Growing in Grace

My life has been in upheaval quite a bit so far this summer. (And it’s only nearing the end of June!) My goal has been to just go with it and keep taking the next step. And it’s worked. I’m actually starting to thrive off the busier, all-over-the-place-ness that is my schedule. It seems like God is teaching me a million things right now, but a big one is being willing to step out and into what He wants for me. That often means leaving my anxiety behind/ acting in spite of it. One of the ways my anxiety manifests itself is in relation to other people. I tend to keep my distance and not engage because of that. If people come to me, that is usually okay because I actually genuinely love people a lot.

Sharing the love of Jesus is hard when fear keeps you from striking up conversations  with your co-workers or walking across the room to a group of people. Unlike other times in my life, right now, this is a battle worth fighting. I know so many people who are great at reaching out to people and making them feel accepted. I’ve benefited from this on many, many occasions. It is one of the best feelings- to be drawn out and have someone be interested in you and your life! I want to offer that gift to the people I come into contact with. (Er, the ones I could be coming into contact with…)

Walls must come down; having open hands is necessary. As a Christian, I have received love, grace, and forgiveness, and still do receive them daily. Why would I feel the need to protect myself when I belong to God? Letting what had been given to me flow freely to others is the only way to actually experience the freedom those gifts were meant to give.

As the person who likes to stand back and observe, this all means I need to step forward and be the one who speaks, pursues relationships, and acts kindly toward others. It means I stop worrying about what someone will think of me if I say or do something. It means that I start acting more and observing a little less. It means that I look beyond myself in action taken and words spoken.

Yet, I cannot count how many times I have done the opposite when the opportunity arose. I have been glued to the ground, unable to open my mouth, left conversations unfinished, and far too often have not even been able to make eye contact with people. All because of my anxiety. It’s so frustrating and heaps shame on me. In those moments, I have to accept the grace to not engage just as readily as I would need to accept the grace to overcome and engage. I have to take to heart God’s power and love in a whole new way just so I don’t drown in guilt. Second, third, and hundreth chances are the way God rolls, though, because He’s not keeping track. Thank goodness!

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2016: Heart Change

I almost didn’t write a review of this year. It seemed like it would be a waste of time. But looking back periodically can be a good idea- you will see lessons learned, and how God worked. This past year it felt like Jesus led me along in the things He wanted me to do. Which is probably the way it’s supposed to work… and honestly it’s a lot nicer than trying all the time to make things work out. At the beginning of the year, I was just coming away from all my dreams being crushed and was in a very fragile, defeated place. From there the year turned out to hold what I had been praying and hoping for for years.

My brother, a couple of friends, and I went to College for a Weekend during the Spring semester, which is exactly what it sounds like. After spending most of my time at home for many months, it was a big event. Eating on campus, going to class, attending convocation are a few of the things we did (plus lots of walking!). My friend who didn’t like concerts, and had said she would never go to one, decided she wanted to go to the Rend Collective concert that weekend. Despite my own reservations about the band and attending a loud concert, we went. I’m so glad I took the chance on buying that ticket because God met me that night through Rend Collective’s ministry. Not only were they not burst-your-eardrum loud, but they took time to tell everyday, encouraging stories throughout the show. They pointed out that life is hard, but God meets us in the hard stuff and helps us fight it. Lyrics only backed this message up: “When my fears like Jericho build their walls around my soul, when my heart is overthrown, Your love is my battle cry, the anthem for all my life.”

When I got home from the concert, I was scrolling through social media only to see that one of my long-time friends was in distress-  her older brother had passed on that evening. Other than making big tears flow down my face that night, this affected me in two big ways:

1. The way he lived. In less than 25 years he fit more life in than many do in 3 times that. He loved Jesus and people so well. Over 5000 people came to the viewing. Like, what? Crazy! And they all had a story about what he had meant to them. I remember his transition to this way of living too, because he wasn’t always like that. Jesus was to blame. Through it all, he kept pushing through depression and anxiety. That gave/gives me hope.

2. The way my friend and her family responded. My friend’s mom said her response to the news was, “Lord, bring him back to life. I know you can.” They went through grief and questioning God, but never let themselves question His goodness. His young widow, who had watched him go, wrote a blog post explaining how she had searched out the sovereignty of God a few years before and came to this: that God knows what will happen if we make a certain decision, kind of like how an adventure video game works. That knowledge was a comfort to her now. These things greatly impacted my faith and how I view life. (I wrote a post during this time.)

Life’s Healing Choices was a small group series at my church for healing your hurts, habits, and hang-ups. I went for my anxiety, and boy, did it stir it up the first session! I decided I wasn’t putting myself through that level of anxiety on purpose again. With the encouragement of my leader, though, I sought God each week with whether I should attend the sharing session. It was during this time that I learned to do what God asked of me again. I hadn’t fully trusted Him in a while and I was slowly taking steps of obedience- one at a time.

All this time I have recounted so far, I was in emotional pain. But, I was watching God answer my prayers. I would pray verses that the Lord had led me to over myself, family, and friends. There are so many instances when God worked and/or gave me direction, but more often He also changed my heart.

When summer approached, I had 2 projects in mind: making a quilt and learning how to keep plants alive. These long-term goals taught me the importance of enjoying each step of the journey. I also watched a series of lectures on nutrition. This sparked my interest.

My doctor had recommended I have the Body Code/Emotion Code done to release old anxieties (so I would stop slipping into anxiety so easily). I ended up going twice, and learned of many past experiences that had shaped me. This gave me a bit of insight into why I think and act the way I do and also gave me the freedom/ space to change.

My dad was let go from his job, but God gave so much peace during that time. It ended up causing my dad to get a different (healthier for him) job, my mom to get a part-time job, and all of us to grow closer.

College was something I knew God was leading me toward, and I was excited, but I was also quite scared. While anxiety-wise it was the best semester yet, I still fought enormous battles in my mind. God was fighting for me, though, I could tell. That was my main comfort. My favorite part of this semester was that I got to go with my brother and we even were in one class together (along with a friend of mine). Being with people on a weekly basis did me good on so many levels.

Right now, the Lord is giving me a strong desire to dig into His Word and live out my faith. This includes the idea of missions, which I am letting roll around in my mind.

“You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” -John 15:14-15

The main running theme this year was having faith in God. From that root, God worked on my heart, diminished anxiety’s power, taught me to enjoy life more, and brought healing in countless ways. I’m so very thankful for all this year has held!

69. Walking in Grace

Grace. It seems like I’m always coming back to grace. “Our job is to gracefully interpret the story of our lives.” -Robin Jones Gunn (That’s loosely quoted… the book went back to the library already.) Anyway, the concept struck me when I read it. This world, the Enemy, and our flesh do a fantastic job of helping us forget the position we hold under the blood of Jesus- forgiven, guiltless, loved. Living in grace means living in these realities.

Being a Christian should not be a constant guilt ride. At times the Holy Spirit will point out sin, but He also highlights a way of escape- He doesn’t leave you wallowing in guilt. Instead, the Christian walk is one more of encouragement and motivation. We walk in love. One thing that always reminds me of this love and encouragement is reading about how Jesus prayed for those who would come after Him – specifically for you and me. Jesus thought of us when He was about to endure the cross. (Honestly, He was probably thinking of us throughout the entire event. To save us was the reason He went experienced such anguish.)

 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. -John 17:20-23

Jesus is now sitting at the right hand of the Father interceding for us and the Holy Spirit helps us and prays for us. Even though there are times when it’s hard to feel this, our journey of faith is overflowing with help, encouragement, and grace upon grace.

53. Dinner Out, Turned Gospel Lesson

We were sitting at the table looking at the bill. “Let’s leave ten dollars as tip,” my brother says. That’s multiple dollars more than 20% goes through my head as I give him a confused/ disapproving look. Wheels spin in my head and more reasons why it wouldn’t be “fair” to give that much. It took a little while for the food to come, our order was mixed up the first time around, the power went out, we even waited a while for the bill. I forced myself to step back. Why is it such a problem? I used to love being generous. So I say, “Okay” and throw down the ten dollar bill. As we paid our waitress directly because of the power outage, it was obvious that she expected a much smaller tip.

In the car, my brother continued to hash out the math to figure out how much each of us would pay and came to the realization that he had messed up the math on the tip. He obviously felt guilty and covered the difference. I felt guilty because wasn’t it careless to “throw out” money like that? I’m sure my parents would not approve. But it turned into a lesson on grace straight from God.

As human beings, we know what we ought to do but we don’t. My conscience lets me know every day just how often I don’t do what I ought. I am, we are, completely undeserving of even existing (or, to keep with the analogy, receiving a 15% tip as a waitress). But Jesus went to great lengths to extend abundant mercy, grace, and life (above and beyond the 20% mark). He didn’t decide to stay in heaven because we didn’t deserve His gift.

Usually when we say, “life is unfair” we are referring to the negative things that happen, but it applies to positive things as well. Especially growing up as a middle class American, I take for granted to many unfair blessings every minute. Among all the commonplace blessings, is the gospel I’ve heard many times over. But do we really understand the gospel if we mix it in with the commonplace? Do I really comprehend the gospel if I think in terms of fair when I sit in a restaurant contemplating tip (and then feel guilty later about leaving a larger than normal tip)?

When we realize what Jesus accomplished for us, the eternal life we’ve been given, it puts a new perspective on everything. It’s not a guilt perspective; there is so much grace when you are resting in Jesus. Rather, it’s going about life compelled to share with others because of what’s been given to us, because of the rest we have found.

On the subject of spiritual disciplines, JD Greear writes, “Even our failures in these areas remind us that God bases His acceptance of us on Christ’s keeping of the law, not on ours. That realization will drive us to stand even more in awe of the grace of God, which will produce even more spiritual fruit.

It is by grace through faith that we are saved, but that amazing salvation compels a response.

The experience at the restaurant made me think. It may not have been the smooth, relaxed dinner I expected, but the glimpse of the gospel was worth far more than a dinner of ease.

51. Start With Awe

Last week I didn’t publish anything. Sorry for giving no notice, but there was a very good reason for that. I had an unexpected three day stay-cation and didn’t touch the computer the entire time. It was a nice, relaxing break. Anyway, now I’m back!

“Doesn’t matter what I feel
Doesn’t matter what I see
My hope will always be
In Your promises to me.”

– ‘Your Promises’ by Elevation Worship

Life can include a lot of emotions that seem to war against truths. That is the place I’ve been for a while now. As with any hard place, it helps you to see things differently. While I have experienced the despair and negative viewpoint that tries to force it’s way in during rough times, there is also good to be found. Specifically, God’s love and grace.

The presence of God seems to draw closer in times of trial. When I bring the hurt of my heart, or sometimes the hurt of my whole being, to the Father and expect Him to draw close and comfort, He does. These times are so sweet.

Acts of grace amaze me. How many years back does God work? Thinking about the intricate details that started years ago for a certain event to happen a certain way in my, or a friend’s, favor blows me away. A friend was in a head-on collision that should have left him dead instantly. Yet, he is in recovery right now. His father wrote a post about all the miracles that happened surrounding the event. They started years ago with his sister bought a different, more sturdy model car than she had her heart set on. That car eventually got handed down to my friend. Just a couple weeks before the accident, my friend put the driver’s seat back as far as it would go. The little things that contributed to the miracle go on and on. And this is not an abnormal event, we just don’t usually see it so clearly.

While the hard season is not often taken away, relief emotionally (and otherwise) comes in the perfect timing. Just a week ago, a friend and I went on a short hike to an overlook.

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It was the perfect weather and we had planned to spend time with God when we arrived at the top. As we walked awe came, then peace and contentment overtook me. In the perfect timing, God places faith building, hopeful moments into our lives. I think they teach us to trust God and enjoy the very present moment. The moments of hope we need will come and the lessons we need to learn are in each experience, whether they’re good or bad.

Awe comes first, and it gives us the space to see beyond the hard or painful.

35. Gifts of Grace

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When the seal of the Holy Spirit is placed on us at salvation, spiritual gifts are given as well. At times in the New Testament these are referred to as gifts of grace. Some of them we might mistake as talents, while others are clearly spiritual.

The significance of spiritual gifts of grace over regular talents is the spiritual power behind them. They are powered by the Holy Spirit, God himself. That means nothing is impossible and, therefore, the impossible will happen if you allow God to work through you. Another thing you must recognize as different from genetic talents is that spiritual gifts should point to God, since He is the source.

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Each adopted child gets different gifts in accordance with what God knows would be best for him. In a parable, Jesus warns those who have been given less gifts to steward them well. (Matthew 25:14-30) Even though some may seem less significant, every gift is valuable and should be treated responsibly.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Ephesians 4:11-14

While this passage does not include all the gifts it does point out a goal we have been given- to build up the Church. This is the main thing we should use our gifts of grace for, which ultimately glorifies God. It could be teaching a Bible study, writing a blog, encouraging brothers and sisters in Christ, serving at a church event… Only God knows the specific ways that He intends for you to help build up the Bride of Christ. So ask Him how to respond!

The second thing the gifts of grace are intended to do is equip us to reach out to those who have not met Jesus. This is the great commission every Christian has been handed. Whether is be street, relationship, or serving evangelism, there is some way God has gifted you to reach out to people who are still in the dark. As I said before, there are as many ways to respond as there are gifts given, so asking for direction is the best choice here as well.

Do not neglect the gift you have… Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 1 Timothy 4:14-15

Spiritual gifts are grace in that God is working through us. But, we must ask how He wants us to use these gifts and then surrender wholeheartedly to that plan. Only then we will see God do the impossible through us.

34. The Gospel of Grace

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Grace is the most powerful thing in existence and the gospel is the most grace saturated “event” in history past or to come. This leads to the conclusion that the gospel is the most powerful thing ever. A perfect God being born a man to live among men, living a sinless life against all the odds we face, submitting to a horrific death at the hands of the men He came to love, and finally rising from the dead so that we might have life.

Still, I haven’t touched the surface of how amazing the gospel is. It’s the ultimate love story and superhero story combined! In the past year, I’ve read/ am reading two books on the gospel. ‘A Gospel Primer for Christians‘ by Milton Vincent goes into great detail on how meditating on the gospel daily can completely change our lives. ‘Gospel‘ by JD Greear is not as concentrated (or small for that matter) with truth, but still explains how the gospel allows grace to win over religion.

As sinners, we deserve death. It’s just that simple.

Holy God + sin ≠ existence in the same universe (and beyond!)

BUT, Jesus died our deserved death. Anytime God looks at us, He sees Jesus’ perfection, which means we can live in that identity of perfection. This is the grace of the gospel. Starting to see why it’s the most powerful thing ever?

As with any other type of grace though, there is an expected a response. Unlike other types of grace,  our response to this one is literally life or death. To accept this gift of grace, we enter another realm (and family); we are given eternal life and adopted as children of God.

The first response would be to accept the free gift because we know we desperately need it and cannot earn it with even our best effort. This step makes God your Lord and Father, Jesus your perfection and advocate, and the Holy Spirit your helper and seal (of salvation).

Reflecting upon the incredible work of the gospel is the key to living victoriously in this new-found identity and future eternal life. This is the second response.

The gospel of grace extends to, and transforms, every aspect of life. But only if we make the very serious, life-changing decision to respond by submission once, and then every single day.

I’ll leave you with a beautiful section from ‘A Gospel Primer for Christians‘:

Outside of heaven, the power of God in its highest density is found inside the gospel. This must be so, for the Bible twice describes the gospel as “the power of God.” Nothing else in all of Scripture is ever described in this way, except for the Person of Jesus Christ. Such a description indicates that the gospel is not only powerful, but that it is the ultimate entity in which God’s power resides and does its greatest work.

The gospel is the greatest gift of grace we are offered so our response holds the greatest weight. We can either ignore the gift and be given death as we deserve, or receive the gift and live a new life.