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Posts Tagged ‘grace’

The grace of God is difficult to understand. The idea of granting favor to people who don’t deserve it is so foreign to our small, justice-wired minds. His mercy is equally confusing: to be pardoned from the consequences our blockheaded behavior deserves.

I understand that I am to be a conduit of God’s grace, I really do. But even when I am willing to show grace or mercy, my sense of justice keeps rearing its score-keeping little head.

I don’t fully understand how God’s grace operates. Grace, like lasting love (because let’s face it—if it isn’t lasting, it isn’t love), isn’t an emotion, but a choice. Grace sometimes means thinking outside the box.

In fact, true grace often means throwing out the box altogether.

The Lord has been showing me that I need to stop wishing people would change when they don’t line up with my list of Things I Like in a Human. I not only need to stop wishing they would change, but I need to change the way I see others and be more accepting of our differences. I’m trying, truly. And yet, no matter how hard I try to change my attitude toward those who see and think differently, it occurs to me that I can never change enough. There are always going to be things about people that I just can’t reconcile. I need to be more open minded, and yet I can only open my little brain so much.

Ah, the limitations of being human.

That’s where grace comes in.

I don’t understand people. Shocking, I know. Christ says I’m to love people as he does, without condition (conditions include wishing they would stop being so anal/boasting/dramatic/verbose/needy/etc). So, in order to love as He loves (and commands), I must rely on grace—that mysterious spiritual blanket that falls on me and everyone around me like snow, coating us all until we are a bizarre collection of snowmen, mismatched in size and shape and yet oddly uniform, suddenly similar. His grace, like snow, puts a hush in the air, quiets the clamor in our judgmental minds, and blinds us to one another’s annoying quirks and all those other things we just don’t understand or—let’s be honest—like about each other.

They say love is blind. This doesn’t mean love turns a blind eye to destructive behavior. But I do think blind love means that with the help of the Spirit and grace of God, I could be far, far, far easier on others in the privacy of my heart.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Don’t secretly demand that people measure up to some standard that you and I, if we were to be honest, don’t always meet ourselves. Do you want a friend? Show yourself friendly. Do you want more attention? Be more attentive. You want more respect, show more respect. Not because giving is a magical formula for getting, but rather because wanting to receive what we’re not willing to give is selfish and hypocritical.

Wait, was that a snowflake…?

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imageResentment is a certain evil, a ready seed in fertile soil. Like a noxious weed, it takes over and quickly ruins anything good around it. It’s a hidden trap, a merciless captor. It has no place in the heart of a Christ follower. It causes self deception, destruction of relationships, and is a cancer to the one bearing it. It fosters sin, the unjust belief of lies, and replaces Grace with Judgment.

After receiving grace ourselves, what a dangerous place in which to live.

Trust me, I know.

Paul says “Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” 2 Cor 2:10-11

The enemy of our soul hates relationship and is scheming to destroy what binds people to one another (body of Christ, spouses, friends) and to God. Human bonds, perhaps based on good feelings and emotions, are easily broken, sadly. Our feelings are hurt. Or perhaps our pride is wounded. Our worth or opinion is dismissed. Our needs are unmet. How easily we hold others accountable when we are wronged. And people in our lives should be held accountable for their actions, in a right and loving way. But accountability and forever labeled and blamed are not the same thing.

The bonds we as Christians have with one another, forged by God’s grace, are powerful and unbreakable. His is a Grace that doesn’t seek what it deserves, but what others need. Grace isn’t a fleeting emotion, but a powerful and deliberate act. It’s supernatural.

In fact, I think I’ll tattoo this to my forehead:

His is a Grace that doesn’t seek what it deserves, but what others need.

Want to thwart the enemy? Ask God for more grace and then choose to pray for the one you resent. I didn’t say it would be easy, but you can do it. (What Christ did for you on Calvary was much harder.) Choose to forgive and let go your case against them. Pray for them in earnest, and watch your resentment fade. Seek better for others, and seek Christ’s healing and comfort for yourself and your hurts. Be empowered by something far more powerful than a determination to hang onto your rights. Take your resentment to the Cross, where Christ accepted responsibility for your sin, and let grace help you leave it.

Question: when was the last time you chose to pray for the one who wronged you?

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white flagAs a Christian, conversion is an endless process for me, mainly because I face a never-ending challenge to become a fully submitted soul. It’s a constant battle to lay down my will, surrender my desires for the good or need or comfort of others or simply (and most importantly) put Christ and his will first in all I do. It’s not about becoming some kind of doormat or whipping post, but rather growing a servant heart, because let’s face it, surrender of my will is not my spiritual gift.

I can easily blame my self-focus on being a 150% Introvert, but let’s be honest. I’m wired to think of myself first. I always have been. It probably started in childhood when my mom felt compelled to spoil me by letting me have my own way because life around us pretty much sucked. It probably also stems from abuse that forced my will from me and robbed much from a needy little girl.

As a result, I’ve always been willful and ultra guarded of my will being taken from me, even in small things. Though this has been a long and frustrating battle, I finally realized that Jesus gets this about me. For decades, he’s been patiently challenging, encouraging and helping me lay down my will—in the right ways. Because unfortunately, I think when someone like me learns to guard our will against violation, we can create an iron will and may never experience the freedom that comes from surrendering to Christ.

Though I constantly fight “dying to the flesh”—that part of us that wants to be satisfied and fed, soothed and esteemed—I understand self denial is healthy. Vital, in fact. Maybe through denial of self, in a very small way, we can catch a small glimpse of what Christ has done for us on the Cross.

There’s a story in 2 Samuel 24 about King David whose sin had brought a terrible pestilence on his people. He begged for God’s mercy on them, so God directed him to build an altar on Araunah’s threshing floor. Araunah (clearly not struggling with the same issues I do) was pleased to give David everything he needed for the altar: the property, the wood, the oxen—the works. But David refused the gift and insisted on buying the man’s property and all the supplies he needed, saying, “I will not offer burnt offering to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.”

I’m reminded how easy it is to look at Christ’s gift of eternal life and his death on the cross without fully appreciating what it cost him. I don’t know if I will never fully appreciate it this side of heaven.

In the meantime, I lay down my will here and there when Jesus nudges me to let go or relinquish my plans or my comfort or convenience (more often now than before, so see, I’m making progress). And when I do give it up, I sense his pleasure. I also find, again and again, that though my flesh may grumble for a moment, the surrender is neither painful nor pointless. With each surrender, I find myself a little freer in my soul, a little less chained to my willful flesh, a little closer to Jesus, a little more like him.

And when you get down to it, that’s all I really want.

Q: Have you ever experienced freedom through surrender?

 

For a Similar post on Surrender, see: https://camilleeide.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/if-i-only-had-a-heart/

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I recently read a quietly deep, beautifully written novel called Some Wildflower In My Heart (Bethany House Publishers, 1998) by Jamie Langston Turner. The story is told by Margaret, a deeply wounded woman who has spent decades closed off to love, relationships, and especially God. She ensures distance from others by being cold and unapproachable. Yet In spite of her brusque demeanor, she finds herself the recipient of the persistently kind, friendly attentions of a woman named Birdie with an inexhaustible capacity for love.

In the real world, anyone behaving like Margaret is sure to go to their grave friendless. But because one woman’s love for Jesus flows like an underground spring and touches everyone she meets, there may be hope for Margaret.

I try to imagine myself being persistently gracious and kind to someone who continually rejects the kindness. I can’t really see it. Could you? Would anyone you know continue to show acceptance and grace to someone continually cold and unresponsive?

What’s intriguing about this story is that it is told in Margaret’s point of view. If I were only able to observe Margaret’s outward behavior, I wouldn’t be interested in her story. But her thoughts tell a very different tale. What Margaret is only telling the reader is that she was inexplicably drawn to this kind woman. And that drawing rattled her. She tells how Birdie’s gentle, persistent love eventually broke past Margaret’s cold shell and brought warmth to the painful, neglected places in her heart.

After reading about Birdie, the phrase “Love keeps no record of wrongs” keeps coming to mind. I wonder if I could be anything like her, always quick to forgive the thoughtless words or deeds of others. Why don’t I simply turn the other cheek when someone is thoughtless or unkind?

Maybe it’s an accounting mentality. We are wired to keep accounts of what others have done. This is so typically human, isn’t it?

Please tell me it’s not just me.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Would Jesus go to God and complain about me behind my back? Would he criticize me for the mistakes I make (which are…ahem…numerous)? Avoid me when he sees me coming?

No. And not because I don’t deserve it.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails . . . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-13

Faith, Hope, Love.

The Bible says that without faith, it’s impossible to please God. And humans need hope in order to thrive. But according to this scripture, the greatest of all life’s needs is love. This kind of love. The selfless, unfailing, “unoffendable” kind.

Can I really love this way? I mean, is it possible?

Maybe it helps to remember that since I am in Christ, there’s no “tally sheet” or file being kept on me. God keeps no record of my sins. Because of Christ in me, when God looks at me, he sees no offense, harbors no grudges.

Perhaps likewise, because of Christ at work both in me (his life-changing power) and for me (clothing me in his righteousness), I too can look at others and forget their offenses. Hold nothing over their heads. Give them a new clean slate every day.

The love of Christ keeps no record of wrongs. With his help, we can do it. And it seems only fair, since this—the way of grace—is how God (thank you, Jesus!) deals with our offensiveness.

Just my thoughts. What are yours?

Q: Do you desire the kind of love that keeps no record of wrongs?

 

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I recently thumbed through a 10+ year old journal expecting to be entertained, if nothing else.

Good grief. IRS instructions are more riveting.

The pages were filled with tedious moping about all the things I longed to change about myself. On and on and on, like a broken record. Just skimming over that stuff now is depressing.

Journaling is healthy, of course. I’m all for it, especially when it comes to keeping track of answered prayer and God’s faithfulness—that’s important to remember. But some journaling, while good for getting gunk off your chest, is just self-centered, navel-gazing pathos (yeah, I know, it’s probably just mine). What I find sad about those years is how long I pined for change—to be a slimmer woman, a holier Christian, kinder mom, more pleasing wife, truer friend, etc. How sad that I clung to such a singular focus for so long, especially when the journals show no indication I ever arrived at the changes I so desperately sought.

At some point I quit journaling. Maybe I finally got fed up with the monotony of repeating myself and the despair of continual failure. Who has time or energy to change when you spend all your time in front of the mirror cataloguing all your flaws?

Actually, I think God finally lured me away from such a self-centered focus. I think he wanted me to stop believing lies about who I was supposed to be, and start making the most of what I have right now. Begin accepting who I am, cellulite and all. Embrace the gifts and interests and purposes God placed in me when he made me. ME, not some air-brushed, magazine cover girl.

I haven’t journaled in well over a decade now. Looking back, I can see many positive changes that have occurred over time. Quiet, lasting changes that came after I gave up trying to bully that unhappy woman into being someone else. Somewhere along the line, God gave me a truckload of patience. And grace. And a great peace in knowing that “he makes all things beautiful in its time.” (Ecc. 3:11)

Maybe it’s a Rapidly Nearing Five-O thing, but now I find the things I stressed about for so long don’t really matter all that much. What matters to me now is to live and love people today instead of putting it off. Listen more. Pray more. Care more about what Jesus thinks and less about what people think. See eternity in every moment. Live each day like a heaven-bound soul.

Q: What about you—have you ever needed to let go of some elusive longing in order to embrace life now?

 

 

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Our baby girl is “Tying the Knot” this weekend. (Yes, I am too young to have a daughter old enough to marry, thank you for noticing.) J & M will repeat vows to one another similar to the ones you’ve heard or perhaps said yourself:

I take this man/woman to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, to love and to cherish until death do us part.

I do.

Those last two tiny words pack a wealth of promise, a lifetime of relinquishing, a commitment to ongoing surrender. It’s a vow to take on another set of sorrows and joys, victories and defeats, strengths and fears. Each person in the union lays down the right to retain his or her separate life and the whims of their previously independent (& possibly self-indulgent) soul.

And the two shall become one.

It sounds like a breaking down of the human will, this kind of surrender to another. If the vow is truly meant, it does involve some tearing down, and it can even be painful. But if endured with selfless love and truckloads of blinding grace, the two relinquished, surrendered souls shall become one, and a far stronger one combined than each one was alone. Not two weaker halves suddenly helpless without one another, but a stronger, combined force able to weather any storm.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

If two become one, what does three become?

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

This isn’t some kind of put down. It’s truth, and it’s a warning, but it’s also a promise. Being united with Christ means he vows to be our Source, our strength, our sustenance, our safe haven.

So when Christ is woven into the center of two surrendered, entwined lives, the three form an unbreakable cord, able to weather every storm of adversity, sickness, trial, poverty, or hardship—without being destroyed.

A marriage of two cords is strong; but a three-cord marriage is indestructible.

J & M: Make Jesus the Center of your marriage. This is our prayer for you.

We love you. God bless you today and each day to come.

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Does talk of Christian holiness make you squirm?

Or do you think holiness is only for the Billy Grahams and Mother Teresas? Should Christians be striving for lives that please God?

Is pleasing God even possible?

Oops, sorry. I forgot to mention there was going to be a quiz.

In my last post, One-Sided Romance, I offered some cheeky dialogue between a Bride-Groom and his less-than-fully-devoted bride. I sure hope this isn’t the bride Jesus sees in me. But I must confess it wasn’t hard to come up with some of those cheeky lines.

Last week, I attended a memorial service for a Christian brother unlike any I’ve ever known. Val and his wife Laura are humble servants who don’t own anything. They follow God’s lead, traveling from place to place, serving people in any way needed, whether it’s finishing a fence, cleaning gutters, stacking firewood, roofing a house, babysitting—whatever needs done. Graciously and cheerfully, without asking for anything in return. They live each day obeying whatever the Lord asks with sincere hearts that desire to please him. They don’t always know where they will sleep or where the next meal will come from, but they trust God to provide. Someone said that for a guy without anything, Val was the most generous man he’d known. If all Val had was one cracker and was starving, he would find a hungry person to share it with.

And yet, one of the most inspiring things I heard at Val’s funeral was that even this doggedly obedient, selfless saint struggled on occasion to obey. There were times he had to ask God for a willing heart because he just didn’t feel like obeying.

Know the feeling?

I obey God—when it’s comfortable and doesn’t infringe on what I feel/don’t feel like doing. But then, there are . . . those other times. I confess: it’s not in my nature to be generous, hospitable or sacrificial. To offer my coat also when someone asks for my shirt. Go out of my way for a stranger. Forgive people’s idiotic driving. I mean—turn the other cheek when wronged.

It’s not my nature to be like Jesus.

So… is my “natural” bent for willfulness an excuse for giving in to it? I’m pretty sure Val didn’t say, “Look, God, I’ll do what you ask when it’s convenient, but sometimes I’m going to be stingy with my time and energies. It’s how I roll. I’d rather go relax after a long day at work instead of taking groceries to a stranger on a scorching hot day with no AC. You understand, right?”

I don’t know exactly what Val prayed, or why he struggled to obey (probably not out of selfishness but rather some disagreement with the way God was handling something), but I believe he recognized the stubbornness in his heart at those times and asked God to line his heart up with God’s. Why? Perhaps he knew God would love to answer a prayer like that. Perhaps God knew others would hear of this humble servant struggling with obedience and be encouraged. I know I was. I was not only encouraged, I was reminded that I have also prayed for the willingness to do God’s will instead of my own, and he gave it to me.

For a whole day.

*sigh*

If becoming a 100% obedient, deeply devoted saint isn’t something I can picture myself becoming overnight, that’s okay. All I need to worry about is today. God can give me a willing heart and the strength to follow through. Like manna in the desert, one day at a time.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:26-27

Striving to be a more obedient Christian isn’t about meeting somebody’s standards or proving that I’m holy. It’s about responding to the unwavering love and costly grace God has given me with a heart that longs to please him, out of love.

No, it’s not in my nature to be like Jesus. But it is his nature to empower me by his grace to become more like him. And he’s totally okay with me asking for help being willing to obey.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

Oh, for a heart that longs to please You, Lord. And the willingness to follow through.

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