Thursday, June 28, 2012

Grace: Amazing

{ "By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." -Ephesians 2:8-10 }

This is a topic that I feel very ill-equipped to write about in great length, because I am still on the road to really learning it. Grace. It is what defines Christianity, and sets it apart from all other religions. And yet it is a concept that humans have a hard time understanding. Grace is usually defined as "unmerited favor". Biblically, we see that grace is what is not deserved, not earned, not worked for, but is given as a gift (as the above verses describe). More than give you a dictionary lesson, I want to explain how difficult it is for me to understand the concept of grace and what God is teaching me in the process.

Since I became a believer I have most certainly recognized that I did nothing to deserve God's gift of salvation. I was redeemed from my past and made into a new creation in Christ. Plain and simple, by the work of the Holy Spirit. My life changed almost overnight and I no longer felt the burden of shame and guilt that I had felt previously. Very simply: I was saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And as I continued to grow in my understanding of who God is, and what my Savior has done for me, I also grew in my desire for obedience. My life began to bear the marks of a true Christian and though I still had a long way to go (and still do!) there was evidence that God was indeed working in my life.

Somewhere down the road, though, I began to think of obedience as something that I did. When I served the Lord, studied the Scriptures, met with God in prayer, I (subconsciously) found myself believing that doing these things earned God's favor and pleased God more than if I had not been doing these things. My mindset of "saved by grace" shifted to "saved by grace, but continue in works". Now, I would never have said that I thought I was actually earning God's favor or His delight by reading my Bible and praying, but deep down in my heart there was a part of me that just believed that was the case.

During one semester of college, I found myself up to my earlobs in extracurricular activities, service opportunities, and life commitments. I was trying to do way too much with way too little time. But I was determined to do all of these things, and do them well. Well, I was humbled that semester and when I began to struggle to keep up and I sank into a season of mild depression. I bottled it up though, and put on a happy face that told the world, "I am okay." By Thanksgiving, I was burned out and ready to come home. I made it to Christmas and God was gracious to reveal areas in my heart where I was just trying too hard. I surrendered my time and schedule, burdens and failures to the Lord and began showing me the necessity of a strong community. Through that time, God showed me His grace by not punishing me for me failures - as I was so prone to think He would do! But of course, I had to remind myself of the gospel: that Jesus was punished for me! God would never punish me because He has not only forgiven me, but declared me "Not guilty!" -- that is substitutionary atonement. Jesus bore the guilt in my stead. That is undeserved favor. That is grace.

In the years following, I have begun to realize that I have a "law-based" mindset. What I mean by "law-based" is that I tend to think that if I do _____, or if I don't do _____, then God will be pleased with me. This is a very detrimental way of thinking. If a person goes on believing this, then they will always be attempting to earn God's favor instead of resting in the fact that grace has saved them, and it is grace that continues them in sanctification. This, my friends, is what I so often forget! Grace is what sustains our faith, all the time. From the first to the last. We can only please God, by His grace that He has given us through the cross of Jesus. Apart from Christ we cannot please God, and even in our redeemed state our works do not necessarily please God if we are doing them simply in order to get something out of it. That is defined as pride and self-righteousness. Because Christ has earned us His righteousness, our attempts to try to earn our own are in vain! Besides the righteousness of Christ is far greater than anything we could even attempt to earn!

So in the midst of our attempts to work for God's favor, let's stop and begin to rest in what Christ has accomplished for us, and continues to work in us: grace, amazing.

[In the next post, I will discuss the difference between repentance and self-condemnation, so stay tuned!]

Friday, June 22, 2012

Food on Friday: I Love S'Mores

I grew up in Michigan. And every summer my family of four would go camping - at state parks, campgrounds, RV parks, etc. You name it, we went there. And I absolutely love those memories. Well, when I went off to college, we didn't do so much camping anymore. My sister was in the 'real world' working and I was all the way in South Florida. However, the summer after my freshman year of college, I worked as a camp counselor as a Christian camp in Traverse City, Michigan (Lake Ann Camp). I had gone there for many years as a camper, so it was neat to be back as a counselor. The food at camp was ... not to my liking, shall I say? (I was very picky in college!) But one food that I would NEVER pass up were: chocolate-covered graham crackers + marshmellows = Lake Ann-style s'mores! Who has never had a s'more, c'mon? Graham crackery goodness, filled with melted Hershey's chocolate bars and Kraft Jet-Puffed marshmellows -- just so good! You can tell I have my favorites.

Well, the chocolate fudge-covered graham crackers take s'mores to a whole new level. We made them this way for convenience sake, though I will forever have a place in my heart for those little guys. I am sad to say that I will probably never be able to eat one ever again because I am now a gluten-free, dairy/lactose-free dieter, but I will cherish those fond camping experience memories, that's for sure. Alas I am very sad about this prospect.
One thing that Chance and I like to do in the suburbia where we live (i.e. Dallas, Texas) is: roast marshmellows using our mini grill! It works pretty well and it is always fun for us. Campfires are better, obviously, but in the city - this will certainly do. In our old apartment we took our mini grill up to the roof of the parking garage and roast our 'mellows! (Before I was on my GF diet, we used graham crackers) As you can see in the pictures, we also added a twist to our s'mores by using peanut butter cups! Yum!
 Well, on this Friday night, we might just have to break out the grill and scope out a spot by the lake and munch on one of our favorite naturally gluten and fat free snacks: marshmellows!

Wouldn't you just love a s'more right about now?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Fleetingness of Life

There are two reasons I want to write about this topic this afternoon. Actually there are three. Although I tend to discredit social media as being too much of a distraction, admittedly it provides a very vital resource from time to time. This morning I learned that another classmate of my 2007 high school graduating class has died. That makes 3 (maybe more?) in 5 years. These people were only 23-24 years old. All of them have been male. And it's been tragic. I have not been able to attend any of their memorial services or funerals, but I would assume that there were kind words spoken of each of them, memories that were shared, and love expressed in abundance from family and friends. And yet, there is still sadness that fills my heart when I think of these young lives (the same age as myself) and how they've ended.

The second reason I want to write about this topic, the fleetingness of life, is that I just began a book that challenges the typical idea of the American dream in our churches. The book, written by a young pastor in Alabama, seeks to engage church members and Christians with the notion of taking Jesus' words about discipleship at face value. Though I am only a chapter or two into the book, his words have been enlightening, inspiring, and convicting all at the same time. My hope in reading this book is that I will be instilled with a burden for people who do not have the hope of Jesus Christ and a vision toward the riches I will receive in heaven for giving that hope to others.

Lastly, the third reason I want to write about this topic is that I have realized there are very few things in life that I want to do more than be a faithful wife and mother, and teach women the Bible. And I want to ask myself (and others) the question: are you seeking with all your heart to do what God has called you to?

Since I have not experienced the tragedy of losing a young family member, it is difficult for me to fathom or grasp the grief that grips those who have. I have been fortunate enough to live as long as I have (a mere 23 years) and know that there are days when I take my life for granted. It is when I am faced with the reality of death that I contemplate one thing: my hope. What is my hope? My hope began at age 19, when for the first time, I surrendered my life to the lordship of Jesus Christ and was given the gift of salvation and eternal life with God. Since that day, I look back and think, "What if I had died before then?" I do believe that I would have suffered the consequences for my sin: eternal death and separation from God forever. And that is a real tragedy. To think that anyone apart from new life in Christ who dies will be separated from God and from eternal joy and pleasure forever; that is a daunting thought. I hope that it would be a daunting thought for anyone who knows the Lord, and has the opportunity to share him with others; not only are we commanded to do this but it is our privilege and joy to do so. And this is a very real challenge for me.

In David Platt's book, Radical, he asks his readers if we are truly hearing the words of Jesus and if so, are we obeying them? Am I obeying them? For the entirety of my Christian life, I have been comfortable enough to sit in air conditioned (and heated) church buildings in nice clothes with my study Bible in tow. Nothing is wrong with that of course, but have I been burdened for people who have absolutely none of that? Honestly, very rarely. I have been content to accept all forms of teaching that I have received: theological books, commentaries, sermons via mP3, and conferences. I have thrived in church settings where I have been well fed by pastors who know how to exegete passages and explain them to the hearts of their congregations. And I have been truly thankful to the Lord for these privileges. But, but, what next? What do I do with the knowledge I have gained and continue to gain? What is the appropriate response and what does that look like for me? It is one thing to have all knowledge, and not love - for that is to be puffed up. It is another thing to have a whole lot of knowledge and teach others - for that yields a great reward.

Over the past few months, God has been working in my life a deep desire for two things: motherhood and teaching women the Bible. Additionally, Chance and I have made the decision (as I have previously posted) to seek to become parents. That decision was made with much prayer and finally asking the question: Is my career and being comfortable really worth putting off children for another few years? Deep down my desire for be a mother had been increasing and often I had the thought, "If I were to die in a year, what would I have rather done? Had a child or continued working?" For me the answer was crystal clear. Also in the last few months, I have finally been able to fulfill the latter desire (teaching) in our local church context here in Dallas. I love teaching, speaking in public especially, and I believe that God has gifted me in this area. I find it an immense privilege to teach middle and high school students the Scriptures, because as I reflect on my own life, at that age, I know how deeply I could have used the Word of God to reveal the truth about my heart and my life situation. I want to feed young girls the meat of Word so that they become mature disciples of Christ, who love God and who want to make an impact in our culture. Already I have seen my burden increasing specifically for this and I pray that it would increase all the more in the future.

So what am I saying? "To live is Christ, to die is gain." (Phil. 1:21) We only have one life to live, one lifetime to come to a knowledge of the truth, and one opportunity to either gain the whole world yet lose our souls (Mark 8:36) or "have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). And then it is over and we will spend life eternally with God, or apart from Him. It is a sobering reality that I hope would cause us all to examine our lives and ask ourselves a few simple questions.

1) Do I know God, and Jesus Christ who he sent? (i.e. do I have eternal life? [John 17:3])
2) Am I living like I am hearing Jesus' words and obeying them? (Luke 14:27)
3) Am I seeking with all of my heart to do what God has called me to? (Galatians 2:20-21)

"Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"-- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." -James 4:13-14

Friday, June 15, 2012

What I Am [Not]

Have you ever struggled with self-condemnation? Well, welcome to the club. I don't mean that to sound trivial or unsympathetic, because I know that it is a serious struggle, both for myself and others. And for us women, we tend to heap the mounds of defeat on ourselves much more than the opposite gender, although they are definitely not immune either. Two verses specifically combat this struggle, that come to mind:

  • Ephesians 1:18: "having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints"
  • Romans 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Look at these truths. Both pack a whole lot of self-condemnation battle punch. And when applied correctly and thoughtfully to those thoughts and feelings that are contrary to what is true, the weight of shame and guilt that you are relieved of is truly remarkable. As I was considering the struggle of self-condemnation today, I want you to think about the reasons why we wrestle so much with these type of thoughts and emotions. I believe that the battle begins when we fail to live up to arbitrary standards that either the world or ourselves have put on us. The struggle may begin when you start thinking about your weight for instance. You mull over what your body "should" look like, and then start inwardly complaining/condemning yourself over what your body actually looks like. The cycle is sped up when we mount on all of our own personal failures and then we become consumed in this unhealthy, unhelpful, ungodly pattern of thinking that does nothing but make us depressed and pitiful. At the root of these thoughts: self. We are focusing way too much on ourselves, and way too little on Christ. That is why when I read Ephesians 1:18 today, I was considerably helped. Think about this: I am stuck in my downward cycle of thoughts about the way I feel, look, am acting, etc. and cannot 'see' what is really true because I am just caught in this web of terrible thoughts about myself that continue to get worse. Then all of a sudden [TRUTH] steps in, your eyes are enlightened, you remember the HOPE to which God has called you, and the glorious riches that you inherit as saint (one who is set apart for God)! Your thoughts begin to lift, maybe slowly at first, but in rememberance of what is really true, you forget what is really not. Our eyes, heart, and mind shifts from focusing on ourselves' to focusing on Christ. And when we focus on Christ, we see ourselves in a new light. We remember that we were bought with a price, that we are not defined by how we look, the way we have acted, what we've said, the ways in which we failed, nor the ways in which we are currently struggling. We are defined by [Christ].

So I thought I'd write a little poem to help me to remember that although I 'am' a lot of things, I am primarily a daughter of the King's:

I am [not] the fastest runner.
I am [not] a health nut.
I am [not] the perfect wife.
I am [not] the most efficient worker.
I am [not] the most beautiful woman.
I am [not] the best writer.
I am [not] the most talented chef.
I am [not] always a neat freak.
I am [not] already glorified.
I am [not] sinless.
I am [not] without baggage.
But I am Christ's.
I do belong to Him.  

Although I still may not measure up to all of my standards, I meet his: I am a sinner, in need of a Savior. And when my identity is all wrapped up in Jesus, and when I can boast in nothing else but my Him, then I no longer need to condemn myself, because He was already condemned for me.

*written on June 1, 2012*

Feel free to share with me your thoughts -