Archive for category Grace
Ken and I attended a special meeting yesterday. I would identify it as a worship service—although we were drawn there because we’d been told a respected teacher would provide excellent teaching.
For the familiar reasons, we struggled with attending. 5:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon is a good time to relax at home.
In the end, we went. And I’m don’t think I’ll ever be the same.
I hope not.
What was the life-changing message about? Well, part of it dealt with forgiving others. Part of it dealt with receiving forgiveness from God. Because it was about knowing God and receiving His grace—about knowing He loves, accepts, and forgives those with whom He has a relationship.
Oh, yes. Relationship was a major topic—because knowing God is more than knowing facts about Him or than having correct doctrines about Him. Knowing God involves interaction with Him.
But I could have told you all those things before we heard the message. I could have laid it all out systematically if asked to do so. And the speaker wasn’t systematic at all. He wound around, sharing not only his story but the stories of others as examples. All jumbled together.
He shared several Scripture passages, but I can’t tell you any of them today.
But as he meandered, the message somehow became Life. I not only heard and understood; I received the Holy Spirit in my inner being. Somehow, the Holy Spirit revealed and imparted and the Life of Christ.
To make sense of this—to explain why I needed this impartation—I’ll mention that I’ve struggled for several years, ever since we retired, with indefinable feelings of inadequacy and alienation that affected relationships with family and friends. I wanted to withdraw. At times I did withdraw. I wounded people, people I cared about.
I felt judged. From within because I felt guilty for not being able to respond the way I should have to others. And because I failed to meet reasonable expectations of others. And the more I failed, the deeper the despair. I knew that my failures—my sin, if you will—had caused schisms beyond repair. I felt family and friends could not forgive me. God was surely very disappointed, too.
The only thing left was operating without emotions.
Which only compounded matters.
I believe it was God’s grace that allowed me to begin bringing some of this up before a small group several months ago. (Because I was so desperate, I had begun attending a prayer group a few years ago—difficult because I knew and know so much about the Christian life. I can seemingly operate on a spiritual level while overcome by guilt, making it difficult to be transparent and honest before God and others.)
Meanwhile, in life outside the prayer group, I tried to extend love to a couple of people who are especially important to me on several occasions. Although I struggled during the processes—generally felt miserable, estranged—I believe the efforts were important.
And last night, as you might imagine I was uncomfortable as the speaker began.
He continued to probe deeper—to reveal more and more of human frailty and of God’ grace. I hope you won’t be surprised or disappointed when I tell you I cannot exactly explain what happened. I do know I was emotionally wasted and devastated.
And when it was over I was free.
Free from guilt.
My understanding of God’s grace somehow expanded. I realized that God was not surprised by my sin or my capacity for sin. He is not surprised by my failure to love with His love. He understands emotional weakness, and He accepts me and others just as we are. He receives us and loves us. By the end, I somehow knew God receives me, accepts me, loves me, and forgives me.
I went to sleep easily last night. And after waking up around 4:00, I easily returned to sleep.
Of course, there are thorny issues ahead: I can do nothing to change the past. Right now, at least, I have faith to believe I can live with the problems I’ve created, even with the wounds I inflicted. Because God’s grace will reach out to others. His grace can turn all things to good. And His grace is big enough to sustain me through the process.
I understand this faith will be challenged—and that my part will be limited to prayer, to hearing His voice, and to responding to His leading. There will be difficult times.
But truly, the grace that was big enough for this breakthrough will be big enough to sustain me during difficult times ahead. I cannot undo the damage my diseased soul wrought. But God set me free, and He can and will set others free as well.
If I try to remain in His grace, I’ll fail. But if I look to Him rather than to myself, His grace will continue to work on my behalf. I don’t expect it to actually be easy, but the hard part will not be self effort or working to make changes. It will be continuing to release my guilt, to receiving His forgiveness, and to move in others because He loves them.
I didn’t stand up during the call to ministry. I couldn’t. I was too overcome and remained glued to my seat. Nevertheless, transformation occurred. Something larger than mere understanding occurred. It would seem God’s Spirit penetrated my inner core, my heart. He wrought a new relationship between us.
Lord, I love You. I praise You. I come to You with joy. Because You love me. You welcome me. You desire to bless me even while I’m a sinner.
Praise Your Holy Name.
Ruth continues to labor in the fields throughout the barley and harvest season. This post, based on Ruth 3:1-5, looks at what Naomi does and doesn’t say after she learns Ruth’s benefactor is their kinsman Boaz.
Then the season comes to a close and Naomi does offer specific advice. As the one who understands, she becomes a counselor with a plan. Naomi knows that although Ruth gleaned in the fields simply to survive, God was doing something bigger, something special that could open up a future.
And as is always the case, moving forward to receive God’s plan requires another leap of faith and an increased level of obedience.
After the tragedies happened (this post will not discuss what preceded them), three so-called friends visited him to offer advice. But although their words sounded good, they sent the already desperate man deeper into an abyss of sorrow. Job was their target. They insisted he suffered because he was hiding sin; he knew he had been walking with God.
A fourth friend whose name was Elihu entered the discussion after the others ran out of steam, but he had a different message. Rather than focusing on the tragedies, he extoled God. Although he identified where Job had misunderstood God, he said, “I desire to justify you.” (Job 33:32 ESV)
This is all very vivid, because I read the book this week. And I’d like to highlight a few things I noticed during the reading.
Job talked about life after death, but the three friends did not.
In addition to defending himself from accusations, Job asked the ultimate question: “If a man dies, shall he live again?” ( 12:14)
And he boldly proclaimed, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (19:25)
This type of confession was missing from the trio who came to advise him. Their viewpoint was limited to life on earth; their concept of God’s blessings was limited to earthly blessings.
Although Job knew God, his friends knew about God.
The friends never mentioned their interaction with God.
Eliphas asked, “Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right, or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?” (22:3)
Bildad added, “How then can man be in the right before God?” (25:4)
Zophar never gets beyond judgment. At one point he declared, “God will send his burning anger….” (10:23)
These men’s words did not come out of personal unity with the living God. It would seem they walked apart from or separated from Him.
And they were offended by Job’s statements that referred to his relationship with God. Such as, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments.” (23:3,4)
Job spoke boldly to God because they had visited before. They were friends. Based on their relationship, Job knew he was righteous—not because of his own merit but because he walked in God’s grace. And before the book comes to a close, we learn that Job truly was a man approved by God.
When oppressed by difficult events, focus on God’s character rather than on earthly sorrow.
We easily identify Job’s pain. But after God reveals the nature of His character Job said, “I have uttered what I did not understand…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:3,5)
So although we understand Job’s response to his circumstances, we must also understand that the man could never do or say anything that would remove his sorrow. Only God could bring healing to Job. And we, like Job, must look to Him as well.
In the end, God honored His servant Job.
God told the three friends to prepare a sacrifice—and then He would receive Job’s prayer for them. Isn’t that interesting?
And then we read the final report: Job received twice as much of everything he had lost—except for his children. There God gave him the exact number he had before because Job knew they would live after death—and in heaven the children who died during the tragedies would be added to the children born after his restoration—so the total number would be twice as many as he had lost.
Meanwhile, Job lived a long life—140 altogether. Years filled with opportunities to bless people who would benefit from his kindness.
When Ruth entered the fields to glean, interesting and unusual events worked together. Ruth must have realized something was afoot, but she was unfamiliar with the culture of Bethlehem. She didn’t know anything about a kinsman-redeemer or how he could change her life. And so she meets Boaz with no hidden agenda. She simply appreciates his intervention when he offers fresh water and protection as she labored in the fields.
Naomi, on the other hand, is familiar with the provision for marriages within the Hebrew culture. But when she becomes Ruth’s teacher, she doesn’t tell Ruth too much. She offers simple advice that supports the young widow’s personality and character. In that role, she becomes a metaphor for the Holy Spirit who leads and guides us, not usually with full disclosure, but with enough to support us as we draw near to our Savior.
After an unusual week, I searched my files for something ready-made to post, and I found a rambling discourse. Even though it fails to express my appreciation, it seems almost appropriate because today we celebrated my husband’s birthday (I think he knows I appreciate him) and because this Wednesday we’ll celebrate the Fourth of July. So, with a few last-minute changes, here’s a new twist: something from the files.
Jesus said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mk. 12:30)
I love my family more than life. I really do. They even define who I am.
Yet I’ve loved God more than them for many years—all the while loving them more deeply because I loved God first. I simply know that apart from God, raising children and rejoicing in grandchildren would be meaningless. I believe a person needs to belong to something bigger than their earthly family.
I believe people need to find and understand their place in the family of God.
The family of God, identified in Scripture as the Church, is not a closed, limited group of people. It’s people bonded by relationship through their relationship with Jesus. It’s always growing, adding numbers as it includes new Christians who seek God’s grace.
So what’s my place in this family? How does my place change as I grow in grace or mature in the family of God?
I love my country and hope I’d be willing to die for it. I really do. My country even defines who I am.
Yet I love God more than country—and believe my citizenship is more productive because I love God first. To be an effective citizen, I need to belong to something bigger than an earthly kingdom.
I believe people need to find and understand their place of service as citizens in their country.
This bigger kingdom, identified in Scripture as the Kingdom of God, is more than a static group following rigid rules. It includes people bonded together under the authority of Christ, our Head. The authority of Jesus and His Kingdom is expanding as people respond to Christ and live the life of grace He offers.
So what’s my place in my earthly country? How does it change as I grow in grace and mature so I find my place in God’s kingdom?
I love my God and I get a bit frightened at times when I think I might not be willing to die for Him. More than anyone or anything, He defines who I am.
I turn to Him daily for strength and support. Although I’m a better wife and mother and a better citizen because of Him, that isn’t why I love Him. On a realistic but admittedly selfish level, I love Him because He loves me, and I need the daily reassurance that it is so.
I believe people need to find and walk in God’s love because He makes us better people.
But God is bigger than my need. Bigger than the needs of all people put together. And He’s willing to listen to the smallest prayers.
My focus changes when I turn to God apart rather than to family and country. I seek Him for selfish reasons, but He lifts me above my selfish desires. With Him, it’s not about finding my place, or fulfilling my obligations, or striving to serveas I want to serve.
This God of the universe reveals Himself and visits me. He’s made my life rich as I’ve struggled with heart-rending disappointments. He’s all about grace—and walking with Him is about His ability to establish a foundations of grace when I feel bereft. He gives and gives and gives some more.
Understanding this God is an impossible quest. Especially during a strange week when I have trouble thinking straight. But He’s bigger than my fatigue. Bigger than my quest, even. And the search—the journey towards understanding—fulfilles my deepest longing. He is worth everything.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen. 1:36)
So, if God is the creator, and if we’re created in His image, we can conclude that we have the ability to create!
This week, Ken and I visited my brother and his wife.
It was a good trip and a hard trip because he is not well. And that means she also faces major difficulties. But we so enjoyed viewing Betty’s beautiful garden—watching birds visit the feeders and birdbaths. And, of course, the glorious array of flowers.
Because we did quite a bit of driving and because we used up quite a bit of emotional energy, I’m posting something simple.
But there is a theme. And I’ve already clearly laid it out. It’s this: We’re created in God’s image and He is a creator. So we are creative beings.
Yes, we’re created to create.
Creativity has many forms. Over the years I learned to create by preparing meals, sewing clothes, keeping up a home, etc. Then I learned to write news articles, write papers about literature, and eventually write lesson plans.
Other people create things beyond my scope. They might design machines or, equally important, make repairs necessary to keep them running. When I kept having trouble connecting to the internet, Ken discovered I could press a single key to solve the problem. Talk about creativity! The possibilities are endless—and they impact every activity of life.
To relate this focus on creativity to our week, let me explain that our sister-in-law Betty is creative in ways I can only admire from a distance. She’s painted pictures. And I think some of the photographs she’s taken of her grandchildren rival those of professionals.
I’m drawn to gardens because they offer color and beauty. Compared to Betty’s perspective, that’s a limited viewpoint. She chooses varieties she finds interesting. And she works with our master creator—the first gardener. Her flowers are more than window dressing—although they serve that function well.
And your personal creativity in particular.
Have you thought about your ability to create? Thought deeply about desires and how to fulfill them? Have you discovered creative potential that surprised you?
I don’t think anyone ever explores all God has placed within them, so even if you are finding creative outlets, be open to explore new avenues of expression. We just don’t know all God might have for us down the road.
The final verse of Ruth 1 sets the stage for the action to come.
Meanwhile, the four titles given Ruth each reveal something important about her. (I call them identifiers because they identify her in the text.) Three of Ruth’s titles are general. She’s a Moabite, a daughter-in-law, and Naomi calls her “my daughter.”
Ruth’s fourth identifier or title is her name. God inspired the writer of the book to provide her name early in the first chapter, even though some acknowledged her only by her status and function. God made it clear from the beginning that she is unique and that she has value.