Tag Archives: grace

Morning

Standard

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; 
   great is your faithfulness. Lam.3:22-23.

This morning I wake early, while darkness softly dissolves into daylight.  I creep downstairs in the sleepy stillness, brew a steaming mug of coffee, curl into the squishiest corner of the sofa, cuddle deep in my favorite blanket.  In the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. Kahlil Gibran.

This wraps arms of sustaining grace around my day:

The Grace of the Cross

O my Savior

I thank You from the depths of my being

For Your woundrous grace and love

In bearing my sin in your own body on the tree.

May your Cross be to me

as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs,     (Ex.15:22-27)   

as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty,      (Numbers 17)

as the brazen serpent that calls forth the look of faith.      (Numbers 31:4-8)

By your Cross crucify my every sin;

Use it to increase my intimacy with Yourself;

Make it the vigor of my love, thankfulness, graces;

And by it give me that rest without rest,

the rest of ceaseless praise.

O my Lord & Savior,

You have also appointed me a cross to take up and carry,

a cross before you give me a crown.

You have appointed it to be my portion,

but self-love hates it,

without the grace of patience I cannot bear it.

O blessed cross, what mercies do you bring with you!

You are only esteemed heavy because I shirk my load.

Teach me, gracious Lord & Savior,

that with my cross you send promised grace

so that I may bear it patiently,

that my cross is your yoke which is easy

and my burden which is light.

From The Valley of Vision:  A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotsions by Arthur Bennet.  

Life surges through me, settles my mind and heart, recalls a thousand renewing mercies.  Once again, the Way of the Cross does not seem so hard.

Advertisements

Generations

Standard

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Heb.11:39-40.

It is cold.  I shiver as I sit upright in bed, my Nook screen glowing into the darkness.  I cannot put it down; I am entranced.  I read a long book, a redemption story.  This story is about a young man raised in a dysfunctional home, battling to be free of childhood pain.  I studied Psychology in graduate school and the intricacies of his relational dynamics fascinate me.  Generational fallout wafts its poison around this young man’s life and he breathes it in, making it a part of him.  Deception, manipulation, greed, revenge, secrets, rivalry, betrayal, anger, selfishness.  The family waded through a generational quagmire of scheming ambition and relational distrust.  Children compete for echoes of lost love.  Sisters and brothers betray each other for tokens of divided attention.  Parents see only their own scars.  This young man grew up twisted, bent inward to dreams.  He experiences a long redemption after leaving home, but he carries scars that occasionally seep out the embedded poison.  His story ends with forgiveness and wisdom, deep resolution that eternally shapes the successive generations.

I read the Bible.  Genesis 30-50.  The story of Joseph, the last Patriarch.

After the flood, the Patriarchs begin with Abraham, who marked the world with a mighty faith, then circle outward to Isaac, then Jacob, then Joseph. If you have never read their stories, O my stars, do it now but not with a weak stomach or a legalistic theology. The black thread of generational sin, specifically deception, begins with Abraham then twists its knife deeper into each new generation, creating sticky problems that they try to solve with other forms of moral decay, which divide and overwhelm the family line.  Honestly, the fact that God chose these wrecks to be the foundational covenant-bearers of the history of redemption is so unexpected as to seem wildly ludicrous.
 
I finish the morally muddled history of the Patriarchs as I always do, stunned and introspective. I wonder again that legalists ever read the Bible.  It is not a book for the dogmatically religious.  As wise Pastor Kelly says, the Bible will mess with your theology.  Adultery, deception, nepotism, incest, violence, ambition, rape and division characterize God’s story.  These flawed characters connect, entwine, wind around each other to form a transcendent redemption, but the details are sordid and the key players often despicable.

So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into a new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story.
What we read in Scripture is,
Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”  Romans 4:1-3.  The Message.

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Romans 4:2. NAS
.

It hits me late in the night, a heavy weight of glory, the glory of matchless mercy.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph – they are exactly the right family to undergird God’s story of redemption.  They are cracked into pieces, just like you and me.  This damaged family produced a series of unlikely heroes, beloved and chosen, not by merit, but by mysterious grace.  Abraham believed in his role in God’s story, which set off a chain reaction of redemptive splendor that continues today.  I emerge from the history of the Patriarchs with no desire to justify their dysfunctional choices or to whitewash their flawed history, as I have heard many Bible teachers attempt to do.  I simply see my own broken reflection in the mirror of God’s word.  They were selected and redeemed by the same mighty grace that woos me.  Therefore I can walk with their limitless confidence in God’s character reflected onto me.  We are all unworthy of our destiny, but O, I am dizzy with gratitude for it.  “I am my Beloved’s and He is Mine.  His banner over me is Love.”(Song of Songs 2:4).  

I pray to be like Jacob, post-wrestling.  His name means “deceiver” and he lived up to it more than any other Biblical figure except the Devil himself.  But God changed his name to Israel, which means “God Strives.”  Mercy, yes.  On His deathbed, Jacob, the manipulative mastermind behind thirteen broken children, four desperate, conniving women and a bounty of riches gained through ambitious schemes, prayed this prayer of blessing over his grandchildren.

May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
—may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
on the earth.

Genesis 48:15-16.

To see a legacy of faith instead of works, to believe in the Promise more than the past, to walk humbly into an endless vortex of grace…..

Yes.

Simons

Standard

Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them. Luke 17:4

Luke the Evangelist records a special piece of Jesus’ story in chapter 7 of his gospel.  Jesus, a blue-collar itinerant preacher, attended a refined dinner party in the elegant home of a Pharisee named Simon.  These cultured men surely believed that a rough carpenter must have been overwhelmed by the grandeur of their important world.

A scandal ruptured the glittering event.

A woman in that town who had lived a sinful life (Luke 7:37) flagrantly interrupted the dignified meal.  She rushed into the formal affair, threw herself at Jesus’ feet, and broke open a vase of expensive perfume (surely the wages of her harlotry). She bathed his simple feet in the liquid fragrance.  She wept so profusely that her tears mingled with the perfume, and then she wiped the mess with her undone hair.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Then Jesus, who was more than a prophet and knew every detail of her sordid story, answered the hissing implication of Simon’s legalistic heart.

“Simon, I have something to tell you.”

   “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

   “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred coins, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

   “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 

You gave me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet.

You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with perfume. 

For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven…Your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.”

This is my very-super-extra-forever-favorite gospel story.  I can scarcely read it without welling up with my own tears of scarred surrender.

So, why, O why, do I who have been forgiven so much struggle with all of my weak heart to forgive so little?

I am this sinful woman.  I have sinned as deep as the ocean.  Shame has torn me apart.  I have absorbed the ache of rejection. I have known the sweet and shaking power of a grace so abundant that it toppled strongholds with soft yet shattering whispers. I live at His feet with trembling hands, hiding behind a battering ram of mercy that sets me free.  I love Him much because He has forgiven me much.  Yes.

Yet, to my shame, I have not forgiven my Simons.

I write this out of exposed confession, not justification.  I grieve my own self-righteousness.

I forgive weakly, palely.  I forgive like a bloodless ghost who comes back to haunt my own pocked past with deathly whispers.  Remember when she said that….What did he mean by that?…..How can she justify that….?  

Forgiveness is the giving, and so the receiving, of life.  George MacDonald.

Forgiveness raises the dead.  It pumps life into corpses of fallenness.  It puts meat on the bones of forgotten spectres.  Forgiveness redeems and resurrects lifeless relationships and empty characters.

So I memorized these verses and I will repeat them every day this year as I pray to be a Forgiver, like Jesus.  Lord, make me a Forgiver, a Grace-giver.  May I look at my Simons with the same merciful release with which You look at me.  I choose to forgive seven times seventy times, forever, because forgiveness is the life-giving Way of the Cross.

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12:14-15

This is the Year of Forgiveness

Seeds

Standard

Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. Mark 4:27-28.

I ponder the meaning of grace.  Undeserved favor, clemency, mercy, reprieve, pardon.  I live a life soaked in grace.  Some souls live prideful, unaware of the cost of the mercy that shelters them.  Not me.  I breathe fresh grace in constant awe since I come from the dank history of repetitive failure.  Grace sustains me because I need it so much.  I want it to define me.

This morning I curled up with my coffee and read this,

“By our own natural strength and understanding, we human beings cannot take one step on the road to Heaven.  We cannot do our own growing.  We cannot grow our spiritual lives any more than we can grow our bodies.  True, we can eat and drink; but we eat and drink primarily because we are hungry and thirsty, not in order to grow.  Growth is a phenomenon that happens behind our backs, when we are not looking.  It happens the way seeds sprout in the earth.”  Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job.

In spite of my regular prayers to walk in grace, this is a truth that sparkles new to me today.  Grace (undeserved favor, clemency, mercy, reprieve, pardon) is the fountainhead of holiness as well as salvation.  Yes, I must nourish myself in the rich soil of study, prayer, community, good deeds, confession, healing, meditation.  These provide the necessary environment for the hidden work of holiness – and they are fulfilling in their own right. But, after all, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 1 Cor.3:7.  If we earnestly desire spiritual maturity, our souls must strain upward for His presence, not inward to our own striving.

“In the life of faith one of the hardest things to do is to refrain from laboring and spinning and instead to see ourselves as being like flowers or grain, growing not by our own efforts but by the grace of God.”

This truth consumes me.  There is no holiness without grace, no righteousness without the hard Way of the Cross. I do not earn or deserve my own sanctification any more than I earn or deserve my own salvation. But nothing, nothing is impossible with God.  His extravagant and scandalous favor re-invents me.  To Him be the eternal glory that shines from this mysterious conspiracy of divine Love.

O, how I love my Jesus.

 For as the soil makes the sprout come up 
   and a garden causes seeds to grow, 
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness 
   and praise spring up…

Is.61:11

Tantrum

Standard

And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 1 Kings 19:12.

I sit in Barnes & Noble, creamy Earl Grey tea steaming next to my left hand, my Bible unfolded to 1 Kings 19 as it has been for days as I drink it into my parched spirit, over and over.  I have started this paragraph & deleted it – many times.  I do not know what to reveal, what to protect.

I will speak frankly.  I am in the midst of a bloated, messy, bloody temper tantrum with God.  

I beg Him to intervene for my justice, for my calling, for a redemptive outcome in a whirling vortex of circumstances over which I have no control.  (Child, perhaps My redemption will unfurl in an unexpected way.  I see you.  Do you see Me?)

I hesitate, because there is much at stake.  I want a specific outcome, a safe outcome, an outcome that costs something but not everything.  We may step into the redemptive healing of the outcome we believe is right; but we may not.   We must simply wait to see.

Lord, there is no sin in the outcome I desire.  We have been through so much pain.  We have seen Your glory.  You have done the work. Please do this for us.  

Beloved, I know all of that. Will you trust Me with it? Keep your eyes on Me.  I see you.  Do not look to the right or to the left.  Do not look at the rocky ground beneath you or the swarm of hoverers around you.  Look up at Me.  I see you.  

1 Kings 19 tells the story of Elijah’s heart after a staggering miracle God had done through him.  Elijah had challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a battle of worship.  They lost.  Elijah commanded the convicted Israelites to kill every one of the pagan prophets, effectively purifying God’s people from corrupt worship and lifting a (literal) drought on the rebellious land.  The rains fell on the parched land after the pagan slaughter, washing away judgment.  A clean start for God’s people.  All because of Elijah’s faithful obedience to the God of Israel.

Did Elijah rejoice wildly in the work of God?  Did he throw a giant party?  Did he kneel in thankful worship?  Did he relish the healing that God had done through Him?

Nope.

He threw a bloated, messy, bloody temper tantrum with God.

Huh.

Queen Jezebel (boo. hissss.) threatened to kill him for murdering her prophets.  Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. 1 Kings 19:3.  He fled to the desert, where he flung himself under a tree in empty turmoil.  He came to a broom tree, sat down under it, and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough Lord,” he said.  1 Kings 19:4.

Yes. Elijah is my homeboy.  A mighty work of God, followed by a mighty big fit.

God’s response?  Judgement?  Lightning bolt?  Stern reminders of the miracles for which He had consecrated His beloved prophet?  Get your head back in the game, Elijah!  Stop being such a baby!  Maybe you aren’t cut out for this……

No.  None of that.

As a Father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on us; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust. Ps.103:13-14.

The Lord sent angels to serve Elijah.  He tucked him in for days of restful sleep.  He asked him for his grievances, then listened to his heart. His God spoke over him in a gentle whisper, the only language that a defeated Elijah was able to receive in those cloistered moments.

Then the Lord showered Elijah with grace. In those quiet whispers, God promised Elijah a smoother path under the leadership of his life.  He promised him a partner, Elisha, a companion in his lonely mission.  The grace of leadership, the grace of community, the grace of a God who sees us in our most desperate hours and shepherds us with tender strength and intervening mercy. 

Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.  1 Sam.14:6.

Right now I sit under the broom tree. I have had enough, Lord. But I fix my eyes wholly on the God of the gentle whisper, my Jesus who remembers that I am dust in a fragile vessel, merely earth and breath.  My eyes fill with tears as I remember who I am and the cost to redeem my broken life.  I bow before Who He Is, my El Roi, the Strong One Who Sees Me (Gen.16:13), who knows me, who shelters me and speaks tenderly to me.

Spill out your temper tantrum, beloved.  You are safe with me. But lock eyes with me – and trust me.

Yes, Lord.

What does He whisper to you?

Gusts

Standard

What does anyone gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?  Eccl. 1:3

Lucy, sick and feverish for days, coughs so violently that she vomits on the floor. Jack complains (again) about dinner.  I choke back frustration, massaging my temples, sure that his constant high pitched whining has drilled a permanent hole in my brain.  Scott, home for two fleeting days before a plane whisks him away again, spends the evening on a conference call between cleaning up Lucy’s upchucked dinner and parenting Jack through the whine-vortex.  My shoulders slump.  I sweep up crumbs I swept yesterday and the day before.  I wipe the counters, load the dishwasher, soothe my daughter as she cries over the mess she made.  She tries to wipe it up herself with a piece of toilet paper because the family rule is “we do not make messes for other people to clean up.”  My eyes fill with tears at the sad sweetness of her vomit-slimed hands trying to obey a rule that does not apply to sick little ones.  How would she know that?

I type the paragraph above as I sip a steaming mug of tea, relief in sight.  I have been looking forward to this moment all day.  I hear Jack coughing, coughing, coughing.  Jack?  I check on him, find him crying at the top of the stairs.  “Mommy, I threw up on my bed.”  Guilt sours my stomach.  Tears fill my eyes (again). I hold him as Scott cleans up.  I pray over him, rub oil on his chest, tell him to run to me if he feels sick again.  I come downstairs to lukewarm tea.

I am bone weary.

when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.  Eccl 2:11.

I survey my clean house and my sleeping children, my husband emptying his black hole inbox as he carries what feels like an endless series of heavy burdens, and I am terrified.  Steve Jobs died today.  It hits me like a punch in the gut.  A man who changed the world leaves it without long enough to soak in his legacy. A chasing after the wind. 

The gusts of the empty day leave me breathless.  

Restore our fortunes, Lord, 
   like streams in the desert. 
Those who sow with tears 
   will reap with songs of joy. 
Those who go out weeping, 
   carrying seed to sow, 
will return with songs of joy, 
   carrying sheaves with them.

Psalm 126:4-6

Nothing is wasted.  All is grace.  This is an opportunity to believe, to cling, to that.

Pilgrimage

Standard

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.  Ps.84:5.

We chose almost five years ago to stay at our church where I did this.  The aftermath was a beautiful and a terrible shattering.  I lived frightened as I watched a life scatter away when the sinews of my strongholds were laid bare.

I tried to hold them all, but my hands are weak against the gusting of hot winds.     There is a kernal of dying in me – an ambivalence that calls to fragile escapes.  

God engulfed me in mercy during my season of sifting.  He stooped down to rescue me when I shook with fear that I might be broken beyond fixing.  He saved me, healed me, spoke tenderly to me.  He invited me to be brave, to live in the Light.  Foremost of all, He covered me with an everlasting atonement long long ago, on a Golgotha cross, long before a scarlet L exposed two opposing futures:  grace vs. performance.  

Grace or performance?  Nothing divides the two like facing what grace really means.  When Jesus bore the ugliness of my sin, His heavenly father turned away in sickened disgust.  As Jesus hung on the Cross, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Mark 15:33-34.  That should be my darkness. Those should be my words, my shuddering loss as God forsakes me in my sin.  Have you ever lived the ripping agony of really looking at your lost soul? God, literally, could not for the life of Him leave us in that aching void without reaching for us.  He paid the wages of our sin so that we would never feel what He felt in those three hours of darkness.  

In Old Testament times, the temple was the dwelling place of God.  I have chosen and

The temple in Jerusalem

consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. 2 Chron.7:16.  In those days, God’s beloved had to journey to the temple to be in the His Presence.  Pilgrims would walk a treacherous journey to seek shelter under the holy covering of the temple.  They offered costly sacrifices and desperate prayers from needy hearts.  They knelt at the altar in the outer courts, soaking in the intimate Presence of God for those precious moments.  Their sacrifices, of course, did not wholly redeem their sin.  They were merely symbols of a Sacrifice yet-to-come, foreshadows of the Cross. Those pilgrims did not come to the temple to buy salvation, but to throw themselves on God’s mercy.  They were on a pilgrimage of grace.

Blessed are those who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. Ps.84:5.

Today the temple is no longer a building, but a spiritual presence.  For we are the temple of the living God. 2 Cor.6:16.  

I am on that same pilgrimage.  I do not journey to a temple made with human hands, but to a sanctuary within my own heart.  I have firmly decided to live out my days under the shelter of grace.  Will you be a fellow pilgrim?  As we come out of our seasons of sifting into vistas of peace, there will still be those who appeal to us to prove ourselves, to demonstrate that we deserve a second chance.  We could respond with increased effort, but it would be chasing after wind.  Simply put, we do not deserve a second chance.  I deserved the depths of hell long before my sin was exposed, and I deserve it still. Striving means nothing in the beating heart of Grace.

All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.  Frederick Buechner. 

The beauty of grace is that it transforms.  If we walk a pilgrimage of grace, it will change us.  We will become more holy, more loving, more courageous, more deeply steeped in the intimate Presence of God.  We will develop a face set like flint on our mission and eyes that see only the One who Sees Us.  My steps forward in grace have been the safest and holiest I have ever taken.  It is the adventure of a lifetime.

Will you walk a pilgrimage of grace with me?  

Alabaster

Standard

There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven – a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing, a time to search and a time to give up as lost.  from Eccl.3.

We have been asking questions about broken relationship.  How do we know when to throw open our arms to a hard-fought embrace and when to drop them in acceptance? When to hold on to a lost treasure and when to let it go with a benediction?  It is easier for one of us to search, and for one of us to give up as lost. Which is the way of the Cross?

Definition:  Forgive:  to give before or ahead of.

Wounds heal or fester.  When my children cry from their little bodily injuries, I pour oil on their hurts and tell them, Be brave.  It will get better.  God made our bodies to heal. When we break and are broken, I hear Him whisper over me:  Be brave.  Give before and ahead of.  I made your heart to heal.

Resentment is like a glass of poison that a man drinks; then he sits down and waits for his enemy to die.  Nelson Mandela.

Fear is the enemy of forgiveness.  Fooled me once, shame on you.  Fooled me twice, shame on me.  Right?  To let go quietly, behind closed doors, in a cocoon of self-protection, that is one thing. But to reconcile in the Light, to joyfully restore, that is something else entirely.  It is a breathtaking risk, because there is always the possibility that wounds will lacerate us again.  Trust, forgiveness, fear, danger, restoration.

Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time—just like it does for you and me. Sara Paddison.

I have taken my wounds and sealed them in a jar.  Perhaps we all have.  Now what do we do with the jar?  Some broken treasures cannot be salvaged this side of eternity, and that is the deep sadness of this fallen space.  Sometimes we need to greet and acknowledge that reality.  Sometimes moving on is the greater grace.  A time to give up as lost.  Other times we are called to put the full weight of trust on restoration. We may choose, each of us, to give before and ahead of, to gamble our hearts in order to gain them back.  A time to embrace.

Which time is this?

Forgiveness is giving up the possibility of a better past.  Unknown.

There once was another woman who held a sealed jar.  A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  Luke 7:37-18.  This broken woman offered the wages of her sin to the One who considered her alabaster offering a precious gift instead of a symbol of her wicked life.  She broke open her pain at His feet, gave it to the One who forgave her, who gave before.  

I am that woman.  I have broken others and been broken in return.  I deserve rejection but desire grace.

I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little. Luke 7:47.

What happens before and after forgiveness?

Love.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,  does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. 1 Cor. 13:4-8.

With her broken offering, she reflected His Divine Love. It is not trite to proclaim that Love is always the answer.  Love is the banner He has hung over us.  Love is the triumph of the strong saints.

Love is also the dividing line of wisdom.  As we all circle our important questions, we should ask, Is it more loving to embrace or to shun embracing? To search or to give up as lost?  To do this or to do that?  That is very hard. The way of the Cross is sparsely populated because it is a bloodbath of Self. 

But that is not the end of the story. Love cannot stay buried.  Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it; if a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised.  Song of Solomon 8:7.

I do not know the resolution of your story, and I am still seeking mine.  But I have learned that if I seek a resurrection of something I have lost, I must first seek Love.  Love will either redeem it or give us something better.  Love will lift up our faces as we break open our alabaster offerings, and declare, your many sins are forgiven because I gave before and ahead of your story, because you desire and receive my Love, because you love me more than your flawed treasures. Now go in peace and continue to Love and Forgive Much.

 

Devour

Standard

The accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony.  Rev.12:10-11.

Just a few years ago, someone spoke this over me:  I used to think that you were brave, but now I think that you are ruled by fear.  This was poison uttered deep to my battered soul that was already sinking, sinking under the weight of condemnation.  Those words echoed through my years of healing, my bravest years.

Many years ago, in college, I called to share a struggle with an adult I wanted to trust. After listening to my college-girl dilemmas for awhile, she said in annoyance, You just eat your emotions for breakfast, lunch and dinner, don’t you?  That gagged my mouth from vulnerability for many years, years I should have spent draining regrets.

Last year, a conflict with friends exploded through gossip into a nuclear wasteland, leaving smoking debris and embedded shrapnel in open wounds everywhere.  It was a holocaust of rumor, accusation, suspicion and loss.  We sort through the wreckage, dazed, wondering what in the world just happened?  Can it be undone?  Is forgiveness strong enough to overcome so much misunderstanding?

My husband carries the weight every day of personal and professional attack in his business.  We will not stop until (name) and (name) and their families have lost everything.  Scott and other leaders stand tirelessly in the gap.  He walks in integrity, leads in strength, fights with all of his might to build something great. But the opposition is relentless, grinding.

Accusation.  The Bible says that Satan accuses us before God day and night.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8. Why are we so eager to pick at Satan’s leftovers?  Why does God’s beloved church reject His invitation to restore? How can the people of grace be so void of grace?

If you bite and devour each other, take care lest you be consumed by each other. Gal.5:15.

Are you bowed under the weight of accusation?  Have you turned your face from the Light because of your shame?  Are you coated with the grime of condemnation?

“The hurling of veiled insults and unsubstantiated charges is a favorite tactic of Satan’s.  If he can stir up clouds of guilt in our minds and unsettle us with nebulous worries, then the Devil is in his element.  Whenever we find ourselves plagued by an obscure, uneasy sense of condemnation – a free-floating anxiety unattached to any clear course of remedial action – then the chances are that this is the work of the Devil.  It is the voice of accusation, not conviction.”  Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job

That is an anthem of freedom.  When that vague haze of torment settles over me, I seize the truth in that paragraph.

The conviction of the Holy Spirit is always precise: He identifies root causes of sin, and He moves the heart to specific acts of repentance and obedience.  All who trust God sufficiently to desire to obey Him will find unfailingly that He gives clear guidance.”  ibid.

Therefore now there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1.

I grieve at God-opportunities lost when I ingested the accusations alongside the conviction.  I wish I had chosen to spit out the condemnation while drinking the conviction to the dregs.  Accusation poisons; conviction nourishes.  This people-pleaser swallowed the shame, walked through many years with its weight in my belly. Now I perceive the dividing line between the two and I weep at the goodness of a God who convicts but does not condemn.

O taste and see that the Lord is good!  How blessed is she who takes refuge in him! Ps.34:8.

Read here how my Savior shed the final weights.

In John 8, the Pharisees capture a woman entangled in an adulterous affair.  They drag her, stained with her sin, vulnerable, into the town square to hurl stones at her so she will die, crushed and bloodied.  No man stands with her; she is alone in her shame. I imagine her huddled and weeping, trembling with shame and fear. Jesus steps into this den of condemnation with quiet but undeniable authority, uttering his famous Pharisee-squasher, “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.”  To their credit, the Pharisees slowly file away, convicted, in spite of their self-righteousness, by the Presence of Grace in action.  (Do not forget that Grace woos the legalists and the hypocrites alongside the tender-hearted.)  In my minds eye, I imagine the Lord of Hosts wrapped in the skin of a man, His heart tumbling over itself to Love this broken sinner in a way she can finally understand.  I picture Him kneeling, perhaps shielding her with a cloak, perhaps lifting her chin to be the first man to look in her eyes with compassion instead of desire.  The first man to nourish her instead of devour her.  The first to see her.  He speaks:

Woman, where are your accusers?  Does no one condemn you?

No one, Lord.

Then neither do I condemn you.  Go now, and leave your life of sin.  John 8:10-11. 

That, friends, is conviction instead of condemnation.  That is Love poured out into the dust of this fallen world.  That is a reckoning of grace.

It does not matter if the accusations from the past are true or false.  We are a fallen race, and our souls are sick with sin.  We are contaminated with this world’s brokenness, and we have failed as big as the ocean.  The enemy may speak lies (or even twisted truths) over us, but we will fix our eyes on Jesus, whose bloody Love is sufficient to annihilate every shred of condemnation.  Beloved, pursue holiness in confidence, because in the eyes of Jesus, we are whole, undevoured.

Pierced

Standard

But he was pierced for our transgressions. Is.53:5

Recently somebody criticized one of my children.  This person spoke ugly things behind our backs, holding my child to a very high standard for a very short person.  The worst part?

They were true.

My children are sinners.  This particular child is big-hearted, enthusiastic, affectionate, fiercely loving, loyal, brilliant, sparkling, tender, inquisitive, fun-loving, discerning, astute, exuberant.  This child is a big person in a little package, and I am hungrier for the Lord because He gave me this child.  But just like every member of the human race, this kiddo lives out the besetting sins that twist each sin-flawed soul. Scott and I see these little black roots in both of our children and we do what we can to pray, love and discipline them out.  We want to spare them the pain that will certainly come from unaddressed sin in their lives. But we can only offer the opportunity; we cannot walk in holiness for them.  In this particular situation, my child had repeatedly made the hard choice and received consistent discipline for it.  And now an adult pointed a long finger of condemnation at my little one, not from love or accountability, but in judgment.

When I heard about the scathing words that had dribbled out of this person’s lips, my jaw clenched and my fists balled up.  I may see my children’s sin stains, but they are my babies after all.  My first reaction was to rear up and strike like a mama cobra.  I tried to release my protective torment, but it pierced me. Ragged, I breathed a prayer, Lord, I need help. I need to let this go.  I will not carry the burden of somebody’s else’s legalism.  How do I receive what is life-giving accountability to our family while releasing the poison?  

The Lord told me to go to the bathroom.  I am not making that up.

So I put down my pumpkin ale (which is fabulous, by the way) and walked, bewildered, to the powder room.  Mmmmm-kay.  I closed the door and looked around me.  My eyes locked on two wall plaques that I had hung just a few days before.  Rimmed in simple black, etched in glass, the simple  words “Pray” and “Grace.”

Huh.

The Holy Spirit whispered to me, So you want to release these judgments?  Pray and walk in grace. Let go of your own legalistic criticisms of this person that are pounding inside of your pierced soul.  Pray in grace.  

Blech.

But, reluctantly at first, I chose to obey. I prayed for this person’s children, parenting, marriage, intimacy with the Lord, career, character.  I even prayed for this person to have a connected (albeit boundaried) relationship with my child.  I sat on the toilet seat in my powder room, forehead on my knees, hands open, praying anything I could think of for a long time.  As I prayed, a transcendent beauty grew in my (weird) little prayer closet.  The ball of tangled anger unravelled, trailed away.  I saw this person through the eyes of a deeper grace.

Then I prayed for my babies.  I prayed that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies would fight victoriously to overcome the sin-roots in their souls. I prayed for Love to envelope them in safe and everlasting arms.  I prayed that everything hidden in their lives would be brought into the light.  I prayed that God would show Scott and I how to lead them, love them, enjoy them, discipline them in these years that will set the course for the rest of their journeys on this broken planet.  I prayed for love-armor to protect them from the inevitable legalism and judgment that will cloud their callings. I prayed that God would raise up mentors to lead them deeper into holiness and purity.

Grace is a harder, deeper journey.  I used to wonder why more people do not abide under its banner, but now I know.  Grace is excruciating.  It heals by piercing holes in our expectations and draining all of the venom we store behind justice’s dams.  We drink the venom willingly; we do not want it drained.  But Grace insists.  I cannot receive grace if I will not offer it.  I cannot offer it if I will not receive it.  Grace is a beautiful, demanding master.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Gal.5:1.

What do I value in our family? Behavior or character? Performance or relationship?   Legalism or grace?  If I hope and pray for grace, shall I not offer it, even (maybe especially) to those who choose not to offer it to me or to those I love?

Pierced (wounded) in judgment, pierced (healed) in grace.  Wounds vs. healing. That is the chasm between legalism and grace.  Lord, keep me out of the chasm.  May we dwell on the vista of grace.

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and prayer. They will look on Me, the One they have pierced. Zech.12:10.