Tag Archives: grace

traditions: gift giving

untitledI have many fond memories of Christmas, in case you haven’t noticed, and this is one of them. When I was a child and didn’t yet earn a paycheck, my parents would take us kids shopping and we’d split up. The guys would go one way and the girls the other and then we’d swap – girls with Dad and boys with Mom. We all got to pick out the special (at the time) gifts we each individually would give each of our immediate family members; and I’ll admit that I enjoyed receiving gifts. Still do, even though the joy of giving outweighs receiving.

That holiday tradition went on until all of us were over the age of five and the gifts were starting to get more expensive (not that baby clothing, toys and Christmas dresses for little girls aren’t expensive). Times were changing. In 1996, we decided to start drawing names with a few other relatives instead and when the farm had a good year, Dad sometimes saw to it that he and Mom got gifts for all four of us kids.

Now that I’m an adult and it’s been nearly 20 years since that change, my holiday shopping consists of gift-exchanging with a few friends, brewing up some holiday goodies to give away – I can’t eat them all!, name drawing, Secret Santa gift exchanges and white elephant holiday parties (the latter can be quite a hoot).

But what does this have to do with Jesus?

Everything

Jesus was the ultimate gift that God could have given us.

He gave Himself

Wrapped in human flesh

Confined to our limitedness

Our finiteness

Death was the only way he could save us.

He could not die as God, but he could as man.

So he gave up his infiniteness and became a baby; a baby who grew in the womb, was fed, clothed, held and cared for…just like you and me.

That baby grew into a man; a man who experienced the same things you and I face each day – temptation, trials, decisions, death, sadness, laughter, scraped knees – and more.  And yet, he was perfect. His life wasn’t ruled by emotion, but based on His Father – on joy, on peace – on a state of being rather than that which is fleeting.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…John 3.16

He gave

Everything

John 3.16 tells us that God loved us – loved you and me – so much that he gave us Jesus. Through Jesus, we can have so much – the gifts are endless. Just look around you!

These are just a few of the gifts God lavishes upon his children and I’m sure, that much like the Christmas mornings of my childhood, He can’t wait for you to open and respond to His gifts:

  • The gift of Love

God loved us so much that he gave of himself to fix what we broke in our relationship with him. The Fall had left a hole so deep and wide that there didn’t seem to be any hope for saving – then Jesus came. The prophecy of the coming Messiah brought hope and anticipation with it until one night, in a sleepy, little town called Bethlehem, Christ came. That love led him to growing up, to his ministry, to the cross and to the resurrection. That love lives today – in you and in me. That Love gives us the ability to love others the way he did and still does…talk about the gift that keeps on giving!

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. Romans 8.9

  • The gift of Grace

Through Jesus we have access to a wonderful gift called grace – getting what we don’t deserve. Jesus paid the cost of our sin so we could have it.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Romans 5.1-2

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow of the many! Romans 5.15 

…in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2.7

Amazing grace
how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
but now I’m found
was blind but now I see!

  • The gift of Resurrection

This is one gift worth getting excited about. Just as Jesus was resurrected in his new human form, we too will be resurrected in similar fashion when he returns to take us all home. Without the resurrection of Christ, we have nothing.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 1 Corinthians 15.17

I eagerly wait in anticipation for that day and what a glorious day that will be!

The sing of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15.56-57

Praise be to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1.3

  • The gift of Inheritance

Because of his sacrifice, we too can be heirs in the Kingdom of God. 

…and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil of fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you… 1 Peter 1.4

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8.16-17

 The gift of the Gospel

There are no words for this gift, on my part at least, so I’d like to let Timothy Keller do the talking:

The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope – at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.

…the gospel, however, is that Jesus takes the law of God so seriously that He paid the penalty of disobedience, so we can be saved by sheer grace.

The gospel changes our status… How has your status been changed by the gospel?

Where we once were slaves, we are now free.

Where we once were lost, we are now found.

We have become children of God.

The list goes on…

  • The gift of His Word

The Word, the Bible, never runs out. It’s a book that lives, literally. You can’t go through life reading the same chapter over and over again and expect to get the same results. Passages I read when I was a child impact my life differently now that I’m an adult, even passages I read last year impact me differently today – whether that be due to life circumstances (which always change), my ever-deepening relationship with Jesus or the fact that I’ve grown up and can now understand on a deeper level what the Bible teaches.

Every day, we can find new things in his Word that give us strength and sharpen us, build us up, and even rebuke us. God knew we needed it, so he gave it.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your heart. Colossians 3.16

There’s so much that we have been given through Jesus, the best gift ever! In Christ, we are free – free from the bondage of sin, free from tying ourselves to what does not define us (anything but Him), free to choose life – to choose Him.

How about you? Would you leave gifts unwrapped and laying under the tree? No. Would you leave this gift unwrapped and untouched? Will you choose to accept the gift God offers? What better time to be intentional about your walk with God than now?

The choice is yours:

Freedom

Redemption

Life

Love

© Anita J. Brands. 2013. Website: https://authentictruthseeker.wordpress.com/

13. the gift of friendship

girlfriendsFriends

Without them, life would be a miserable, lonely existence based on the mundane tasks of day-to-day living.

Come to think of it, life would be that way without Jesus too.  

I’ve learned a bit in my short life here on earth. I may not have fit in when I was a child (I still don’t and that’s okay), but I am and will be forever grateful for those individuals who said, “You’re weird and I like you. I’m here for you” and proved it by their actions. (By the way, you’re weird too, but that’s okay *insert mischievous grin…)

One truth: God loves relationships.

Relationship, companionship and friendship are the lifelong desire of every single person, from life to death. It is a God-given drive and emotion stemming from Eternity that is in every human heart (Ecclesiastes 3.11).

Friendship is a wonderful gift sent straight from the heart of God. There are several references to friendship in the Bible, from the dawn of creation to the end of time.

I recall God walking through Eden with Adam and Eve each day, building upon their relationship with him and with each other (Genesis 2-3).

I contemplate Enoch, a man who lived 365 years walking in close fellowship with God when one day, he simply vanished (Genesis 5.23-24).

I ponder the moment when God called Abraham friend (James 2.23).

I mull over Moses, who was given the opportunity to watch God walk by (backside only, of course – Exodus 33.11).

I think of the relationship between David and Jonathan: They shared a great love and deep respect for each other (1 Samuel 18-20, 2 Samuel 1).

There are many more. Jesus also calls his followers his friends (John 15.9-14):

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one that this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” – Jesus

Awesome

Inspired

Friendship

Friendship is risky. To be known, truly known, is to risk being hurt, but friendship can be beautiful, and worth the risk.

Friendship is beautiful. God gave it to us and he knew we would need each other to get through this life.

C.S. Lewis wrote about a common thread when it comes to friendships:

cslewis

Think about your friends for a moment. What do you have in common with each one? What is each relationship based on?

I’ve got friends at work where the only thing we have in common is our work and a love for cheesy humor on Pinterest.

I’ve got friends at a local coffee shop where the only thing we have in common is our love of coffee.

I had friends in high school where the only things we had in common were a love of movies and board games.

But, when it comes to my Christian friendships… There isn’t anything deeper.

Those friendships take on a special quality:

The bond of Christ.

We are all enhanced by those relationships and they often run much deeper than your typical run-of-the-mill friendships based on coffee and movies (or books, for that matter). 

Through the bond of Christ, you can have a deep, meaningful friendship with someone who has very little or nothing in common with you. That bond is all that matters. He or she is your brother or sister in Christ; they’re family. We risk. We trust. And with that trust, we’re able to have healthy conflict, to build off that and still be okay. What a blessing!

Friendship is one of the ways God takes care of us. We need all the things friendship entails: human contact, encouragement, companionship, love, honesty, loyalty, understanding, and so many more things. Building those friendships is a wonderful way to encourage and lift others up in the Lord.

  • Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4.9-10
  • May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude or mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15.5-6
  • Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6.2
  • Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, but the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice…As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27.9, 17

As Christ-followers, we’re commanded to carry one another’s burdens, share in each other’s joys and sorrows and be there, to encourage, to speak truth into, to love, etc. The list goes on.

friendship1

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t want in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. – Albert Camus

I’ve always liked that quote, but, when I put it in the light of my friendship with God, it doesn’t make sense.

You see, Jesus is my friend. He is my past and he’s in my past, following me wherever I go, although I’m never truly leading. He is my future; he offers to lead my every step, if only I would let him, rather than venturing off on my own to explore something that captures my attention in the moment. And He is my present, always walking beside me. He’s all around and, what’s more? He’s my friend.

Jesus died to restore our friendship with God. Sin disabled our ability to remain righteous and stand in the presence of the Living God. Prior to Christ’s sacrifice, God’s love and justice would consume us in our weakness. Now, his blood covers mankind and those who choose to follow him have the wonderful ability to live in close fellowship with God.

Notice: It’s a gift of choice; not something to be earned.

Friendships take a lot of time and effort to be all that they can be but it’s worth it. Those Christ-centered relationships will be lasting relationships, not just here on earth, but stretching on into eternity with him at the forefront.

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to sin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18.24

I’ve been deeply blessed to have a close-knit group of Christian girlfriends. Now, we typically don’t all get together at the same time, but when we meet up (whether one-on-one for coffee or what-have-you, LifeGroup or a women’s event at church), that time is so rich and precious. We all vary in age and come from different backgrounds. Those differences (along with our similarities) make us stronger and better able to navigate and cope with the trials of life, individually (based on the advice and counsel of someone wiser) and as a unit.

And the same goes for my brothers in Christ. You’ve all done such a marvelous job in protecting the hearts of your sisters and encouraging them in their own walks with Jesus.

You know who you are and I am so thankful for each and every one of you. God has enriched my life with the blessing of friendship. So thank you for allowing him to use you in not just my life, but every life yours touches.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart…all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1.3-8

How about you? Are you the type of friend you should be, especially to your brothers or sisters in Christ? Are you doing all the things you should be doing: lifting burdens, being there, etc.?

If not, how can you improve in that area? And what would that look like?

Ask God to touch your heart with the truth of true friendship and to show you what it means to be a friend in Christ.

4. the saving grace of the gospel

Tim Keller

I recently read through a book (review here) where I read this statement for the first time and my heart literally fell to its knees in humble surrender and I cried. Not full out sobbing though there were tears and an ache that ran so deep I couldn’t help but allow Jesus to embrace me in that moment.

Mercy

Not getting what I deserve.

Grace

Getting what I don’t deserve – Undeserved favor.

I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe and yet, through the blood of my Savior, Jesus Christ, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope…at the same time.

Just let that statement wash over you.

You are more loved and accepted, in spite of yourself, than you ever dared hope by a man who died to know you.

“The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope – at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.” – Timothy Keller

I am grateful for so many things, but this…

This trumps all.

If it weren’t for the saving grace of the gospel, I wouldn’t have hope; we wouldn’t have hope.

There would be no reason to.

The gospel is a message from God about him…

about our sin…

about his Son, Jesus Christ…

about his sacrifice…

about his love for us, his beloved children…

and a summons to faith and commitment…to him, and him alone.

It’s sad to say that some churches give a good presentation of God’s gospel message, teaching his commandments and how we should live them out from the pulpit, but never give their listeners the opportunity to make a commitment to following him or what following him really means; what it really looks like.

I grew up in such a church.

Between my birth and the age of 18, I had only been given an opportunity to respond to that call on my heart once…through the amazing love and kindness of my mother and God’s use of a bedtime story at the tender age of four. I’ll forever be grateful for that moment in my life. The real adventure of my life began that day.

Let me backtrack on that a moment:

Yes, I grew up in the church.

Yes, I heard about Jesus and learned how to obey his commands each week, through the sermons, through Sunday school, through catechism, through GEMs and through my education at the local private elementary school.

But…it’s not enough to simply know all of these things and try to live them out (works-based faith (i.e. legalism).

It is not enough.

“The gospel is news of what God has done to reach us. It is not advice about what we must do to reach God.” Timothy Keller

Jesus didn’t give his life for me just so I could live my life believing (head knowledge) that he is the Son of God and that he died on the cross for my sins. Even the devil knows and believes this.

The gospel isn’t about how good I am or how well I live out those commands. Attempting that on my own isn’t enough. I can’t earn God’s favor. He already gave it…freely.

Grace

The entire Bible is God’s story, our history, and sums up the gospel in this:

  • God created us to be with him; to take joy in him (Genesis 1-2).
  • Our sin separates us from God (Genesis 3).
  • Sins cannot be removed by good deeds – we cannot earn our way to heaven (Genesis 4- Malachi 4).
  • Paying the price for our sin, Jesus – God confined to human flesh – died and rose again, bridging the gap in our relationship – enter mercy and grace (Matthew-Luke).
  • Everyone who trusts in Him alone has eternal life (John).
  • Life with Jesus starts now and lasts forever (Acts-Revelation).

“The gospel is neither religion nor irreligion – it is something else altogether. Religion makes law and moral obedience a means of salvation, while irreligion makes the individual a law to him or herself. The gospel, however, is that jesus takes the law of God so seriously that He paid the penalty of disobedience, so we can be saved by sheer grace.” – Timothy Keller

Mercy

Not getting what I deserve.

Grace

Getting what I don’t deserve – undeserved favor.

Everything written in his Word directly applies to our lives today and the gospel needs to make its way to my heart for it to have an impact and for its transformational power to work in not just my life, but on those whom my life touches.

The gospel has the power to heal, redeem and restore… making all things new. The gospel allows me to live by the standard of grace rather than works:

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story [not just the good…the dark/bad too.] In admitting [my dark side] I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.” – Brennan Manning

I needed to make a commitment to following Jesus; to allowing him entrance into my life and my heart so he could begin his redeeming work in restoring me.

Not just once in my life, but every single day.  romans 1.16

I need to be intentional when it comes to my relationship with Jesus (more on that later). I need to make the choice to follow him with each passing moment and choose to give him first priority with each decision I make and all that I do. It’s intentionally choosing to surrender my life to Jesus and allowing him to work within me…throwing out the rubble of lies I’ve believed and renewing my mind with his truth.

It’s about defining myself as loved by God. This is my true self…all other titles, names, and faux identities will pass and fade, as will anything this material world offers – daughter, sister, lover, co-worker…my job title isn’t my identity. I am a daughter of the one true God. I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine (Song 6.4). That is my identity. That is who I am.

And living this way is radical.

It goes against the grain of our culture and our world.

It isn’t easy. Nothing in this walk with Jesus has been or is. I will say that life is easier with him than it ever could be apart from him.

I don’t want to be like this broken, beautiful world I live in. I want to and long to be like my precious Jesus.

This isn’t just for me. It’s for all:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3.16 NIV

God so loved the world

Jesus stands at the door and knocks (Revelation 3.20). He doesn’t barge in. He patiently and lovingly waits for you to invite him in.

We need to be active in seeking God…”and those who enter a relationship with God inevitably look back and recognize that God’s grace had sought them out, breaking them open to new realities.” (Tim Keller, The Reason for God)

I am aware of so much more now than I would be if I had not chosen to follow Jesus. I am no longer blind. I see…more and more with each passing day.

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I’ve done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

I’m thankful for the saving grace of the gospel that, because of it, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope.

We all get to choose between life and death. Today, and every day that follows, I’m choosing life.

What will you choose?

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and set s everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.” Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God

If you’re seeking guidance or wanting a relationship with Jesus, please reach out to and get plugged in to your church in your area or a friend/co-worker who you know is a Christian. Or, leave me a message here.

thankful

1. my crazy, beautiful, mysterious life

c98fcd40d084c03bc49124224b2bfee4I’m not perfect.

The life I live isn’t perfect.

It’s crazy.

It’s a disaster waiting to happen (figuratively speaking, of course).

It’s messy.

It definitely isn’t easy navigating through the storms that come and go, but I’m learning to dance in the rain.

It’s beautiful and mysterious…and it’s mine.

I’ve truly been blessed. Beyond measure.

Loved more than I dared hope…by a God who became a man, confined to flesh, and died to save me…

…from sin

…from death

….from myself.

I am loved and accepted more than I ever dared hope.

I was reading through 1 Peter this morning and stumbled on this:

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
     but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1.23-25

This life won’t last. It fades and withers like the grass and the flowers. It is but a mist, a vapor, that f5ba746f1168271a65bf50fc6840cffcevaporates in due time. My days are numbered and I intend to live each and every single one of them with more love and life than the number of years I’m given. That number doesn’t matter. What matters is what I did with the time God gave me. Did I love well? Did I serve with compassion and mercy? Did I live with grace and humility; with the heart of a servant? Did I go? Did I carry his gospel with me and share it with everyone I met? Did my life portray that? Did I do anything that mattered? Yes.

Life is a one time offer, and I intend to use it wisely.

I’ve fallen.

I’ve gotten back up.

I’ve made mistakes, but have no regrets.

I’ve lived.

I’ve been hurt, but I’m alive.

I’m not perfect.

I’ve been forgiven much and I’m thankful.

Through those trials, I’ve learned to appreciate life at every moment. I’m continuously learning…

I am thankful for this life I’ve been given and while I’m still figuring out what to do with it, I intend to live it.  

dancing with Jesus

Dance.

I’ve always loved watching people beautifully and gracefully move from one end of the dance floor or ice rink to the other. I’ve even come to enjoy watching Dancing with the Stars this year, particularly Amber Riley, who plays Mercedes Jones on the hit TV series Glee. You see, she’s not what Hollywood defines as perfect. She’s not skinny. She’s not morbidly obese either. She’s real. She’s genuine.

And she’s not afraid to show it.

I love that!

I wish more celebrities were like that. The list may be short, but they impact their world more than they know, including Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen DeGeneres, Denzel Washington, Emma Stone, Jennifer Hudson, Tyler Perry, Zooey Deschanel…just to name a few.

Anyway, before I go too far with that tangent…

Have you ever watched professional dancers or skating partners? There’s an intimate dynamic that occurs between them. The crowds ooh and ah over each turn and spin, cameras flash, but the two at the center of it all don’t see it. They are focused 100% on their partner, attuned to the slightest signal, responding instantly, beautifully and effortlessly.

There is a part of me that hopes to actually experience dance one day outside of the walls and privacy of my apartment. I remember wanting to learn the art of it when I was a child but my parents couldn’t afford it…then again, I never mentioned it. I didn’t want to be a “burden.” Looking back, my choice in not voicing that dream also had to do more with fear than anything else.

You see, I lack a certain amount of physical grace. Then again, perhaps an accident-prone young woman would be gifted in that area. I might just have to find out.

Dance:

  • Noun: an artistic form of nonverbal communication
  • Noun: taking a series of rhythmical steps (and movements) in time to music
  • Verb: move in a graceful and rhythmical way

Life is a dance. We get to choose the type: divine or worldly. In choosing the latter, it can be easy to perform for the applause of those around us. Girls dress a certain way to get the attention of boys. We talk a certain way because our friends do. Parents send their children to certain school because it’s what the neighbor or community does. We sometimes even watch certain TV shows or listen to a specific style of music just to fit in.

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. In high school, I dressed a certain way and listened to Limp Bizkit and Metallica (even though I secretly hated it) just so I could fit in or get a little attention. I wanted them to genuinely like me. I was sick of being the outsider, always looking in.

Thing is – any attention and most of the conversations or invitations I received were not genuine. I came to that realization when I began to learn what having a real relationship with Jesus meant…in college.

There are times I find myself riding that same carousel. Around and around I go on a seemingly endless cycle that leaves me empty and never heading anywhere.

But it doesn’t take long for me to realize that I really crave the former: a lifetime spent dancing with Jesus.

I’m wired to.

Remember the description of dancers/skaters in the midst of their act; the intimacy of it?

What if we knew God that intimately? What if we were so focused on Him, so in tune with Him, that like Jesus we could say, “I do only what my Father wills.”? What keeps us from that? What keeps us in angst; keeps us striving and experiencing burnout?

I use to focus solely on me. I sometimes still do.

And I’ve learned, and continue to learn, this important truth: human beings can only serve one thing at a time and we should not have any other idol before God (Exodus 20.3). If I’m going to proclaim I want to worship God with my life, I can’t and shouldn’t esteem the opinions of my friends (or what people in general think) more highly than God’s opinion of me.

Affirmation is a huge thing for me. Encouragement means the world to me. Those things leave me feeling full, flying “high as a kite” (so-to-speak), and feeling better equipped to take on anything that may come my way on a daily basis. They are not sinful things in their own accord, but when I begin to make them my ultimate goal in life, it becomes an idol, or a sin, and therefore, a serious problem. That feeling equipped thing is an illusion…I can’t do anything apart from Jesus (John 15.1-8 , also see Philippians 4.13).

I can either dance for His applause or I can dance for man’s applause, but I can’t do both at the same time.

This is something I’ve been wrestling with for the last couple of years (thank you Beth Moore and two of my dearest friends) and probably will continue to for some time. I know that He’s giving me more than I can handle in this morning, but there is beauty in the fact that I don’t have to face that junk alone. He’s there with me, swinging me through that next dance move.

Romans 12.1-2 has been extremely helpful to me during this time (among others) in my life:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

When we offer our lives to God as living sacrifices, He considers that worship. Dancing with Him is worship. Letting Him into your life is worship. Trusting Him with your life is worship. Life itself should be an act of worship.

I’d like to share a poem penned by Amena Brown that inspired this entry and God has also used it to further the progress Jesus is currently making in the dimly lit corners of my heart and in my life:

Dance with Him ~ Amena Brown

Dance with Him
He puts His hand on the small of my back
Two fingers pressed into the center of my palm
He pulls me close
Steps with His left, my right
I focus on His eyes and try to ignore my feet as they clumsily count one – two – three

I recall that first moment quite beautifully. The only difference is that then, I can envision placing my feet on His, as a daughter would on her father’s, as He took me around the dance floor. Oh, how easy it was to simply trust and believe then.

I can also relate to those clumsy feet. They still are, most days anyway.

Have you ever watched someone learn to dance? Watch this video – see that little girl in the middle? I can relate to her…in more ways than one. 

I’m often like that with God. I’m so focused on what I think needs to be done or on what I already know to do, whether that be reading my Bible, leading a Bible study, fulfilling other responsibilities to those around me and my church; it’s easy to take my eyes off Him. It’s easy to turn what should be an act of intimate surrender into role behavior which ultimately leads to burn-out and ineffectiveness. That happened yesterday…

Nothing went as planned and that just goes to show Who is in charge and it’s definitely not me.

When I surrender to Him, forsaking my ideas and agenda, clearing my mind of everything but Him, everything flows.

I’m trying to trust Him
He knows this dance better than me
I’m still a novice and it’s obvious
I have yet to lean in and let Him control the turns

God knows I’m trying. He definitely knows this dance better than me, little “Miss Know-It-All” that I am. This patience thing is tough.

He takes His time and even when I miss a step
It’s fine
He knows I’m learning

His patience blows me away. I can’t even fathom the depth of it all…

He wants me to put my hand in His
Close my eyes and trust Him
With my life
My heart
With worry
And “I’m so scared”
With hurt
Worth and unworthy
Loving and unlovable
And my heart has been hurt before
I have been burned before
Loved
And endured loss before
I am in no mood for a dance
No mood to be romanced
I have become a grace cynic
And love’s worst critic

This world is a beautiful, broken mess and the echoes of Eden affect every part of it . Life isn’t easy. Life hurts. And that fact makes trusting hard.

Do I trust Him with my life?
With my heart?
With my worries?
With my fears?
With my worth?
With my identity?
With my life’s purpose?
With the pen of this beautiful, broken story; the story He’s given me?

I can honestly say that most of the time, no…I don’t. There’s a huge part of me that wants to, but, in my human condition and the world I’m in make it difficult to simply make that move.

I will continue to strive to trust Him, and, by His grace, I can…One day I will…when His strength has been made complete in me (2 Corinthians 12.9).

He sends me invitations every day
And even though I have yet to RSVP
He doesn’t remind me
He keeps pursuing
Taking steps in spite of me

I always dreamt of being pursued this way. What a wondrous thing it is to realize that I am! If only I would accept this truth each and every day.

He is a songwriter
Composing the notes that hold together eternity
And He wants to teach my limbs to sing
He’s been waiting to watch me let go of woe
And worry…until my soul
Sings in that beautiful voice He gave me
That I have someone come to think
It not so beautiful

He wants me to let go. Will I? When? And I’m guilty of buying into Satan’s lie that the voice God gave me isn’t beautiful. It is!

To dance with Him
I must give in
And give up
Plus
The trust it takes to really love
And I want to love Him unbridled
Believe in Him with a faith that is unshakeable
Like tree roots centuries deep
Until I learn to follow His time
Take deep breaths
Rest my head on His chest
And my cares at His feet
But I never fear –
As long as I depend on me

“As long as I depend on me…” Funny how that works, isn’t it? It’s funny how, when we depend on ourselves, we think we’ve got it all figured out and something happens, forcing us to realize that we don’t. It happens all the time. I really should fear when I find myself making plans without Him. Yesterday is a prime example and still sticks out like a sore thumb. I had planned on coming into work early and was looking forward to an awesome new upgrade to my computer (Windows 7!) prior to the start of my shift. That didn’t happen, nor did the rest of my day go according to plan:

  • Creative juices were flowing and I wanted to finish this post – didn’t happen.
  • Project work needed to be completed – didn’t happen.

I was frustrated, found myself thinking rather negative thoughts (which is not usually the norm for me) and annoyed with the world for raining on my parade.

But…

God spun those plans on their heads and in turn brought a fullness into the midst of that chaos with opportunities to serve my boss, my co-workers and my neighbor when I finally arrived home, not to mention those on the other end of the line on the calls I take on a daily basis.

Countless opportunities.

The frustration ebbed and my general annoyance vanished almost immediately.

God is in control.

When I live in constant surrender to Him, forsaking my ideas and agenda, clearing my mind of everything but Him, everything flows.

Take His hand
Take a chance
Fingertips in the palm of the One who holds galaxies
In His hand
Hand on His shoulder
Heart in His hand
We dance
To a down beat
That keeps time with His heartbeat
Sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me go
When He’s only letting me turn
And sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me fall
When He’s only letting me learn
Sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me go
When He’s only letting me turn
And sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me fall
When He’s only letting me learn
His is the song that never ends
His love
Sinners become friends
He wants to dance with you
Until the only Song you hear
Is Him

To be filled, we must first bet emptied – of ourselves, our sin, our wants, our desires. I believe that anytime we cling to anything – even good things – other than God, they become a hinderance to the working of the Holy Spirit. That job we fear losing, the ministry we can’t let fail, that relationship we’re afraid of letting go, whatever it is…when we begin to strive only for that thing(s) – hold tight to it – we begin to operate in our own will. To be overshadowed, we need to stay surrendered completely, focused on our Savior and not the dance itself. Our actions will otherwise lose power because we’ve left Him behind.

I’m nearing there. I’ve taken His hand. I’m learning to surrender. I’m learning to trust Him with my heart. I’m learning to let Him lead…bending, twirling, twisting, turning, falling…until the only Song I hear is Him.

a place to start

Starting anything seems to be the hardest part for us.

How often have you thought that you needed to begin a diet and exercise program but this week doesn’t seem like the right time to begin? Or you found that if you started on Monday, come Tuesday you had already fallen off the wagon? (I’ll let you in on a secret: Start on a Saturday…you’re welcome.)

Most of us know at least three things that, if we did them, would immensely improve our lives. Maybe one of those things would be to do a better job at managing our money, or spend more time with our family, or decide once and for all that we’re going to change careers, go back to school, or start a business.

Not having enough information is rarely the problem. We just never get started.

I’ve struggled with this too, in the fact that I have multiple dreams and goals I would love to see met in my life. I have all the facts. I know what to do. I just get hung up on all of the “buts” that tie into each idea.

Allow me to elaborate on that one word for a moment. 

I’ve had many opportunities to talk with friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances about their life goals; they willingly and readily share the processes they need to go through get there or the ideas they had on how to get there but…

There’s always a “but.”

I stumbled on several articles just this past week on the power this one word has on all of us. An interesting power, actually. Whenever the word “but” is used, people tend not to remember anything that was said before it.

For example, your boss asks you to join him in his office late on a Friday afternoon. The conversation begins like this: “We have really appreciated your work for our company these last several years, but…

or

“You did an excellent job heading up the project for such and such, but…”

Or maybe, a young man receives a text message from a girl he’s been seeing and it reads: “I have really enjoyed dating you these last three months, but…

See what happens there?

Hearing that one word removes everything before it from our memory and we tend to focus on everything that comes after it.

Isn’t that strange?

Unfortunately, we tend to do the same when it comes to Jesus and the free gift of grace He offers. Sin possesses the same kind of power that one word. Sin is the negation, the “no” that attempts to blot out the truth Jesus Christ offers.

Sure, Jesus loves me, but I’m a sinner.
The Bible says all are saved by faith in Jesus Christ but I’ve done too much.
I know Jesus can do much through me, but I need to fix me before He can do anything.

But…

We forget everything else that comes before that one word.

We forget the price He paid.

We forget that He covered everything with His blood.

No sin is so far removed that it hasn’t been covered.

In The Gospel of Yes, Mike Glenn writes, “The memory of past sin and the realization of current sin loom large, blocking out our view of the work Christ is doing in our lives today. Sin has a way of making us forget the goodness of God. Sin denies the presence and power of God in us and our world.”

Satan uses our awareness to twist the truth of grace; to blind us. He uses our sin to trick us into believing it has more power than it really does. Sin devalues us as people and causes us to see others and all creation as lacking worth. It belies the good work Christ does in us and in the world.

Jesus gave His life for you; sin has no power. Death has no sting.

We all have a past. We have things in our lives that cause shame or grief (tools used by Satan to keep us down). We forget the promise of forgiveness and the second chance(s) that Christ offers.  We have a hard time believing that a second chance could still apply after all that we’ve done.

I struggle with my past and my sins just as much as the next person. Satan uses those things to blind me; to trick me into believing that it has more power than it really does.  He has a thing about keeping me down.

But how does one overcome that “but” in their life?

First, we must let go of the lie; the one that we aren’t worth it; that the second chance does not apply.

Second, we must confess and repent and not the way many have preached/taught since the birth of the church. We don’t simply show up to confession, list off our sins and go on our merry way. Grace does not work that way.

It’s about the combination of confession and repentance. True confession and repentance cannot exist without the other. There is a vast difference between the two and yet, they play a very important part in the process of forgiveness. We are very familiar with the term forgiveness. How many times have we been told to simply confess our sin(s)? There is a certain emphasis on God’s forgiveness as a free gift, and in emphasizing it, we unknowingly cheapen it. We hop, skip and jump right over repentance…which includes confession and so much more. It goes beyond simply confessing sin to a definite change in how a person approaches life.

Grace extended/Forgiveness is not a do-whatever-I-want-and-get-away-with-it ticket.

Grace is God’s unmerited favor. We did nothing on our own to deserve it and, yet, He freely offers it. We are saved by grace, not by works (Romans 11.6). We cannot save ourselves. Only God can and He did. Through His Son, Jesus.

He paid it all. No part of that debt has been left for any one of us to pay by working hard and cleaning up our own lives. We cannot do that on our own. Jesus opened the door. We only have to walk through it. And yet…we struggle with accepting the truth that this gift, the gift of salvation, is free. Who would give away something like that? So we think we have to earn it.

Here’s a nugget of truth that makes my heart and soul smile: The mess you are in, the mess I am in, is why He came.

Jesus isn’t unaware of the brokenness of this world or the circumstances of your life. He knows better than anyone that we cannot fix it ourselves.

He came. He gave.

Everything

Himself

His life

All He wants in return is you…

Me…

Us…

We must allow Him, through that repentance, to change our minds. After confessing sin, a person turns from his or her previous lifestyle and commits to following Jesus. This isn’t easy. It’s something that happens daily; a moment-by-moment decision we must make on a constant basis.

It’s about living out the following:

Then He said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost and destroyed? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He returns in His glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” Luke 9.23-26 NLT

or from The Message:

Then he told them that they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat – I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I’m leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and the holy angels.”

Our minds are transformed when we allow Him a place to start.

Things are not perfect and they won’t be in this fallen, beautiful world we live in until the day of His return. All God is looking for is a place to begin.

A place to start

Jesus Himself took challenges and difficulties in stride. They gave no reason for Him to change course.

When He had been preaching to the five thousand men and their families, Jesus worked with what he had to feed them: two fish and five loaves of bread. He started there.

And when He met the Samaritan woman at the well, He did the same. In Jesus day, men did not speak to women in public – not even their wives – and they definitely didn’t speak with Samaritan women. Jesus did. He came to her in her need. He started there. He opened her eyes to God and His truth: That her being a Samaritan did not lessen God’s love for her. He told her about her life; He didn’t tell her to first get her life straightened out and then come back. He said, in effect, “This is who you are…This is what is going on right now in your life… And this is a good enough place to start.”

“Starting seems to be the hardest part for us…there is always a cost associated with changing your life.”

All Jesus really wants is a place to start.

True change isn’t about you or me trying harder or working on a new plan. It’s not about reading the next best-selling self-help book out there. Until you allow Him to change your mind and your heart, anything you do or attempt to do will be filtered through a mind formed by the ways of the world. Mike Glenn writes, “The Kingdom of God has come near in Christ, so we have to change our minds about love, truth, reality, eternity, Jesus, God, wealth, success, strength, weakness, hope, joy and love. In other words, everything!”

What does that look like in our lives?

Jesus says that we are to love God with our hearts, minds, and souls. To love God is to think in an entirely new way. We think of Jesus in a new way. We see and understand God in a new way as Jesus reveals the Father to us through His Spirit. We transform our minds by spending time in the Word, in prayer and surrounding ourselves with others who believe and want the same things. We grow and are transformed in that; through community, through the body of believers, through His family.

Rather than being buried under our mistakes, failures, griefs and regrets and living in a place where we no longer recognize ourselves when we look in the mirror, we let Him in.

The gift of life that God offers through His Son, Jesus, changes that. When we let Him in; when we let Him take the driver’s seat, the Spirit changes our true identity in Christ. We leave behind everything that is false and start walking toward the truth of Christ and who He created us to be.

But to allow Him the room to change your life, you must allow Him the space to change the way you think. You stop fighting the current of God’s grace and start flowing with it. Once the mind is transformed, the heart soon follows. To be truly transformed, to truly live a new life, our salvation has to be about our entire person, including our minds. This allows us to truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength…and it gives us the ability to love others as we love ourselves. The love we have for ourselves is transformed into the way God loves us…He is our identity.

We no longer condemn ourselves or others.

The truth of the gospel is that Jesus came to offer life; more of life to all of us, no matter what happened before; no matter the choices we made before we met Him. We have been purchased with an immeasurable price. Knowing that should change the way we live.

Peace is more than the absence of conflict and joy is more than not being sad.

We all have a past, but we are not defined by it.

The image of God defines us and the price the Christ paid confirms our worth.

We all have a past and even though you and I have found life in Christ (oh, how I hope you have), no one starts at zero. Our past is part of our story; part of our present and it, along with the choices we make right now, affect our future. We cannot separate it as it serves as our redemption story. The truth of that gives other a testimony of the gospel at work in your life. Jesus is simply asking you to let Him start somewhere. Embrace the truth of Whose you are and to Whom you belong.

when Love sees you

Much of the happiness you experience in life depends on how you think God sees you. It’s true.

…For the Lord does not see what man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16.7

Sadly, most of us have the wrong idea of God’s opinion of us. We view Him as if He was a bully…the angry kid with the magnifying glass standing over an ant hill and we’re the ants. Poor Bob got hit again… We base these thoughts and assumptions on what we’ve been taught, our bad experiences in life and many other things. Satan doesn’t help matters much either as he enjoys twisting the truth of who God really is. We may think that God is disappointed in us or that we’ll never measure up. We may even believe that He is angry with us because try as we might, we can’t stop sinning. We tend to think that we deserve our lot in life as punishment for choices we’ve made. We deserve to suffer. We make excuses just so we can stay in that pit because we think we deserve it. If we continue to choose to see Him as the type of God who punishes us based upon our actions and sins, we lead a miserable existence.

“…some of us have so much defeat in our past that we feel we lost the race before we knew it started.”  – Beth Moore

As a woman, I’ve often struggled with basing my self-worth on how others saw me and my accomplishments. I’ve felt shame when it comes to my past. I’m guilty of finding my value based on how I look on any particular day. I’ve also set unrealistic standards for myself. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If we embrace the truth of who He really is, we can be set free from that life of bondage.

Where can we go for this truth? Directly to the Source: God Himself.

God tells us how He sees each of us through the personal message He’s written over time to His followers: the Bible (His Word). He also continues to tell us how He sees you and me through the lives of His followers today. What you can learn by digging into His Word, witnessing others live out His testimony and through your own personal relationship with Him is nothing short of amazing. Walk with me through a couple of the examples God gives:

Picture Moses after he had settled down comfortably in Midian with his beautiful wife, children and new family. He might have seen himself happily retiring there, but God had bigger plans for him. In spite of his past and his weaknesses (being a murderer and not very good at speaking), God used him beyond his biggest dreams and placed him as a leader before Israel.

Picture King David when he was just a shepherd boy. Many would not have seen him as more than just an ordinary youth, but God calls him a man after His own heart. In spite of the sin that infiltrated David’s life, God still saved him through the blood of His Son, Jesus…a man who was born of David’s own family line. Talk about redemption!

Or how about the rich young ruler who came to Jesus years later? He was brash and proud and demanded to know what he needed to do to enter God’s kingdom. Before Jesus answered him, we read, “Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him” (Mark 10.21 NLT).

There aren’t even words for my own experience.

He’s been wooing me since I was four years old and I never want it to end. Granted, there have been periods of doubt, self-centeredness, and times where I’ve swapped seats with Him so I could try to control things again. Picture a young girl, standing alone on the outskirts of the ball field watching the other kids kick that red rubber ball around. Nobody would pick her, probably more due to the fact that she was clumsy and overweight. But, since then and especially throughout the last ten years of my life (since my faith officially became my own and I started to learn how to live it), He’s been teaching me what He thinks of me and, often times, has to remind me, over and over again, until I get it; until my heart accepts it as truth.

One such moment came through song (as they often do). Many songs have been written regarding the love of God and how He views us. Two come to my mind and I’d like to share this one with you first:

When Love Sees You – Mac Powell
-Music Inspired by “The Story”-

 

Blessed are you as you weep on your knees
With perfume and tears washing over My feet
And blessed are you, beggar, hopeless and blind
Calling for mercy when I’m passing by

Blessed are you, shaking your head
At two tiny fish and some bread
And blessed are you as your tremble and wait
For the first stone thrown at your sinful disgrace

Tell Me your story
Show Me your wounds
And I’ll show you what Love sees when Love looks at you
Hand Me the pieces
Broken and bruised
And I’ll show you what Love sees when Love sees you

Blessed are you, walking on waves
To find yourself sinking when you look away
Blessed are you, leper, standing alone
The fear on their faces is all that you’ve known

Blessed are you, lonely widow who gave
Your last shiny coin to Yahweh
Blessed are you with your silver and lies
Kissing the One who is saving your life

Tell Me your story
Show Me your wounds
And I’ll show you what Love sees when Love looks at you
Hand me the pieces
Broken and bruised
And I’ll show you what Loves sees when Love sees you

I see what I made in your mother’s womb
I see the day I fell in love with you
I see your tomorrows, nothing left to chance
I see My Father’s fingerprints
I see your story, I see My name
Written on every beautiful page
You see the struggle, you see the shame
I see the reason I came.

I came for your story
I came for your wounds
To show you what Love sees when I see you

If the words from that bridge don’t cause you to tear up just a bit, I don’t know what will. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard that song: I was driving down the freeway, headed home one weekend. I had just downloaded the entire album with music inspired by “The Story” and was enjoying each of those songs (music speaks to me on a level most things can’t…it’s a tie breaker between that and nature when God clearly and tenderly touches my heart) when this one came on. I turned the volume up, just a tidge more so I could really hear the words and by the time the bridge was over, I had to pull over because I couldn’t see.

I sat at that rest stop for the better part of 30 minutes basking in the words of God and feeling His love pour over me in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I was renewed in that moment. Refreshed. Cleansed. Restored. Redeemed. And I fell in love with Him all over again.

You see, friends, the fact is: God looks at you with love.

Remember the man from Mark 10.21 I mentioned earlier? That is also the way God looks at you. With love.

Let that wash over you for a moment.

He sees you for what you can become, not just what you are.

For instance – Jesus gave Simon the fisherman a new name: Peter. Peter means The Rock. Now…if there was anything Simon was not, at that point in his life anyway, it was a rock. He was legendary for his hot-headedness, impulsiveness, and willingness to speak his mind on pretty much everything. However, Jesus saw what he could and would become. Peter went on to become a rock as he made it his life’s mission to spread the gospel and build off the Foundation for the church.

God sees you as His beloved child. If you believe that He is God and that He sent His Son (literally came Himself) to save His children, you are not a stranger to God. You may at times feel alone, but you aren’t. You belong to Him; a protecting and loving Father. And since you’ve been adopted into the family of God, you have the same rights as His Son, Jesus.

See 2 Corinthians 6.17-18, 1 John 3.1, and Romans 8.17 for further reference (and truth).

God sees you as forgiven. Many of us stagger around under a heavy load of guilt and live afraid that we’ve disappointed God somehow. But, if you know Jesus as Savior, God sees you as forgiven. He does not hold your past against you. The blood of Jesus washes that sin from our lives and when God, the Father, looks at us, He sees us as white as snow. The Bible makes that abundantly clear. You don’t have to strive to be holy enough (although there is nothing wrong with pursuing holiness…it’s when that act starts to define you and your actions that it becomes a problem) because Jesus was perfectly holy when He willingly went to the cross on your behalf. You simply have to accept the free gift He offers.

See Psalm 86.5 and Acts 10.43 for further reference (among many more).

God sees you as saved. There may be days when you doubt your salvation. God only knows I’ve had mine, where Satan briefly robs me of the truth I strive to believe with every fiber of my being. God repeatedly reminds us of our true condition all throughout the New Testament. You don’t have to wonder. You don’t have to struggle, believing the lie that only you can save yourself. You need to simply trust in the truth on how salvation works. We cannot be saved by our works. for it is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2.8). To know that God considers you saved is incredibly reassuring. You can live in joy because Jesus paid the penalty for your sins so you can spend eternity with Him in heaven.

Scriptural references: Matthew 10.22, Acts 2.21, 1 Thessalonians 5.9

God sees you as having hope. Life can seem pretty bleak at times, but when you feel life closing in on you, remember that God sees you as a person of hope. Jesus is with you through it all. Hope is not based on what we can muster up. Hope is based on the One we have hope in. When your hope feels weak, remember that your God is strong. And when we keep our focus on Him, we will have that hope.

Scriptural references: Jeremiah 29.11, Lamentations 3.25, Hebrews 10.23

God sees you as loved. In looking at the way Jesus viewed Peter, we can look at our lives and see something completely different from what God sees.

Where we see a lump of clay, God sees a beautiful vase.
Where we see a blank canvas, God sees a finished work of art.
Where we see coal, God sees a refined diamond.
Where we see problems, God sees solutions.
Where we see failures, God sees potential.
Where we see an end, God sees a new beginning.
You can see yourself in His eyes. You simply need to get really close.

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. James 4.8 NLT

Love is not only something God does; love is something God is. God would have to stop being in order to stop loving. Again, our temptation is to humanize God, because we are limited to understanding love as a verb. With God, love is first a noun. It’s what and who He is. – Beth Moore

I’ve discovered that when I see myself as God sees me, my entire perspective on life changes. It’s not tainted by pride or vanity or self-righteousness. It’s the truth, supported by the Bible. It’s hard to believe sometimes; the level to which God truly loves me. Deeply. Unconditionally. Completely.

Thought for the day: Embrace grace. Your past does not define or determine your future.

If you’d like to hear the song mentioned earlier, please check here.

the choice to be grateful

happy

That seems to happen quite often, doesn’t it? Wishing for more happiness than we already have and we tend to find ourselves instantly dissatisfied with all that we’ve been given. I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve been there; done that. But, I’ve learned that in and through Jesus, life doesn’t have to be that way.

John 10.10 states that Jesus came so that “[we] may have life, and have it to the full.”

Beautiful, isn’t it?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been working my way through Sharon Jaynes’ A Sudden Glory (found here) again and the eighth chapter really hit home for me again this week. Jaynes broaches the subject of seeing God through the lenses of gratitude and grace. I’d like to dig a little deeper based on my own study of those same scriptures this week.

Our world is littered with traces of “I want(s)” and”I need(s).” Everywhere we look, our culture pulls on the strings of our hearts with advertising and ideas claiming that “if only we had [blank], we’d be happy/fulfilled/content…” (you name it). Broken people lead dissatisfied lives…no thankfulness…no grace. It’s empty. Dark. Alone.

That’s no way to live.

I’ve often considered how all of this got started and well, we can point back to the garden. Everything points back to the garden. Have you ever wondered what whet Adam and Eve’s appetite for wanting something more than constant communion and union with God? Have you ever considered what stirred the desire for more and made them vulnerable to the serpent’s enticing suggestion?

It may have had something to do with ingratitude.

Adam and Eve simply were not satisfied with that life. Like me (time and time again…still learning here folks), Eve felt that God was holding out on her…on some level. She had issues with simply trusting in His goodness and that He had her best interests in mind. He does that with all of us and yet, we don’t trust Him. It’s too good to be true.

So…what do we do about the lack of gratitude in our world? How can we rise above the ashes of this world and see that true beauty that God provides in the midst of our struggles/wants/needs/desires/etc.?

With gratitude.

I firmly believe that in cultivating a heart of gratitude in the midst of this life, one cannot be dissatisfied/overwhelmed or be dejected over their circumstances at the same time. It isn’t possible. Sure…a person can fake being thankful, but only for so long…but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Jaynes writes that “gratitude is the most effect way to deepen your consciousness to the fact that you are the object of God’s affection and love. Giving thanks awakens your sense to see God, to hear God, to taste and see that He is good” (emphasis mine).

Ingratitude laced with grumbling, complaining, and murmuring is an easy and ugly trap to fall into. It’s also very contagious. There is nobody more miserable than an ungrateful person. Have you ever found yourself near the types of people I like to call “joy drains”? Where all they see is the negative; all they do is complain? It’s easy to fall into the habit of cynicism and pessimism; to fall into that thought cycle…even for an optimist like me. It is so easy. Too easy.

Gratitude, on the other hand, turns what we have into enough. It can change your perspective on the simplest of mundane tasks and/or circumstances and transform them into moments of intimacy with our Creator.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” In reality…most of us are thankful for very little. Have you thanked God for the fact that you opened your eyes this morning? That you have a warm bed to sleep in and roof over your head? Have you thanked Him for the people He has placed in your life; for the friends you have; for your children/family; for any relationship you’ve been given? I could go on, but you get the picture.

James also writes that we should “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1.2) That can be anything.

The Bible doesn’t command us to feel thankful in all circumstances. Instead it commands us to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

Jaynes put it well when she penned:

“Gratitude changes the lens through which we see the circumstances in [the little slice of time we’ve been given.] Thanksgiving changes our perspective despite broken dreams, broken relationships, tumultuous circumstances, and unfulfilled longings. As you praise God for who He is and thank Him for what He’s done, your perspective of Him grows larger and your problems grow smaller. As a result, you will experience a deeper sense of intimacy with God as the emotional gap between what you know to be true and how you feel at the moment closes.” (pg. 158)

Truth.

The moment you start to think about all that you have to be thankful for, your perspective changes, the color scheme of life brightens, and you just may catch a glimpse of that silver lining.

Just ask yourself: What am I thankful for?

It’s an easy question to answer when you think about it. For instance:

  • I’m thankful for the life I’ve been given
  • that last breath of fresh air I took during my walk on my lunch break today
  • that Jesus chose to give His life so I could living in communion with Him now while I wait for His return
  • grace…amazing, sweet grace
  • my health
  • seventy degree days with lots of sunshine (or days with sunshine, period)
  • my family
  • good friends
  • my job
  • the fact that I get to enjoy my evening catching with some girlfriends from my home church in South Dakota
  • this new and significantly important relationship God recently brought into my life

…the list goes on.

What are you thankful for?

Try it. You sense the shift. It’s impossible not to.

We see this shift throughout all of scripture. Remember the Israelites wandering through the desert? They were an ungrateful group of people…I honestly don’t think I’ve read of any single group of people or a person who were as dissatisfied (granted, I’m sure not all of them felt that way…but, as I mentioned earlier, it’s contagious…). Or how about King David? The man shifted from depression to rejoicing in a matter of seconds…just read through the Psalms. He didn’t wait until God changed his current struggle/situation. He chose to be thankful in that moment.

Let me share one more verse with you:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Habakkuk 3.17-18

Personally, I think it’s pretty cool how God works through that. In choosing to focus on the trust we can have in Him and on His blessings rather than focusing on our current circumstances, we realize just how big and good God is and, in turn, can be grateful for all He’s done. Everything else seems moot when you put it in that perspective.

B-E-A-U-tiful! (Thank you, Jim Carey…)

And when we choose to the do the same, our perspective will change as well.  “A thankful heart opens the windows of heaven that allow us to peek at the glory [God has chosen to reveal to us here on earth].” (pg. 160)

Part of the beauty of mankind is that God gave us free will. We have a choice. We always have a choice; a daily choice.  Will you choose to praise Him for His grace and trust in His goodness today? Or will you choose the way of the world, allowing ingratitude to seep in? I’ve chosen the former and I’ve come to realize just how truly blessed I am today…and every day.

The Prayer of One Gently Reminded Soul

I’ll be honest. Life is a struggle.

And a beautiful one at that.

I’ve been reading through Joshua Harris’ book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and have been moved by a few scriptural points he’s made on the whole topic of purity. It is something we all struggle with. He uses a dream he once had to paint quite the picture of the sacrifice Jesus paid and what it does to our own lives…a story he’s called “The Room” and for your own reading, it can be found here.

Being optimistic by nature, I tend to see the humor and positive things in everyday situations, trials, etc….but when it comes to dealing with my own “junk” and the lack of purity in my own life, I tend to be my own worst critic. Doing so puts me in the worst funk until I let God break through the murkiness of my own making and watch the light of His grace illuminate everything. I slowly begin to realize that it’s all been covered and am reminded again that I don’t have to keep punishing myself for my past, that the guilt is of Satan’s making and I do have the choice to trust that everything is covered.

By His blood.

By His life.

By His sacrifice.

By His unconditional love for a wretch like me.

How humbling.

In the study guide that comes with the book, the author wrote out a prayer that I would like to share with you:

Father..
I went to The Room again today.
There’s part of me that doesn’t like to visit.
There are so many moments, so many careless words,
so many selfish actions I want to forget.
But it’s no longer a place of horror.
I went to be reminded of all that You’ve done for me.
I don’t ever want to forget the crushing weight of bearing my own sin, of having my name on each of those cards.
I don’t ever want to forget what it’s like to be lost
so that I’ll never cease to be grateful for being found.

Forgive me, Jesus, but sometimes I grow
so familiar with Your grace that I take it for granted.

Standing before those files with my every sin recorded, I see what a wretch I am, and Your grace is once again amazing.
I learned something today, too.
I realized that Your grace not only covers my sin but it also makes possible my obedience.
I pulled out a few card files of things I’ve done right: “Encouragement I’ve Given,” “Times I Served Others,” and “Temptations Resisted.”
I saw Your name written on those, too.
I think I half expected to see my own name.
What a fool I am! It suddenly hit me that everything
good I’ve been able to do has been by Your grace.
I couldn’t serve, I couldn’t love, I couldn’t be patient
without Your grace upholding me
and Your Spirit guiding me.

I stood there and cried again. They were happy tears.
I stood there aware that I had nothing to brag
about except Your work in my life.
Your servant Paul said, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).
I see what he meant now.
Everything I have, You’ve given me.
You made possible the forgiveness of my sins.
You give me the power to obey.
I have nothing to boast in — no achievement, no righteousness,
no merit — except for Your finished work.
Thank you!

**Bolded emphasis mine.

How many times do we each take His grace for granted? How many times must our stubborn hearts refuse to believe this truth? How many? I’m humbled and reminded again today of all He’s done for me.

I’m covered.

I’m made pure.

I’m free.

And so are you.

A Resolution to Make My Home a Welcoming Place to Be

Note to reader: The following is the result of further study, research and reflection after reading a portion of The Resolution for Women by Priscilla Shirer, a book written upon the influence of the movie Courageous, which hit theaters nation-wide in September/October of 2011.

 

I resolve to live with grace, to use the word “OK,” to not lead my life as if I were directing a Broadway production, and to set aside time to rest in an effort to make my home a welcoming place to be. I don’t want to live my life, turning people away at every opportunity; the hospitable woman within me will not let that happen.

Priscilla Shirer briefly touches each of these statements in her next section about living with grace.

I resolve to live with grace…

We must live with grace. We must see our homes as holy ground (or everything we touch, as it all is, first and foremost, God’s) and ourselves as the holy attendants, bestowed with the responsibility and privilege of creating an atmosphere in which the essence of God’s grace, freely extended to you, can be felt and sensed through the grace you freely extend to others. Our homes are the place where we cultivate peace to be enjoyed by those who live there and by all who enter through the doors.

Women hold the primary controls to the mood, spirit, and equality of life within each of their homes. It’s about recognizing our power to change the spiritual climate of our home based on the Holy Spirit-enabled resolve to be a woman who exudes the simple yet wonderfully poignant attribute…grace.

We must remember (and strive towards) what happened when we realized the detriment of our sinful disgrace and what God did for us. When we chose to follow Him, His grace becomes ours. When we fully realized how many of our own blunders He lovingly forgives and forgets every day, we suddenly find the motivation for extending that same undeserved favor to those around us. His patience, His acceptance, His understanding, His kindness. By His grace, these become ours – not just to receive but to release.

See every downfall as an opportunity to extend forgiveness and grace; to bestow compassion on another human being.

I resolve to use give a gentle answer…

I also rediscovered during my journey through this section that it’s okay to just say OK. I don’t always have to be right and burn myself into the ground to prove myself right (even when I’m wrong).  Proverbs 15:1 reads A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath. Try it. It may save a relationship.

I resolve to not be the director of my own personal Broadway production…

Doing so would leave way too many big shoes unfilled. When we do this, the “actors” in our productions do not know what’s expected of them and when they fail, we give them boot. That shouldn’t be the way we lead our lives…tossing relationships to the side because so-and-so didn’t say what I wanted them to at that precise moment.

I was a drama queen once…during my teens…but those years have long since gone. Being a writer doesn’t help much either. I can direct the drama  that fills the pages of my latest novel, but I can’t direct that which fills my day-to-day life. A woman of grace recognizes and admits that, yes, she has a predetermined plot line for her life and surrounds, a compilation of past experiences and make-believe notions. We’ve all done it. There are days when I’m still guilty of it.

But the woman of grace looks at her reality first and then shapes her expectations accordingly. She seeks to discern the true needs of her loved ones and then adapts her own view of things so that she can do what is best for them, nurturing an atmosphere in which they can genuinely flourish.

Grace releases, frees, relaxes, and unbridles. It allows room, loosens nerves, gives permission, and expresses acceptance.

After all, God’s the director. Not me.

I resolve to set aside some “Sabbath” time…

I resolve to rest. God did. He even commands us to do the same. Why? Because we need it. We need the rest. We need the opportunity to regain our prospective on life. If we kept going, our minds become clouded by the hum of a busy life and our decisions are made rashly. We end creating more chaos for ourselves.

We need to purposefully carve out time to stop.

Even if that day doesn’t land on a Sunday.

Or a Saturday.

We need time to simply enjoy God. To celebrate a time of rest, rejuvenation and spiritual focus that would perpetuate their experience of freedom, not just in theory, but practically.

Priscilla argues that it’s not good to just set aside one day of the week, but rather a segment of time each day that we give to God. I would tend to agree. This, for me, occurs during the earliest hours of my morning, on my walk to work, a reprieve from work in the afternoon, yoga in the evenings and then again, right before I turn in for the day. Doing so actually frees me from the bondage of my day-to-day life.

How about you? Will you resolve to be a person of grace today?

I will.

Again, I say…I resolve to live with grace, to use the word “OK,” to not lead my life as if I were directing a Broadway production, and to set aside time to rest in an effort to make my home a welcoming place to be.