Receiving Grace with Grace

This week’s post is the last guest post.  I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from some other talented and wise writers!  Next week you’ll be stuck with me again. :)  This essay was written by yet another old friend from my undergrad days at Harding University, Kelly Wiggains (known as Kelly Duncan back in the day).  I am grateful that we have kept in touch over the years, as she is not only a talented writer (she writes regularly about words, books and beauty over at kellywiggains.com. You should definitely head over and explore her blog…you’ll love it!  Go ahead and subscribe to receive her posts by email.  While I’m thinking about it, you can subscribe to receive mine as well.  Go on…I’ll wait…), but she is a wise and godly woman who is also a beautiful wife and momma.  I keep her around as a friend because she is incredibly intelligent and can give me much needed advice.  She’s also stinkin’ hilarious.  I’ll admit that I’m not sure why she keeps me around.  Enjoy her beautiful thoughts!

o is for open

Michael W. May via Compfight cc

“Before I tell you what happened, where are you?” my husband asked. I replied, “Well, I’m sitting in the McDonald’s parking lot. Starbucks was too cold.” One night a week, I spend a few hours all by myself outside of the house to go and write, and my husband watches the kids. On this unusually windy and cold night, I was about to spend my time of solitude in the local McDonald’s, indulging in some coffee and the free wifi.
My husband continued with his story. He and the kids were spending their evening with some Papa Murphy’s pizza and Star Wars (typical “Writing Night” fare) when someone rang the doorbell. Tyler opened up the door to an older man, standing on our front porch with a Christmas gift bag. The man smiled and said, “Tyler?” My husband replied, “Yes.” The man handed him the bag, offered a quick, “Merry Christmas,” and left. Tyler mumbled, “Merry Christmas to you,” in return and walked back into the house.
The package easily weighed five pounds, a deceptive weight in a decorative Christmas bag meant for a bottle of wine. Inside the bag, Tyler found a book, a letter, and a quart-sized mason jar filled with change and small bills. Our family just received a little Christmas miracle of almost $100.
All too often, I’ve heard sermons about the amazing power of being selfless, how giving of your time, effort, money, talents to other people in the name of God’s glory brings joy to your life. We hear about how we should approach those acts of kindness in humility, never letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing. We should give generously, only seeking praise for our Father and not for ourselves.
I’ve learned how to give with love and without expectation. However, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a sermon about how to receive an act of kindness. How should I accept someone else’s sacrifice? Have you ever accepted help with no way to repay that help? Have you ever been the recipient of truly unconditional love and sacrifice?
I’ve seen this kind of love and sacrifice tangibly, vividly in my life several times. As a teenager, my dad fought a battle with cancer for about a year. I can remember my church taking up a special collection for our family. I wept at the sight of my church family readily grabbing at their purses under the pew or digging in their coat pockets for their checkbook. Not long after that, our family received another stack of cash, collected from the merchants of my hometown. My dad sat on his hospital bed in shock before his sister said, “How many times have you thrown in $20 or $50 like that for someone else?” I remember watching this unfold as a teenager. I remember being humbled by it, feeling a sense of gratitude, yet I did not feel the true weight of the sacrifice because I had no idea about the concept of money.
Recently, my mom has been struggling with her own battle with cancer. In the past year, I’ve received cards in the mail from extended family with an unexpected check and a note of encouragement. We’ve only lived in our current city for about six months, yet I’ve had cash slipped into my hand after an embrace with a new friend at church. The only explanation? “A friend wanted me to give this to you. So you can go see your momma.”
Every day acts of sacrifice like this always point me to the The Cross. How much more is the sacrifice of our Father and his Son? Our Father allowed the sacrifice of His only Son to bring an avenue back to His people. Our Brother and Lord, Jesus, gave his life unselfishly for all of mankind. I’ve been taught about this sacrifice all of my life. The enormity of it only washes over me once in a while. Rarely, I can make a tangible connection to the unfathomable sacrifice of our God and his gift of grace to us. More than anything else this year, I’ve learned about the power of grace, unconditional love, and true generosity from normal, everyday, broken, amazing friends and family. There is nothing more humbling or more empowering than seeing this at work.

Again

Our family has been struck again, less than a year after our Kristina died, and I am reminded of how much I hate cancer, of how much I hate death

To an outsider, it may not seem quite as much the tragedy as before. This is my Papa, after all, my eighty-six year old grandpa. He is not fighting for the chance to raise his children or wishing for a chance to grow old with his spouse after only a few years of marriage. He has lived a good and full life. 

And yet it is a tragedy. Death itself is a tragedy, and while I am tempted to rail at God against the ugliness of it all, deep inside my heart I know that it is our sin, our rebellion that let death into our world in the first place and it is God’s mercy that gave us life again.

Cancer and death are tragedy, they are ugly. For our family, this cancer is as ugly as any other. Yes, there is difference between a twenty-six year old and an eighty-six year old. And yet, I am greedy. 

I am greedy for more time. I want to yell at God, “NO! It is not enough! Thirty-four years with my Papa is not enough. I want more time! I want him to meet this baby growing inside of me. I want all of my children to know and remember him. You did not give me enough time!” 

All this while stomping my foot like the child that I am.

Yet my heart has been changed through Kristina’s struggle and death. I have learned a little more about Who God is and who I am in relation to Him. I have learned about obedience in the midst of the ugly

And I have learned that I have a choice in all of this. I can choose to blame God, letting my anger and grief drive me away from Him, or I can choose to be obedient and thank Him, clinging to Him and letting Him be all that I need.

So at least for today (I know I still have disobedience, some yelling and foot-stomping inside of me for another day), I will choose this:

Thank You, Abba, for the gift of my Papa and my Gram. 

Thank You for giving me so many years with them, years of such close relationship and of so many beautiful times with them.


Thank You for giving them so many talents and abilities and for giving them the desire to teach and share those skills with me.

Thank You for their wisdom, for all that I have learned from them, for all of the wisdom that I now have stored in my own heart.

Thank You most of all for making their hearts like Yours. Thank You for allowing me to see You in them, to see in their lives how You want me to live. Thank You for showing me through them how to live faithfully as a child of Yours, as a spouse and as a parent.

Thank You for the beauty that is their lives. 

Thank You, Abba, for Your grace.

Photographs of Love

I have a photograph that sits on my dresser. In this photograph, my then-two-year-old daughter is giving an exuberant hug to my crammed-full-of-baby-sister tummy. Her arms are wrapped around my belly as far as they will go, her sweet face is all squashed up against my belly and I am laughing with joy at her excitement.

I have another photograph that could sit beside the first. In this photograph, my then-two-year-old daughter is lying on top of her now-two-month-old sister, trying to squash her and steal her pacifier, while baby sister is crying with pure frustration. Ah, the fickleness of a child’s love!

My eldest daughter was so excited about becoming a big sister. She talked for months about how much she loved her baby sister, how she couldn’t wait for baby to arrive and how she would give baby sister so many hugs and kisses. Then her baby sister arrived and reality came crashing into her world. The first time I gave baby the attention that my eldest claimed for her own, that previously professed love disappeared as quickly as a child when bedtime is near.

I like to think that I, as an adult, am able to show a much more pure kind of love to all those around me. I want to believe that I am capable of giving true love, a perfect sort of gift-love, if not to everyone, then at least to those who are most important to me. Like my eldest duaghter, however, the gift-love I am capable of giving shines best when captured by photographs.

SnapThere I am making my husband’s favorite meal for supper tonight. Snap Look at me! There I am taking the time to walk with my kids to the park for a fun morning of play time and a picnic lunch. SnapIn this one, I’m making a meal for a dear friend who just gave birth to a baby boy. 

If you look at me in the space between those snapshots, however, I’m ignoring my husband when he gets home from work, snarling at my girls when I am tired and avoiding the friend who is struggling with her past for the pitiful reason that I don’t know what to say. Ah, the fickleness of an adult’s love!

I struggle to understand the true nature of gift-love. Ask anyone on the street and they would say that they desire to be loved. I don’t really comprehend what that means, though. I don’t know what that looks like. What doesit look like to be loved beautifully, perfectly? I begin to look around me for insight, for glimpses that will help my heart to know what love really is.

SnapMy husband gives up certain advancements in his career in order to give me and his daughters more of himself and his time. SnapMy parents give up a needed vacation so that they can support their son as he grieves for his wife. SnapI watch my brother love and care for his young wife who is dying of cancer, giving up all thought of doing anything for himself.

As I watch and tuck away these photographs of memory, I begin to see a strand that connects them all. Each of these moments of perfect love seem to involve sacrifice, a denying of self. I start to wonder: is this what is required for love to be real, for love to be true? For love to be perfected, must the lover give up something of great importance?

The truth of this seems a little clearer when I think about my children. Other than my love for my husband, my love for my children is the closest thing to a perfect gift-love that I am able to give. With my children, I do not expect anything at all in return for my love, my service. Especially while they are young, I know that I must love them even when the gratitude I receive in return for my love is a tantrum in the supermarket. It is when I start expecting something in return from them, when I expect obedience or even a simple “thank you”, that my gift-love fails and those photographs of love turn into the blank in-between space of ugly actions and thoughts. Still, I do expect something in return. I expect to be loved in return for loving them.

I begin to think that perhaps this is why it is so hard to love consistently. I need love for myself too much to be able to give love perfectly to anyone else. Authentic love is unconditional yet I can’t live without the love that I receive from those around me. Those snapshots of perfect love that I tucked away seem to include a forgetting of self, a giving without expecting anything in return, an open-handed gift even if a close-handed gesture is the return. The imperfection of my love creeps in when that cannot be sustained. It seems that, as much as we may desire otherwise, we can only have snapshots of that real love because we all must receive as well as give. We need to be loved in order to give love perfectly. It seems that what we need is someone to love us who doesn’t need us at all.


Perhaps this is why those photographs of perfect love are so beautiful, so cherished, so longed for…because, at least among humanity, they are the exception rather than the rule. They draw us out of the smallness of ourselves and into something bigger, something greater. Those momentary photographs show us a glimpse of the joy and contentment that could be ours in a perfect sort of gift-love. It seems a difficult thing, but perhaps with time, more of the pages of my life can become filled with those beautiful photographs of perfect gift-love with less blank space in between.

Be Still and Wait

Be still


Hush


Wait



Advent


Do you hear it?


It is a whisper in the darkness.


He is coming!


Can you feel it?


It is a gentle touch on your heart.


Love is coming!


Wait.


In the stillness, we feel it — His movements. In the stillness, our hearts leap — His coming! In the stillness, we know it– what falls down upon us — breath of heaven. ~ Ann Voskamp


Will you be still? 

Will you give God this one gift, the gift of you, of your full presence?


In the excitement and the sparkle. 


In the loneliness and the hurt.


Wait.


For just a few moments, hush and listen. Listen for that small whisper in your soul. Pause to feel God’s Spirit love your heart.


Love.


Peace.


Joy.


He comes!


We wait…and find that He has been Emmanuel, God with us, all along.


art credit: The Nativity by Antonio da Correggio; Advent Wreath carved by 15-year-old Caleb Voskamp (click on the link to order your own…he gives all proceeds to Compassion)

(If you are viewing this via email/in a reader, may I suggest that you click here to view this video?)

What’s Your Story?

What’s your story?


Who has hurt you in your past? Thrown arrows of words that are still lodged in your heart?

What’s your story?

Did your father say one thing in anger that haunts you even now? Did your mother speak from desire to help but with the result of a lasting wound?

What’s your story?


Did a friend decide to end a friendship or just drift away without a word?

What’s your story?

Did a teacher, mentor, boss say you weren’t worth their time? Did date after date decide you weren’t worth a second look?

What’s your story?


What hurts suddenly burn your heart when you thought you had forgiven? What wounds cause you to speak that way to your own child, spouse, friend?

What’s your story?

What arrow can you not get rid of on your own? Pride, gossip, anger, scorn? Sarcasm, predjudice, envy, control?

What’s your story?



Which wounds have drawn you into God’s arms? Which arrows have pushed you closer to His heart?


What’s your story?



What story has God begun to write on your heart? What truth is He using to heal and cleanse?

What’s your story?


Was there a sunset streaked with gold that burst through the pain and pointed your heart toward a God of beauty?

What’s your story?

Was there a tiny flowering bud that whispered that there is One who cares?

What’s your story?


Was there a fairy tale read as a child that spoke of a truth that there is more to this world than what you see?

What’s your story?

Did you have a friend who gave good gifts just like the Giver loves to give?

What’s your story?



Did a brother, sister, mother, father show the love from God that asks for nothing in return?


What’s your story?


What story is God writing on your heart?

Freedom Under Authority

I did it again.


I yelled with anger at my daughter.


She was not obeying.



Neither was I.


I’ve spoken before about the difficulty of obedience. Could we explore this a little further?


Part of the trouble, I think, is that we have come to view authority with suspicion. We see authority, even the authority of the Church, as being heavy-handed and suppressing. We think that authority keeps us from being truly free, keeps us from being the person we were meant to be.



I was listening to my Mars Hill last week and heard an interview with Victor Lee Austin, the author of Up With Authority, who suggests that we need authority in order to flourish as human beings.


He uses the image of a cellist in an orchestra. There are many pieces of music written for cellists that we can enjoy listening to, but that is only a small piece of what a cellist can do. For the cellist to flourish, for her to be more fully herself, she needs something bigger. For something bigger to exist, we need authority…the conductor. 


Authority, instead of crushing freedom (although unrighteous authority certainly can do that), enables and increases freedom. The more involved we are in complex society, the more we need authority making the decisions. Having true authority increases the “ability for persons to act in concert for good that can be achieved by corporate action”. 



Back to the orchestra for a moment: Austin says that “the conductor is drawing the cellist forward into a place where she can be more fully herself, which she didn’t necessarily see beforehand and that is through what happens as the orchestra plays”. 


If I could trust the authority of God enough to obey Him, I would become more myself, more free, more able to work for God’s glory and the good of those around me. 


Which leads me to the biggest reason I don’t obey: I don’t believe God.


That sounds horrid when I say it out loud, but it is true. If I truly believed that God’s way of love was better than Satan’s way of unrighteous anger, that it was more effective, I would show my daughters love rather than rage.



I have been reading Psalm 119 this week and was struck by the psalmist’s eagerness, almost desperation, to obey God:

vs 5-6: Oh, that my ways were steadfast when obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.

vs 10-11: I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

vs 15-16: I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

vs 20: My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.

vs 33-34: Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.

vs 45: I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.

This goes on for 176 verses! 


I want so much to desire obedience with such fervor. But how?


I notice two things. 


I notice that David spends much of his time in beseeching God to help him obey.  


I notice that a delight in obedience seems to begin with a delight in God’s words, an immersion in the words of God.


Aha.


God must change my heart to desire obedience, to desire Him.


In the book, Radical, by David Platt, I recently read this: 

The fruit of our salvation…is indeed a gracious gift from God.

I can’t even want to obey God, much less actually obey, without His gracious help.


In order for God to change my heart, I must steep myself in His words. 



If I meditate on His words, if I refuse to neglect His words, God will help my heart to begin to believe His promises.


Will you hide His word in your heart along with me? I am memorizing verses 33-34 this week: 

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.



Will you join me in memorizing this and praying it to God this next week? What might He do in our hearts?


One last thing I noticed?


Seeking out God’s precepts results in the ability to walk about in freedom. 


God’s authority, His laws, gives us the freedom to truly be ourselves!


Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.


~ Will you go here for one more thing to read about the importance of memorizing the Bible?

To Voice Creation’s Praise



I am a musician.


There are, of course, many other words that could be used to describe me, but this word is one that I have claimed for more than twenty years.

I am a Christian.

This word is also one that I have claimed for more than twenty years.

It seems odd, then, that I have never really put these two words together. Oh, I play piano and sing in the praise band at church, and in that way have put these two identities together.  

What I mean, though, is that I have never really thought deeply about the theology of music. I have never thought about how music, all of the arts really, fits in with God’s creation and with His kingdom.


I have never considered how music as an art points to God.

I am a reader.


I have been reading a book called Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie. It has for a subtitle: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music. 

I’ve referenced this book before in previous essays (here, here and here) because I have been challenged in many ways while reading this book. May I share with you some of the other things I have learned, some of the beauty that has struck me?

Music is a part of this created world. Obvious? Perhaps, but many would argue that music is a purely human enterprise rather than “tuning into and respectfully developing an order we inhabit as bodily creatures”. 


The materials we use to produce sounds (both instruments and vocal chords), the sound waves themselves, our bodies (both in producing sounds and in being able to hear sounds), and even time are all things that already exist, created by God, with which we are allowed to join. 



If, by making music, we are tuning in to something that has already been created, perhaps music is able to “elicit something of the character of the cosmos and through that testify to the Creator”. As well as declaring the glory of God, perhaps music (all of the arts, really!) “through the Spirit, (is) capable of granting glimpses of eternal beauty and as such can anticipate and give a foretaste of the transfiguration of the cosmos”, that moment when all of creation will be made perfect. 


What grace! What a gift!


We should be awe-filled and grateful for the very possibility of music. 
It will mean regularly allowing a piece of music to stop us in our tracks and make us grateful that there is a world where music can occur, that there is a reality we call “matter” that oscillates and resonates, that there is sound, that there is rhythm built into the fabric of the world, that there is the miracle of the human body… 

None of this had to exist, but it does, for the glory of God and for our flourishing. 



As I think about this theology of music, it draws me to the essential habit of gratitude. 

Giving thanks is the way into joy. ~ Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts

Paul says in Philippians 4 to not be anxious but rather to give everything to God with thanksgiving and in return, God will give you the gift of peace.  


It seems almost ludicrous now, but before reading this book I had never thought through what music can teach us about God. How could I have gone so long without thinking through the implications of this art that I practice? Perhaps this is something that the rest of you have put together long before now, but I am a little slow at times.


I have already, in a previous essay, discussed what music teaches us about the goodness of time, the goodness of delay. Music also teaches us that tension is not bad, that by not trying to skip over days with 

dark shadows and turns, we allow ourselves to be led far more profoundly into the story’s sense and power. Music is remarkably instructive here, because more than any other art form, it teaches us how not to rush over tension, how to find joy and fulfillment through a temporal movement that includes struggles, clashes and fractures.



Music gives us a beautiful picture of the Trinity: If I play a chord, three notes on the piano, each note fills up all of my heard space, the entirety of my aural space, yet I hear the notes as distinct from each other. 

The notes interpenetrate, occupy the same heard space, but I can hear them as (three) notes…What could be more apt than to speak of the Trinity as a three-note chord, a resonance of life; Father, Son, and Spirit mutually indwelling, without mutual exclusion, and yet without merger, each occupying the same space, ‘sounding through’ one another, yet irreducibly distinct, reciprocally enhancing, and establishing one another as one another?

Music also gives us a beautiful picture of our freedom in Christ: If I play one note on the piano while silently depressing the key an octave above in order to open up the string, the upper string will vibrate even though it has not been struck. The lower string sets off the upper, and the more the lower string sounds, the more the upper string sounds in its distinctiveness. Do you see where this is going? 

The more God is involved in our lives, the freer we shall be, liberated to be the distinctive persons we were created to be. And such is the freedom we can share, by virtue of God’s gift of freedom, with others. Simultaneously sounding notes, and the music arising from them, can witness to a form of togetherness in which there is an overlap of spaces out of which come mutual enrichment and enhancement, and a form of togetherness that can be sensed first and foremost as a gift, not as a consequence of individual choices.

Oh, there is so much more I wish I could discuss with you: How music teaches us about how the love of God can be our cantus firmus around which the other melodies of life provide their counterpoint. How it teaches us to read Scripture on many different levels and view our lives as part of a “multileveled hope that covers a huge range of timescales”. How music shows us that delay teaches us something new “of incalculable value that cannot be learned in any other way”.



Ah, but I will restrain. This is becoming too long already.


May I close with a challenge for us as the Church? A challenge for musicians and non-musicians alike?


We seem to have an intense musical conservatism in contemporary worship music. 

Granting that simple songs have their place,…one would have hoped that a movement that can put such weight on the Holy Spirit’s renewal could generate somewhat more adventurous material…Is the church prepared to give its musicians room to experiment (and fail), to juxtapose different styles…to resist the tendency to rely on formulas that ‘work’ with minimum effort…in order that congregational worship can become…more true to the God who has given us such abundant potential for developing fresh musical sounds? 



Could we, as a church, consider music (as well as all of the arts) as something that can glorify God without having an evangelical message tagged on to it, simply by having artistic excellence?



I would love to hear from artists who practice in other arenas. What theology do you find in your particular art form? What about non-artists? Do you see God in any particular form of art?


I’ll end with one last quote and a poem: 
We who have misdirected our praise have been invited, against every expectation and everything we deserve, to step back into that role intended for us, to voice creation’s praise to the resounding glory of the Creator, and to witness wonders beyond imagining in our own lives and the lives of others.



Since I am coming to that holy room,
Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before.
~ Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness by John Donne




~ If you are receiving this in your email, may I suggest that you go to the website to better view the videos and hear the music?
~ all quotes, unless otherwise specified, are from Resounding Truth
~ photo credits: Street Musician; Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra

A Pure Heart

“I don’t like obeying.”



My eldest daughter’s puffy, tear-stained eyes pierce me with the anguish that only a three-year-old can have.

“I know, darling. Obeying is very hard sometimes, even for Mommy. I have a hard time obeying God sometimes too.”

Just like my eldest, I get very frustrated with how difficult it is to obey. I want to just fix everything that is ugly and wrong in my heart. I want my heart to be pure and whole and I want this right now.



Our conversation reminds me of what I read in Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God” where Brother Lawrence says that perhaps God doesn’t want us to try to fix everything in our hearts all at once. Perhaps God just wants us to focus on one or two things at a time while we allow Him to change our hearts:

When an occasion of practicing some virtue was offered, he addressed himself to God saying, “Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enable me”. Then he received strength more than sufficient. When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.

Why do I feel as though I must agonize over my disobedience? Why do I think that I must be pure before I am worthy of God’s love, worthy to ask Him for anything? Isn’t that the whole point of the cross…that I cannot be worthy on my own?


In Mark 9, a father brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus’ disciples who are unable to cast out the demon. The disciples try to cast out the demon without prayer, without asking for God’s help. This is what I do all the time. I try so hard to cast out my own failures, my sin, the ugliness of my heart without asking for help. Just as the disciples did, I underestimate the power of evil in the world and in myself. I don’t see how weak and proud I am.


Then Jesus has an exchange with the father that gives me such hope!

This man asks Jesus, “Would you heal my son?” And Jesus says, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” That is, “I can do it if you can believe.” The father responds, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” That is, “I’m trying but I’m full of doubts.” Then Jesus heals the man’s son. This is very good news. Through Jesus we don’t need perfect righteousness, just repentant helplessness, to access the presence of God.


Jesus could have told the man, “I am the glory of God in human form. Purify your heart, confess all your sins, get rid of all your doubts and your double-mindedness. Once you…can come before me with a pure heart, then you can ask for the healing you need.” But Jesus doesn’t say that–not at all. The boy’s father says, “I’m not faithful, I am riddled with doubts, and I cannot muster the strength necessary to meet my moral and spiritual challenges. But help me.” That’s saving faith–faith in Jesus instead of in oneself. ~ King’s Cross by Timothy Keller

Aha.

Putting my faith in Jesus rather than in myself. Telling God that He must mend and clean my broken and ugly heart if He wants my heart to change…and then not worrying about it anymore!


To be able to confess to God when I fail and then leave it with Him ~ this is grace.

To allow Him to change me while I simply rest in His love ~ this is grace.

To leave to God the work of making my heart beautiful while I focus on and enjoy the sweet relationship I have with Him ~ this is grace.


Praise be to God for the good news of His grace!

May I remember this grace instead of being frustrated with my inability to obey.

May I trust that God’s seeming delay in making my heart beautiful is what is best, that the journey is somehow essential to the goal, rather than being impatient for a perfect heart right now.


art credits: “Brother Lawrence in the Kitchen” from a book published by Fleming Revell Co. in 1900; “Christ with Martha and Maria” by Henryk Semiradsky in 1886

Pursuing Happiness

Why do I have such a deep longing for happiness?

I desire happiness for myself.


I desire happiness for those I love.

I want my children to be happy, to enjoy life.


Today I saw my brother who is devastated by the loss of his beautiful wife and terrified by the prospect of being a single parent of a one-year old.


I want him to be happy again.

Is this desire wrong? Is it simply that my time and my culture have taught me that happiness is what I should expect and pursue, or is it a deeper longing than that?

I have been taught by many fellow believers that the desire for happiness is either a sinful, selfish desire or that it is really just a longing for heaven, something for the distant future.

Is that truth or is there a deeper reason behind this deep longing and expectation of obtaining happiness on earth?

I begin to search God’s Words, wanting to hear what He has promised.

I remember Jesus’ words:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. ~ John 10.10

That certainly sounds like He means a full life here on earth.

Jesus also said this:

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. ~ John 15.9-12

If we obey, we remain in His love. If we remain in His love, we have Jesus‘ joy in us!

This is a startling idea.

Perhaps part of the trouble is that the word “happy” has come to me
an “fun” or “excitement”.

Perhaps this is why so many in the Church have decided that we should delay happiness until we are with God. “Fun” is not what we have when our world is crumbling around us.

Paul, however, in Philippians 4.4 says:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Always. Not only when I’m having fun, not sometime in the future. Now and always!

That is a much deeper sort of happiness than what most people mean by that word.

Paul also says this in Romans 15:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps this is the key.

Trusting God.

Trusting that He is always good and always love. Trusting that He will do what He promised, that He is here and working even when we can’t see in the dark.

In II Corinthians, Paul talks about the grace that God gave the Macedonians:

Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

This, then, is truth.

Joy, happiness, can be present even in the most severe trial, even in the darkness, every moment of every day.

It is a grace, a gift, given to us from God.

All we need to do is ask…and then trust.

Even in the dark.

~ …though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ~ I Peter 1.6-9

~ To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy–to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. ~ Jude 1.24-25

Kristina

Grateful for a life given as grace
Beauty in both heart and face
God’s gift for twenty-six years
More than we deserved
Hard to see through tears

Scraps of colored paper were her gift
Our hearts now are torn, our emotions set adrift
Made divinity, read books, gave flicks, played games
This beautiful marriage was more of God’s grace
Her husband’s world, on the outside, is going up in flames

Yet

God is always good and God is always love
Beauty and joy in even this is given from above
I don’t begin to understand but I declare what I don’t yet see
God promises to transform weeping into dancing, pain into glory
She’s home, she’s well, her life and body as they were always meant to be