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?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Celebration: {Day 15} More from Chuck and Irene

Hurray!  Mr. and Mrs. B. are back with more about the grace God has shown them.  Life isn't all roses, as their testimonies show, but God's grace is still present - perhaps even more beautiful and precious through the difficulties.
- - -
While there is so much grace for our lives, we thought that we might share a summarized list.
We both heard the gospel as children, and God has given us the grace to be saved.  We are so grateful as finding grace in His sight, He knows us by name (Exodus 33:17).
After the abuse Irene received in her childhood, God has given us the grace to forgive.  Let us forgive as God through Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).
I (Chuck) was very shy as a youth, so one of the hardest things in the world was to say anything publicly.  And yet by God's grace and power, He has made me His minister (Ephesians 3:7).
After our son, Micah, was killed, we struggled for happiness, and yet we never lost our joy or had any anger in our souls.  Though suffocating in grief, we could finally breathe again through God's "everlasting consolation and good hope through grace" (2 Thessalonians 2:16).
After a betrayal by allies [ministry partners], God has granted the grace to never quit, and never to grow bitter or defiled (Hebrews 12:15).  Both grace and truth are from our Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:17).
When our granddaughter, Taylor, was weakened in cancer and pain, standing at her bedside, God has given the grace to keep hoping on.  Boldly, we sought God's throne of grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Standing by the fresh grave of our little grandson, Lincoln, we clung to that grace of the Blessed Hope in resurrection.  People held us in prayer to know God's exceeding grace (2 Corinthians 9:14).  And the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ met us in our spirits (Philemon 25).
When our little grandson, Asher, was born deaf, we found the grace to be strong and to keep trusting on.  Through faith, God's people are strong through the grace of Christ (2 Timothy 2:1).
Both of our daughters gave birth through very difficult, life-threatening experiences, but through grace they lived to raise their families.  God once again has multiplied His grace and peace (2 Peter 1:2).
Seeking to serve faithfully in missions, God has led so clearly - but in His time as to where to go.  God gives grace and glory while "no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11).
We labored where religious traditions have held the masses in deception, yet God has given the grace to weep for their souls.  We trust a remnant shall be saved "according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5).
Irene has suffered for years, while waking in nights and limping through life from her pain in a shattered ankle, by grace waiting patiently for a new body to come.  She has found God true, "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Through the unnumbered threats of death through fire, accidents, struggling planes, collisions, and the illness of life against our families, God has granted to the living the grace to live another day.  The Lord's grace is exceeding abundant in faith and love (1 Timothy 1:14).
When God's children travel through the storms of life, aren't we grateful for His grace to find the harbors and seasons of peace!  Looking for our final harbor, then let us finish our course with joy while testifying of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).
"Grace be with you all.  Amen."  (Titus 3:15)
Chuck B.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Celebration: {Day 14} For Ministering

Grace for ministering to others.  What does that mean?  Rather than giving you some long-winded philosophical speech on the subject, I'd like to talk about what it may look like, from my own experience.

When I was 19, I moved to Missouri for training with NTM.  I was there for two years, and I think it's pretty safe to say that I grew more during those two years than I had in the rest of my life up until that point.  Circumstances spurred that growth in part, but it was mostly thanks to the people God brought into my life during that time.

There were my small group leaders.  I think back to where I was in my walk and my understanding at that point, and you know what's so striking to me?  How they dealt with my "issues".  I mean, if I had been them, and I was supposed to be discipling the old me, I would have charged in with a list the length of the Golden Gate Bridge and tried to tackle every last issue.

"Hey, you think you have to dress that certain way?  Actually that's not true.  After all, God is way more concerned with the heart than with the outward appearance."

"So you think percussion is un-worshipful?  Go read Psalm 150:5 for starters."  (Cringe!  It even uses the word "loud"!)

"You think God is limited to the KJV?  Bummer.  I guess that means He can't speak through any other version, in any other language."

Etc., etc.

But they didn't.  They just modeled grace.  Lived it.  Shared what God was doing in their lives.  Gave me the freedom of an environment where I could be open about my struggles.  Nudged me closer to Jesus.  They never tried to "fix" me.

Now, I'm not saying they were confrontation-phobes or that they'd never point out sin.  I'm saying that their attitude was not one of taking the responsibility to change me.  They left that to the Holy Spirit, knowing He is always, always the most effective teacher.  Instead of spending all their energy chipping away at specific issues, they focused on encouraging my overall walk with the Lord.  They knew that as I grew closer to the Lord, those issues would be handled.

(Side note: There is an element of trust here.  Suppose I "didn't turn out"?  Suppose none of those issues went away?  Rather than worrying about their own reputations as mentors/disciplers - which could have led to the charge-in-with-a-list approach - they left the outcome entirely in God's hands.  Knowing how difficult that kind of trust can be, I now have even more respect for them.)

Then there was a godly friend I'd often go to for advice.  She had the irritating habit of not really giving me an answer.  She'd more likely ask, "Well, what do you think you should do?"  It frustrated me at first, because hey, I was seeking advice and was truly willing to take it.  I wanted to grow.  But she wasn't being hands-off or refusing to give me any input whatsoever.  In essence, rather than handing me a neat little package labeled "The Solution to Situation X", she was taking my hand and walking me back to Jesus, knowing it was a Person I needed, not just an answer.  And it was beautiful.

I could give you other examples, but you get my drift.

In the same way that grace makes our relationship with God a warm, living, breathing one, so grace makes our ministering to others warm and living and breathing.  I believe true ministering isn't about programs or formulas or pat answers.  It isn't about my responsibility as mentor, her role as disciple, their endless wisdom that just must be shared.  It isn't about issues being moved one by one to some tidy "dealt with" stack on top of our desks.

It's simply doing life together.  Sharing this grace-journey together.  Freely.  Authentically.  Humbly.