Embrace Grace

Grace.

It’s hard for us to fathom… Something for nothing? There is always a catch. We look for the catch – surely I must do something to gain this great reward? So we involve ourselves with works, to be better, to be acceptable, to be worthy of a gift we are completely unworthy to receive. Then faith becomes about what we do rather than who we are, and relationship becomes about us pleasing God rather than being pleased by Him. We somehow forsake the gift in an attempt to earn what is freely given. We are quick to point out the hypocrites and Pharisees without seeing we often play their roles.

I will never forget the time I was so distraught and discouraged because someone that I loved and I had invested in heart and soul returned to a life of sin and depravity. I beat my chest and yelled for God to tell me why? Why was I working so hard to make a difference, why was all that time and energy just thrown away in a fit of passion and recklessness? I didn’t dishonor Him with my frustration, but I felt surely He must be just as frustrated as I felt! Then I heard these words, “You are not called to be the Holy Spirit.”

I stopped. I sat. I pondered. I meditated on that thought.

That’s what I expected. I expected that my good works and words would transform her life and when they didn’t, I felt I had failed. The Truth rushed into my heart like a whisper of correction, “You can’t change them. You can’t save them. Point them to My perfect grace and let Me wrestle with them through their salvation.”

Wow.

The truth was I had seen her as a project, and when I saw successes I marked her off my to do list and went on to the next project. I think we are guilty of thinking God does the same, and we would be wrong. People aren’t projects, they are souls that are in a process of salvation… And what happens on that journey isn’t about instant purification but enduring sanctification. It’s about the battles, the scars, and the long suffering patience of a Savior.

Faith is a journey defined by grace. None of us can ever earn what we have been given. Too often we picture God and think like the days of Moses, “I cannot look upon you and live.” This is not the God that Jesus introduced to us, a God intolerant of imperfection, but instead He sat in the midst of them telling them stories of forgiveness and grace. Not only that, it’s not the God that I truthfully see through His Word.

I see a God more like Job. Have you read the first chapter of that book? I have too, a few times and yet last night for the first time Daddy God highlighted a verse I hadn’t seen before:

When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice. (Job 1:5 NLT)

That’s the heart of a Father that loves beyond failure. The difference is, unlike Job, God knows what we have done and how we have failed, and He didn’t have to make sacrifice a daily practice – Jesus met that requirement once and for all.

Let’s not gloss over the investment in that burnt offering. Job’s kids were partiers, they had feasts and drunken social gatherings on their father’s dime. We might picture Job as taking an animal to the temple leaving it there and going about his merry way… He had 7 kids so, okay, he deposited a flock at the priests door and left. No. One by one Job would take each animal to the threshold of the temple and lay his hand upon its head to symbolize transference and then he would kill this perfect specimen to be offered up to the priests as atonement. He did this 7 times with 7 animals 7 days a week. That’s the devotion of a father who cares, who desires to see his children safe, and is willing to pay a great cost to see them free from sin.

That’s such a beautiful picture of our Father’s love. Job’s kids aren’t recorded as requesting this… They aren’t depicted as even knowing anything about it. They didn’t earn the honor of sacrifice, but because Job loved them so much, he paid the price, over and over and over again – the patient concern of a loving Father.

Grace.

We can’t explain it. We can’t earn it. We can’t fathom love so deep, so unconditional, so sacrificial, and when we try and work to make it ours we neglect the beauty of the gift.

If He loved us so much and extended enduring grace to us, a flawed and desperate people, how can we expect perfection of others? Better yet. Why do we expect perfection of ourselves? Faith is a journey defined by grace. Embrace that.

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School Daze

Like most parents in The South, last week my kids went back to school. My youngest began her last year of elementary school (I cannot truly be this old!) and my oldest began her seventh grade year. It seems like yesterday I held her in my arms for the first time in relief that the nausea and vomiting of the last 9 months was over and the fun had begun! What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t the pain of contractions, the pushing or the final clip of the umbilical cord that marked the end if labor… It was only the beginning.

I remember gently rubbing my bulging belly and hurrying the day when she would arrive – to see her face, to count her fingers, to watch her breathe and not just feel her move. I rushed those months in between trips to the porcelain throne to pray. When I started with contractions early, I obediently followed the doctors orders that I rest, stay off my feet, pretty much just get up to go to the bathroom. “Rest,” he said, “and don’t worry… You’ve have plenty of time to worry after she is born.”

I don’t think I really paid attention to that comment until the first night we were home, and her sleeping was so quiet I had to watch her back to make sure she was still breathing. Or the first time I heard her choke and cried for 30 minutes thinking of what might have happened if I hadn’t been there. The night she stuck a crayon up her nasal cavity, I envisioned how we would explain the bulge in her nose when she was older because that baby wasn’t going to let me help her get it out! Or the time she was playing with her daddy’s pocket knife and sliced her finger… That first sight of blood, from an injury… I thought I would faint – not from the sight of blood but from the knowledge that I hadn’t been attentive enough, I hadn’t guarded her enough and she was hurt because of my neglect.

I thought those were the rough days, until we experienced loss of friendship, abandonment, bullying, and heartache and disappointment, and those days have just begun, and I find myself wanting to scoop her up, open my womb again and tuck her back in… Safely, because the world is just too unpredictable and I can’t guard her from the perils or the problems.

But in those moments, I have to take a deep breath. I have to remember the words of Daddy God to me in some of those fearful moments when she was a baby, “Where your eyes cannot see, Mine keep watch. Where your hand fails to reach, Mine never leaves.” Those have been His words of comfort to me for years, and I cling to them!

Not just for my babies… But for myself. Life is unpredictable and full of uncertainties. Just when we think we have it figured out, everything changes. I once heard, “The only thing that never changes is that things always change.” It’s true. The more I live and experience and gain and lose the more this simple silly quote makes a world of sense.

Truth be told, I hate it. It leaves me dazed. I can adjust, but I don’t want to. It’s like this common thread in my life that screams, “Don’t get comfortable, it won’t be this way for long.” And still, like a fool, like a naive child, I forget and I allow myself to dream and believe only to watch it all change, again.

In those moments, just like with my baby girls, I have only One constant. One voice that can soothe me and remind me that where I cannot see, He has already charted a path, and where my hand is unable to reach, His is already there. And, I rely on that. I cling to it! Because as much as I’d like to build a cocoon around us and stay there safely tucked beside my Saviour’s breast sheltered and safe, life requires me to live apart from that haven for now to face and walk among the hurting, dying, and broken that might not understand a parent’s heart, that may have never felt protected, appreciated, encouraged, or loved. He requires of me to die today so I might live with Him forever, and that is anything but comfortable! But, I have a choice I can learn or I can sleep. I can roll back over making my own cocoon of comfort and denial and pretend like the Teacher isn’t calling my name, or I can sit at a desk right up front, pencil in hand ready to take notes, and learn all I can.

School is back in session, and I’m still a student.