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Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I am only beginning to explore this journey that is Lent. This season was not a part of my faith tradition growing up, but it seems to be growing more popular among evangelicals these days.
This long season of Lent is not a frivolous sort of giving up as it appeared to a fairly oblivious teenage self (fasting from M&M’s anyone?) but a giving up for the purpose of giving away. It is a period of self-denial in order to become more unified with the Spirit of Christ.
It is a difficult thing to be unified with Jesus.
Gazing into the eyes of Christ for too long has frightening consequences.
When you stare at the cross, you find yourself looking at your own death, at your sin and its just consequence. You come face to face with all of the spiritual deformities that are in your own soul and find yourself tempted to turn away from the harsh reflection.
When you gaze at Christ crucified for these forty days that are Lent, you are pulled close to the grace and forgiveness of your death finished for you. But it is a dangerous grace.
This grace is one that does not leave you unfinished. It is a grace that purges and renews.
The purpose of Lent is to awaken in you a sense of your own sin, your guilt for your sin, and your sorrow over your sin.
The purpose of Lent is to awaken “the sense of gratitude for the forgiveness of sins. To (awaken) or to motivate the works of love and the work for justice that one does out of the gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins.” (Edna Hong in Bread andWine)
This grace can only be approached at the end of Lent.
It is a long journey, these forty days.
It is a necessary journey, one that fights the apathy and smugness of this world in which we often find it easy to spot deformities in the souls of others and find it also easy to turn away from the crippled places of our own souls.
Yet we do not travel this path of Lent alone.
God’s Spirit Himself travels with us, maneuvering us down this steep path that ends at the foot of the cross.
As we stand at the foot of the cross, stripped of our illusions about ourselves, we gaze at the battered and broken body of the One who came to rescue us.
This body of Jesus that is our grace. This grace that brings fire. This fire that purges and cleanses and does not consume but instead resurrects us into a new self.
It is beautiful, this amazing and dangerous grace.
When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be your supply.
The flame shall not hurt you, my only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
~ How Firm a Foundation
edited from the archives
Credit to Edna Hong and Walter Wangerin in Bread and Wine for many of the ideas in this post.
Photography is copyright Made Sacred 2018
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I’ve been a little paralyzed, waiting for the perfect post to form itself before writing. I’ve been a little hesitant, thinking I should have time to dig deep into books before pouring forth out of my emptiness. I’ve been a little prideful, believing that my troubles are not of value to others because they do not deal with death or poverty or persecution.
I will cast off these lies and write. I will write and pray that God will use what is inside of me whether or not it is perfect or brought from research or developed from great suffering.
Since when can God only use greatness for His purpose?
Moving is hard.
There is a loneliness that comes from knowing that deep, local friendships lie months, even years away. There is fear in the understanding that your introverted self is going to have to be bold and take risks in order to find those new friends. There is a sadness when grieving the friendships you left behind.
There is the ache of watching your children struggle, seeing them cry before trudging off to a new school and holding them when they rant and rage with an anger that is really stress they don’t know how to handle. It hurts to hear them talk about what they miss from our old home.
There is the exhaustion of too many sleepless nights. Sleepless from a six month old baby who still wakes up multiple times a night, sleepless from older sisters who wake with nightmares or because they can’t find the bathroom in their new place, sleepless from your own desire to unpack just one more box and try to make this house a home.
Moving has within it a hope for future grace.
There is the freedom of a house in which your children have the space to spread out a bit, a house big enough to host a gathering without sitting in each other’s laps, a house with room for you to grow.
There is the excitement of a town you know you can enjoy, a town that’s just the right size for you, a town with potential for serving and for fun.
There is the joy of being near my brother and his family, the joy of good neighbors who might become good friends, the joy of a job my husband enjoys and doesn’t dread every day.
Underneath it all there is the peace, when I look for it, of knowing that we are where God wants us to be. My heart is capricious and ever-changing; the loneliness and grieving will not always be so strong. Until my emotions catch up, I will know that God has purpose for us here. I will know that He will use us in beautiful ways we don’t yet see and that this is what will make us happy.
Until that happens, I will trust Him and cling to Him even when my heart would tell me otherwise. The joy and peace will come. This I know and this I hold on to.
We are in the middle of moving, so I will be fetching from the archives for the next two or three weeks. Enjoy!
I am caught in this world and cannot seem to escape it.
I cling to the security of our money, not wanting to give up our extra even to help one who is hurting. I cling to my anger, not wanting to give it up even for the sake of my child’s heart. I cling to my idea of success, not wanting to give up the possibility of my daughters’ successes in the world even for the sake of their love for God and neighbor.
I am helpless, mired, enmeshed and enslaved. I cannot even turn away from sin on my own. I am incapable of seeing my sin for what it is.
I am like Peter in the courtyard, having just betrayed the One he saw raising the dead and being transfigured, having sworn and cursed that he did not know Him. Peter, too, was unable to turn, unable to grieve over his betrayal, until…
Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him…And he went outside and wept bitterly. ~ Luke 22.60-62
Peter not turn first, Jesus did. When Peter was right in the middle of his sin, when he would have preferred to look anywhere else other than at Jesus, Jesus turned and looked at Peter.
I cannot turn from my sin unless Jesus turns to me first. I can, perhaps, feel frustrated at my inability to obey, but this is not the kind of sorrow that bears any kind of lasting fruit. This is only a kind of twisted pride. What I cannot do is to understand my own helplessness and the depths of my sin.
If I have any repentance at all, any true turning of my heart to God, it is only by the grace of God turning to me first.
Sorrow over our sinful condition is…God’s attribute above all. Sorrow over sin does not finally belong to us humans; we ourselves are not capable of it. ~ Martin Luther
Character is vital to our society. It is important to people as individuals and it is important to society in its entirety. I wrote long ago about how we form character and why character matters, and I re-post this particular essay today because of the lack of character that I see all around us these days.
When we can cheat and lie “just a little bit” and still think highly of ourselves, when we show our kids that it’s okay to do little wrong things to get by, when it is more wrong to judge evil than to do evil, then we are in trouble. For our society to function, we need people of character in leadership positions from teachers and managers to mayors and governors.
Why has this happened? Why do ordinary people care so little about acting in moral ways?
Much of this dearth of character, this dearth of virtue, comes from the rejection of the idea of truth.
If truth is, at best, all relative and just a matter of perspective and, at worst, a social construct and simply whatever we make it to be, then why should anyone work hard to develop a character that may or may not be valid to those around us?
If there is no truth that we can deliberate and discover together as a society (whatever that truth may be and wherever it may come from), we are left with “power and propaganda and grievance and anger and caucuses and anti-caucuses and special interest groups and victims and vengeance.” ~ Richard John Neuhaus, a Christian cleric and writer
There is an assumption in much of society, in many of our universities especially, that we cannot keep society and relationships moving forward if we talk about truth because truth brings only conflict. Truth has gained a negative connotation, one that assumes that anything so divisive has no appropriate role in public life.
How did this happen? How did truth get hijacked and associated with the negative? How did truth become linked with religious totalitarianism and Osama bin Laden? How did it become shameful to declare a belief in truth, even simply the idea of truth, regardless of what that truth is?
Part of the answer, I’m afraid, is due to the Church. We have a history of wielding the truth as divisively as possible, of tearing down and even destroying rather than creating and building up. We have used truth as an excuse for starting wars and we have used truth as an excuse to look down on our neighbor.
Richard John Neuhaus says that it is now the Church’s task to learn how to assert truth in public “persuasively and winsomely and in a manner that does not violate but strengthens the bonds of civility”. He challenges that it is our duty not to just tolerate those with whom we disagree but to eagerly engage them in love.
How? How do we declare truth without being divisive and unpleasant, causing strife, conflict and wars?
By remembering grace.
By remembering that we can’t even live up to our own standards and yet we are loved.
When we despise anyone or feel superior to anyone, we are living by moral performance rather than grace. And living by moral performance is what brings divisiveness to the truth.
By the way we live, by living a life of loving and caring for others, we can show truth and speak truth with no divisiveness at all.
This is what the early Christians did when they loved the poor, empowered women, and brought together the races and classes. This is how the early Church overran the Roman Empire when it wasn’t even attempting to gain political power.
This. This is the truth we need.
Because this truth is
a God Who became weak, Who loved and died for the people Who opposed Him, forgiving them. ~ Tim Keller
Will you speak and live this kind of truth to your world? Our world desperately needs Him.
That there can be ugliness in this life is not questioned by anyone. No one would argue with the idea that we all go through times of darkness, times of weeping, times of where in the world, where in all of this hurting world are You, God?
If the question then is not will I suffer, then the question must be what will I choose when I suffer.
When I hurt, will I believe that God works for the best in everything or will I wonder whether God is working at all? When I ache, will I believe that God is most present when I am at the end of myself or will I wonder whether God is really in anything at all? When I don’t know how long I can hold on, will I believe in God when I cannot see Him through the dark or will I wonder if the darkness is all that there is?
What do we do when we are sinking, when we are drowning, when we are at the end of ourselves and are pleading for relief?
Paul pleaded with God to remove his thorn. He begged God three times for release. The first two times? Heaven was silent. The third time? God said no.
Jesus asked if there was any other way but the Cross. God’s answer? No.
Why do we think it should be different for us? Why do we think that we should be exempt?
If God is most present and works most powerfully when we are at the end of our own limits, then shouldn’t we want to lean into our suffering rather than try to escape it?
Paul chose to boast of his weakness, to be content with his hardship. He chose to immerse himself in his thorn in order to gain more of Christ.
We don’t have a choice about whether we will hurt.
Our choice is in how we will respond.
Will we spend our time begging for respite? Will we beg God to take it away and then curse Him when He does not?
Or will we receive our suffering as a gift? A gift with a purpose, even though we may never know the purpose. A gift with a promise, a promise of grace and God’s presence.
When God says no, when God says My grace is sufficient for you, instead of arguing with Him about it, instead of fighting Him with all of your strength, ask Him to help you get to the place where you can receive your adversity as a gift from a loving Father.
A gift that brings you more of His grace. A gift that brings you more of Him.
I have learned to kiss the waves that dash me against the Rock of Ages. ~ Charles Spurgeon
Is there anything quite like the level of desperation we feel when seeking the approval of our parents?
I can remember as a child not being willing to go to sleep until an argument had been reconciled, even creeping out of bed at night to make sure Mom and Dad weren’t angry with me anymore.
Even as an adult, those feelings have not diminished in the least. In fact, since the situations I encounter these days are a bit more important in the realm of the eternal (raising small humans rather than being late for curfew), perhaps my desire for my parents to be proud of me has even grown.
What is this longing we have for those in authority over us to approve of us?
Even those who have had too many authority figures abuse their power have only pushed those yearnings deep down rather than never having had those feelings in the first place.
It must be something placed inside of us, something sown in the soil of our hearts.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
It must be a need to be who we were created to be, a need for the One who made us to approve of what we have become.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well…How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
The desperate hope that I will be able to please my parents must be the natural outflow of my hope that I will be able to please my God.
And just as my parents guided and taught me to do the things that pleased them, so God will teach me how to please Him, and I yearn in my deepest places for Him to do so.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
I have caught a glimpse of the beauty that we can become, and that glimpse drives the desire for God to judge our hearts and help us to look more like Jesus. I want Him to judge me so that He can help me become who He created me to be.
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
I enjoy planning out our days (okay, okay, our years), and no matter what decisions I make, I’m usually half convinced they were the wrong ones.
Often I reassure myself with the notion that God can make up for my mistakes, that He can help my precious ones survive in spite of all the poor choices I make.
Yet recently I was struck in the heart with a very different perspective.
God can use my mistakes to make my girls into the women He wants them to be.
The idea that God already knows the mistakes I will make with my children and already has plans to use those mistakes to mold my girls into beautiful women who love Him and love others??
That is beyond beautiful.
It is grace. Pure grace.
It is a breath of freedom, a release from the lie that I have to parent perfectly in order for my children to grow up loving God. Ensuring the end for my children is not my job. My job is to be as faithful as I can and then to relax, being confident in God’s love for my girls.
A love that works for the best for them. A love that not only wants the best for them but is powerful enough to achieve that best.
It allows me to be present and just enjoy my girls without having to worry about their future.
Let’s go play.
I am not sovereign over my children – God is. And God will use every aspect of my human parenting, even my sins and failures, to shape my children into who He desires them to be, for the sake of His kingdom. (Parenting is Your Highest Calling and Eight Other Myths… by Leslie Fields)
I am spending this week waiting on our newest little one to arrive, so enjoy this old post edited from the archives and pray for a safe and quick labor and delivery, please!
There is a paradox in God’s dealings with us that I have trouble understanding.
There is this:
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ Romans 5.8
And there is also this:
The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. ~ Zephaniah 3.17
This is a hard paradox for me to accept: I am loved and delighted in by God AND I am why Jesus had to come and die.
It is all too commonplace around here for me to hear a thud followed by the cry of one of my little ones. Most often the culprit is a sister, who stands triumphantly clutching some coveted toy.
As I ask for wisdom to know how to teach my children how to love, I wonder how I can possibly teach my children this very thing that I don’t understand. How can I teach them that God created something wonderful when He made them while at the same time helping them to understand that their hearts are ugly with sin and they desperately need Jesus and His grace? How can I teach them to be confident and humble at the same time?
One without the other brings disaster.
If I teach only that they are beautiful and wonderful and children of the King, they become arrogant and self-centered, entitled to the best.
If I teach only that they are sinful and ugly in their hearts, they become depressed and mired in self-pity, losing all confidence in themselves.
How do I teach both humility and confidence?
I must learn it first.
Paul says this in Philippians:
…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. ~ Philippians 3.9
…filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. ~ Philippians 1.11
I am loved by God and He does delight in me…because He made me.
I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ~ Psalm 139.14
I am pure and clean before God and He does see me as righteous…because of Jesus’ blood.
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. ~ Romans 3.22
All is gift.
Seeing the One behind my righteousness creates humility.
Seeing the cross in front of my sin creates confidence.
All is grace.
I turn and see my eldest giving my littlest one a toy and then a kiss. I smile, knowing that God is teaching their hearts and mine what it means to live a life of both confidence and humility in and through Him.