Category Archives: Grace

Brought to the Point of Change

But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully.  He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.  He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’  So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.  Mark 12:3-7  (Read earlier verses if you need context.)

The movie Captive opened this past weekend, telling the real life story of Ashley Smith, a drug addict whose life turned around when she was held hostage by escaped convict and murderer Brian Nichols.

captive

I watched a recent interview Katie Couric did with Ashley Smith.  It was truly amazing to hear Smith tell how she managed to say “no” to doing meth on the night she was held hostage, when she had not been able to resist it before.

At this time her life was in ruins.  She had lost custody of her daughter.  It was only when she thought her life was over that she had the motivation to, as she put it, make the right choice one time before she died.

And once she made that choice, God began to work, and her life began to change.  She was able to build a rapport with Nichols.  She got away from him.  She never did drugs again.  She got married and had a family.

God is good at orchestrating things so we have the motivation to finally make that one good choice we haven’t been able to make.

I’ve been listening to Exodus lately. There are some parallels here.  God brought Pharoh to the point where he was finally motivated to do what God asked.

In the same way, the parable above speaks of how God would bring the Israelites to the point where they would be finally motivated to do the right thing.

Mark 12 goes on to read:

What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:

‘The stone the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone;

the Lord has done this,

and it is marvelous in our eyes’

 The disaster of killing the Messiah would turn into something marvelous.

As Peter preached in Acts 4:

Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.  Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

It’s amazing. In the most unlikely of ways, SALVATION came to Israel, to the Gentiles, to US.

The crucifixion brings us all to the point of making of one right choice: the decision to give our life fully to Christ in faith.

When we realize that we personally are responsible for the death of God’s own son, and that God freely sent His son to be abandoned, abused, spit on, tortured, killed, when all the while we were stubbornly rejecting Him over and over, it breaks our heart, it drives us to our knees in awe.  It’s the only thing that can motivate us to turn our life around.

It’s hard to think we are personally responsible, because we weren’t living back then.  But our willful wrongdoing ensured that Christ had to die even if everyone else was perfect.

The picture of grace here is astounding.  How could God have reached out to the Israelites, over and over again, in the face of their rejection?  “He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.”

How could God reach out to us, time after time, when we turn away and run after what WE want?

I am so inspired, so filled up with the wonder of this.

And I remember times God has brought me to the point of change.  When I was in my 20’s my marriage had problems and I was unhappy. I dedicated myself more wholly to God and I have been deeply joyful ever since.  Later, Ken and I were very discouraged because three couples in our family group got divorced.  We moved to Auburn, rededicated our lives to God, and grew in great ways.  Recently, it’s been hard because of my friend’s cancer, and setbacks in the church.  We decided to become more mission focused.  We’ve been invigorated.

It’s the same for all of us.  Here are a few lessons to take away from this:

  1. What seems like a crisis can be a turning point.
  2. Sometimes experiencing crisis is the only way to bring us to character change.
  3. God works through processes over time to bring us to the point of change.
  4. Sometimes we need to see the consequences of our stubborn hard heart, of doing it our way, in order to change.
  5. When we make that one good choice, it can alter our whole future.
  6. God, in His mind boggling grace, gives us many more chances than we deserve to make the right choice.

Love so amazing, so divine.  Demands my soul, my heart, my all.

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Patience in the Journey

curse fig tree

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

Wait!  Jesus had just been talking about fig trees and mountains throwing themselves in the sea, about faith and fruitfulness.  How did forgiveness get thrown in there?

One reason is that forgiveness is so vital.

You know why I think we need to forgive people so much?  It’s not necessarily because they’re always sinning against us directly.  It’s because we’re always getting indignant.  We rail, “How could they do that?”   We get huffy, “I can’t believe they said that.”  People just blow our groove.  They disturb our peace.  They interrupt our flow.  They don’t conform.  They disrupt our idea of how the world should go.

Notice that Jesus calls what we do “holding” something against someone.  This is so true.  We keep our grudges close, like they’re a possession.  We nurse them.  We love to think about how wrong that person is.  We don’t let it go.

The bottom line is we don’t tolerate weakness in others well.

Yet we are all weak. Yes, we may be baptized disciples. We may have repented and changed to be a better person. But there are parts of our character that take time to transform. Deep change is a process.

We’re all on a journey. I love to read and write fiction. You know what makes a good story? Character growth. I’m reading a book by Catherine Ryan Hyde, and there’s not a lot of exciting action in the book. It’s just a story of people going through real life challenges. But it’s a great book because the characters in this story are so flawed and real. They have to overcome timidity, immaturity, fear, resentment, hurt, and when they finally do, the reader rejoices.

One book I really enjoyed by Catherine Ryan Hyde

One book I really enjoyed by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I don’t pretend to understand the workings of God, but it’s the same for us.  Our characters are forged through life.

And there’s nothing more inspiring.  As I look around church, I see people who are changing on the inside over time.  It’s impressive to see how different they became when they studied the Bible.  But it’s maybe even more moving to see what they become through the years as God works on them.  It’s amazing to remember the trials they went through, and see them triumphant on the other side.

It was so encouraging to honor Tuskegee graduate Devonte Jones last Friday, and celebrate all he has done.

It was so encouraging to honor Tuskegee graduate Devonte Jones last Friday, and celebrate all he has done.

THIS glorifies God SO MUCH!

So we can’t be afraid of weakness in others.  It’s their journey. We’ll cheer them on, and help them along the way.  We’ll pray fervently for them.  And then we, and the Universe, will watch in anticipation to see if they will CHOOSE to overcome, if they will call on God to help them overcome.  Not everyone will.  That’s what makes it so powerful and compelling when someone does.

Antoinette's AU graduation  on Saturday.  It has been awesome to watch her growth!

Antoinette’s graduation. It has been awesome to watch her growth!

Experiencing this with someone is one of my greatest joys.  But it also incurs my greatest struggles.  I go through their triumphs with them, AND their messes.

We have to accept that If we have a relationship with someone, we’re going to experience their mistakes, their foolishness.  We have to be PATIENT!

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. I Thes 5:14

Because the crazy thing is, that when Jesus said this about forgiving, he was on his way to Jerusalem, knowing he was about to die for people who were unfruitful, like the fig tree he cursed.  He was preparing to perform the ultimate act of forgiveness.  He would soon say, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus knew that, in the end, all of his teaching about doing right would not be enough.  He knew that even with all of our efforts, we would not make enough good choices.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . . For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Romans 5:6-10

While we were sinners Christ died for us

While we were sinners Christ died for us

Jesus was PATIENT with us. He did not treat us as our sins deserve. Instead, he stepped forward to clean up the mess caused by our foolishness. If we keep that in mind, it is much easier to forgive others for their weaknesses.

So what Jesus was basically saying to his disciples was, “Forgive them, even though they are undeserving.”

I love how the Amplified Version phrases Mark 11:25:

 And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him and let it drop (leave it, let it go), in order that your Father Who is in heaven may also forgive you your [own] failings and shortcomings and let them drop.

Let it go.  Drop it.  Don’t hold onto it.

Because that’s what God does with us.

And because we recognize that God’s writing a story in each one of us, and that thing we don’t want to forgive is a part of the story.  The drama of the story will be in the way He teaches us to overcome.

I have to remind myself that I really don’t know how to get people to that point.  I know some things that will help.  But ONLY GOD knows how to orchestrate character change.  I have to pray and let Him guide.

So what does forgiveness have to do with fig trees and mountains, with fruitfulness and faith?   Jesus showed us true forgiveness so that we could truly be fruitful and our prayers be answered.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  John 15:7-8

It’s all connected, following Jesus, forgiving, bearing fruit.  One leads to the other, which leads to the other.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:12

God gives his love to us, the unworthy, and we pass it on.  And that opens the way for God to work in us and through us.

Let’s pass it on.  Let’s practice forbearance, not frustration.

And we will experience abundance and happy endings.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  II Peter 3:0

“No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jer 31:34

“So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. Is 54:8-10

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Glory Hungry or Grace Hungry?

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”  “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.  They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”  Mark 10:35-37

Following Jesus is not for personal gain. Sure, this seems obvious.  On a deeper level, though, it’s a good reminder for me.

Because I have to admit that I want to look good, and Christian stuff — doing things for others, being loving and loving, etc — these all make me look good.  I can be wise.  I can have the answers.  I can be respected.

Ugh!  How ugly it is that I would want glory for MYSELF through following Christ!  I relate to Simon the sorcerer only too well.  “When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability. . . “  (Acts 8:18-19a)  He too wanted to follow Jesus for personal gain.

I have to learn to be okay with messing up, to accept that I am just a fallible person, so I’m not needy for glory.

A couple of weeks ago Ken and I got with a young married couple.  They shared about an incident, a series of mistakes they made in how they treated one another at a party.  As they told the story, they started laughing at how foolish they’d been.  That led Ken to share a similar story about us.  Did I laugh at my foolishness as he related what happened?  No, I got hurt and mad.

Can I learn to laugh at myself more, laugh at my failures?

Can I be more like Paul in II Cor 12:10?   “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Can I actually delight in weaknesses, even thank God for them?

Jesus said in this II Cor. passage,  “My grace is all you need.”  I’ve got to get this through my head!  God’s grace is THE ONLY THING I NEED.  I don’t need to get my security from looking good.  I need to get it from him.

Going on with today’s reading from Mark 10 —

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 

God’s not interested in giving me personal glory I crave.  Nope, instead, he gives me the cup of trials.

And what have I been in my trials?  A ball of irritability, thinking grumpy negative thoughts, wanting to smash something.

So it was perfectly appropriate that Carol shared with me last night this passage from “Jesus Calling,” by Sarah Young —

“THANK ME for the very things that are troubling you. You are on the brink of rebellion, precariously close to shaking your fist in My Face. You are tempted to indulge in just a little complaining about My treatment of you. But once you step over that line, torrents of rage and self-pity can sweep you away. The best protection against this indulgence is thanksgiving. It is impossible to thank Me and curse Me at the same time. Thanking Me for trials will feel awkward and contrived at first. But if you persist, your thankful words, prayed in faith, will eventually make a difference in your heart.”

I not only need to “find pleasure” in my weaknesses, I need to thank God and find joy in my trials.

Fooey!  I don’t like to remember James 1 —

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

You know, in church for the past few weeks, we’ve been studying out discipling relationships.  The conclusion I’ve come to is that we are to help Christ to be formed in one another.  (Gal 4:19, Matt 28:18-20)

And I am realizing more and more that the only way Christ will be formed is through humility.

I humble myself.  I admit I’m weak.  I admit I don’t know how to do it.

He lifts me up and makes me what I need to be.

I don’t, I CAN’T, seek glory for myself.

Only He can give it to me.

Then it’s all grace.  And that grace meets my every need.

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Great is His Compassion

My sweet kitty -- out of suffering

My sweet kitty — out of suffering

So much has happened lately.

I had my cat put to sleep last week. It was really hard. I stroked her head as she went through the final indignity of being held down and getting the injections in her shaved leg.  The house seems empty without her.

We had two wonderful encouraging baptisms yesterday.  One of our good friends got married, and we watched the wedding over the Internet.

And there have been tragedies.  Close family members have a family member in the hospital.  One of those in our house church is out of town with her grandmother who had a mild heart attack.  I got the news last night that a brother who led a nearby sister church passed away unexpectedly.  I saw on Facebook this morning that the grandchild of someone who is loved by many of us is not doing well in the hospital.

It is so fitting that I have been studying out compassion.

Here is some of what I’ve read –

Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!”  And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  Ex 33:17-19

 And he (the Lord) passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.   Ex 34:6

Part of the unapproachable holy glory of God is His compassion. It is one of the factors that make Him so awesome.

Look at how Ps 103 describes this —

Praise the Lord, my soul;

all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the Lord, my soul,

and forget not all his benefits—

who forgives all your sins

and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit

and crowns you with love and compassion,

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

All of these things listed that we should praise the Lord for – forgiveness, healing, redemption, blessings — stem from His compassion. We should magnify the Lord with EVERYTHING IN US because His nature is divinely gracious, caring and merciful.

I see great examples of compassion all around me . I saw a post on the “People of New York” about one woman who got hooked on heroin, and can’t kick the habit. Hundreds of random people cared enough to comment and tell her to hang in there, that she could do it.

Our friend Jack wrote to the man who is going through the acute illness of his grandchild: “Our hearts are with you as you and your family endure trials and sickness. . . I have not walked in the challenges that are upon you, and you have lots of close friends; we all with one heart are on our knees thanking God for you and your family and asking Him to care for you. You are precious to God. We pray and we weep with you in your sorrows & trials . . .”

This is compassion – a heart that is deeply moved by the challenges of another, that is WITH THEM in grief and sorrow.  God created us to be a people who would resonate with one another.  We were never made to be a people unto our self.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.  Lam 3:22

By His mercies I have every benefit of my life — the breaths I take, my health, my redemption, a bounty of good things.  Out of His perpetual mercy He gives, and gives.

And as that wells up in me, I slow down, take a deep breath, and take time to feel what others are feeling.  I try to continue to the chain God started.

Life is to be shared.

Our new sister and brother

Our new sister and brother

wedding

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The Gospel of Jesus: Much More!

No One Like Him

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  Matt 7:11

Ken has been reading “No One Like Him” by Thomas A. Jones, and yesterday he read aloud to me this amazing chapter on “His Good News:  Extravagant Generosity.”  It is so good, I want to make sure I remember it.  I am going to mark this as one of my favorite blogs.

In the chapter, Jones stresses that the gospel from the mouth and life of Jesus is incredibly, insanely good.  This gospel is that God will give MUCH MORE.

Here are some examples:

  • The woman at the well
  • The parable of the man forgiven the huge debt
  • The justification of the tax collector who prayed with the Pharisee
  • The story of Zacchaeus
  • The forgiveness of the woman and Simon’s house
  • The parable of the workers in the vineyard
  • The support of the man who confessed his doubt
  • The numerous healings of those with demon possession
  • The cleansing of the ten lepers
  • The forgiveness of the thief on the cross

In addition, Jones mentions that the core group of the Jesus’ followers had failed at the crucial hour and were therefore in their roles only because of “relentless grace” of the Son of God.

God gives MUCH MORE.  More than we expect.  More than we deserve.

Jesus characterizes this extravagant generosity, and THAT becomes our motivation.  As Jones says —

“Every standard Jesus sets for us, every challenge he gives us, every seemingly impossible moral imperative he announces must be seen in the context of this insanely generous love, the abundance of support, this extravagant generosity. Take away this gift, this offer, this lavishing of grace, and the call to follow Jesus would just be too hard the Sermon on the Mount would be a burden, and the idea of seeking first the will of God would wear us down.

There is something so great in the kingdom that the only appropriate response is a radical one.”

So my prayer for the new year is that we all would be able to see the MUCH MORE of Jesus, and that would be the impetus behind all we do.  Because the gospel is much more than a bunch of things we are supposed to do.  It is much more than a set of teachings, or even the story of a man who gave his life.  It is the story of a God whose very nature is to shower us with abundance, whose generosity defies logic, who delights in bestowing unexpected and undeserved blessings.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.   Eph 1:18-19

I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.   Acts 26:17-18a

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”  Matt 13:52

 

 

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Grace Always Provides a Window

window2

Grace ALWAYS provides a window.  There IS a way.   A way to get through temptation.  A way to get through impossible situations.  A way for the impossible to happen.

  • He who did not spare his own son, will he not graciously give us all things?  Romans 8:32
  • No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.  I Cor 10:13

Grace provides a window because God WILL be glorified.

  • Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.  John 12:28
  • I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols  Isa 42:8
  • For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
      Isa 48:11
  • Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.  Ps 106:8
  • But for the sake of my name, I brought them out of Egypt. I did it to keep my name from being profaned in the eyes of the nations.  Ezek 20:9
  • He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  Ps 46:10
  • “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.” John 14:13

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Living Out of the Overflow

One new thing I’ve done lately is join a women’s choral group.  It’s a lot of fun, we do music that is challenging, especially for me — I’m singing 1st soprano!  That means I have to hit the high notes.

Everyone’s older than me by about 20 years. The leader, Phyllis, is an energetic white haired woman who wears tee shirts and tennis shoes. On one song we were having trouble doing justice to a string of high notes. Phyllis told us that if we took a deep breath, we could sing out of the overflow of that breath and have the capacity to sustain the higher tones. I tried to do what she said, and it helped.

Singing out of the overflow.

I realized that I want to apply the same concept to my life. I want to live and serve God out of the overflow.

The deep breath I take is thanksgiving.  I inhale grace. I open my hands to the blessings all around me – the cat curled up in a sunbeam, the vibrant red leaves against a blue sky, the happy faces of friends at church, a kiss from my husband, a spiritual insight.

And then life isn’t so much of an effort. The breath of thanksgiving sustains me.

It’s something I do over and over again throughout the day. Inhale goodness. Exhale joyful service.

But then I began to see that there is so much more to breathe in.

I inhale grace again, and this time it is being right with God! I am HIS BELOVED CHILD. I am walking in the light and the blood continually cleanses me from sin. (I J 1:7) It is amazing. I think it again: I am right with God.

I inhale favor. I think of the way Jesus described communion with God. I am vitally connected to the vine. HIS power flows through me. I have only to ask and it will be given me. (John 15:7) Nothing is impossible for me. (Mark 11:24)

Inhale.  And then live out of the overflow.  May my thanksgiving be as constant as breathing.  May I soak up  the realization of the blessed state I HAVE.  May this carry me into a life of beauty.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, overflowing with thankfulness.  Col 2:6-7

…as God’s kindness overflows in the lives of many people, it will produce even more thanksgiving to the glory of God.  II Cor 4:15

 

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