Thursday, May 14, 2015

Failure on the Bench, Fire in the Hole

When I was young, my mother read books illustrated by Eloise Wilkin--and her paintings are still some of my favorites. Try as might--3rd grade, 7th grade, every time I went to art class--I could not begin to duplicate the delicacy and reality she brought my little life.

Life has moved on. I've grown up and realized that there's not much I can draw beyond stick figures and basic conceptual shapes. It's been a disappointment. By God's grace, disappointment came quickly, before I'd spent countless hours pursuing a path of empty dreams.

That's one area of life--but there are others. In some, I paddle fiercely; in others, I am resigned to life on the bench. But there's more to it than that.

The Bible says "to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7). You might like to know that the original Greek means, "each one." Yes. Everyone. Personally. Each. Those of us who have a redeemed relationship with God through Christ (see right sidebar) have been given a "manifestation of the Spirit" (I looked that up in Greek, too, and "manifestation" means "manifestation.")

Years ago a pastor asked me to join him in visiting with a couple who received news the husband was dying of cancer. We listened and prayed. The couple left and the pastor turned to me. "Since you have the gift of mercy and I don't, I'd like you to take care of them." What?! "But you're their pastor!"

That moment drove me back to Scripture and this interesting insight: many of the "manifestations" or spiritual gifts God gives His children are extensions of their new nature. He seems to give a boost to certain individuals, but the primary trait is shared (should be shared) by all believers: wisdom, knowledge, faith, service, teaching, encouragement, giving, mercy, evangelism. We are all called to be wise in the way we live (Ephesians 5:15-16), to be generous on every occasion (2 Corinthians 9:8-11), to be merciful (Matthew 5:7)...and the list goes on.

That means you and I are without excuse. God has purposed, enabled and equipped us to represent Him, within the Church (and to a dying world), in a supernatural way. And when we get it--when we learn to depend on God and get busy discovering His design for each of us--we're no longer a failure on the bench. There's fire in the hole! God is at work. We see the need, depend on His grace, and get to work, fighting discouragement, rankle, and fatigue. There's no time to mewl over warming the bench, I have a course of action and contribution to make--because I am an "each one."

On a different level, we have natural gifts and abilities--i.e. artistry--that God redeems as uses for His purpose as well. And that is another area of struggle because "I want" to do certain things...and God gives that job to someone else. "I want" to do a different thing....but God didn't give me the capacity to do it well. "I want" to be seen or appreciated...and it never seems to happen that way. And as I struggle with the places God puts me and the opportunities He gives, my heart is drawn to praise and glorify His wisdom. He is using the "yes's" and the "no's" to make me more like Jesus--not more like myself. And that (as many of you know) is a blessing to us all!

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Got Grace?

It's not something we usually say (or admit to thinking), but here it is: grace is a scary thing. Why? Because we don't really deserve it. And if I didn't do anything to earn it, why me and not someone else? And why me? Period. One girl recently said about Jesus, "That sounds too good to be true. I think I'd better take you up on it!"

Grace is great when we feel like it's the icing on the cake--we did something well but got more than we expected. Grace is great when it's within reason--somehow we can repay the kindness, make it up, or pay it forward. That kind of grace makes me feel good about myself.

But too much grace? Too much grace makes me feel wrong. Unworthy. Undeserving.  A gift can be too expensive. It can read too much into a relationship. There must be a mistake. Something is wrong...

And that's the way of God's grace toward us. It's simply too much--or is it? In my mind, I know God's not wrong--but my heart doesn't want to admit that my sin is really that bad.... and that God's grace is really that good.

What does it mean that God actually left heaven and took on earthly form? Was it really necessary that He give himself over to be tortured, mocked, humiliated and mutilated? When I try to get my mind around what it cost Jesus to die and pay the debt of my sin, I can't imagine it. To think of how much pain and suffering God the Father experienced to buy me back from the slave market of sin, I will never fully comprehend it. That is His grace--something He didn't have to do, but chose to, because of love.

If He did all of that, then there must be something I can bring to the table.... Perhaps He saw ahead of me and knew I would do this special thing or be a wonderful kind of person?

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy... (Titus 3:5)

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)... (Ephesians 2:1-5).

I didn't do good deeds. I was actually dead (dead  people are rather useless). I chose to live in disobedience and rebellion. Life was all about me and getting what I wanted.

And that's what makes grace so uncomfortable. Unsettling. It's not about me anymore. It never was. It's all about God's goodness and grace--goodness, grace and riches that He lavishes on those who come, by grace alone, though faith alone, in Christ alone (Ephesians 1:8; 2:8-9).

Got grace? I will lavish as much grace on others as I take hold of myself. In my grumpy moments, my selfish moments, my didn't-get-my-way moments: I have been given limitless grace at no cost to myself. I have received more than enough grace to forgive an offense, let go of a grudge, return good for evil, confront with love, and give generously. What does it cost to give it to others? Only that which is dead, forgiven, removed, and best forgotten: pride, self-seeking, envy, anger, bitterness, resentment. To give grace is to die to self.

Grace. It's just that amazing...

Monday, April 27, 2015

Wait! I Can Do Better than That!

Would you agree that one of the greatest frustrations is our own limitations? We want to do more, be better or different... How much time, effort, brain power and money do we spend in our struggle to overcome obstacles?

People like Oscar Pistorious, the Olympic amputee blade-runner, stir up bittersweet emotions. If he can overcome, so can we. Then the bitter--we try and fail, try and fail. His success spits in the face of our failure at lesser things.

One of the most wonderful things I'm learning is personal limits. They're real. They exist. And I'm starting to recognize that I don't have to overcome them, or power through them. I don't have to create excuses or cover stories. Simply acknowledging them, as humbling and disappointing as it may be, has been a great relief.

Perhaps its our American culture. Maybe it's ingrained pride. Whatever the source, it pushes and drives; wall after wall after wall.

Growing older, reading the Bible daily, and praying (sometimes desperately) have given way to a deeper peace; a restful contentment. There are things I can do. There are things I can't. I will never be 5'8," easily reaching the top shelf in the kitchen. The struggle is real. I cannot function on too little sleep. On the other hand, I have a lot of energy that drives people crazy and am learning to harness my enthusiasm. My hair will do what it will do and there are certain things it simply. doesn't. "do."

We creatures, flawed and finite, have limitations. Each of us has been made with a unique bent and personality, set of besetting sins, gifts, abilities and strengths. You are a unique person with unique limits. The problem? I don't want to acknowledge or live within them. I want to overcome, walk on the moon, shoot through the galaxy. Ah, yes, the problem.

The problem is I am not God. I cannot be who I am not. I cannot make myself someone or something--and I shouldn't. God made me with a plan, purpose and design that includes limitations and takes into account sin, faults and failures. It's in my sinful, wanting-what-I-don't-have state that I begin anew to build the tower of Babel; reach the sky on my own; to create what was never intended.

The solution? Rest. It's one of the most-used repeated words and concepts of the Bible.

Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29).

God says, "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass." (Psalm 37:7).

Rest. Wait. Re-lax! That is one of the greatest, most difficult, most freeing acts of humility we will ever practice. I used to read the words, "Humble yourself" and wonder how to do that. As I learn and grow and continue to ask questions, this is one way to humble myself--to acknowledge and bow the knee to my God-given limitations.

Lord, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.

Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever. (Psalm 131)