Grace. Last week I made sure we got to church early. Frances Chan was speaking and I am a fan. We even took his picture, which is something I would not normally do in church. His books are so deep, insightful, convicting. As an author, he is so vulnerable, honest and real. It was the first time I saw him speak in person and wow! What a dynamic speaker! He is everything I could only dream to be as a speaker ~ hilarious, insightful, engaging. He touched the funny bone and the heart. His message had impact and covered trust and struggle, rejoicing and relationship. I walked away filled with worship of God and some good action steps to make me a better disciple of Jesus.
But. Yes, I have a but. It is a small but and an unfair but, since my expectations are unrealistic, more than even a super human like Frances Chan could meet. But, I wondered if his analogy about grace was enough.
He shared the story of how his daughter, normally an “A” student, failed one of her exams. She was so afraid of what he would do, what kind of punishment she would receive, and how much she might have disappointed him.
“You know what we are going to do?” he asked his daughter, when she finally faced him with the exam.
“We are going to go out to dinner to celebrate,” he said.
“What?” She was incredulous!
“Yup! We are going to go celebrate your first “F”. And even though it’s a school night, we are going to the movies ~ whatever you want to see.”
Wow! What a great parallel to God’s grace! I thought. Of course, that was Frances Chan’s intention. He had a powerful opportunity for a teachable moment with his daughter about God’s grace ~ he was also quick to point out that if it happened again he would have a teachable moment regarding God’s wrath!
But something about the analogy wasn’t sitting well with me. Something about it wasn’t right. It just wasn’t enough ~ it was too human nature, too natural and not enough supernatural. Let me explain.
You see, Frances Chan’s daughter was normally an outstanding student. After this mishap with one bad grade, chances are very good she would go back to being an outstanding student. Frances himself said she would because she is Asian (he got a big laugh from that one!) Wouldn’t it be natural for any of us to give her grace under these circumstances? These things happen. If she is anything like my high-achieving daughter, she probably had a hard time even giving herself grace for this minor blunder. So, in my opinion (no offense intended to a super great teacher), I think this kind of grace is not a stretch. It’s not a supernatural grace.
What about the kid who fails not one exam, but fails over and over again? What about the defiant child who doesn’t give a rip what their parents think? What about the one who insists on living life their own way? At what point do we stop taking them out to dinner? After the fourth, fifth or sixth infraction? See, this is a different story. This makes us pause. Continue to lavish grace on a kid like this? A little harder to imagine. So, at what point does our natural, human nature grace run out?
The thing is we, you and I, are the failing kid. We like to think we are the “good” kid with only minor infractions, easy to extend grace to, but think about it for a minute. How many times have you failed to live up to God’s standards? For me, too many to count. How often are your thoughts not in alignment with God? This is a daily battle for me. Do you ever have seasons in life when you just want to live life your own way? Let’s not talk about that, except to say that one of the best things I did was surrender my stubborn spirit to the Lord.
Oh yes, I think we can all agree we have been a defiant child to God…and maybe even more often than we would like to admit. And what is God’s response to us? At what point does He cross His arms and walk away? Never! God’s grace is never ending. From the most heinous act to the most minor offense, His love covers a multitude of sins ~ something our human minds and hearts can barely comprehend. Each time we fail and fall and come to Him with a contrite heart, He forgives, He forgets. He still lavishes unmerited favor and blessings on us. His grace and mercy are unfathomable. This type of grace is not natural ~ it truly is supernatural.
I loved Frances Chan’s story about his daughter and agree that it does give us a glimpse into God’s grace. I could easily understand and see myself giving grace in that situation. And that is precisely why it made me a little uneasy. The kind of natural grace I could extend to another has limits. It has memory. It is justifiable. But that is not God’s grace. How can we adequately explain His grace when His grace supersedes the natural? Really? Words can’t. His grace is incomprehensible.
Hope. I sat at the table next to my son, turned on my laptop and scanned my inbox. An urgent prayer request from Pastor Rick. I opened the email. Each word I read seemed to suck another breath from my lungs. It was tragic news. Our pastor’s son had taken his own life. My chest tightened as I imagined Pastor Rick and Kay, hearts broken to the core, trying to process the loss of their child. It was more than my imagination could take and I closed my eyes tight.
When you listen to a pastor, week after week, for over ten years, you begin to feel like you know him personally; though, the closest I’ve physically gotten to Rick was the one time he strolled through the church, patted my shoulder and warmly greeted me. And Kay I have only seen while she spoke from the stage. But to see them, to hear them speak, to read their books, well, you know these are two souls with tender hearts. Mom and Dad hearts. Human hearts. Crushed hearts.
You could be the pastor of one of the biggest churches in America, have faith that can move a mountain, and trust in the Lord with all your heart, but let’s be real, this has to hurt like hell. Maybe I’m not supposed to say that as a Christian, but the reality is, Christ followers are far from being immune to pain here on earth and hell hurts.
“What do people do who don’t know the Lord?” I asked, as much to myself as to my son sitting next to me. We both just looked at each other, still in shock and sadness. But my question has resonated with me since.
There is tragedy in the world every second of every day. You only have to log onto the world wide web to know that the tears shed from broken hearts creates a perpetual wave of sorrow. So when tragedy strikes, where does our hope come from?
Some people find hope and comfort in other people; but we are a very unpredictable species. Sometimes we can be loving and kind, comforting to those who hurt, and sometimes we can be preoccupied and busy at best, even cruel and callous at worst. Some people find hope and comfort in achievement and experiences, a means of distraction from the pain; but how long can you keep a body in motion? Every body needs some down time, and then what do you do? Some people find hope and comfort in things, in the process of acquiring things; but things get old, they break, they rust, they tarnish. Some people find comfort, though maybe not hope, in alcohol and drugs; but I know first-hand the consequences for this kind of grief therapy is unhealthy and the cost is too high.
It’s a broken world and a broken world can’t offer the kind of hope and comfort a grieving soul needs. Our Creator, God, knows this. And He knows the pain and grief associated with losing a precious son. His heart breaks with every heart that breaks, and He sees each tear that falls. He longs for us to call out to Him so He can wrap His heavenly arms around us.
And He knows how much hell hurts ~ and it is His greatest desire to keep us out of it. In fact, it is His fervent desire to have each one of His precious creation with Him in heaven one day. Heaven ~ paradise, a place free from pain and suffering, free from inhumanity and tragedy and most importantly, a place filled with the glory of God. Filled with His glory because that’s where He is ~ waiting to welcome His children, like Matthew, with loving arms. This, my friends, is where my hope comes from ~ a loving God, a redeemer, a place in heaven. And I know from years of listening to Pastor Rick that this is where he and his family have their hope . I also know their hope would be for you to know Jesus the way they do ~ if you don’t, would you consider getting to know Him now?
The sun was shining and a light breeze blew back my hair. It felt great! I looked at the train tracks in front of me and felt grateful for the calm I felt inside. It wouldn’t be long before I would be clackety clack riding the train to my destination, something that my anxious thoughts kept me from enjoying the week before. It’s amazing what a week of adequate rest and sufficient quiet time can do for the soul!
As I waited for the train, a young man sat down on the bench next to me. He immediately engaged me in conversation and before long asked me what I had been reading; that’s when the conversation took an interesting turn.
“The Bible,” I said, “well, it’s really the Bible written in story format.”
“That’s probably good because no one can sit and just read through the Bible the way you could a novel,” he said. I could tell by his demeanor that we might have a differing philosophical view of the book. His next comment confirmed my suspicions.
“After all,” he said, “it’s not really…you know…I mean it’s not like…”
“Literal?” I offered.
“Yeah, they are like stories and metaphors and parables.”
“I think it’s literal,” I said. “I mean, sure there are parables and metaphors and stories, but I believe there are literal principles that can be drawn from them. And some parts are just straight literal.”
“But you can’t prove it. It’s just faith.”
“Every world view requires faith, even atheism. But based on the evidence I have seen, my belief in the God of the Bible requires the least amount of faith.”
“I think people should be allowed to believe whatever they want.”
“You know what?” I said. “I do, too. After all, God gives you and me and him and her and that person over there ~ He gives all of us the freedom to choose Him or not. Who am I to argue with God?”
He was an interesting young man, and by interesting I mean he made me a little uncomfortable, and not just because we had differing views on life. I can’t explain it but he just made me uncomfortable; still, I was willing to continue having a conversation while we waited for the train.
As if to catch me off guard, and looking me straight in the eyes, as he had been doing the whole time, he asked, “What do you think love is?”
I paused for a moment, again feeling uncomfortable, when suddenly the epitamy of love came to my mind.
“Jesus,” I said with confidence. His eyebrows raised.
“Jesus is love,” I continued. “He was perfect, never did a thing wrong, and yet he willingly suffered a torturous, humiliating death for people who would reject him and not return his love. That’s real love.”
“Yes, but in the garden he asked God if he really had to do it.”
“But that’s not all he said,” I corrected, “he finished by saying, ‘but not my will be done but YOURS.”
“But he was scared, he didn’t want to do it.”
“No, he didn’t. Don’t forget he was fully human and experienced all our emotions. Wouldn’t you be freaked out? He was so distressed he sweat blood.”
“Well, blood came out of his face,” he now corrected.
“Okay, he had drops of blood on his face. And yet, he still sacrificed himself.”
“You know what I think? I think that there is a universe and it is all around us and it knows everything that happens and what we think and what we do,” he said.
“I do, too, but what you choose to call ‘the universe’ I call God.”
By now the train came and the question shifted to “Is this our train?”
I am not sure if I verbalized my next thought or not before we boarded the train, but I hope I did.
It was, “And one day God will come back to judge us on all those things we did and the thoughts we had.”
I wish I had the chance to ask, “If the universe is keeping tabs on what we all do, then what’s good enough? By whose standards will you judge?” To me, that is a thought provoking question. And the follow up question, then what does the universe do once it has passed judgment?
A day of judgment is coming and the standard for judging isn’t arbitrary, as it is in so many other world views. The standard is perfect holiness. I can hear my young train traveler now, “No one can meet that standard!” He would be right, no one can.
And so we will be judged and we will be found guilty – let’s face it, even if we lowered the standard, how many of us can say we were even as good as we COULD or SHOULD have been? Everyone I know could be better; not even perfect, just better, and we can’t even meet that standard.
There we stand, found guilty, condemned for not meeting the standard. Yet, that is not the end of the story. Because of his great love for us, God made a way, he had a plan for our redemption, a perfect sacrifice who would pay the penalty for our guilt and do the time for us so we could go free. Jesus. Perfect. Perfect love. The Way. The only way. The way to reunite a broken, imperfect human being with a perfect and holy creator.
Oh, yes, friend, I also believe people should have the right to believe what they want – they should have the right to choose. They can choose to pay the penalty for their own imperfection or they can choose to accept the sacrifice Jesus made on their behalf. It’s a choice.
There is a train coming, a train bound for glory – the old African American spiritual called it The Gospel Train. Just like the train I am on now, it also has a destination – heaven. And just like today, for me and for my fellow travelers, a payment will be required to board; but only one form of payment will suffice on that train ~ Jesus. If you don’t have him, you ain’t gettin’ on. And yes, I’m being literal and metaphorical, my train traveling friend.
Sacrifice. I sat in church this morning listening to the pastor talk about being a servant to others, and I began to think about my focus word for this past week ~ sacrifice. Had I ever really been sacrificial? I thought. And if so, at what times in my life? Two thoughts immediately jumped to mind ~ children and marriage. And just as quickly, the word joy also filled my thoughts.If any of you have ever been fully committed to another human being, maybe as a spouse, a parent or a caregiver, then you know full well that fulfilling that commitment will involve sacrifice, and probably lots of it. Over the years I have sacrificed time, emotions, physical comfort, money, pride, vanity, pleasure, preference and many other things out of love for my children and husband. Oh yes, I have sacrificed. To love well requires sacrifice! Now before you start thinking either (1) what a prideful woman I am or (2) you should submit my application for sainthood, know that I have also lived very selfishly alongside my children and spouse, choosing my own wants and needs over theirs many times. I said I have been sacrificial, not a perfect saint!
But with those sacrifices of self I also experienced an indescribable joy ~a sense that this is what I was supposed to be doing. In those times when I have poured myself out into them and their lives, I have felt that I was being refilled with joy. Not always, but often.
When I helped carry the burden of a broken heart, or worked to pay for school tuition, or set aside my time to be there for them, I could feel the joy that comes from sacrifice stretch the lining of my little heart, making it grow just a little more. The thing is, I know that on my own, this isn’t possible. It is only through God’s power and example that I am able to sacrifice AND feel joy.
I love what Mother Teresa said about sacrifice, “A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.” Amen, Mother Teresa! But be prepared for unexpected joy!
Today I listened to a friend give a talk about Jesus ~ our sacrificial lamb, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end, the Word, Emmanuel. Her talk rekindled in me an awe at the depths of God’s love for us, that yet while we were still sinners, still thinking jealous thoughts, still turning a cold shoulder to someone in need, still lashing out with unkind words ~ that even though we are so imperfect, never good enough to be with a perfect and Holy creator ~ even in the midst, He sacrificed Jesus out of love for us. And what God tells us about that is even more amazing (note, emphasis is mine)…
For the JOY set before him he (Jesus) endured the cross (sacrificed), scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him (Jesus) who endured such opposition from sinners (YOU AND ME!), so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Keep sacrificing!) Hebrews 12:2-3
Pain. “Okay, I am going to touch each tooth with a cotton swab that is very cold, I want you to tell me if you feel anything,” the endodontist said.
As he put a little pressure on the suspect tooth, I smugly shook my head. Nope! Didn’t feel a thing!
“Now,” he said, “I am going to take this tongue depressor and I want you to grind on it really hard on this tooth.”
I ground really hard.
“Really hard,” he encouraged. I complied. Nope! I didn’t feel anything. Not a twinge of pain.I knew it! I knew it was just a little infection! I won’t need a root canal, I didn’t feel any pain at all! I thought to myself.
“Well,” the endodontist said with a somber tone in his voice, “I have bad news. You are going to need a root canal.”
What? I was too stunned to say the words out loud. What was he talking about? Didn’t I say I didn’t feel any pain on that tooth?!
As though reading my mind, he said, “The fact that you don’t feel any pain on that tooth indicates that the nerve is dead. And…”
Wait, no way! There was more?
“I am concerned about the tooth next to it. You might need a root canal in that tooth as well.”
It was too much to process. Completely contradictory to anything I had expected. If there is a problem, shouldn’t I feel pain in the tooth? Sure, I had discomfort in my gums ~ I knew something was going on. But it was an irritant more than anything. I could overlook it, live with it. It wasn’t something so uncomfortable that it drove me to the endodontist. No, it was my dentist at a routine cleaning that told me I needed to go. Despite a lack of real pain, apparently I had an infection.
My incident with the endodontist got me thinking about pain, and life, and our spiritual journey. You have a lot of time to ponder when you are laying on a chair with your mouth wide open! I wondered ~ is seeking a pain-free, comfortable life always the best thing for us? Or is our pain-free, comfortable life masking an infected soul and spirit?
Sometimes I think the enemy of our soul wants to keep us in a comfortable and pain-free place. After all, without pain, what motivation is there to change, to move outside our comfort zone? Without pain, how will ever empathize with those who so desperately need the comfort we could supply? Without pain, when would we cry out to our Lord and Savior for rescue and redemption?
I know that in my own life I have experienced the most incredible spiritual growth during the most grueling seasons of emotional pain. Before, I didn’t know the depths of my infection. Sure, I had some moments of discomfort, minor irritations, but I could overlook them, handle them on my own. The pain wasn’t that bad but it masked a serious infection. Thankfully, God created pain. He created pain as a way of letting us know something is wrong. We need to make a change. We need help. And when it comes to the state of our souls, we need more than any doctor can provide or prescribe. We need a Savior.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Days. It’s that time of year. I reached the end of my calendar and it was time to get my new Zig Ziglar performance planner ready for the new year. I spent an hour writing the number of the day in the little boxes for the weekly and monthly views. I went through and marked out the major holidays. It felt weird to write in the year as “2013” and then I got to the end of the planner and found it included a thirteenth month to get you started on the next year ~ and so I wrote “2014”. 2014? I can barely grasp that 2012 is nothing more than a memory; it’s hard to imagine that one day I will be writing 2014 on checks ~ assuming we still use checks in 2014!
I love this time of year. I love thinking about a new year, a fresh start, new goals, revising my bucket list. There’s nothing like a fresh, clean calendar just waiting to be filled with things to do, goals, and plans. But as I pulled out my new calendar and numbered my days, I had a sobering thought. My days ARE numbered. There is no guarantee I will live to see the date so neatly written in the little box. Even as I reread the first paragraph of this post, I realize how presumptuous I am to say that one day I will be writing 2014 on checks; in fact, what I should have said was, one day I may do this or that. Recent events, both nationally and personally, have made this realization very clear to me. It’s a realization I hope I think about often in 2013, not to bring me down, but to remind me that every day is a gift and an opportunity.
God knows the number of my days here and I am very thankful I don’t. The Mayans sure didn’t. But I do know that my calendar does have an end date ~ every person born has an end date. In Southern California, where I live, there was a radio talk show host I used to listen to in the afternoons. When you listen to someone on the radio on a regular basis you begin to feel like you know them ~ you’re familiar with their quirky words, their laugh, their opinions. That’s how I felt about Frank Pastore. And then one day, a little over a month ago, I tuned in to hear an unfamiliar voice in Frank’s place. Frank had been in a serious motorcycle accident and lay in a coma in the hospital. I could hardly believe it. Sure, everyone who listened to Frank knew that he rode a motorcycle; but he was so vibrant, still so young, doing God’s work and influencing people in his world. How could this happen?
We prayed for him, my family and all his many listeners, family and friends. We prayed that God would heal him so that he could continue to be a part of our world and continue to spread the good news about God’s plan for His creation. But it wasn’t meant to be and December 17th was Frank’s last day here. God knew the exact number of Frank’s days.
Amazingly, Frank spoke of the dangers of riding his motorcycle on the air the very day he would suffer his deadly accident. You can read his testimony here and listen to his prophetic words here (scroll down to see the link). If you listen to this clip from his show, you will know that Frank’s concern wasn’t about his physical death, because he got it. He understood that his days here were numbered. And he didn’t seem at all concerned about spiritual death either, because he knew with all assurance that he was going to be with his Lord and Savior when his time here was done. His concern was for the souls of others, those who didn’t have a Savior to bridge the gap between an imperfect human being and a perfect, holy Creator.
Last time I checked, no one I know had an expiration date stamped on them. But don’t be mistaken, though we don’t know the time, we all have an end date. There’s a country song that says “I wish that you would live like you are dying…” Well, guess what? You are dying! I am dying! Will this realization cause you to live differently in 2013? Will it cause you to think about your priorities? And most importantly, will it give you reason to think about the relationship of your own soul with its Creator? I pray it does and, if you are interested, I would love to introduce you to my Savior. Frank knew Him. Zig Ziglar knew Him. In fact, you may have heard about Him ~ we celebrated His birthday on December 25th!
A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed. Job 14:4-6
“Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” Psalm 39:3-5
Revelation. I was mesmerized by the story unfolding on our little television screen. I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old but the movie about three children who saw a vision of Mary, the mother of Jesus, grabbed more than my attention, it ignited a desire. The movie was called The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima and I don’t remember much about it. But I do remember the feeling of excitement, of anticipation, that God would reveal Himself to these children. I wanted desperately to be one of those children. I wanted to experience that revelation from God. My desire was so intense that I went to the big school field in front of our home. I knelt, and prayed, and looked to the heavens, waiting for the Lord to reveal Himself in the clouds, which is where the children of Fatima saw their vision. I never did see a vision nor was I able to do miracles, but the experience changed me nonetheless. That seed of desire for His revelation was planted in me and over the years it has grown into a burning bush.
Sometimes God’s revelation comes in His creation, as I marvel at the wings of a hummingbird while it floats suspended in space. Sometimes it comes in the whisper of the Holy Spirit guiding me away from danger. Sometimes it comes in the sweet face of a sleeping newborn baby. Oftentimes it comes to me as I am reading His words to us in the Bible. In whatever way God chooses to reveal Himself, I am eager and earnest in my desire for His revelation, not only in my life but in the lives of all His creation.
I am blessed to have opportunities to pray for others who are seeking God and my prayers include a plea to the Lord that He will reveal Himself to these souls in a powerful way. God promises that when we seek Him, we will find Him when we seek Him with our whole beings. He wants to be found! He wants to reveal Himself, because through this revelation we will come to know Him better.
But we always have a choice. We can choose to look away. We can choose to harden our hearts. We can choose to allow the scales of pride to cover our eyes and blind us to His revelation. Or we can get on our knees and pray, look to the heavens and wait expectantly. We can allow the seed of desire for God’s revelation to grow into a burning bush. And we can trust that God, who loves us with an incomprehensible love, in His way and time, will be faithful to show up. Are you seeking God’s revelation? I pray you are!
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. Ephesians 1:17