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

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She Shares Truth – Psalm 38

My first response to Psalm 38 was a feeling of unease, and a thought that “I can’t relate. This does not apply to me.” David, who wrote most of the Psalms, lived under the curse of the law – the curse that Jesus redeemed us from. All those rules and regulations do not apply to born-again, blood-washed, freed children of God! God no longer punishes me because of His wrath. He no longer punishes us in the physical realm because of what we’ve done.

But then I remembered what season it is… Lent. (There’s the Lenten Lens again!) We are preparing our hearts to once again celebrate the greatest gift we’ve been given: Our redemption: our sins bought and paid for by Jesus Christ, who was himself blameless.

So this does apply to me – because without Jesus’ sacrifice, this is how I’d live. In constant fear of punishment; constant shame, knowing I’m not enough; constant hysterics, worried about performing the right ritual or what terrible thing would befall me; constant discouragement, because I won’t ever be perfect or able to live up to the law.

And that is why the Father set up the law – for us to realize we can’t keep it. WE NEED HIM.

Praise Jesus, whose sacrifice brought us out from under the curse of the law, and into the shelter of righteousness and grace!

1 John 4:18 – There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
Romans 8:1 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…

For more on the first and second covenant, and righteousness versus the law, click here.
For more on the #SheSharesTruth project, click here

What are you waiting for?

I recently found out about a  community called “She Reads Truth”, which encourages women to read the Word and share how it’s changing them. This is exciting, I thought, right up my alley!
Last week they started an experiment of choosing one chapter of the Bible and She Reads Truth Psalm 130. That chapter was Psalm 130.

What stuck out to me most was Psalm 130:5. It reads, I wait for the Lord , my soul waits, And in His word I do hope.

A few years ago, we were in a transition period.  We were planning and getting ready to buy our first home, but we weren’t in any kind of rush – we were correcting our credit, saving for a down payment, and trying to find  something we liked in the area we wanted.  If you’ve bought a house, you know how it is: having a ‘must have’ list, a ‘want’ list, maybe a ‘do not want’ list. You have requirements, but during your search you end up adjusting and refining those lists based on location,  budget, amenities, etc. At the time, we had flexible landlords and were renting a house for an incredibly affordable monthly rate. We were taking our time because we didn’t have a time limit.

That is, until I became unexpectedly pregnant with our 3rd child.

Now we were in a crunch: we would be hard pressed to fit another baby in this house. So we increased the urgency of our search.

After viewing many properties, we came to one that was a little outside our budget but in a great neighborhood. I remember asking the hubs if he even wanted to walk through this one; the pictures made the layout look a little strange. We figured we might as well – what could it hurt?

We ended up loving the house. It was much bigger than it looked from the outside; there were a lot of nice updates and stylistic details; it had a fenced backyard; there was room to grow. We found ourselves talking about what we could do with the basement space when the kids were middle school age.
Just like my current pregnancy, it was unexpected and surprising in the best way.

Long story short, we chose to put an offer on the house, which was a short sale. If you don’t know what a short sale is, it’s when the bank agrees to sell the house for less than what’s owed on the mortgage.  They do this in an attempt to sell without foreclosing on the property. It’s better for the seller and the bank. However, it can be more stressful for the buyer as they have to wait on approval from not only the seller, but also the bank – and if there are more than one institution involved in the loan (i.e. refinancing through a second bank), it can take even longer. We were told the average time was anywhere between 30-90 days, but it could be longer if there were complications. 

We put an offer in in March. My due date was June 26. Part of the reason we chose this house was because we still needed a few months to save, so we were hoping by the time everything was approved and accepted, we would have all our ducks in a neat little row. We took a risk, because if everything was completed in 30 days, we would not have been ready. But it was a risk we were willing to take. We just prayed over it and had faith it would work out.

It was in this waiting period that I found Psalm 130:5 and posted it on our bedroom wall. I knew that if I fretted about the banks, worried about the seller, agonized over budget and down payment details, I could be blocking whatever blessing(s) God wanted for us.  So every morning I looked at that verse and reminded myself, “my soul waits silently on God ALONE.” My trust was in HIM – not in the bank, or our finances, or even our realtor or loan officer, as awesome as they were. I was placing my faith in Him, and His Word says “they shall not be shamed” (Romans 10:11) and His “Word shall not return void, but accomplish [His] purposes.” (Isaiah 55:11)

As a result, God did these things for us:
1. When we made the original offer, the SELLER’S realtor not only accepted our offer, but suggested we come in lower than asking price. (Who does that?!)
2. We closed on the house June 18. Just enough time to do some painting and move in before my due date.
3. Instead of owing the amount we thought we would at closing, we owed much less. I still don’t understand what happened, except that God worked a little miracle.
4. Because of that, we were able to purchase a much needed larger car (3 kids under 5 = 3 carseats… not really possible in a sedan!)
5. C was actually 5 days past due date, so we had extra time to get settled before she arrived. (By the way, her birth story was another show of God’s strength and faithfulness – for another time of course.)

So… I believe that focusing on waiting on HIM and trusting Him allowed His blessings to pour out and overflow. I bought a key hook fit our entry way that has this verse on it: John 1:16 – “From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.” It perfectly described what God did for us, along with Ephesians 3:20 (I like the Amplified version best! ).

Psalm 130 reminds me that I need forgiveness – but I don’t have to be perfect to receive God’s blessings. All I need to do is wait on Him alone.

So what are YOU waiting on?!?

Thank you to the ladies at #SheReadsTruth for following through with this great experiment!