A Gracious Receiver

 

I just finished a Bible study in the Gospel of John with a group of women all over my city. One of the questions in our lesson asked, “How have you seen the Lord’s love and knowledge of you in the way He tailors His correction especially to fit you and your circumstances?”

For me it continues to be a lesson of accepting God’s grace and forgiveness. I’m no longer “just a sinner”, but covered in Jesus’ righteousness. God wants to show me the freedom I have in His forgiveness over my sins, yet I stay wrapped up in all the ways I fail Him. Isn’t that silly? He has made believers as new creations but I cling to dust and ashes. I resist receiving what is already mine.

The past few months have been painful to learn this lesson. I feel like it should be the easiest one to have down pat. Grace is grace and believers live in a “sea of grace” (BSF Notes, Lesson 28, p.4). Yet growing in spiritual maturity is sometimes remembering that we forget the easiest lessons. And I need to remember every day.

Quick to acknowledge that I’m a depraved sinner, I often miss the very real truth that because of Jesus I am forgiven; redeemed. How many times we miss this life giving principle. When we can’t even accept our own failures as forgiven, how in the world do we forgive someone who has wronged us? Or ask for forgiveness from someone else?

We are hidden in Christ, cleansed from all shame. And the best part is that we have done nothing to deserve such mercy- it is all by the grace of God. That is the most humbling and gracious news.

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The Lord is actively at work in us, in the world, through all the brokenness. He is redeeming all things for His Glory, and He first starts with His Beloved- you and me. If we want deep faith than acknowledging our deep sin that cannot be cleansed apart from Christ is the first step. Then we move forward and receive the gracious forgiveness extended to us, bought for you and me on the Cross.

Live in freedom.

Walk in freedom.

Satan thrives on paralyzing Christians with our failures, but we have an Intercessor who prays for us- Jesus Himself (John 17; Luke 22:31-32). Even though we might stumble and fall, God is faithful to love us perfectly and patiently. All praise belongs to God, because anything we have already comes from Him, even faith. You and I can receive His grace and not live as one condemned.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

For the Overwhelmed Christian

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I sat next to a woman in my Bible study group that spoke words of freedom to me. She was addressing our entire small group, but what I heard was permission to live guilt-free as a Christian. A lot of my life as a believer I have felt the need to serve whenever the church doors were open.

Being a Christian meant serving at all times.

While there is truth in this, it isn’t the full truth. We as Christ followers must serve others because we are the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world. However, when we read about Jesus’ earthly ministry, He did only what was right in front of Him. Jesus didn’t multi-task, healing every single person with disease and sickness. He stayed on the tasks that were given to Him, doing the Father’s work at all times, perfectly obeying.

The woman in my group talked about how she and her husband intentionally prioritize their service to others. Each New Year, they write down a list of responsibilities first that are non-negotiable, like being a wife and mother to young children. Then she lists a few passion and gifts, and together they pair down realistically what works within both of their schedules. If it can’t fit inside the square calendar box, it’s thrown out for that year.

What a genius idea, I thought, because honestly I can often become over-zealous in my desire to do everything, wanting to “save the world”. I forget that Jesus already did that, and I’m merely called to participate in service right in my little suburban neighborhood.

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So I went home that day after Bible study and wrote a small list of areas I can practically serve in. The first two are my husband and son because I believe the family God has given me is my first priority. Then I left room for 3 other things that I can do, some of which I am already doing but never really viewed them as ministry opportunities.

The point is that the list shouldn’t be immense but instead focus your service. Sometimes we place false guilt on ourselves, or unfortunately sometimes the Church does. There are endless needs around us and it can feel overwhelming. When I try to do it all I end up fragmented and depleted. I forget that there is no output of eternal value without input as well.

Service first starts with my own heart seeking the Lord, growing deeper in knowledge, faith, and love. When I expend all my energy and time in service production mode I leave no room for God to teach and speak in the quiet.

Believers end up doing ourselves a disservice when we think we can fill every opportunity.

It is a privilege to participate with the Spirit in His work but God doesn’t need me or you. He wants our obedience not our guilt to love in His Name. This was so freeing for me to realize. I’m called to be faithful in the place, the responsibilities and the gifts God has given me. My tasks won’t look like yours and yours won’t look like the next woman’s.

Still feel overwhelmed?

Think about where you spend your time each day and how you could make an impact. Are you already in a Bible study? Maybe start investing in some of those relationships or perhaps they need a greeter at the door in the mornings. It doesn’t have to be big to be life changing. We can encourage through writing notes to people who may feel forgotten, or mentor the young woman on the brink of marriage or teach the 3 & 4 year old Sunday school class.

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Also leave room for the small, one-time opportunities to obey. Those acts of kindness are just as sweet to the Lord; a bottle of water for the over-heated air conditioning guy in the middle of August, opening the door for a mom juggling a baby stroller and toddler in tow, greeting a stranger with a smile.

We do the next thing right in front of us. Not everything is Tweet-worthy and that’s just fine because the One who sees it all is the only One worth pleasing.

God is always at work and we get to join Him, but He hasn’t called us to “save the world”. The Lord desires for you and me to live out of the unique personality, circumstances, and calling He has given us. Our concentrated list might even change over our lifetime. What matters is how we love, how we are faithful with what is right in front of us. Only then does our joyful obedience blossom into fruitful obedience. And that aroma is very sweet to our precious Savior.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken + Free

I woke up the next morning wondering if I had really hugged Ann Voskamp, shaken hands with Rebekah Lyons, and talked with Christy Nockels.

Surreal.

I can honestly say that these women have a contagious love for the Lord. You want what they have. And what they have is Jesus.

 

At their event, the Broken + Free Tour in Nashville, these 3 women received every single person who stood in line waiting for an opportunity to speak with them. They were generous, breaking their time and giving it away. They were living the messages they proclaimed on stage.

Of course as my turn drew nearer my hands became sweaty and all my insides started to melt. I was fighting extreme shyness, trying to find my tongue somewhere back inside my dry throat before Christy Nockels turned to my friend and me. I wanted to tell her what a gift she has been to me, a spiritual mentor through her podcast, Glorious in the Mundane. Christy has a great gift for storytelling, laced with truth and encouragement. Instead, for this event, she led the worship team, calling us all to delight in the Lord through music.

I didn’t know who Rebekah Lyons was until the afternoon of the event. I drove down I-65 listening to her interview on a podcast. I didn’t know she also has a special needs son. Rebekah is further along in this journey than I am, with her son being a teenager. I was instantly drawn to her after that, gleaning any wisdom she might have in special needs parenting. Something about finding someone who has a similar story to yours, like in the special needs community, forms an instant bond.

Rebekah also shared her personal story of fear, panic attacks and learning how to truly be free. After living with her husband and three kids in New York City for a couple of years and experiencing panic attacks for a year, God used these hard experiences to shape her story. In a desperate moment to be set free from her anxiety she cried out to the Lord. The Lord heard her cry and slowly began to help her see freedom through Jesus alone. Only He has the power to save, to heal all sorts of brokenness.

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“Live Cruciform” signed by Ann Voskamp in her new book The Broken Way

Coming face to face with Ann Voskamp was a joy and a privilege. Still in my introverted frame of mind, I stared down at the table, mumbling gratitude for her words and shoved my copy of her book under her nose. Classy. And yet, she embraced me with a hug, this woman who I’ve highlighted countless lines in her books and quoted numerous times. This woman who doesn’t know me from Adam, hugged my neck.

My shoulders relaxed a bit as I began to see that these women weren’t any different than me. They were seeking to bear fruit for God’s glory and look more like Him in the process. That is why we are drawn to those with a bigger platform for the Lord. It is usually because they look an awful lot like Him and we all desperately want to be seen and loved by Jesus.

 

I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to go to Nashville and attend the Broken + Free Tour. Singing songs of praise to the Lord, and listening to the Spirit speak through His own, reminded me to delight again in the God who saves, the God who heals our broken. A smile crept across my face in the midst of singing to Him. I’m delighting in You, Father, as You always delight in me, Your daughter, Your Beloved.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Grace in the cracks

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Before Jesse was 8 months old he had no trouble sleeping. What I mean is, he slept like every other baby. In the early months, a couple times a night he would wake to nurse. Then came a few longer stretches of sleep. Usually rocking would work or the amazing mechanical baby-swing. Wind it up and he was as good as gold.

I thought we were nearing the edge of the woods in the sleep deprivation world. My mom always said you can endure anything as long as it doesn’t last forever. Her words rang in my ears those 3 a.m. nights that seemed endless.

And yet, somewhere around Christmas his sleeping habits grew worse, and so did mine. Frustrated and foggy-brained, I went into survival mode. Just make it through this day. Steal sleep in the cracks. An hour here, a cat nap there, or just close my eyes for a few minutes.

As Jesse out grew the baby-swing, he struggled to sleep through the night. When rocking didn’t work even his naps grew shorter. He woke up crying most days and I scooped him up, weary and defeated, to cradle him on my chest while we both laid on the couch.

Jesse would often finish his naps cuddled safely in my arms. This forced me to stop everything else and just rest and be present. His breathing became steady and calm again, as I watched his little body relax into sleep. It was in these moments two verses came to mind as I marveled over God’s way of taking care of me:

 

“He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters”

 Psalm 23:2

 

“He gives strength to the weary and

increases the power of the weak”

 Isaiah 40:29

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            God made me physically rest when I needed to. He does this in a way that isn’t militant or harsh, but lovingly.

Tenderly.

Like a Shepherd over His sheep, God knows what is best for us before we do. And I remember laughing over the irony. I was trying to help Jesse rest as God helped me rest. I was a child in need of a nap!

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We sometimes forget how important physical rest is and that it can affect our spiritual health as well. We think we can “do it all”. It humbled me to find out that I can’t. Something has to give. It was about this time that Jason and I started praying at night for Jesse, and for us as well, to have the gift of sleep. I didn’t realize sleep as a precious gift until it was taken away.

And rest came in ways I didn’t expect. Even though the nights were still interrupted with Jesse’s hyperactivity, God’s grace took shape on that couch during nap time. There were dishes in the sink, laundry to be washed, and a list of to-do items, but the only thing that mattered was the only job I had in that moment: to be still.

And that was enough.

The Lord taught me that I often forget how much I need Him to take care of me as I take care of the sweet, autistic son He has entrusted to me. God delights in ministering to our hearts as well as our physical bodies! He reminds me that He will provide grace even in the cracks.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

The Delight of Duty

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Some of us make New Year’s resolutions to signal a fresh start or to throw off last year’s excesses and failures. Something I’ve done the past few years is to pick a word to meditate on. My senses are heightened as I notice the word popping up in whatever I’m reading or listening to.

In 2015 it was ‘grace’, which was partly responsible for the birth of this blog. Last year’s word was ‘joy’ and for 2017 it is ‘delight’. Now, I know that joy and delight are very similar. Here’s where I make the distinction: Joy is a picture of what I want my Christian life to look like. That continues to be a life-long journey. Delight, on the other hand, is focused on how I love God. Do I delight in Him? His Word? I want to take pleasure in knowing Him more. Again, this too is a life-long journey and isn’t tied in a pretty pink bow at the end of the year. But it’s a start.

“Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.”
-Psalm 119:35

I prayed about having something to help me desire God, out of duty AND love! I forget that we are commanded to delight in the One who created us and keeps us alive with every heart beat, every breath we take. Just as I enjoy spending time with my son and husband, I learn to love God deeply when I find my pleasure in Him. John Piper terms this as Christian Hedonism. Jonathan Edwards personally resolved, “to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can”. That obtaining happiness in God starts now for the believer, whose real life didn’t even begin until the moment of salvation.

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I’m hoping to practice my delight in God this side of heaven, learning of His character, and trusting Him even when life is hard or I don’t understand the circumstances. God graciously showed me last year that I was still striving “to be good enough” for Him instead of just enjoying His love, His goodness, His presence within me. I was angry in the moment, when God laid me low, but now I look back and see it was all a work of His kindness. God continues to be faithful even when I am not. That is grace and in looking back over my personal experiences with the Lord, I now can delight in Him!
This doesn’t mean that all of life is fluff, butterflies and unicorns. Life is still full of disappointments, sorrow and pain. Douglas Wilson, pastor and apologist, discusses delight as:

“true joviality […] as an act of defiance […] It’s the recognition that this is how we fight. We are the cheerful warriors, the happy warriors, the cavalier […] We need to fight. We must fight, but the person who fights like a cavalier is an attractive leader. He’s going to attract more people to his side. He’s going to be more effective.”
(The Romantic Rationalist p.166)

I have not always thought this way. I tend to get frustrated with people who don’t see things “my way”, even if my thinking is aligned with Truth. If I’m not delighting in God, then I’m not worshipping Him, and where there is no worship there can be no joy. If I am not joyful, then who wants to listen to what I have to say anyway?

Wilson elaborates that we don’t live as schizophrenic believers either. We “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Christians know how it all ends and that is our hope. Delight has many faces, I’m learning. We can comfort the hurting and celebrate with the joyful because God is our ultimate satisfaction.

 

“Let thy unexampled love constrain me into
holy obedience,
and render my duty my delight.”
(Valley of Vision p.213)

 

Grace upon grace,
April

 

 

 

 

 

A Matter of the Heart

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I failed with flying colors. This is not the Christian success story you were hoping to hear. Instead, it is a story of failure, failure to respond biblically and maturely. I don’t like admitting that about myself, but I am beginning to see how even my response in the midst of affliction is grace. Exposed and raw, I saw my sin amplified more than I thought possible. So God does this work of “letting bad things happen” to reveal our sin nature. I find out who I really am before He can rebuild again.

 

Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Before He can use us He must gently crush us.” This is part of an ongoing story because faith is never wrapped up in a neat little bow this side of heaven. Life is messy and unpredictable. That is when we are called to simply trust, working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) until Jesus takes us home.

 

Tuesday, October 25th I kept Jesse home from school due to a sleepless night before. There was nothing out of the ordinary that day as Jason went to work and I set about getting house chores done while Jesse quietly played. I felt completely fine with no warning signs to indicate the rest of the day. Shortly before noon I read a text from a friend when suddenly I became horribly dizzy and nauseous. The feeling sent me reeling, as I hit the floor to keep the room from spinning (which did not help). Right before falling to the ground I had the forethought of grabbing my phone if this became an emergency. It escalated to emergency status within seconds as I started vomiting uncontrollably. Jesse found me and started crying because he knew I was in distress. He ran to another part of the house, where I listened to him cry, and I didn’t see him again.

 

By God’s grace Jason answered his phone when I tried to call him. I remember feeling like I might pass out or die, because I’ve never experienced either until that moment. My body shut down as I lost control of my senses, becoming incredibly weak and incoherent. Jason called one of our neighbors to come over before he could get home. She was also an agent of grace, occupying Jesse while Jason took care of me. The paramedics soon arrived and took my vitals, which were fine even though I was the worst kind of sick I have ever felt. They noted my electrolytes were low and concluded that it must be a virus of some kind. So my very first ambulance ride I missed because I wasn’t all there to say the least.

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I remember the ER room. It was like a dream I wanted to wake from, being poked with needles, beeping machines, T.V. noise, endless emergency hallway chatter, and so many nurses in and out of a space that could have been a walk-in closet. Everyone hovers over the bed like I’m a riddle to be solved. But the medical staff is there to save lives no matter the cost, especially sans dignity. I’ve not had many hospital encounters, but there is none of that whatsoever and it doesn’t really even matter at that point. Everyone is there to do his or her job.

 

I’m told my heart went into an abnormal rhythm in the Emergency Room. Atrial Fibrillation. My heart was off running a marathon, leaving me in a hospital bed. The anti-nausea medicine finally kicked in and I became more lucid. Finally, I started to notice my surroundings more, trying to comprehend all that had taken place in the last few hours. My poor, sweet husband was wrestling with that same question too. He bore the brunt of my drama trauma fielding phone calls, text messages, and questions from paramedics, nurses, doctors, friends and family.

 

I wasn’t angry until the next day, even after God had answered many prayers from loved ones allowing my heart to convert back again to a normal rhythm. I was still grasping for answers, trying to wrap my mind around everything. I barely kept my head above water each day before all of this happened and now I was completely knocked down. I was tired. Tired of striving. Tired of wanting God to care because I thought he must not. I started listening to my fickle emotions instead of firmly setting my hope in the promises of God:

 

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” He says in His Word over and over (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:6, 8). I forgot that God is always faithful, even when I’m wretched and hostile. But He calls me to be faithful as well, and I instead turned the other way. “How could God do this to me?” I asked in pride and anger. “Is it not enough to take care of an autistic son, sleep very little and live a stress-filled existence without this on my plate?”

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I was trying so hard to pursue God, and I believe I was, but at the same time I left little room to just rest. Rest in His grace that doesn’t require a juggling act or high marks.

 

Jesus used Peter, a common fisherman, hotheaded and impulsive to later become the rock of the church (Matthew 16:15-19). He called Saul, and renamed him Paul, from persecuting Christians to preaching the gospel to them. These two men were imprisoned for their faith and died because they followed Jesus Christ, knowing that the hope they had would be made sight. And it has for them.

 

I hope that for you and me too. Sometimes living out our faith feels more like a boxing match. But in the end, I want to say along with Paul that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). If anything, I’ve learned that we are not meant to have all the answers. There is still no explainable medical reason as to why all of this happened on that Tuesday – just a bunch of guesses.

 

We are called to simply trust that God is Good and Sovereign even when we don’t understand our life circumstances. And I am learning that He really is faithful. “Bad things happen even to forgiven people”, says Pastor Stephen Davey, but it doesn’t mean God does not love you or has stopped loving you. What if it means quite the opposite? What if growth can only happen in the storms?

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When you find yourself there remember that the heart of the matter is how your heart responds to Him. Will you run to Him or from Him? Don’t follow my example of pitching a fit when things get hard. God will show you the exact measure of your faith when life doesn’t turn out right. You might find it humbling. But it’s also grace – the hard places, because my pride and self-reliance was and is being chipped away. And that is very good news.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus our Rest

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Here is a little prayer I wrote for you and for me. I can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the unraveling of society in the anti-Christian culture we live in, along with so many other daily distractions that threaten the believer’s focus. When I find myself in a fog, I sit quietly and ask God to realign my thoughts…once again. Maybe you have been here too and need a prayer like this. Blessings to you today.

 

Lord of heaven and earth,

 

Free my mind from the cobwebs of lethargy,

complacency and spiritual stupor.

Help me to see You again clearly,

eagerly.

I pray You remind me of the simple

truths I know so well and still

forget each day.

Let me walk in Your footsteps,

as a child trails behind a parent –

trusting and unafraid.

 

You are Light covered in flesh.

How amazing that Hope met us

in our desperate, hopeless state!

Transform and purify us in joy,

eager to do the good works

You redeemed us for.

Help us recognize grace upon grace today

in thousands of ways,

multi-faceted like a million

diamonds on the jeweled sea.

 

Jesus is our treasure and delight.

We find God in His rich Word

which feeds the Beloved

like sweet manna –

bread from heaven.

The simplicity of the gospel

is deep seated

in mystery, wisdom, and beauty.

Help us to comprehend the sacred

privilege of salvation

and walk in this hour

with confidence in who we are,

resting in Jesus

our Eternal Sabbath.

 

Amen.

 

Grace upon grace,

April