The Side Effects of Grace

I got hit with a nasty sinus infection this week, which was, of course, a royal bummer right before Easter and Spring Break. On the upside, it gave me the chance to do one of my favorite things: reading the list of potential side effects on my prescription drugs. This is the best cure for whatever ails you. One glance at this litany of horrors is guaranteed to make you feel better about whatever is wrong with you.

Here’s the list of side effects from just one prescription I got this week: diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, headache, dizziness, chest pain, chills, body aches, cough, seizures, yellowed skin, fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, ulcers on the lips, weight gain, swollen glands, unusual bleeding and bruising, tiredness, spontaneous combustion and random outbursts of yodeling.

Okay, I made the last two up, but all the others are listed with this drug on the Mayo Clinic’s website or After reading that list, I suddenly don’t feel so bad. My theory is that doctors and pharmacists just make this stuff up in an effort to make us all feel better about ourselves.

Just once I’d like to get a prescription for something that has some positive side effects. Imagine picking up an antibiotic at the drugstore that had a big label on the side that said, “Warning, prolonged used of this product may cause unexplained windfalls of money, improved eye-sight and six-pack abs.” Now that would be one popular drug.

Some people treat their faith like this. They’ll tell you following God will make you rich, healthy and will chase all of your problems away. The only hitch in this theory is that the God of the Bible suffered and died on a cross and talks a lot about people who follow Him doing the same.

And yet, as painful as it can be to die to our selfishness and pride, the side effects of following God are pretty amazing. In fact if God had a warning label, I think it would say something like, “Warning: repeated exposure to this Divine Being may cause uncharacteristic patience with others, peace in the midst of hardship and frequent outbursts of generosity and love.”

I’ve never had much luck manufacturing any of these characteristics on their own, but when I focus on intimacy with God, sometimes I’m surprised to see this stuff popping up in my life as a by-product of that relationship. When I chase after a character trait, I tend to fall on my face. When I chase after God, everything else seems to fall into place.

Maybe, like me, you’re sick of trying to improve yourself and are a ready for a more effective prescription. I recommend a healthy dose of hanging out with the God who loves you, but I have to warn you, the side effects may change your life.

The Secret Strength of Weakness

Image: 'getting-huge.jpg' on

Image: ‘getting-huge.jpg’
Found on

I have a friend who is brilliant at his job but stinks in interviews.  The last time he applied for a job, they asked him two classic interview questions, “What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?”  He did okay on the strengths one, but when they got to the weakness part, he froze up, just couldn’t think of anything.  You know how that is. The pressure is on and you go completely blank.

Eventually I think he said he worked too hard, but by then they were trying to figure out if he was arrogant or just off his medication.

The whole weakness thing is one of the worst interview questions of all time and has turned even the most noble of saints into flat out liars.  Seriously, how are you supposed to answer that question?  Weaknesses?  Well, let’s see.  I never show up on time.  I’m pretty lazy, ridiculously disorganized and on a bad day have been known to start small fires.  Oh yeah, when my last boss tried to send me to anger management classes, I knocked out his windshield.  Will that be a problem?

C’mon, they don’t seriously expect you to tell them the stuff that you’re hoping they won’t figure out until they hire you, right?

Truth be told, the interviewer isn’t really asking you to talk about your weaknesses.  They’re asking for you to talk about your acceptable weaknesses and how you’ve managed around them.  Acceptable weaknesses include working too hard, caring too much and not being good at saying no.   Unacceptable weaknesses include pretty much everything else.

But that’s how it goes in America.  Even apart from job interviews we’re a culture that despises weakness.  That’s why we treat celebrities and the super wealthy like gods and neglect the poor and elderly.  That’s why we’re programmed from the earliest ages to hide our mistakes and pass the buck.  The last thing anyone is supposed to do is admit they’ve blown it.

Ironically God is really into weakness.  It’s ironic because, well, He doesn’t have any.  He is the source of all strength, and He knows just how weak we truly are.  He sees every flaw, every shortcoming, every ounce of weakness.  Yet, instead of despising or denouncing us, He treats this weakness as a perfect opportunity to show the world what He can do.

The Bible actually says that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.  In other words, when I’m authentic about the weakness in my life, I set the stage for God to do something awesome with me.  God doesn’t choose the strong to change the world.  He chooses the least of us so that at the end of the day when He breaks an addiction or mends a marriage or turns a life around, there can be no doubt who gets the credit.

Why is it important God gets the credit?  Well, first of all He deserves it.  Second, the more people who see what He can do with a messed up life, the more messed up people will bring their own weakness to Him.  If God can do something with a guy like me, then surely there’s hope for anybody.

So the next time someone asks you about your weaknesses, use it as an opportunity to brag about God’s strength.  When you’re honest about your limitations and dependent on His power, you’ll create the right conditions where God can do things with your life you never would have thought were possible.

Dumpster Diving Don Juan

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Image: ‘I Love Trash’
Found on

I dumpster dive for love.  That’s not a metaphor.  I actually drag rancid Hefty bags out of a trash can and sift through leftovers, discarded toiletries and things too disgusting to mention simply because I love my wife.

Trust me.  It’s romantic.  Maybe I should explain.

My wife has a bad habit of throwing valuable stuff away, things like bills, medication, our children, etc.  Of course she never realizes it at the time, but later, when the item turns up missing, it always ends the same way.

“I’ve looked everywhere for it,” she says. “I guess I must have accidentally thrown it in the trash.”

She doesn’t have to say anything else.  I know what she’s asking.  Will you my big, strong, handsome man please humiliate yourself by diving head-first into the dumpster, stick your hands into things that have been rotting in plastic bags for days, all for the slim chance that the thing I’m missing just might possibly be in one of the twenty bags stuffed into the trash container?

For a moment I try to resist.  Then she gives me that same doe-eyed look that Puss n’ Boots uses in the Shrek films to get me to bend to her will and the next thing I know I’m ankle deep in garbage.  Works every time.

At this point I’m convinced there’s nothing accidental about it.  I’m positive she just throws stuff away to see how far I’ll go to prove my love.  It’s like in medieval days when they would send knights on an impossible quest to win the hand of lady fair.  Although in my case the impossible quest leaves me smelling like road kill.

Yes I dumpster dive for love, but when I do, I’m in good company.   2,000 years ago God dove into the mess of humanity to retrieve a treasure of great value.  Us.

It’s hard to imagine what it was like for a holy God, a being of absolute perfection, to be born as a baby into a world of depravity, violence and greed.  It’s one thing to see the garbage of the human race from a distance.  It’s another thing to live in it.

Yet, that’s what God did, took on flesh and blood and jumped neck-deep into the trash pile.  Why?  Same reason as me.

God dumpster dives for love.  He rescues us from the junk heap of our past and calls us sons and daughters.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done.  It doesn’t matter if everyone has given up on you.   Even if others consider you worthless remember that often what’s trashed by man is treasured by God.

Whatever you see in the mirror this week, no matter how deep the garbage you’re dealing with, remember there is a God who meets you in your mess simply because He loves you.