Do You Know How to Live Grace?

ImageHave you ever gotten a continual message from God…over and over and over again in as many different ways as you can imagine?

Lately that has been my experience with the gospel.  Every book I pick up, every sermon I hear, every quote I find, and every verse I read points me to the gospel…or at least it seems that way.

And although I’ve heard the concept of preaching the gospel to myself daily and understood it to some degree, I haven’t got it as profoundly as I’d like.

I’m praying for understanding, for application and for ability to live out the gospel daily.

I just read these verses and again what struck me was the gospel!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.  Galatians 1:3-6

God truly has been reminding me over and over again about His relentless, passionate, and unconditional love for me… for all of us.

The first word GRACE (love that word BTW) is defined as “an undeserved act of kindness”.  It represents all that we have received as a result of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.

And then that other lovely word, PEACE is a result of the grace we have received because of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.

That sounds a little bit repetitive, but I’m trying to get that gospel message into my head and heart more deeply than ever – that the grace and peace that God gives us is because of Jesus, not us.

Isn’t that freeing?

It was God’s will for Jesus to die for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to, so that we could have a relationship with Him, so that we would know that He loves us more than we could ever imagine.

I don’t know about you, but I need to know that…I mean really and truly know that.

I have recognized lately that I really struggle with thinking I’m worthy of anything.  I wonder if everything happened because I really am a complete mess…because a lot of times I really feel like one.

Sometimes I feel like I’m such a failure. I wonder if I’ll ever get things right with parenting, home management and with my career (whatever that may be).  I wonder if anyone would truly be able to deal with my life…really.  I wonder if I could ever truly be a blessing of a wife to someone…my first time around didn’t end so well.

The funny thing about my fears and my feelings…I know they are bogus.  They don’t reflect who I am in Christ.  And I know who I am so why do I struggle so? 

Why is it so difficult to see my value as a child of the King?  Why am I so impacted by my successes or failures in this sin-ridden world?

I think the key word is “sin-ridden”.  Stuff is just gonna be a struggle here.

Fear is gonna assail us, but it doesn’t have to defeat us.

Doubts are gonna rain down on us, but they don’t have to drown us.

Failure is gonna happen, but it doesn’t have to define us.

What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He would did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:31-35, 37-39

More than conquerors!  Seriously, how can we be more than conquerors? That’s crazy!

Crazy good though.

God didn’t send Jesus to live and die for me, so that I could live a life of defeat.  He’s not even content with me living a life of mediocre.  I’m free from the power of sin and death…I’ll struggle to be sure, but God has already given me all I need to live a life of freedom and victory.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

I’m free to live without fear of condemnation.  Free to live without fear of failure.  Free to live without fear period.

I’m not a slave to sin, to fear, to anxiety, to past mistakes, to expectations, to failures, to successes, to anything.

I don’t have to fear because God loves me perfectly.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  1 John 4:18

But that love…that perfect love…that is God.  That is the gospel.  That is what Paul is talking about…the source of our grace and peace.

I want grace to impact me daily – to speak to the way I think about myself, others, and life.  But how…

How do I make grace, not just something I know about, but something I live for and by and with constantly?

Is it as simple as waking up and reminding myself of who I am and who He is?  Is that it?  I guess that’s a definitely step in the right direction!

Time in the Word – as always that’s part of the answer, it just is!  When I look for it, I see the gospel everywhere in Scripture.  God’s relentless and loving pursuit of His people is all throughout the Bible.

Prayer – yup, prayer…who’d a thunk it…J

I’m asking God to show me how the gospel of grace should impact me and my children.  And God is showing me in little ways…in my parenting adventures, in my interaction with friends, in my attitude about things, in how I do what He’s called me to do…in everything.

I’m getting it…slowly.  I don’t get things easily.  I gotta work for it…but God is working with me!

I believe that God is showing me the huge amount of grace I need so that I can be a grace-filled person toward others.

My prayer is that grace would spill out of me all over everyone around me.

As God shows me how to live this grace-filled life…this gospel-centered life…I will share and we can grow together in our walk with the Lord!

final diagram verse

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  Romans 5:3-5

This morning my Bible study was on suffering.  I had a few thoughts as I realized what the day’s topic was:

Ugh.  Really? Suffering? 

What a minute…isn’t this Bible study on the book of Philippians – shouldn’t it be mostly about joy!?

Oh no!  I don’t want to study suffering…whenever I study something my life seems to mirror the topic. 

Can I opt out?

I don’t want any more character…

But I diligently went through all the verses on suffering.  They were familiar verses like Romans 8:28-30 “…for those who love God, all things work together for good…” and 2 Corinthians 4:11-18 “…this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” and 1 Peter 1:6-9 “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

I really like the verses in 1 Peter.  Being a past grammar teacher (please don’t judge my grammar now…many many brain cells have died since then), I had the fleeting thought of diagramming the verses to see what modified what and all that English major geeky stuff.  Instead I decided to diagram 1 Peter 1:6-9 my own way.

It was interesting to see it all laid out visually.  I’m a consummate visual learning.  Big pictures are good for me.

So often I need big pictures, hand-written notes, and some serious concentration to understand.  Sometimes a friend will say that I’m a deep thinker…really I’m not.  Occasionally I’ll have a profound thought but if I don’t write it down immediately it’s gone…forever.

So as I’m studying today I thought I’d write down what God is showing me about suffering.

I’m in an interesting place right now.  There is no big thing causing me to suffer great amounts of pain or sorrow.  I’m living a life that is just simply challenging.  I don’t believe it’s more difficult than most nor is it easier than most.  It’s just my life.

I used be a judgmental kinda gal…in my head. I recall sitting at a Bible study listening to ladies share their prayer requests thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding?  Really, THAT’s your prayer request?!  Just wait til I share mine!”

Oh my goodness! I’m so ashamed of those thoughts.

I distinctly remember the last time I thought that.  It was during the second year of my single parenting adventure.  I was working full-time, trying to raise two toddlers, two teenagers and a middle child J and I was fried.  A sweet, sweet lady shared a prayer request that seemed so ridiculous to me…and those thoughts started.  Almost immediately I thought, “Who am I to judge how this dear friend feels about things in her life.  Just because they seem minor to me does not in any way discount how major they seem to her.”

I’m not sure what was different at that point except that God was softening my heart with all the love and grace He was pouring into my life.  I’d received so much of it that I was able to offer it…not out of the goodness of my heart but out of the overflow of His.

The suffering in my life has produced something good.  Something wonderful.  I believe that I’m becoming a more compassionate, kinder, more grace-filled woman.  It doesn’t always show but God’s working with me.  Becoming more and more that godly woman has become the desire of my heart.  I have a vision for it…for her…that woman, mother, friend, daughter, Christian I want to be.

It sounds an awful lot like the character thing that Paul mentions in Romans 5:3-5! Maybe I was wrong about wanting more character…well, I think I should probably take the word maybe out of this sentence.  I can always use more character.

Suffering = Endurance = Character = Hope

And hope.  Who doesn’t want more hope!?  I most certainly do.  Each day I’m beginning to understand more and more the hope that is mine in Christ.

In the days, months, years since my family shattered, I’ve been particularly blessed by many of the Psalms.  I especially love how they pour out their anguish, anger, and anxieties to God and then will often say things like this:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.  Psalm 42:5

How beautiful that God continues to bring us back to Him.  What a blessing to know that in the midst of great suffering there is hope.  Not only can we bring all the difficulties of our suffering to God, but we can trust Him to bring us through it all.

It brings to mind another verse I read this morning:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28

Those Psalmists probably were groaning to the Lord and the Spirit was interceding for them…searching their hearts.  He interceded for them just as He does for us.  And the confidence of that intercession brought them to the same place those verses in Romans can bring us…a place of understanding that God will always work things together for good.  Thank you Father!

It isn’t just in our suffering that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us though.  I have always loved this verse:

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.  Hebrews 7:25

Jesus LIVES to make intercession for us!  Lives to do it!  What!?!

Dictionary.com defines intercession like this:  “an interposing or pleading on behalf of another person; a prayer to God on behalf of another.”

Jesus lives to plead on my behalf.

Doesn’t that just blow your mind?  Not only did He live the sinless life I couldn’t, die the death I should’ve, and be raised to life again with power I can’t comprehend…He NOW lives for me!

Jesus is so all about me!

Why can’t I be all about Him?  (Argh.)

A lot of the verses I read this morning were about sharing in the sufferings of Christ, having a desire to know Christ better through His sufferings, following the example He set while suffering, and glorifying Him through our suffering.

I think being all about Christ means that I’m willing to suffer for Him, with Him, like Him.  I don’t think it means that I have a desire to suffer but rather a willingness to because it is a “gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Peter 2:18-25) and it brings Him glory and me growth in my faith.

I write about suffering with great trepidation.  It’s not based on anything Biblical, just a fear of more suffering.  I wish I was braver.

I trust God and I know He uses it all for good, I just hate going through it.

I understand though and, like the Psalmist, I do believe that God is worthy of praise and trust even in the trials.

Studying suffering is going to be good for me.  Reminding me again that God is good even when life is bad.  That I can indeed rejoice in my suffering because I have Jesus.

Time to put the proverbial big girl pants on and get busy in the Word!

Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  1 Peter 5:8-10


 

hospice, hope and healing

Daisies on white

“Momma, I don’t want grandpa to die, but I know he will feel so much better in heaven.”

My sweet 12 year old son uttered those words as we sat in an Urgent Care waiting to see the doctor for the two of us, and while my father lay in a hospital bed waiting for word from his doctor.

Today we found out that those words were not the ones we hoped to hear.  Those words included “hospice.”  Earlier in the week I had said that word, but it was in a hopeful sentence, “At least they haven’t mentioned hospice.” 

Now they have and I don’t know what to do with that word.  It strikes a pain in my chest I can hardly bear.  It brings me to tears just thinking of my dear father facing death so imminently. 

My daddy accepted the Lord about 10 years ago, but has not truly grasped what it means to him.  Oh that he could grasp grace and not let go of it.  It breaks my heart in more pieces than I can say that he hasn’t.  I can see the fear and anxiety etched on his beloved gaunt face.  I can hear it in his frustrated, angry words. 

We have all talked with my dad.  Friends have too.  We’ve tried to encourage him in his faith, but it’s hard when death is staring back so relentlessly.  I long for my Dad to see life instead of death…Life!!! 

I’ve dealt with a lot of pain and sorrow since my family fell apart 4 years ago.  There is a large part of my heart that is already in heaven.  I want to be there so badly I can taste it sometimes.  I understand Paul’s statement, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.”  (Philippians 1:21)  But I am not faced with my death coming soon…at least that I know of.  I pray that my hope would not waver in the end. 

My Daddy’s hope is wavering…it’s wobbling all over the place.  I wish I knew exactly the right words so he could really grasp that peace which passes all understanding to guard his heart and his mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7), but once again, God is reminding me that I’m not the one in charge.

God loves my dad so very much.  He doesn’t want this man to die hopelessly, but rather with hope of eternal glory…of all the wonder that is heaven blissfully beckoning. 

We all selfishly want healing or even partial healing so that my dad will be around longer.  But like my little boy said, why would I want to have my dad suffer another day when he could know true and complete healing in heaven?  I know the answer but I can’t bring myself to write it because I want my dad around.  I want my children to know their grandpa even better…I want him to tell stories we haven’t heard or even ones we have. I want more time with him.

Tomorrow I will head back down to see my dad…to spend the day with him while things beep and swish around us and nurses come in and out and in and out and in out, and he tries to rest amid it all.  I will pray for the opportunity to encourage and bless my dad…and I will pray for peace for him and for all of us…and I will hope in the Lord for my dad’s eternal inheritance and mine as well. 

Repeat Offender…Me

sunset

Isn’t it just the way…when you start talking a lot about something, it becomes something big in your life?  Even if it already was a big thing.

I’ve been really blessed to share a lot about my story lately.  And a big part of my story is forgiveness.  I can’t overemphasis its importance in my life.

Apparently, God doesn’t want me to forget it…forgiveness for me and forgiveness for others.

Today I woke up feeling such a burden to pray…to ask for forgiveness.  I have struggled with many things over the past several years.  I seem to continually struggle with the same dumb things over and over and over again.  I do the same thing repeatedly and feel like God must be getting tired of my requests for forgiveness.  I don’t understand how He couldn’t weary of me.  And yet, I know that He never tires of my repentance even if it is for the same repeated offense.

I wonder…

Do I offer that kind of forgiveness…ever? 

There are 5 other people in my family.  Five people to forgive and be forgiven by.  What do I teach my children about forgiveness?

I know they know that it’s important.  But what about when it’s a repeated offense?  I don’t think I’ve taught that one well.

I have a child that tends toward lying.  Absolutely heartbreaking.  This child, who I’ll call Repeat Offender, is quick to ask forgiveness when there’s no way around it.  A few days ago Repeat Offender said, “I’m sorry Mom. Please forgive me.”  And I said, “Yeah, I forgive you, but seriously how many times are you gonna do this?  It’s kinda hard to believe your repentance is real when I know you are just gonna do it again.”

Did I seriously say that to my child?

I mean I know it’s a valid question to some degree…but not a valid SPOKEN question to a child!  I said out loud to Repeat Offender what I pray God never says to me, an absolute repeat offender.  At 40-something (ahem) I find myself still struggling with so much I thought I’d be past by now.  I’m so disappointed with myself. 

How could I deny forgiveness to anyone?  I need so much of it myself.

The Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?’  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”  Matthew 18:21-22

I’m so Peter. 

“So Jesus, let’s be serious here.  How many times do I really need to forgive someone?  You know when they keep doing the same thing over and over, it’s like 7 times right?  That’s pretty generous.”

And Jesus, He just basically says, “As many times as it takes.”

Drat.  Really?  Because sometimes that is sooooo difficult.  I mentioned Repeat Offender, but seriously, my ex-husband challenges me the most.  The residual of his original offense makes forgiveness a constant battle.  I keep having to practice forgiveness.  I keep having to say, “I forgive” even when I KNOW that tomorrow there is likely going to be another thing to forgive. 

 And yet, that’s me too.  Like Peter, Repeat Offender, and my ex-husband, I need to receive a healthy dose of forgiveness daily.  I think I’m realizing I also need to offer it. 

I’m so thankful that God isn’t like me.  I’m so glad He keeps no record of wrong.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.  Psalm 103:11-13

That measurement…as far as the east is from the west…that’s not even a measurement.  How do you measure that? 

God is so good.  I wish I was worthy of His love the way I want to be.  I know that I don’t have to be worthy of it or earn it.  I know that it is free.  I know that He died for me before I could even request saving…before I even knew I needed saving. 

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”  Romans 5:6

He loves us with more compassion and grace than I can comprehend.

Relentlessly.

God forgives me so much every day.  May I be able to offer that blessed gift to all who ask for it and even those who don’t.

“… for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.”  Jeremiah 31:34