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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For the love of them…or us?

I recently read a great article about Toms. The shoes. But more so the real purpose of the company.

It’s a great idea, right? You buy a pair of shoes and they will give a pair of shoes to kids who don’t have them. I’ve seen kids with bare feet and gone on medical clinics to see them treated for hookworm and other things because of it. By golly, I will pay $50 for a pair of canvas shoes for a good cause! Who wouldn’t?

But, the article I read made a point. Even though this is a good cause (it is, no one is disputing that). It’s not really solving any real problems. Why? Because the company works from outside of the countries that are in need. They make the shoes, consumers buy them, and they are delivered to countries that need them. Who feels the best about what they do? The consumer. It’s a company model built around a good cause, but in the end it’s meant to make the consumer feel good about what they buy.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Intrinsically. But it isn’t solving the real problem…the reason the kids don’t have shoes isn’t that they aren’t available. The reason the kids don’t have shoes is that they are in poverty stricken countries where they can’t afford shoes. So, they get shoes. They also get rice and beans from a charitable aid organization, shoe boxes filled with well-meaning gifts once a year, but they are still living in poverty. Have we fixed the problem or have we simply made ourselves feel better?

I’m not saying any of those things are bad. In fact, quite the opposite! They are good things! Don’t stop supporting organizations that help underprivileged countries! They need all the help they can get! But is our help a momentary fix or a solution? That’s all I want to ask.

I recently read a post on my brother’s wall that basically said that sometimes it takes a cold cup of water from a person’s hand before you will accept the Living Water from their hearts. I get that. Meet a physical need to gain access to meet their spiritual need. Christ exemplified that. There is nothing wrong with that. But, the old Chinese proverb holds some truth, too – “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.” So the question I’m pondering today is this, in my good deeds am I simply making myself feel better for the day, or will their lives be different?

There is a time and place for every purpose under heaven. Solomon drives that point home. But, there are organizations that are making permanent solutions in war-torn and poverty stricken countries not just momentary fixes but hard core “We see this need and we are going to fix the problem not slap a bandaid on it.” I want to see more of this.

Toms could do more to make a difference, a permanent difference. They could teach the locals how to make their shoes (honestly, it can’t be too hard!). They could buy the canvas, the leather, and the cork from those people, and sell them very cheaply so that the poor make a profit… then those leftovers that don’t sell…they could be given to the kids that desperately need them. That’s just a thought. But the point is, one pair of shoes at a time is only going to last at the most a year. Whereas teaching them how to make the shoes and sell them, that could make a lifetime of difference to ailing countries. Like, Digging wells. This is a permanent solution. This makes a complete and total difference in the areas that get this privilege. We take for granted our easy access to water as we fling another bottle in our purse as we leave the gym, we don’t even think about famine or drought or the fact that the animals bathe and leave waste in the one stream we might share as a village…which is like 3 or more of our subdivisions combined. Organizations and missionaries that teach a trade in order to help villages to support themselves, not to live off of temporary handouts, these people are heros…life savers…fixers. Artists that take their time to teach African women designs for necklaces that they can make and sell to raise money to invest in their families and communities, this is life-changing work. Funding goats and livestock and corn and seed and feed, these are donations that are going to make a failing community prosper! These things will feed and clothe and aid multiple families and pass on hope and knowledge and wellness to the next generation. And, these are just a few roles of amazing organizations from medical to agricultural that are making life-restoring differences!

I will probably still buy Toms. And I hope you will, too. I’m not out to sabotage good works. I just want to ask the question, “Am I doing this for the love of them…or me?” I am not leading a crusade to fight economic injustice; I just want to ask myself the tough questions, the raw questions that get to the quick of my motivation because I want to see their lives changed for the better for GOOD not just for the moment. I don’t want there to be any doubt that the work that is done IS for them and not for me, and that the One that sent me provides not just for a day but for all eternity.