Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Celebration: {Day 22} Abigail's Story

Gotten off track?  Struggling with hypocrisy or pride?  Busy doing good things but don't have time for God?  Grace never ignores us, though we might be ignoring it.  Abigail shares her story  of the God who never gives up on us.

- - -

I have been racking my brain trying to find a meaningful example of how God has shown me grace recently.  Sure I could tell the story of how I came to know Him, or how I found forgiveness from a dishonest lifestyle or how He helped me to get out of an unhealthy relationship.  But those things happened years ago.  I wanted to share something that happened just recently.

But I couldn't think of anything.  And this really frustrated me, because I know that it revealed where my life was at...not where it should be.  Sadly, I found out that I rarely have been aware of God's grace and love recently...not a position a believer ought to be in.

The Lord really spoke to me on Sunday at church.  The message hit me pretty hard.  The speaker listed "Twelve Evidences That I Have Left My First Love".  So many of these were clearly there in my life that it was sickening.  I vaguely knew that these things were going on, but I hadn't fully realized or connected the dots to see that they showed a lack of love for the Lord.

1.  Do I delight in someone else more than the Lord?  Check.
2.  Do I not long for fellowship in God's Word and prayer?  Compared with other things, not at all.
3.  Do I reflect on other things during leisure time?  Oh yes.
4.  Do I easily give in to things which displease the Lord?  Sadly, check.
5.  Do I grudgingly give to the Lord?  Check.
6.  Do I fail to treat all Christians as I would treat the Lord?  Check.  Especially certain family members.
7.  Does if feel like His commandments restrict my happiness? yes, check.
8.  Do I strive for public acclaim rather than to please the Lord?  Check.  A thousand times, yes.  This is perhaps one of my most shameful sins and constant downfall.
9.  Do I fail to witness for fear of embarrassment or persecution?  Check.
10.  Do I offend weaker Christians because I am unwilling to give up my "freedoms"?  Probably...still have to think about this one.
11.  Do I ignore sin and leave it unconfessed in my life?  Check.  Probably why I have missed the breaking of bread about 75% of the time this year.
12.  Do I hold grudges against other people?  Check.

Man!  I am so disgusting inside.

The funny thing is, I thought I was ok.  On the outside I look fine 'cause I've been discipling several people, involving myself in ministry, trying to read my Bible and pray regularly, witnessing to a friend once in a while, encouraging other people, .etc.  So I thought I was growing.

But then the speaker talked about how we should bring everything before God.

It hit me that I was doing, doing, doing.  All in my own strength.  All of these good things had become wrong because of the fact that I was proud of myself for doing them.  I was not coming before God to ask for His grace, because I didn't think I needed it.  I was just fine on my own.

Or was I?

Two things I realized from the message on Sunday:

1.  I looked ok on the outside, but AGAIN I had forgotten about the most important thing...a deep, intimate fellowship and relationship with Jesus, a relationship that changes me from the inside out.

2.  Anytime I say "I've got this", I am really just doing works in my own strength.  I am not depending on God.  It is a slap in the face to God and a rejection of His grace for me.

Today I read a blog post about the young rich man who came to Jesus telling Him all about the way he had lived perfectly and done everything right.  As I read, I saw myself in that young man.  I am always trying to do the right thing, trying to be good, kind, patient, and to keep all the rules.  I started to cry when I read about how hard this man had tried, because I knew that even all of that was not enough.

I felt myself in his place, knowing that I too was not good enough despite how hard I tried.  I knew that Jesus' response would be that he hadn't done the right thing and in the end the young man would turn away from Jesus...

Then I read this verse.  "Jesus looked and him and loved him."  (Mark 10:21)

This was the last thing I thought I would read.  I had forgotten this verse was even there.  I had immediately jumped in my mind to the next part of the passage, where the young man goes away discouraged because Jesus points out where he has failed.  But here it was.  Before correcting him, Jesus looks at him with love.

Jesus knows.  He truly knows that I am trying.  He knows because He made me, and He sees the desires of my heart.  He knows that I am the type of person to try really hard to get things right.  He knows that I try too hard sometimes and get caught up with myself and forget about Him.  And yet, the first thing He does is love me, just like the first thing He did with this young man was to love him.

What a sweet, kind person Jesus is.  He truly cares about me.

And then, part of caring about me is to show me where I am off track.  He showed the rich young man that he lacked one thing: to give everything up and follow Him.

Truly, nothing on earth, no good thing I do, no riches I have, should be allowed to compare with being with Jesus.  Yet I know that they have recently, and that I have not allowed Him to come near me and change me.  I have held on to ME.

So perhaps my grace story starts with realizing that I need that grace.  I need His forgiveness and love and I need Him to change me every day.  I cannot let myself become hardened.  I cannot let myself wander away from my first love.  The consequences are tremendous.

But I realize that I have, and I know now that again I need God's grace to turn my heart and mind to Him and make Him my passion.

Abigail C.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Celebration: {Day 21} In Spiritual Disciplines

Prayer.  Praise.  Bible reading.  Memorization.  Study.  Going to church.

I said that grace helped me realize that all of life could be worship, not just things like reading my Bible.

But that doesn't mean I've left all those things (the so-called "spiritual disciplines") to the side.  Oh, no.  It just means that my attitude towards them has changed.  My motivation for them has changed.  And they might look a little different than they did before.

Prayer has become less of a closing-my-eyes-and-starting-with-Dear-God thing.  It's more like the kind of conversation you'd have with a close friend: you talk about everything, the big and the little, the good and the bad, the funny, the sad, the scary, the beautiful.  You sometimes sit down just to talk, but you also can talk as you go about your daily dish-washing, toilet-scrubbing, laundry-hanging life.  You're safe and free to share your heart without obsessing about getting your words exactly right.  You don't talk because you have to, but because you trust them, you know they care, and you enjoy their company.

I don't read my Bible anymore with the expectation that simply reading it will make me holier.  I read it because I love the stories of what my Hero has done (and because I know He is the same Hero today!).  I read it because I believe what God has to say in it's pages actually matters for my life - that He actually has something relevant to say to me, today.  Pretty incredible, when you think about it!

And memorizing?  It's no longer an exercise in mental agility.  (Side note: I used to chose long passages - even whole books - to memorize because "more is better [holier]!"  Never mind about whether or not I actually let the truths in what I was memorizing sink down into my heart.)  Now, I tend to memorize certain verses because a verse or passage hits me where I'm at, and I want to remember it.  For instance, if I'm struggling with fear, I'm not going to choose a verse on fear in the hopes that simply repeating it over and over to myself will banish the fear.  I'd choose to memorize it because I know I need that truth - because I've already been helped in some measure by reading it, and I want to keep that encouragement close to my heart.

The list could go on, of course.  What would you say?  Has grace changed any of these things for you?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Celebration: {Day 20} Leave a Scar

I used to wish that I could rewrite history
I used to dream that each mistake could be erased
That I could just pretend
I never knew the me back then...

But it's the memory of
The place You brought me from
That keeps me on my knees
And even though I'm free

Heal the wound but leave a scar
A reminder of how merciful You are...

(Heal the Wound by Point of Grace)

I went through a stage post-grace awakening where I wished that I could deny that Pharisee with my name and my face ever existed.  It saddened me to think of how blind I'd been.  How proud I'd been.  How many people I'd inadvertently shut out because of my high-minded "holiness".  How poor a reflection of Jesus I'd been.  Those memories were embarrassing, and I desperately wanted to hide from the old me.

But to ignore that part of my life would be to ignore what God has done.

He's a redeemer, our God.

And His grace redeems every. part. of my story.  I never want to forget His power to transform a Pharisee.  I never want to lose sight of how relentless His love is, or take His gift lightly.

I want to treasure this freedom, to embrace it with everything I am.  I want to live and breathe and sing and share His grace.

And so I pray He leaves the scar, the evidence of when that old way of life was pulled away, a vivid reminder of His mercy and grace.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Celebration: {Day 19} Messy Art

Hi, I'm Rachel.  Neat Freak is my middle name.  (Or Organized, whatever.)

I don't remember what I was like when I was little, but by the time I reached the second decade of my life, my neat freak-y tendencies were well established.

I had a neat little room with a neat little desk and a neat little planner on the desk.  The drawers, the closet, my life were all models of tidiness.  I took both comfort and pride in my well-ordered, well-oiled life.

And then...grace.

It was disruptive.  Unsettling.  Messy.

Perhaps that was part of why I'd resisted (and ignored) it for so long: it was like a hand sweeping away my illusion of control.

If I accepted grace, I'd have to live with gray areas.  I'd to have to be okay with imperfection - in myself and in others.  I'd have to come to terms with the idea that dealing with situations was not simply a matter of pulling the appropriate folder from a metaphorical file cabinet.

I'd have to admit that I didn't have it all figured out, and furthermore couldn't figure it all out.  I'd have to realize that truth didn't come in uniform doses, to be gulped down once a day with a glass of water.

I'd have to trust myself, my life, my future (and everyone else's, too) to a God who did not fit in a desk drawer divider or in a shoebox on a shelf - a God who isn't 100% predictable, yet always entirely faithful.

Slowly I started to open my heart.  To trust this God of messy grace.  To surrender to the fact that I am a work in progress and not a finished piece.

God is an artist, painting the story of our lives with masterful grace-strokes, and letting Him work means relinquishing the need for control (whether that takes the form of neat freak-iness or something else).  Who would expect the studio to be tidy while the picture is still being painted?  Who would think of finding the paint bottles with their tops all closed, the palette washed and tucked away in a box, the easel folded in a corner?

One day His grace-art will be finished.  And it will be beautiful.  Until then, let's remember that we can't have the beauty without the mess.  In fact (dare I say it?), we can celebrate the messy as evidence of the work He is doing.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Celebration: {Day 18} When I'm Empty

It's a feeling most of us hate: emptiness.  We spend much of our lives trying to avoid that feeling in its different forms - hunger, loneliness, boredom, inadequacy, etc.

Our 21st century lives could easily be characterized by the word full.

But I wonder if that fullness is really just an illusion?

I wonder, too, if emptiness is such a bad thing.  If we need to go to such lengths to avoid it.

It might just be the ideal catalyst to a deeper, overflowing experience of grace.

Tonight, the clock fast approaching midnight, I am short on words.  Coming up empty on any of the topics I'd considered writing about today.

So I'll open my heart to drink in that grace once again.

My emptiness, His fullness...

My hunger, His manna...

My weakness, His strength...

My not-enough-ness, His total sufficiency...

This is my resting place - at the end of the day, the end of the week, and for always.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Celebration: {Day 17} For Whys and What Ifs

Sometimes I can't help but wonder...

Why, God?  Why?

But it isn't the fist-shaking of unbelief or anger.

It is, in a sense, the acknowledgement of my human-ness.

I am not God.  I do not, I cannot, understand Him fully.  He thinks differently than I do.  He does things differently than I do (or would choose to).

Sometimes His plan includes things that make no sense.  Things that tear at the heart.  Things that snatch dreams away.  Things that turn worlds topsy-turvy.

Why did You let this happen, God?

What purpose can You possibly have in mind?

What if _____ happens?

For the times when questions like these seem to rise up irrepressible, we have a place to run to.  A mighty fortress - with twin towers called Sovereignty and Grace.

As a friend so beautifully put it, "My 'whys' and 'what ifs' are safe with Him."

He's not threatened, surprised, or angered by our questions.

He's not up in heaven, hand on hip, going, "Come on, don't you trust Me?  I mean, really.  Hurry up and trust Me already!"  He is a God of grace.  He knows our human-ness perfectly.  And He invites us, open-armed, to come near with all our whys and what ifs, to hide safe in His grace.  We may not always find the answers to our questions.  But we can simply snuggle up in His love, fully assured that He's got me, you, them, this whole world in His hands.

And He's not letting go.  Ever.

Beautiful, beautiful grace.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Celebration: {Day 16} New Reading Glasses

I've been talking a lot about changes in my life since I began to truly understand grace.  Another area I'd like to mention is reading the Word.  Yes, in a general sense, grace has changed my attitude towards Bible reading (which I may or may not revisit in another post).  More specifically, though, it's changed the way I read certain books.  It's like I got a new prescription and suddenly things that were fuzzy or distorted are clear now.  (Although maybe I shouldn't use that illustration, since I've never worn glasses...)

The Gospels - I'd always identified primarily with the disciples.  When Jesus addressed them, I sort of saw myself sitting among them and listening.  I was a follower of Jesus, too, wasn't I?  But a few years ago I also found myself identifying with another group of people: the Pharisees.  We like to paint them as proud hypocrites, and of course they were.  But they also represented the religious establishment of the day.  They represented orthodoxy.  They were do-things-by-the-book people.  With that in mind, it was unsettling to notice that Jesus reserved His most scathing rebukes for them.  After all, I had been living well within the bounds of orthodoxy.  I was a do-it-by-the-book kind of person.  His rebukes were directed at people like me - people who kept the rules, made up their own rules to keep them from breaking the real rules, and all the while thought they were worshipping God when in reality they were worshipping...rules (and their supposed ability to keep them).  That realization shook me up in a big way.

Romans -  I vividly remember the first time I read through it after what I call "my grace awakening".  Romans talks so much about Christ's righteousness being given to us, and to me it was always such a theological, theoretical kind of thing.  Yes, it was real, and yes, I believed it - as a transaction that occurred when I became a child of God.  As a sort of ticket.  God handed it to me when I was saved, and then before I stepped through Heaven's door, I'd hand it back.  "Here, God.  It's because of Christ's righteousness that I can come in."  What I'd never, ever seen before was that His righteousness wasn't just for salvation ("salvation" being thought of as a particular point in time), it was actually for every. single. day.  For life.  It was totally a light bulb moment.  "You mean, Christ's righteousness is a present reality in my life at this very instant, as I'm sitting here in my pajamas and drinking coffee?  It makes a difference right now?"  I don't know that I can adequately express just how good that good news was to me.

Galatians - I can still remember my mom quoting the beginning of chapter 3 when I was a little girl.  "Oh foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  ...Are you so foolish?  Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?"  I used to laugh a little, because foolish and bewitched were funny words, and because duh, Galatians!  You couldn't save yourselves to begin with, so how in the world did you think you could keep yourselves saved?!  But it wasn't funny when, years down the road, I saw myself reflected perfectly in those verses.  I'd tossed the gift of God's grace on a dusty shelf and begun to work to stay in good standing with Him (I would have called it "trying to grow in my relationship with Him").  I'd received the Holy Spirit, but I'd waved Him to the side while I tried to figure this whole walking with God thing out by myself.  Foolish?  Bewitched?  I hung my head.  Yes.  But then there was the lighthouse-beam of 5:1.  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Don't go back to the old bondage!  Freedom!  It's what Christ had made me for.  What He had died for.  What He longed for me to live in.

Hebrews -  This was one of the key books that helped me understand grace.  The entire premise is the shadow (a system of externals) vs. the reality (Christ and a real relationship with Him).  I had complete access to the reality, didn't I?  Why in the world would I then choose to live in the shadows?  Why would I cling to the externals when they weren't just nice little things that had no effect, but were actually getting in the way of the reality?  After I began to understand that, I was encouraged by another major theme of Hebrews.  Yes, there is freedom in grace, but the old structure of externals was familiar and (at times) relatively comfortable.  Grace by comparison seemed bewildering and risky.  So I could relate to the First Century readers of the book, who, having left Judaism to follow Christ, found themselves looking back over their shoulders.  Was this really it?  Was there no elaborate process necessary to approach God?  Was there no need for all those rules to keep me in check?  Was I getting totally off track with all this grace stuff?  Like them, I needed the encouragement, the reminders to hold fast to the grace I'd been given.

How about you?  Do you have any new reading glasses stories?