Falling into the Reach of Glorious Grace

What a wordy title.

Well, I’ve always had trouble with the concept of falling of love, maybe because I’m such a perfectionist.  There’s a part of me that can’t take that deliberate step off the cliff to trust someone with my heart and let them love me, because then I have no control over what they love about me.  There’s a fear that they might love an imperfect part of me that I’m uncomfortable with anyone seeing.  A part of me that I myself do not love.  If someone loves me for something other than my accomplishments — my proof of value — the ways I have tried to make myself lovable — I’m not really sure why they love me at all.  And it’s uncomfortable not to be able to calculate my value or define what I’m worth to them.  If I don’t know why they love me, I have no control over it.  They could stop tomorrow, and I wouldn’t know why.  My whole life, I’ve tried to prove myself to people who already love me unconditionally, and it robs me of the joy and fulfillment that comes with being loved and loving them in return.

A while back, I let someone hold my hand for the first time in nearly two years.  It alarmed me at first.  There was some subconscious horror rising up in me that desperately wanted to voice the anxiety in my heart: “Why are you holding my hand?! I’ve never done anything for you, you know none of the things about me that I consider even mildly impressive, and you can’t hold my hand because I can’t handle you caring about me more than my accomplishments.”  It was such a ridiculous thought, and fortunately I didn’t voice it.  Instead, I made the deliberate effort to relinquish a little bit of control…and held his hand a bit tighter because I could either hold onto the unknown and hope it would catch me, or I could run away from it.

I think grace is the same way.  The risk of grace is not something we can carefully calculate.  Like love, grace is something we have to fall for.

And for us perfectionists, that can get a bit dicey.  We hold onto our accomplishments like a security blanket.  We like the thought of grace, so long as it supplements our works rather than replaces them.

Except…it doesn’t work that way.

Grace and self-sufficiency cannot coexist in ANY amount.  If you base 1% of your salvation on works, it’s 100% based on works.  If you haven’t taken that step of faith off the edge of the cliff, grace hasn’t caught you at all.  Grace is a gift that only the surrendered can experience in all its beauty.

There are at least two super uncomfortable parables about grace in the Bible.  The first is that really obnoxious story of the man who pays the same wage to the workers who worked 12 hours and the ones who worked 1 hour.  It’s uncomfortable because most of us identify with the offended characters.  Everything in us balks at the seeming injustice because it doesn’t fit into our worldview. Yeah — welcome to Jesus’ parables.  Perhaps this is one of the few that actually retains its rhetorical impact for modern readers.  Kingdom values are upside down and offensive to the proud.  The reason this parable irritates us is because a lot of us think we’re the 12-hour workers.  We’ve gone to church our whole lives, know the books of the Bible by heart, go on mission trips, and pray every day.  And we don’t get any more grace than the hopeless sinner who disgusts us? It’s not fair.

The other parable is that of the prodigal son.  It’s all too easy to see things from the older brother’s point of view: “I worked for you all these years, and you never even gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours who has squandered your wealth with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”  And we’re like, “Yeah, where’s the justice in that?”  Because we’ve been working all this time, but it seems an awful lot like drudgery when we see the rescued sinner rejoicing, and we wonder what he has to be so happy about.  If he gets off the hook, what have we been working for all this time?  That question, of course, leads to an uncomfortable conclusion: perhaps, all this time, we have been working for the wrong things.

No matter how hard we work, we will never be worthy of grace.  Paul says that our salvation is by grace, not by works, so that no one can boast.  Dear ones, God is not impressed by your talents; He’s the One that created them.  I can just see Him shaking His head and laughing as we eagerly say, “See what I’ve done!” and hold up empty hands.  For us 12-hour workers and older brothers, it’s time to face the painful reality that we have done nothing to earn His love.

It’s a frightening thing to take a step off the cliff and fall for grace.  But when you do, you’ll find a heavy weight lifted from your shoulders.  If nothing you do can earn you grace, nothing you do can take you beyond its reach.

As inconceivable as it may seem to us, God wants to hold our hand.  He wants us to grasp His tightly and trust Him when we have nothing else to hold onto.  He’s waiting there to catch us…if we’ll only fall.

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there’s something bigger going on here.

After all, aren’t we all looking for purpose?

The last thoughts of a teenager with a little bottle of white pills relate to purpose. How they never found it.

The last thoughts of a martyr tied to a stake relate to purpose. How they found it and are willing to give everything for it.

Your last thoughts will relate to purpose. Your entire life centers around purpose. Because in the end, it’s all that matters. The question is, will you have regrets?

The teenager who just took his own life may have heard at some point that God loves him. But for some reason, it didn’t make a difference. Why?

Because it doesn’t matter that God loves us if he leaves us there.

You see, we’re used to telling people that God loves them and can forgive their sins as if it’s the end of the story. But it’s really only the beginning.

Here are some questions to think about. You already know the answer because I already gave it to you. (My first draft of this post started with the questions and made me sound slightly heretical, so I thought it would have more impact if I introduced it a different way.) But think about it from the perspective of how you grew up, or what you’ve always believed. Have you ever asked these questions? Or was it too dangerous to ask these questions, in case you couldn’t find the answer?

Does it matter that God loves us? Does it really make a difference?

What is grace, anyway? What has it done for you? Or is it just some abstract concept of God’s love that you talk about without really understanding why?

If we’re “sharing Christ” with someone to “bring them to salvation”, what does that even mean? Why should they care? Why do they need the love of some intangible, invisible being they can’t fathom?

Because God doesn’t love us just to love us. If that’s all there is, our lives will still be…empty. If the story ends with “God loves you”, it doesn’t matter. It’s meaningless.

Last fall, I almost gave up on my faith. A lot of you don’t know that about me. Now you do. You’re welcome.

There were a lot of factors that contributed to this, and I don’t have the time to go into all of them now, but essentially I began to focus on all the little issues and to let them distract me from what was really going on. How do you interpret this passage of the Bible? How are we supposed to make it relevant for today? What was right and wrong? Was anything right or wrong? I wrote in my journal, “How is it even possible to live as a Christian in this day and age? I’m starting to think it’s not. Maybe it’s all just some big joke.”

I was totally lost. I felt like nothing mattered. But nobody could know that, oh no. I was Miss Blog Queen and the one everyone depended on for the right answers. So for several months I stopped praying, I stopped reading my Bible, but I kept going to church like a zombie and tried to feel my way through the darkness that had become my life.

In December, something clicked again. I was thinking about the 10 commandments, specifically “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” All of a sudden, I was like, “I know that doesn’t just mean swearing.” I wrote this blog post. Things didn’t turn around overnight, but that was definitely one of the turning points because I realized that there is something bigger going on here. In the end, it wasn’t about the little things. There was a big picture. There was a big story. There was a purpose.

There is a happy ending to this story, by the way. By the very end of December, I was desperate for truth. Desperate for purpose. Praying for God to change me no matter what it took. He answered that prayer with Passion, right after New Year’s. And without telling my entire testimony, I’ll just say that Passion radically changed me. That was the defining time that I can point to and say that I have never looked back since then. Because I found my place in the bigger story.

You see, I knew all along that God loved me. But that in itself was not enough to make a difference. I was a pretty good person anyway; did I need grace that desperately?

YES.

Because grace is far more than Jesus coming to save us from a stolen piece of candy or a swear word. In the words of Dr. Lavender, “Jesus came to rescue you from the brokenness of a misdirected life. It’s not about, you know, thinking the wrong things while you’re eating a cracker. It’s about fulfilling the purpose for which you were created.”

After all, aren’t we all looking for purpose? We’re looking for purpose because we lost it a long time ago, back in the Garden of Eden. And God won’t fit into your story because you were made to fit into HIS! This whole time God has been working to restore creation back to the purpose for which he created it. Forgiveness of sin is not an end in itself but a means to an end: God gives us grace to return us to what we were made to be.

And it is absolutely vital that we understand this. We need to understand it first for ourselves. Where do we fit into the bigger story? How do all these little moments of our lives work together to actually mean something?

And once we understand that, we have to relearn how to evangelize. We’re not just bringing people to salvation — what is salvation? We’re not just towing them into church — what is church? We’re helping them recover their purpose in God’s story — because what is salvation but restoration? What is church but the embodiment of God’s mission?

Your entire life centers around purpose. Because in the end, it’s all that matters. The question is, will you have regrets?

Fire Fall Down

On Monday we did the climbing tower. I was fairly confident at first and started up fast, thinking, “Oh, I got this.” But halfway up I hit a point where I couldn’t find anywhere to balance. All the rocks around me were too small to stand on, and by that point I was starting to realize that I’m not nearly as strong as I thought I was. And I also learned that I’m really not good at admitting defeat. I couldn’t make it to the top, and it felt like a huge failure. It temporarily erased the confidence that I had built up over the last few days, and I felt like it cancelled out all my other accomplishments that I had been so proud of before. When I got back to the cabin to shower before dinner, I just sat down in the corner of the shower and cried. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t do it, and then I was embarrassed that I was embarrassed and was making such a huge deal out of it.

Mrs. Sharon (Mom) led a powerful devotional that night, and I felt like every word of it was spoken straight to me. She talked about how we try to self-generate the qualities that we think we need, but we can’t equip ourselves. She asked the group what are some things that we fear, and Mr. Fred answered, “Being unable to do things we think we should be able to do.” That had been so me at the climbing tower. I knew I should be able to climb to the top, and it made me so angry that I couldn’t. We talked about 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10, which I had written in my journal the night before I left for camp. “‘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…For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

“The weaker the instrument,” Mom summarized, “the more clearly God’s grace shines through.”

Then we had a time of individual contemplative prayer in which Mom read/imagined us through letting go of whatever we were holding. By this point, I couldn’t hold in the tears anymore, and they dropped steadily onto my lap. She had us write down what it was we were giving to Christ. I’ll write that here, but I’ll also add how He responded to me:

I’m holding everything I need to prove. It’s a long list. It’s heavy. I’m tired of carrying it with me. He takes it from me and we begin to talk. He asks why I was so upset about not making it to the top of the climbing tower, and I answer that I want to be strong and self-sufficient. He takes it from me and responds, “But this way, I can be strong for you.”

We all went outside with our pieces of paper to where there was a fire waiting. One by one we crumpled them and threw them in the fire, and sat around the circle watching them burn. Caleb was playing his guitar and singing “Let Fire Fall.” After we repeated those words a few times, building up to the climax of the bridge, Caleb started playing louder and more intensely, and raised the song an octave from its soothing tempo into a passionate cry – and as soon as his voice rang out, there was a quick burst of flame as the fire sparked loudly. The timing was too perfect for coincidence. We all knew it was something else. And it was one of the most amazing, powerful things I have ever witnessed God do.

Published in: on June 2, 2012 at 10:33 am  Comments (1)  
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Greek translation

Sometimes I get so familiar with parts of the New Testament that I tend to skim over them without paying much attention. But something about translating a familiar passage from the original Greek gives it so much more meaning. Word by word, exactly what did Jesus say and do? Just to keep it real, I’ll admit that my homework brought me to tears tonight.Powerful stuff.  It’s one of the most beautiful stories of grace there is, so I just thought I’d share. I haven’t checked this against the NIV yet, so here is the Lauren Gracie translation of John 8:1-11.

And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. And early in the morning he went to the temple again, and all the people began to come to him, and after sitting down he began to teach them. But the scribes and the Pharisees led a woman who had been caught in adultery, and putting her in the middle they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of committing adultery. And in the law of Moses he commanded us to stone such women. Therefore what do you say?”

But this they said to test him that they might have something to accuse him of. But Jesus bent down and he began to write on the ground with his finger. But as they were continuing speaking to him, he straightened up and said to them, “The sinless of you, throw at her the first stone.” And again he bent down and began to write on the ground.

And the ones who heard began to go away one by one, beginning from the elders, and he was left alone with the woman in the middle. And straightening up Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

And she said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, sin no longer.”

Published in: on April 24, 2012 at 1:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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Grace Regardless

Galatians 6:4“Each one should test his own actions…without comparing himself to somebody else.”

Our tendency as humans is to compare everything we see against everything else we have already seen. We compare products and brands. We compare prices and values. Which is better? Which is worth more? Yet we don’t draw the line at material objects; far too frequently we compare people against other people. We even compare ourselves against others, often to make ourselves feel better about our own inappropriate actions. If others have done worse, we feel somehow justified even though in the wrong.

But comparisons will get us nowhere. “Relative” means nothing. God will judge each of us individually as though we are the only ones being judged. We will not be compared with Hitler so that we look like decent citizens judged against the standards of his evil actions. We will be measured by our own merit against the standards of a holy God. Attempting to justify ourselves by comparison will only highlight the failure of our pitiful efforts to measure up, for in the end we all fall short, and there is nothing we can do to make up the difference.

Thank God that Christ didn’t give grace on the basis of comparison. He gave it freely to all of us, not relative to merit but regardless of it. He made up the difference for each of us, whether we fell short by an inch or a mile; no matter who we are or where we’ve been, His grace alone is enough.

Published in: on May 23, 2011 at 11:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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