Awakening to Your Sin Leads to Appreciation of Grace

Continued from here.

Church – It’s time to stop minimizing the enormity of our sin and sinful nature. Jesus did not come to make bad people good: he came to make dead people live. If you have ever committed a sin, no matter how “small,” you have committed spiritual mutiny that has separated you from God. The only way back to God is to receive God’s grace that was provided through the humiliating and painful death of his Son, Jesus. If you have committed any sin, you are responsible for Jesus having to die on the cross. Your only way back to God is grace.

Listen to Tauren Wells’ song Known, paying particular attention to these lyrics from the chorus:

And it’s not one or the other. It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace to be known – fully known – and loved by You.”

 

God fully knows us, so he has seen the despicable things we have done, not only in our lives but in our hearts. And yet He extends us grace. If you have hated someone in your heart, you have committed murder. If you have lusted in your heart, you have committed adultery. You are guilty, just as I am.

But here’s the good part: God has extended you grace to forgive you – to wash you clean – from ALL of it! He loves you exactly as you are, right there in you brokenness. He provided you with a way to stand before Him guilty and yet be reconciled with Him because He paid the price Himself through Jesus. God fully knows all of the despicable things you have thought and done, and yet he showers you with “ridiculous” grace – grace that fully covers and washes away your guilt. Once you really get this, you’ll find yourself extending grace to others. A gift this lavish must be paid forward!

[Graphic: Link to YouTube video of Tauren Well’s Known.]

 

God’s Grace for Spiritual Mutiny

no_big_dealContinued from here.

Considering Jesus paid a heavy price to bring us God’s grace, one would expect all Christians to receive it and then pay it forward. And yet many clearly do not because if they actually appreciated the enormity of the grace that God has extended them, then they would treat other people with grace in appreciation for what they have themselves been given. Jesus addressed this dynamic when he anointed a sinful woman:

‘Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’

Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’

‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said” (Luke 7:41-43).

Note that the two people who owed money to the moneylender in Jesus’ story both received the same percentage of grace: 100%. However, the one who owed more appreciated the grace more. Put another way, the one who recognized the enormity of his debt was more appreciative.

People like to categorize sin: murder = REALLY BAD SIN whereas fudging on your taxes or telling a white lie = LITTLE SIN. But let’s think about what got mankind into the predicament of being separated from God in the first place: eating a piece of fruit. I think all of us would categorize eating a piece of fruit was a LITTLE SIN, but look at what happened! It was spiritual mutiny!

Folks, there are no “little sins.” Every single one of us has committed spiritual mutiny. It might look small like eating a piece of fruit, or it might look huge, resulting in a life prison sentence. However, in either case, our spiritual mutiny separated us from God, and Jesus had to die on the cross to provide a way back into relationship with God. Whether the “worst” sin you ever committed was eating a piece of fruit or mass murder, you are responsible for every wound inflicted upon Jesus’ flesh. Once you really grasp your culpability in crucifying Jesus, your eyes will be opened to the enormity of the grace that God has given you.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lighting up a cigar with a $100 bill and saying, “No big deal.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Grace is a Gift We Pay Forward

giftsContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared a story about how I extended grace to a woman who works for a Christian organization who made a mistake. The reason I extended grace was not because she deserved it – she didn’t. And I didn’t do it because her mistake wasn’t costly – it caused inconvenience for the people in my organization. I extended her grace because of the grace that God has extended to me.

In contrast, I had a situation where a Christian woman did not extend grace to me when, due to a miscommunication, she believed she had been wronged. Even though I don’t think I did anything wrong in this particular situation, I nevertheless apologized to her, but even my apology did not placate her. I spent the next few weeks praying blessings over her to help me avoid sowing seeds of bitterness over this unpleasant experience. As I chose to forgive this woman for the way she treated me as well as others, God enlightened me to a truth I otherwise would have missed: This woman likely did not extend me grace because she, herself, has received little grace.

Of course, as a Christian, she has, in fact, been extended an enormous amount of grace through Jesus’ sacrifice for her, as is true for all of us. However, Jesus extending us grace is only half of the equation: we must also receive the grace that he extends to us. Until we do, we will continue to live as if grace has been withheld, even though that really isn’t the case. How heartbreaking it must be for God to have extended grace at such a high cost but have children who never receive that grace!

Giving a gift does not guarantee that the gift will be received. God offers the free gift of grace to all, but we must choose to believe Him and receive the gift before it will do us any good. How heartbreaking that so many people never do receive His gift of grace, even many who represent themselves as being Christians! And until we receive God’s generous gift of grace ourselves, we are unable to pay it forward.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a large stack of presents. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Grace Cannot Be Earned

paydayContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared the story of my failure to read a 250-page book at age 8 in the allotted time. I was not met with grace in that situation, but I shared what the outcome might have been if that’s how my story had ended. I wouldn’t have deserved a positive outcome. After all, I didn’t complete the assignment within the time I had been allotted. If I had, then no grace would have been needed. I knew I had failed, and there was nothing I could do about it as the clock kept moving toward the deadline I could no longer meet. And yet what a huge difference it would have made in my life had I received grace instead of punishment … not because I deserved it but because it’s what I needed.

I still need grace – lots and lots of grace – but we live in a world that frequently fails to extend grace. Sadly, I even see this in Christian circles: someone makes a mistake and apologizes, but the other Christian fails to extend grace. I recently had the experience of a Christian making a mistake, and I reacted by extending grace. Her over-the-top level of gratitude communicated volumes: she was not used to receiving grace when making a mistake in her line of work, even though she works for a Christian organization and knew that I was representing one as well. How sad for grace being extended from one Christian to another to be viewed as an anomaly!

To be clear, this woman did not deserve grace. Her mistake caused an inconvenience to the people in my Christian organization, and we had to make adjustments to compensate for her mistake. I didn’t extend her grace because she deserved it. I did it because God has extended grace to me. This woman did not intend to make the mistake and was clearly upset with herself for doing so. She took responsibility and apologized for her mistake. However, none of this “earned” her grace. Grace is always a gift that is extended to someone who doesn’t deserve it.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace being showered with money under the words, “Pay Day.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Beauty of Grace

beautifulI’ve been thinking a lot about grace lately … probably because I’m in such need of it! Grace is one of those words that I have only recently grown to understand the meaning of. I grew up hearing the song Amazing Grace, but I didn’t really get it.

I think my problem is, at least in part, that I was shown so little grace throughout much of my life. Always fearing making any sort of mistake, I tried so hard to be “perfect,” which, of course, is not possible in this mortal body. As an abused child, my abusers would often set me up to “fail” and then abuse me as purported “discipline,” so I learned at a young age that it wasn’t OK to make mistakes.

One particular experience has stuck with me all these years. When I was in third grade (only 8 years old!), I begged the teacher to let me read a real novel for a book report. Sure enough, reading a book with over 200 pages at age 8 in the short period of time allotted proved to be too much for my little brain. By the night before the book report was due, I still had 50 more pages left to read, and my little brain couldn’t handle it. Instead of receiving grace, I received punishment and shame, with my abusers using my “failure” to complete my assignment as an excuse to inflict more abuse, telling me it was all my fault.

To this day, playing “beat the clock against” a deadline triggers my post-traumatic stress because of that experience, so I always work ahead and strive to complete tasks early. I know I cannot stay focused once the post-traumatic stress kicks in. What I learned from that experience is that it doesn’t matter whether I have completed five times as much work as everyone else. If I do not complete the task given me perfectly, I’m going to suffer.

I have prayed over what grace might have looked like in this situation. What if my parents had said, “I’m so proud of you for reading 200 page at age eight. Let’s cuddle together, and I’ll read you the rest of the book?” What if the focus was not on what I didn’t do (finish reading 50 more pages) and instead celebrated what I had done (reading far more than is typically expected of an eight-year-old child)? Yes, I missed the deadline. No, I didn’t do the assignment perfectly. But what if I was given the message that I was loved whether or not I completed the assignment perfectly? That’s grace.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling under the word, “Beautiful.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Just Be Held

Continued from here.

Once you replace asking God why with asking whether you will trust Him with even this, your perspective shifts. Casting Crowns’ song Just Be Held captures this beautifully:

 

Soak in the beauty of the lyrics. Let this song become a how-to manual for how to survive long-term suffering:

If your eyes are on the storm, you’ll wonder if I love you still. But if your eyes are on the cross, you’ll know I always have, and I always will.”

Your feelings will follow wherever you fix your gaze. If you fix your gaze on the storm, you’ll experience more anger, fear, anxiety, and despair. However, if you fix your gaze on the cross, you’ll experience God’s tenderness as He carries you through the storm. You’ll realize that you are not alone in the storm … that your Father is walking through the storm with you.

Lift your hands. Lift your eyes. In the storm is where you’ll find Me. And where you are, I’ll hold your heart. I’ll hold your heart. Come to Me. Find your rest in the arms of the God who won’t let go.”

Your God won’t let go, not even for a moment. The more powerful the storm is, the closer He’s holding you. The Bible says that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and near to those crushed in spirit. Let the words of these more modern translations of Ps. 31:18 wash over you:

If your heart is broken, you’ll find GOD right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.” (The Message)

“The LORD is there to rescue all
who are discouraged
and have given up hope.” (Contemporary English Version)

“The LORD is near to those who are discouraged;
he saves those who have lost all hope.” (Good News Translation)

“The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain,
and he is always ready to restore the repentant one.” (The Passion Translation)

“When someone is hurting or brokenhearted, the Eternal moves in close
and revives him in his pain.” (The Voice)

Your God is not missing in action during your ongoing season of gut-wrenching pain. He’s right there with you, holding you close and already working this situation – even THIS – for good.

[Graphic: YouTube video of Casting Crowns’ Just Be Held]

 

Letting Go of Asking Why

Continued from here.

Since I made the life decision to stop asking God why, my suffering has become simpler – not easier, but simpler. When I ask God to give me answers that I am incapable of understanding, I grow confused. In that confusion, I question whether God really loves me. This places me in a tug-of-war with the Source of my comfort. I pull Him closer as I seek comfort and healing but, at the same time, I push Him away in my frustration and anger at not understanding why. Push and pull. Push and pull.

Since I stopped asking God why, I have removed the barrier that drives me to push Him away, enabling me to hold Him close as I pour out my soul to Him. The suffering is not lessened, but it’s also not compounded by conflicting feelings toward the only One with the power to strengthen me as I walk through places I don’t want to go.

My go-to song has become Twila Paris’, Do I Trust You?:

The question is not whether I understand why God is allowing me to suffer. There’s no answer in that moment that’s going to make me welcome the pain. Instead, my question is whether I trust Him. Will I trust Him when I’m wrongfully terminated from my job? Will I trust Him when I’ve prayed for my loved one 1,000 times but he’s still suffering? Will I trust Him when I’ve done everything I know to do, but I see nothing changing in my circumstances? Will I trust Him when absolutely nothing about my situation makes sense?

I have resolved that my answer is yes, not because I feel like trusting God but because I choose to trust Him. I sing along with Twila Paris at the top of my lungs until I push through my resistance and sense God’s comfort infusing me with peace that surpasses all understanding:

I will trust You, Lord, when I don’t know why.
I will trust You, Lord, til the day I day.
I will trust You, Lord, when I’m blind with pain.
You were God before, and You’ll never change.
I will trust You.
I will trust You.
I will trust You, Lord.”

To be continued…

[Graphic: YouTube video of Twila Paris’ Do I Trust You?.]