Grace Upon Grace

April 7, 2017 — Leave a comment

Recently I have been thinking a lot about grace. Grace, as I have often heard defined, is “getting something good you don’t deserve.” Obviously, the best and most obvious example of grace is salvation that has been afforded us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet oftentimes, this is where our consideration of grace ends.

 

John 1:16 however states that through Christ we have received “grace upon grace” (ESV). God’s ultimate grace comes through repentance and faith in Christ, but God’s grace is lavished on us through the fact that the sun shines another day, through the encouragement word of a friend, and through the comfort He provides the brokenhearted. God’s grace is abundant. And as the Psalmist often writes his “steadfast love endures forever” (see Psalm 136). God’s grace and love are extravagant, abounding and eternal.

 

What this has reminded me of is that we can be tools of God’s grace. Again, while the most excellent example of this is sharing the Gospel, we can also be instruments of grace by being quick to forgive, by showing love to those who don’t show love to us, and by serving others even when we can’t rightly expect anything in return. To do these things, and to do them for the sake of Christ, makes us ambassadors of His grace. And as we pour grace into others life, we will appreciate the grace that God gives us even more.

The Easy Serve

April 6, 2017 — Leave a comment

If you listen to romantic songs long enough, it can seem that the only genuine expression of love for someone is the grand gesture. TVs and movies give the same impression. Oftentimes it can appear that your love for someone is defined by how much you risk and how big of an overture you make in order to win their affection.

However, like many things in life, reality does not resemble this commercialized representation. People’s experience of relationships, including marriage, rarely match up to the Hollywood expression. This doesn’t mean that great love stories don’t exist – I firmly believe that they do – but the day-in and day-out of life doesn’t make for good TV and so what a “great love story” really looks like, and how it is portrayed on film, bear little resemblance to each other.

Unfortunately, this tension in people’s minds can lead to tensions in people’s homes. Individuals who claimed that they would climb mountains or swim across ranging seas for one another, aren’t willing to (joyfully) pick up the other person’s socks. We claim that we would do anything for the other person, yet we aren’t willing to compromise on where we go out to eat. Our visions of grand gestures are quickly swept aside as we fight for territory, selfish desires, and our way.

In all likelihood one of the reasons that picking up socks and giving way on where we go to dinner doesn’t feel like expressing love is because they seem like such “trivial” and “easy” things to do. (The irony of course is that if they are trivial and easy, why do we fight so arduously to have our own way?) We want the extravagant expression and yet in our everyday life we stubbornly cling to our defenses and our demands, failing to recognize that it only takes one moment to make a grand gesture, but a daily commitment to sacrifice for the good of the other is a far more difficult, and far more significant, act of love.

Our example of this type of love is of course Christ. His sacrifice on the cross is the ultimate expression of love, but that’s not all He did for His disciples. He washed their feet. He went to their family when they were sick. He did the seemingly “little” things and as such, I am convinced that His followers knew that He loved them far before He hung on a tree. And if the God of the Universe, the Savior of the world, was willingly to do these seemingly “little” things for the good of those He loved, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same thing? And if we are willing to serve well in those seemingly “insignificant” and “easy” things with love, don’t you imagine we will be better prepared to do the great sacrifices with the same kind of affection and grace?

God Knew

April 5, 2017 — Leave a comment

We aren’t sure how we got there; we don’t know how we will get out or how long we must keep wandering through it.In the deepest valleys even those closest to us may be unable to help.

Their encouragement and exhortation may be well-intentioned but it may seem to fall on deaf ears. They want to help. And they may even attempt to do so. But ultimately the pain and the suffering resounds in our heads. The echo of the hurt can drown out the voice of perspective.

And yet even in these moments, even when the path back to the mountain seems obscured, two tiny words should comfort our hearts – God knew.

God knew. The valley we walk through was not unforeseen. He knew it was there and He knew you would walk through it.

God knew. The ache in your heart was not unanticipated. He prepared for its eventual healing before the first sting of pain pierced your soul.

God knew. He knew what you would need and who could provide it and even though the good intentions of your friends may seem ineffective, He knew how He would work through them to accomplish His purposes.

He knew when the Israelites were captives in Egypt and He knew the injustices they would face. And He not only knows what is happening in your life, before you did, He knew.

And whatever path He will use to provide restoration and rescue, He knew that too.

And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. – Exodus 2:24-25 (ESV)

Repeated Kindness

April 4, 2017 — Leave a comment

A work promotion that we deserved that went to someone else.

A speeding ticket that we were awarded as another car zoomed by.

Sickness.

Hardship.

Challenges.

Unfair.

It seems it is easy to list the things that are wrong with our lives. Perceived injustices or realized slights are often the first things that we discuss after our perfunctory “hellos” and “how are you doing?”.

Yet this list is incomplete. Because from my own experience, and from what I witness in Scripture, although things may seem to go from bad to worse during difficult seasons of our lives, there is often another side to the story. At the same time that we are quick to list what is wrong, we are often neglected to look at what is right. Our focus is on how bad things are, so we are prone to miss that which is good.

Lot could attest to this. Living in a city bound for destruction, God provided him a way out. Then, as Lot lingered, the angels of the Lord dragged him to safety. Finally, when given the instructions of where he should flee, instead of going there immediately, Lot brazenly asked for a modification. The Lord relented and granted his request (Gen. 19).

Repeated kindness. Thoughtful compassion. In the midst of chaos and ruin, God’s mercy flowed.

Yet my guess is that when Lot told the story he focused on his sinful neighbors and the home he lost. The fact that his wife turned into a pillar of salt probably eclipsed the recounting of God’s favor over him and his family. Even when we share the account with our children the theme tends to be destruction rather than benevolence.

But it is there. Over and and over again. In varied and individualized ways, we see God’s love and grace.

When we share our story, or go through our difficult season, may we be quick to see God’s recurrent kindness. May we be eager to share it with those with whom our lives intersect. And may be quick to praise the One who brings good, even amidst the bad.

And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.”  – Genesis 37:13

As any parent can tell you, when your kids are young you spent a lot of time saying their names. I mean it. More than you ever think you will, their names will frequently be on your lips. That’s because when they are young, things need to be said to them directly. Over time, they will learn social cues and the meaning of “your look” but as toddlers, they need to be told forthrightly, and forthright conversation, requires attention. Hence, their names will become some of the most frequent words you say.

In our household, when we call our children’s names my husband and I have taught them to acknowledge that we’ve called them. Immediately upon hearing their moniker, they are supposed to respond “Yes, Mommy” or “Yes, Daddy.” This has very practical significance; we want to make sure that they hear us before we start talking to them. However, there is a parental concern as well. When they hear their name we want them to answer in the affirmative because we want to make sure that they are prepared to follow our instructions. With their words, and hopefully with their hearts, we want them to be ready to obey.

It’s a model that we see represented by many people in the Bible. When Israel called Joseph to go to his brothers who were tending their flocks, he immediately said “Here I am.” His words represented the commitment that he had made in his heart to do what his father would ask. Similarly, we see Samuel and Isaiah respond this way when God calls them. Their words weren’t intended to give their location; after all God knew where they were. Instead, their declaration was a verbal commitment that they were ready to hear from God and willing to do what He would call them to do. It’s an affirmation that they are prepared to do what God tasks them with, sometimes even before they know what it is.

And the same should be true for every Christian. Every follower of Christ should be ready and eager to say “here I am” to God. We should be eager to listen to His instructions and have hearts that are committed to doing His will. We need to be ready and eager to obey God even before we know the specifics of what He will require of us. Because He is good, we can trust that His commands will be too. Because He is God, we can trust that what He requires of us will be used for His Kingdom’s purposes.

 

The First Step

March 31, 2017 — Leave a comment

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

There are times in our lives where we feel like we are carrying the weight of the world. The pressure to do all that we are supposed to do can feel overwhelming. And yet, Scripture tells us that for the Christian that should not be the case. Because the Christian should be casting their cares on the Lord (I Peter 5:7) and trusting in His provision for all that is set before them.

But how does one do this? What seems like a beneficial concept can become difficult in practice. We know we are supposed to rely on God and yet we still feel the pressure for our responsibilities, our relationships, and our commitments.

In my experience, the way that we put this concept into practice is by heeding the first part of Matthew 11:28. Christ says to “come” to Him. So often when we feel the pressure of all that we are supposed to do, we haven’t even taken the time to pray. As a Christian, we often use prayer as our last resort, when it should be our first resource. Christ is able to do more than we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20), and when we come to Him with our burdens first, and prayerfully lay that at His feet, we can then exchange our feelings of pressure, for His promise of peace (Phil. 4:7).

Whatever God has set before you today, or this coming week, may you first come to Him with your cares and concerns. May you lay before Him your desires and your worries, and may His children have confidence that He is already working through those things to accomplish His good purposes (Rom. 8:28).

One of the benefits of having kids is the frequent reminders of what unadulterated wonder looks like. Kids tend to find amazement in what has become commonplace.. Nothing, it seems, is too small to comment on. Everything is worthy of a declaration; pronouncements over the mundane fill our day.

In the midst of the minute-by-minute play-by-play of each task and every activity, is the simply joy in discovery. The clouds may look like the same clouds as yesterday to you and to me,  but to my child they are a dinosaur today. The purple dog statute that we pass regularly may be an inconsequential oddity, but it never fails to generate a response. The garbage truck would probably escape my notice, but it certainly won’t hers.

For many, these moments may become an annoyance. The running commentary can certainly get overwhelming at times. However, as anyone whose kids have grown will tell you, the days may be long but the years are short. Before I know it, she may find little to reason to talk to me. And I try to remind myself of that when even the cloudless sky generates a two-minute discussion.

The other reason that I have found to treasure these soliloquies is because they give me the opportunity to talk with my daughter about the greatness of God in terms that she readily relates to. As she looks in astonishment at the majesty of the sky, I can teach her about the majesty of our King. As she stands in awe at the orchestration of the birds’ migration, we can talk about the divine orchestration of every detail of our world. As she marvels in the beauty of a multicolored sky, I remind her that the God who created that beauty, also created her. Her constant wonderment reminds me of the many reasons we have to give thanks. The soundtrack of our day then becomes an anthem of praise; an off-key and unfocused one to be sure, but still a moment by moment remainder of the One who deserves all praise.

I know as my daughter gets older she won’t have the same sense of wonder that she has now. Soon it will take much more than drops of rain for her to wildly exclaim. Until then though, I hope I use her astute attention to detail to teach her about the God who  has made and sustained all that she sees. Maybe then when the sense of wonder fades, she will still see God’s hand in her everyday.

 

What Seems Good

March 29, 2017 — Leave a comment

Frequently when we are going out to eat, my husband will ask me if there’s anything I want. Most of the time I tell him that I have no particular preference, and that is truly the case. Until he tells me where he’s thinking of going. More often that I would like to admit, his declaration will demonstrate to me that I do have a preference – and that preference is distinctly different from where he’s heading.

While this tendency is likely frustrating to my husband, I fear that too often, I might have the same proclivity with God. I talk a good game about trusting Him and His timing, but when His plan begins to unfold, I want to use my powers of persuasion to change His mind. I say that the decision is up to Him, but when He leads me down a certain path, I want to take the steering wheel of my life and go a different way. Intellectually I know that what He desires will win out and that in fighting against His will I am only costing myself, but in my heart I sometimes still act as if my preferences should carry the day.

While this temptation may be relatable, I wish instead that I was more like Joab, the commander of David’s army. When Joab and his men were caught between two seemingly impossible foes, he left his future solely in the hands of God. After giving instructions, he simply stated “may the Lord do what seems good to him” (I Chron. 19:13b). He didn’t agonize over the outcome; he didn’t bargain for his preference. He knew that God was faithful and that God was going to act in a way that was in keeping with His divine plan. Whether that meant victory or defeat was seemingly inconsequential; instead what mattered was that God’s goodness could be trusted. Joab knew that Israel may have lost that battle, but he also knew that the promises of God were true. Whatever happened in that day would not change the fact that God’s kindness would be evident in the nation’s future.

As much as this was true for Joab and his men, it is true for those who are God’s children today. We may not know the details of what the future holds, but we know that God is good and that His good plans will not be hindered. When we aren’t sure whether things will go “our” way, we can trust that ultimately they will go His. Because of this, we need not fear but can instead join with Joab in saying “may the Lord do what seems good to him.”

Singular Focus

March 28, 2017 — Leave a comment

Focus.

It is a word that is talked about a lot. People know that they need to focus on their work, on their family, on their friends, and on their responsibilities. Even though the word denotes a singular ambition, when people talk about what they are “focusing” on it usually involves a multiple of priorities and ambitions.

Jesus made it clear, however, that the focus for the Christian should be singular in nature. Although many people have tried to “balance” their commitment to Christ with their commitment to something else, Christ deserves and demands supremacy. In Luke 16, He said, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (V. 13, ESV). Jesus was revealing what countless generations of lives have proven – a person truly committed to serving Christ will not be pursuing any other interest. Everything in that person’s life will pale in comparison to their devotion to Him.

This can seem to be a hard truth. After all, the Christian has relationships and concerns just like the non-Christian, and Jesus was not dismissing those. Instead, He was teaching His disciples that pursuit of anything in place of or in addition to Him would bound to be a disappointment. No one can fill the “God-shaped hole” that we each have except for God Himself. When we seek Him first, and He is the focus of our pursuits, our passions, and our petitions, than we can trust that our hearts will be satisfied and that He will provide all we need to live the life He has called us to live.

Unprepared

March 27, 2017 — Leave a comment

Recently we were having one of those evenings where our normal bedtime routine was in shambles. Our kids were being disobedient, my website crashed, the adults in the household weren’t feeling well, and chaos was reigning supreme. After we finally got the kids to bed, I commiserated with my husband who was bearing the brunt of the tantrum tornado, and he responded in a way that I wasn’t expecting. He said to me “I just wasn’t prepared.”

And that made perfect sense. We have the same routine almost every night, and almost every night it goes relatively smoothly. There was no indication earlier in the day that the close of the day would be a challenge. We tend to think things will go well. Until they don’t.

But as any solider can tell you – you can’t just prepare when battle is imminent. Fighting wars, as well as fighting sin, requires constant vigilance and ongoing alertness. It’s the skirmishes that catch us off guard that often reveal the true status of our heart.

Consequently, the Christian should be constantly training. We should be deepening our knowledge of Scripture so that we have the sword of the Spirit with which to fight temptation. We should be strengthening our prayer life so that we are relying on God’s strength and wisdom, and not our own. We should be serving more, and loving better, so that our first thought is for the good of others and not ourselves.

This doesn’t mean that we still won’t have unexpected battles. There are going to continue to be days where things don’t go as planned and challenges catch us off guard. But it does mean that we will be better equipped to fight the battles with God’s grace and power. And then while the skirmishes may be unexpected, we increasingly won’t be unprepared.