True Grace

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 2:1

I remember sitting in church hearing people talk about how they remembered the exact moment God’s grace overcame their hearts and transformed their lives. I wondered, could an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord & Savior, exist without that ‘moment’? I certainly couldn’t point to just one moment – I grew up in the church and always had a sense of God’s sovereignty. I prayed, I studied my Bible, I read Christian books, I felt like I heard from God, and I worshipped whole-heartedly the God whom I loved – the One I knew was good and faithful and who answered prayers. But still, I wondered.

Until a couple years ago.

I was sitting in a service when one of our artistic directors began a visual piece. I sat back and thought, “Oh this one’s good. I remember this one.” With a song playing in the background, and captions coming up on the sidescreens, he took paint from a bucket with his bare hand and smacked it onto a large white board until it was almost entirely covered. Then, again using his hands, he smeared the paint across the board until it there was not one white spot left.

And then, while the captions talked about grace, he took out a squeegee, started at the very top left corner, and dragged it the length of the board. He continued on down the board until it was completely clean.

I remember feeling normal until the board was completely white – and all of a sudden, it was BLINDINGLY WHITE. Not a speck of paint left. And all of a sudden I realized – that’s  how God views me? I’m THAT clean? With all my bumblings, all my mistakes, all my prideful, judgmental, unloving thoughts – Jesus removed it ALL. His blood washed it all away.

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

And I felt this impressed upon me: “You can never outdo what Jesus did on the cross.”

Why in the world was I trying?

I will never be good enough. No matter how hard I strive, I will never be perfect enough to be acceptable to my Father in heaven.

But because of the cross! Because Jesus took my punishment upon Himself – He paid the price for me. He paid my ransom! He has set me free, literally, from an eternity of Hell. With that same act, He removed from me the shame of my defects and flaws. It was like I had been holding my breath my entire life, and now I could finally exhale. All the pressure was gone.

The series was called ‘Disturbing Grace’. Disturbing indeed.

So this morning, when I read 2 Timothy 2:1, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” I asked God if I was missing anything. I know one of my flaws is being overly critical of myself, which tends to bleed over onto the ones I love. In the time since that message, I’ve been learning what it really means to be fully accepted – mistakes and all – by my good, good Father. I’ve learned to give myself a break. I’ve been able to exhale a bit and understand that I don’t need to be perfect; furthermore, it’s useless trying, because I never will be. Life is an adventure that should be lived out in love. That’s the standard we should be concerned about.

But as I reflected more on that verse, I realized that being “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” went even further. When I look at my kids, I don’t see the result of what I’ve done right – I see God’s grace filling in the gaps where I utterly fail. Maybe being strong in His grace is more about staying open to what He’s doing, whether I’m in it or not!

Here’s a perfect example: I’ve tried a few times over the years to have a weekly memory verse at our home. It usually lasts about a month, and then we get busy and I run out of time to change the board. Or I get bogged down with “what’s the exact right verse for this week? If I plan too far ahead, am I blocking a better verse that may apply to our lives better in that moment? What if I pick the WRONG VERSE?!” (You see how silly this is.) The only time I was really diligent about this was when our eldest was 3. She probably had 20 verses memorized by the time she was through with school that year. I was pretty happy with myself.

Do you see what was wrong with that? “ For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Maybe I was doing the right things on the inside, but it was puffing me up so that I was full of pride in what I myself had done.

Fast forward to now. I’m not diligent with the Verse of the Week. But I am weekly – almost daily – having conversations with our kids that involve Christ, God, heaven, salvation, hearing from God.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-11

Earlier this year, I prayed with our 3 year old as she asked forgiveness for her sins and accepted Jesus into her heart. Let me boast about my weaknesses so you understand this had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the heart her Father God gave her – a heart that loves her Jesus. It is special when you recognize that God has given your child a gift. It is even more precious when you understand it had absolutely nothing to do with you.

Maybe what being strong in the grace of Christ Jesus really means is releasing control of perfection and structure in our lives, and throwing wide the door for Jesus to come in and stir things up. I’m never sure exactly what that will look like, and the point is it doesn’t matter – because you can bet it will be filled with love, joy, peace, and fulfillment. A life that is truly life.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Take hold of life that is truly life