Grace Propels

I don't think the concept of grace is one-dimensional, as it's often presented. It's not simply a state of eternal forgiveness and rightness with God that makes me feel good about myself. It's also has an element of internal empowerment.

Where the Law is a set of externally imposed rules, which our human nature and flesh cannot possibly fulfill, Grace is an internal drive and empowerment to love, which then fulfills the greatest Laws: Love God and love one another.

It's a result of the Spirit of God taking up residence in us and making us new. I think that's the heart of Romans 6:14:

"For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law (trying hard to follow the rules), but under (the empowerment of) grace." 

We no longer have to be ruled over by sin, because we now have this power within us (the Holy Spirit), which is a gift of grace. We can continue to try hard and do our best, on our own, but we will be paralyzed. We are not to focus on the do/don't list, but rather on Him. Then the other stuff will begin to work itself out.

So, while grace includes rightness with God, if we stop there, we may accidentally give ourselves permission to behave however we like...which is what Paul spoke against. "Should we sin more because of grace? May it never be!" Use grace to propel you to righteousness, not just to stamp you as righteous. Is this making sense? It's hard to put into words. I guess maybe I could say it this way:

Grace is what labels you as righteous and Grace is also what causes you to actually live out righteousness.



What Will You Believe?

I've heard it said, and I believe it, that perception is everything. Perception may not be what's true, but I think it's what matters most when that proverbial stuff hits the fan in our lives. Attached to those situations is an invitation to answer the question:

What will you believe?

The ultimate questions we have to answer center around what we believe after something happens to us. Two people can experience the same event, and while one is traumatized for years the other may recover fairly quickly. Perception/belief can be the difference.

As I see it the three big questions we have to wrestle with are:

1. What do I believe about the situation? Do I see it rightly or are facts skewed by emotion or past events?

2. What do I believe about myself because of what happened? What we say about ourselves is probably more important than what others say.

3. What do I believe about God? This one is the most important, obviously.

We will all work through things differently based on how we answer these questions. For example, after a divorce; after the loss of a loved one; after a rejection; after a failure; after an abuse: what do you believe about God and what do you believe about yourself?

Where was He? What does He think? Is He angry with you? Is He willing to show mercy? Is He good?

Are you unlovable? Are you a failure? Are you not good enough? Was it your fault?

The other important factor is who we surround ourselves with. Without question, other trustworthy people are essential to getting through the hard things. Isolation will leave us stranded in the mire and so will negative people.

If we can find one or two people that can listen to our story, who love us, who are wise, we need to take advantage of that. Anything kept in the dark will fester and grow and rob us of joy and life. We need other people to speak truth to us: about who God is and about who we are.

Speaking from experience, there is great power and freedom in talking about the things we'd rather cover, hide or avoid. It's rarely as bad as you think it will be.

We will live "below our privilege," so to speak, if we believe the wrong things about God and ourselves. We can't live above what we believe in our minds.

Freedom is a daily choice. We have to take the steps and the risks, but it's so worth it.

So, what do you believe?


It's Not a Crutch

There are some days that, for whatever reason, I am reminded of my failures. My mommy failures, my wife failures and, very often, my friendship failures. There have just been times that I didn't show up and I wish I could go back and do it better. I'm sure the same thing happens to you. 

This can either be an opportunity to feel defeated or it can be an opportunity to be thankful that God is making me something better today than I was yesterday. Today, I'm choosing the latter. 

There are those who would call Christianity a crutch. And to that I'd say, no. That would imply that I even had a leg of my own to stand on. I say it's more like a wheelchair or even a stretcher, carrying me into the hospital. And I am so okay with that.

After all, that's what attracted Jesus to me in the first place. That's what makes Him pull up a chair at my table.

The things you like least about yourself do not cause Him to turn away, even if everyone else does. He is your safe place. 

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


A Mid-life Crisis Thingy

A couple of months ago I had this revelation. And I can't stop thinking about it. On March 6 of this year, I will turn 39. Which means I'm almost 40.




How did this happen? I know I have some readers that are over 40, so I'm not saying 40 is old or anything. But it is........a milestone. Let's just say it that way. A milestone.

It's a milestone that is causing me some stress, not so much because of the number but because

What on earth am I doing with my life????

Will I ever grow up?

Am I too silly to be 40?

What should 40 look like?

Does that even matter?

Should I even care?

Do I have anything of value to offer the world?

When I "graduated" from elementary school I was predicted to become a comedian when I grew up. That was cute at the time, but as I've grown up I have both enjoyed and really struggled with that part of me. Who takes a comedian seriously? We all like to laugh but when you need advice, who are you going to call? Your free-spirited, impulsive, messy, funny friend or your deep, thoughtful, well-spoken one?

I guess this is a small scale version of what people call a mid-life crisis, except I'm not wanting to go out and buy a convertible (though if anyone wants to give me one, I'll take red). I think I'm feeling like I need a personality overhaul.

The problem with that is, I am pretty sure God did this to me on purpose. Or maybe better said, He made me like this on purpose. Not that I don't need to grow and change some things, but the core of who I am isn't one of them. So the greater challenge of the questions surrounding being almost 40 might be learning to like myself.

But for heaven's sake (literally) isn't it about time?


To Be or Not to Be...Still

"Be still, and know that I [am] God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10

We Christians know this verse really well, don't we? It's a great one. I love the encouragement that the entirety of Psalm 46 offers.

What I don't like, though, is when this particular verse is used as kind of a Bible study tip. You know, if you want to know God, you've got to be still. Stop moving. Sit down. Silence everything. Find a quiet chair. In a dimly lit room. At a little desk with a study lamp. Oh, and make sure it's really early in the morning. Before the first bird has chirped. There are mixed opinions on whether or not you can have your coffee during this time or if you should wait until later.

Don't get me wrong, because it sounds amazing, but that feels like a lot of pressure because, oh my gosh - when does that moment ever come for a mom with four kids?!?!

If you look at the context of Psalm 46 and look into the word, "still," and how it's used in other places in scripture, you'll see it's less about not moving and more about letting go. Sometimes it's a physical letting go, but obviously here it's a letting go of worry and anxiety, and trusting God. Though the earth shake, He will not be moved.

We Christians are great at taking things out of context and too literally. Be still. Stop moving. And then you'll know He is God.

David also rejoiced, in Psalm 23, that his cup was running over. When is the last time the waitress overfilled your tea glass and you were glad? How happy are you when one of the kids overfills his cup? You're probably having to bridle your words, not rejoicing. But if we want to be literal, then we should be happy, as it must be a sign that God is near. That's a stretch, obviously...I'm just making the point.

You may be wondering, "What on earth is your point?"

My point is that I believe we need to give ourselves a little freedom, as far as what seeking God or praying or quiet time or whatever you want to call it, looks like. Sometimes I feel I have the most clarity and connection when I'm mopping the floor. I often feel nearest to Him when I'm doing something creative. When I'm writing. When I make something with my own two hands. And I think it's because I'm doing something really close to what He created me to do. Sometimes moving is what stills my mind most. Kind of like a kid with ADHD.

We need to avoid judging each other for the ways we seek God (preaching to myself, here). Maybe we need to quit judging ourselves.

Some people thrive in a quiet room. They really need and love literally sitting still before the Lord.  Some need noise. Some dance (I don't and you're welcome). Brother Lawrence, a monk, experienced God's presence while washing dishes. Eric Liddell, the runner whose story is told in "Chariots of Fire," said, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." He never felt closer to God than while running. I don't understand that at all. I have never felt closer to death than while running.

But, give me a project, some wood, sandpaper, paint, a saw...and I am happy and content and I'm telling you, I sense His pleasure and hear His voice. I even think sometimes He gives me advice on whatever I'm working on. Seriously.

I'm not saying we shouldn't ever set aside time to read scripture and pray or fast or attempt those early morning times with Him. I do all that. Heaven knows the days are better when I begin that way. But I've had so many conversations through the years with friends who feel condemnation because they aren't "doing it right." Some phases in life make it challenging and when someone comes along with yet another man-made rule to follow, it isn't freeing, its heavy.

I think I'm saying just be who you are. Enjoy the way He made you and be aware of His presence when you do what you do. Part of what makes you holy, set apart, are all the little things He put inside of you. Incorporate Him into everything you do...into all of your moving. Not just those fleeting moments of stillness. I believe He delights in us using our gifts and talents, especially when we recognize His nearness in it. Recognize His craftsmanship inside of you.

For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works, that God prepared beforehand, so we may do them.
Ephesians 2:10


A Cup of Joy

This is a cup of Joy.

Joy tea, that is. It's a seasonal Tazo tea blend. On my morning trip to Target today, I decided to stop by Starbucks for a hot tea. Earl Gray is my usual choice, but the barista said she had eight teas to choose from today so I wanted to explore my options.

Not feeling especially joyful lately, my ears perked up when she said she had one called, "Joy."

In a symbolic gesture to embrace joy in my life I said, "I'll try the Joy." I thought, hey, maybe this is God's way of getting my attention, waving at me, so to speak, so I'll just go with it.

I got my tea, added a little honey and cream and set about shopping. After a couple of minutes I finally tasted it. And, for something with a name like Joy, it was not very...good. I did not like my Joy tea. (How many times can I say "joy" in this post??) It did not, in reality, make me feel good or happy.

So, I thought, nope, God was definitely not trying to get my attention with this because it's yucky.

But then this came to mind:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

Consider it joy. Not feel (or taste) it joy. Consider. That word indicates a choice. It actually carries the idea of being in authority - leading. Take charge, choose, lead yourself into joy whenever you face many kinds of temptations and trials.

When circumstances tempt you and me to sin, or when trouble comes, we are to count it as joy because we know that the testing of our faith will strengthen us, making us complete and mature, lacking nothing. The joy is in what is set before us off in the distance, not in what's set in front of us right this minute.

Joy is a choice. It's a realization that I'm going somewhere. That life is an investment in eternity. That God will test my faith and allow me to grow and mature and become more like Him. It's dependent upon eyes that are fixed on the finish line, looking, though dimly and figuratively, into the eyes of Jesus.

Sometimes joy comes amid situations that are yucky - like my tea, only way worse. I have felt joy at the strangest times, in the saddest times, so I believe what James said is true.

Therefore...despite the fact that my tea was not yummy, I raised my cup and, by faith, said (to myself, of course - though I am known for talking to myself, but that's another post) essentially, "I hear you, God. I choose joy."

Bottoms up.