When someone offers you a breath mint, take it. Maybe they just want to share. That, or your breath smells like a week old tuna sandwich. Either way, take the mint. I applied that same logic when a friend of mine, a Vietnam vet and Green Beret, suggested I meet his personal trainer.

(Was he being nice or subtle?) And I was really looking forward to it – in the same way you look forward to a simultaneous root-canal, prostate exam and tax audit.

On the scheduled morning I drove to the gym and met “Bobby” – the trainer. He looked like he stepped out of a magazine, so I hated him right off the bat. Until he spoke. He was humble, gracious, accommodating, prepared and encouraging.

“First of all, Mr. Vickery, can you tell me about the injuries we need to work around.” He could tell just by looking that parts of me didn’t work very well. So I told him about my right ankle, my knees, my shoulders, my left hand, the tendonitis in my forearms, the plantar fasciitis in my feet, the lower back pain I get when I stand too long, the neck thing. Other than that, I was good to go.

Bobby didn’t blink. He didn’t get a judgy look on his face. He just listened. Then, “Okay, we’ll start with some light bench presses.”

We had to wait for this, like, 80 year old woman to finish. When she was done, Bobby wiped down the bench. Then took some weight off. And the whole time I was lifting, he kept saying, “Come on, you can do this. Just one more. Great job. You can do it!”

You know, you can do anything if the right person is on your side. Pick any edge of your life – if you’ve got someone pulling for you, encouraging you, coaching you – someone willing to do whatever it takes to help you grow, you can do anything.

Even so, growth of any kind is hard work. Spiritual growth especially. It’s esoteric, hard to measure, and completely internal. But the biggest obstacle when it comes to spiritual growth may be God himself. Like he’s impossible to please – easily angered – and if you fail, there’ll be hell to pay. Literally. A lot of people don’t even try.

Here’s something that might help. Luke 2:52 – Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and people. There’s a word in this verse I want you to focus on; favor. That’s a really good word. When you need help, you ask your friend for a favor. If you have a party, you’ve got to have party favors. If someone is fond of you, they favor you. If the boss likes your proposal, she favors your plan.

There just aren’t many ways to make the word favor sound like a negative. That’s because in its original language, it comes from the word grace. As in unmerited favor. Help you don’t deserve. Help that comes at no cost to you. The smile on God’s face. The Bible says that Jesus grew in an environment of favor. God was on his side.

But that’s not how we usually think of God. Most people think that God is notoriously hard to please, easily ticked off, and perpetually disappointed with us. Part of that comes from the way we were raised.

Like you, maybe, I grew up believing that the scorch free zone of God’s grace was an incredibly narrow stretch of territory occupied by our group and no other. If you weren’t one of us, you were going to end up in the smoking section. Not only did that limit my view of the church – it had a pretty negative impact on my view of God. If he was so strict about what happened one hour on Sunday mornings, he must be really scrupulous about what went on the other 167 hours a week. If he was intolerant of getting murky theological issues incorrect, he must be intolerably harsh when it came to the stuff in the Bible that was indisputably clear. And the clear stuff is the stuff I struggled with. So for a long time, I thought that when God looked down on me, he always wore a scowl.

Then I started really reading the Bible. And I learned that Jesus wasn’t the only one to grow in an environment of favor. That’s the water we swim in, too.

Romans 6:14 – For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. You aren’t under God’s thumb. You are under God’s umbrella. God isn’t looming over you, he’s hovering close by. God isn’t looking for you to foul up. He’s waiting to lift you when you fall. You are under grace.

Romans 8:31 – If God is for us, who can be against us? It’s a rhetorical question. No one can be against us if God is for us. And he is.

Ephesians 2:4, 5 – Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.

You can do anything if the right person is on your side.

David was guilty of adultery and murder. God was on his side.

Moses was guilty of murder and tried to get out of what God wanted him to do. God was on his side.

Thomas doubted. Peter denied. Paul persecuted. God was on their side. No matter what you have done or failed to do, God is on your side, too.

Why Our Members Chose Twickenham

I felt strangely at home right away. Felt peace, love, acceptance and grace. . . They smiled at me, said hi, welcomed me: all with a great sense of sincerity.

I saw a new approach to worship and I felt God like I hadn’t for a while. It didn’t take me more than a few Sundays for me to feel at home.

I felt like it gave me the best opportunity to bring a non-believer or wayward believer with a different background or religious upbringing and them feel at home and interested in reconnecting with God or maybe connecting for the first time.

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