sin separates us from God, not because He gets angry so much as because by His very nature, He cannot coexist with sin.
C. We have all sinned, resulting in a split with God.  Our sin causes a separation with God.
D. We cannot fix this in and of ourselves.
E. God wants the relationship back so He has devised a way. That way is collectively called GRACE.

Grace is a gift, the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. In short, Jesus IS that gift of grace.
It is important that we understand the foundational concept of grace because a misunderstanding can send us spiraling off in a couple of different directions. One way leads you to the perception that it doesn’t really matter what we do or how we live; a concept that some have called “cheap grace.” The other direction discounts the importance of grace, focuses on legalistic performance, and murders spiritual motivation.

I’ve witnessed one and lived through the other.

We have to understand that we cannot earn this grace. We do not deserve it. We cannot be good enough to gain it for ourselves. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren't some expectations from our Lord as it pertains to our response to the gift. We do have to respond to the offer. We do need to act in such a way that shows our appreciation. Grace should act as a primary motivator in our lives, if not THE motivator.

A proper understanding of grace humbles the heart and motivates the life. Any other response is fed by a misunderstanding.

So, the questions arise: How does one receive this gift? What is our proper response to this offer from God?

God did not leave us hanging. Nope. He gave us some examples. There is one place in the Bible where there are specific instances of people actually starting from a point of separation, responding to the gift, and moving back into a relationship with the Father of Creation. That place is the Book of Acts.  Examples galore!

Before we go there, I want to build in one more piece of foundation. Let’s look at Matthew 16:13-19.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”


They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”


“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”


Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”


Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

This is a famous verse; a famous interaction between Jesus and his friend Peter. There is a lot buried in that verse, and it could warrant its own post. In fact, that verse has inspired countless other writings over the centuries.

For now though, I only want to focus on two things: 1. Peter was given a set of keys, keys to the kingdom of heaven. 2. He was given the authority to BIND things on earth and LOOSE things in heaven.

Amazing. Keys are used to lock and unlock. Peter was told that he would have the authority to bind on earth and loose in heaven. Incredible responsibility. I wonder how he used that? Maybe we’ll see….take a look.

Now, to Acts, specifically Acts 2. For some background, as we enter the story, Jesus has been crucified, risen from the dead, and after spending some time with his followers, has ascended back into heaven. His followers now only number 120, and on this day, the Day of Pentecost, which is 50 days after the Passover (and roughly 50 days since Jesus’ crucifixion.), they are all gathered together. The church has not yet been established. It is still a loose fellowship of those left after the emotional events of the previous weeks.

There is a strange, rushing wind. There are tongues of fire. The Apostles begin to speak in various languages. And, then Peter stands to speak.

Acts 2:14-41

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:


‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’


Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:


‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’


Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”


Therefore let all of Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”


When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”


Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”


With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

This is known as the beginning of the church as a body of believers. All Christians trace their heritage back to this point. What are the key points of Peter’s sermon?

1. Jesus was accredited by God—Verse 22
2. God gave Jesus into their hands—Verse 23 (They had to make a decision about Jesus…just as we do. We each need to decide what WE are going to do with him.)
3. They put Jesus to death—Verse 23 & Verse 36 (Why did Jesus need to go to the cross? Because of our sin, right? This makes us culpable for his death also. We made him the only answer to the problem of sin, which brought about his death.)
4. God raised him from the dead—Verse 24 & Verse 32 (Do you and I really believe this? Stop. Think about it.)
5. Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God—Verse 33
6. Jesus is BOTH Lord and Christ—Verse 36

Let’s take a side trip for a moment. Jesus is both Lord and Christ. Our western sensibilities like the concept of Jesus being the Christ or Messiah or Savior. We like the idea of someone saving us. It’s the ‘Lord’ part that we struggle with. Lord = Master = King = authority over our lives. That part we don’t like so much. We don’t want anyone…even Jesus…telling us what to do.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Even if we don’t like it…He’s still the Lord. He still has the authority. Self-denial won’t change that fact.

Back to the point. What did these people know at the end of this sermon?

A. God sent Jesus
B. They rejected him
C. God raised him
D. He is now their Lord and Christ

Think about that. How would you feel if you found out that the person you thought you had killed was in fact alive, and not only that, he was now your Lord/Master/King?

Ooops. Time to hide. There’s a problem, though. You can’t hide from God.

How did the people respond to the knowledge that they had sinned against their God and His son, their Lord and Savior?

"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart…"

Cut to the heart.

Broken. Hurt deeply. In emotional pain because of their sin.

Have you been there? Ever? When was the last time? Now? What would it take to get you there?

“Brothers, what shall we do?” —What does this question tell us about these folks? I think the following:

1. They recognize their error (sin).
2. They are ready to change
3. They are open to whatever they are told…they aren’t going to fuss about the details.

Peter told them two things:

A. Repent
B. Be baptized

Would you fuss about those two things?  The first one is hard to do, the second one is really easy.  Typically, we ignor the first and argue about the second.  Does God scratch His head and wonder why we are such goofballs?

He (Peter…the guy with the keys…the guy who can bind and loosen) said that giving those two responses would provide them with two things:

1. Forgiveness of sins (That thing that has caused the separation from God)
2. The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Those that did it were “added to their number.” At the end of that single day, the church went from 120 believers to 3120 believers.

What a day!

In our next installment, we’ll explore the word “Repentance.” We’ll follow that up with another post on “Baptism.” Look for those two posts in coming weeks.

Adios...or Go with God!