Posts Tagged grace

An Impartation of 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.

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Gleanings: Ruth 10, To Wash, to Annoint, and to Put on a Cloak

This post focuses on one verse, Ruth 3:3. Naomi, the one who knows, offers instructions to Ruth when the young woman prepares to meet Boaz. Because the meeting could be life-changing for all three parties, every detail is important. Naomi even tells Ruth what she must do before she leaves their home. She must wash herself, anoint herself, and put on her cloak or new clothing.

These would be normal preparations today, but they would have required major effort in Ruth’s time. Each offers obvious physical benefits. But they also represent spiritual realities, because each uniquely prepared Ruth to meet the challenge before her.

Because some might wonder if putting on new clothing could actually refer to a spiritual truth, I included additional Scripture references: Zechariah 3 and Ephesians 4:22-24. You might also appreciate Job 29:14  and Colosians 3:12-16.

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Insight: It’s Time to Hear His Voice

Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  (Eph. 6:11:”13)

During a prayer meeting we attended last week, a fellow shared a challenging prophetic message. I felt it was important at the time so I jotted down what I could, and stuck it in my Bible.

From there it went home where it was placed on a stack near my desk.

Tonight I’m feeling overwhelmed, faced by the need for internal and external resources I don’t have, feeling self-imposed pressure to make decisions that can wait. And we’re going on a short jaunt for a few days

Here’s the message I found when trying to organize that stack of papers:

          Arm yourself with the Word, with prayer, with praise, and with the blood of Jesus.

          Put on the armor to stand against the enemy.

          Become an enforcer [in the Spirit]. Use your sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

          Rise up and take your place. Take your righteousness.

               Don’t be shy.

                    Don’t be ashamed.

                         Don’t be afraid.

          Authority belongs to me and I’ve given it to you.

              It’s your will.

                    It’s your choice.

                         It’s your move.

          So move forward.

               Do not retreat.

                    Do not draw back.

     Go forward and the gates of hell will not prevail.

Now, I know this message could be criticized on several counts. But you don’t know the man and you didn’t hear it in context. He’s not suggesting God wants us to foolishly take on spiritual battles we aren’t ready for.

But God is calling His people to spiritual battle. The world needs Jesus. I need more of Jesus, you need more of Jesus, we all need more of Jesus. And we won’t receive Him as we need Him unless we put on God’s armor and do what He tells us to do.

I also know I’m not the only one who has heard a message, identified it as important, and then walked away. But I’m so glad God didn’t let me get away with it. He saved it for tonight—when I’d be too tired and vulnerable to set it aside again.

I initially remembered a verse. Proverbs 25:11 reads, A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. If ever a word was fitly spoke, this one it. But there’s even danger when I revel a word—and savor it as a way of avoiding the bite

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not weighed down by condemnations by this message. In fact, I’m not as burdened as I was before it hit me.

The word convicted and liberated.

God knows how to deal with people that way.

And here’s the crazy thing: I don’t feel called to a specific function—I’m called to a different mindset.

There are times and there are times. And this is one of those times.

It is time to listen to the Spirit.

It is time to actively listen to the Spirit.

Add it’s embarrassing to acknowledge He’s saying this to me because I do hear Him—quite a bit.

I get messages now and then. God is my friend.

Yet He’s telling me to listen.

And I know it is time to hear His voice.

I know it. I feel it. He is calling me—and probably many others—to something different. Something new.

Do you feel it, too?

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Weekly Insight: Thoughts on Job

Many people are familiar with the story of a man named Job. He lost his possessions, his children, and finally, his health; his story is found in a book of the Bible named after him, the book of Job.

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.

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Gleanings: Ruth 7, Beginning a Relationship

After Chapter 2 of Ruth introduces Boaz, we learn how he and Ruth interact during this first encounter. After all, Boaz knew about Ruth and his connection to her, but he hadn’t tried to establish a connection or relationship. Now she shows up in his field and he must make a choice. How will he treat the young woman?

Also in this message, a brief look at how Ruth’s ongoing faith-based decisions set the stage for her. God has a plan, and she is an importnt participant.

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Weekly Insight: Hearing God Speak

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (I Jn. 1:8,9 NLT)

I’d been saved several years when I went through a season I did not understand. God wasn’t speaking through His Word. I read it every morning, but nothing came to life. I felt bereft of spiritual insight. I wondered if I’d really been walking with God. Had my salvation been just an emotional gig? A literary adventure?

At the time, the possibility seemed plausible and frightening.

Then one morning, during my usual time in the Word, I read the verses above.

I read them differently than I’d read them before.  Read them as a revelation. And I didn’t like the message. He somehow let me know He hadn’t shut the door on me.

No, I’d shut the door on Him when He asked me to forgive someone—and I’d ignored Him.

Of course, with my conscious mind I knew all along that I should love this difficult woman in our church. But it hadn’t become part of my inner response when He sent the gentle nudge my way.

And I hadn’t expected Him to be so sensitive. He hadn’t been in the past.

That morning God set a new standard for a new season: Love Me—Love my children. The two go together.

And as a mother, I understood. It’s so obvious, so simple. Why had I ignored His voice?

Something happened that day that’s happened more than once—or twice—or three times—or many times since. God seemed changed, different.

But He hadn’t changed and He wasn’t different.

I was changed and I was different. He had opened my heart to receive Him as I hadn’t received Him before.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to love, so the call to follow Him in love was and is ongoing. But that’s another post on another day. Suffice it to say here that if I truly understand His love for me—and His love for others—I can truly walk in love.

I know. It really makes no sense at all. I think, perhaps, that after salvation, loving others is one of God’s greatest miracles.

The point, however, is hearing Him when He reminds us to love. He’s the One who lets us know when we’re falling short.

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Gleanings: Ruth 4, Personal Identity

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.

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