Category Archives: Grace

Weary yet pursuing

“So where you on the Richter scale, babe? How are you on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Jessica asked me this question the other day, and it wasn’t nearly as easy to answer as it might initially sound. I had to answer it on multiple levels.

I had to answer it practically. Practically, experientially, I wasn’t doing great. If life is a series of peaks and valleys then I think I was scraping the bottom of a valley somewhere. From a practical, factual perspective, I probably logged in between a 2 or a 3.

I also had to answer it emotionally. Surprisingly, my emotions were significantly higher than my factual reality—probably somewhere around a 6. However, before you conclude that I’m too out of touch, or living in a dream world, I should probably mention that my emotions were tied to my third answer.

I also had to answer Jess’ question positionally. I told her, “My circumstances are a 2.5; my emotions are a 6, but my determination is a solid 10. It’s true that I’m a little weary, but my posture, my position—my commitment to keep on running—has never been higher.”

There’s precedent for this in the Bible. After Gideon and his troops routed the Midianites in Judges 8:4 they were described as “weary yet pursuing” and something interesting happened. Divine strength found them as they ran.

Sometimes we can Sabbath (we can regroup, recoup, and withdraw), but sometimes life requires us to run all night. If you are in a running season, please don’t stop and don’t despair. God’s grace knows how to find you even while you run!

I want a rule; God wants obedience

breaking rulesHow many drinks can I have? One? Two? More? Or none at all?

Can I watch certain kinds of R-rated movies? Like the ones that are only rated R for violence? Or maybe just language? Or other stuff too as long as it isn’t too bad?

What are my rules for what is and is not acceptable?

Some people don’t care about these kinds of questions—they aren’t “rule people” and they are happy to make these decisions on the fly. Others, however, feel more comfortable with clearly defined boundaries, and they appreciate the comfort and security of always knowing exactly what they should and shouldn’t do.

Personally, I am a rule person and I prefer to know exactly what my boundaries are. I like the security of knowing precisely when I am and am not on the right path, and sometimes the Bible caters to personalities like mine. Sometimes the Scriptures clearly highlight the paths that God wants us to walk, and there’s nothing left for us to do but start walking. There are other times though when the Bible isn’t quite as clear. It doesn’t give us rules to follow; it gives us principles to apply.

Sometimes I want a law to govern me, but God wants something very different. He wants my mature obedience. Sometimes simple rule keeping can be a lesser path than actually following the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Remember, being led by the Spirit is a key mark of mature sonship and daughterhood (Romans 8:14), and often that leading occurs in settings where the rules aren’t perfectly clear. Paul devoted entire chapters of his writings to matters of conscience, coaching us for those times when singular rules can’t fully dictate correct behavior.

We live in a time in history when we must know God’s laws, understand the principles that drive them, and be sensitized to the Holy Spirit’s leading. When Scripture is clear we follow it clearly. When it is unclear–or open to multiple interpretations–we follow its principles. And when multiple paths are legitimate options, we trust the Spirit’s leading in our conscience.

Heart Punch

heart punchHave you ever been punched in the heart? Not your literal, physical heart, but your more vulnerable internal one? You’ll know if you have, simply by gauging your emotional reaction to the term.

Heart punch.

It’s that blow that thuds into your emotions leaving you feeling sad, sickened, and despairing all at once.

It’s a blow that is thrown by friends or close acquaintances–strangers can’t usually punch our internal heart (they don’t have access to our more vulnerable sides). And it almost always happens in the context of relationships.

Hurts, misunderstandings, and unfair accusations can lead to poorly thought out words and phrases that slam into our hearts like sledgehammers. The blows leave us feeling bewildered and angry, confused and obsessed, and virtually unable to concentrate on extraneous things. We need help in moments like those, because heart punches affect our perspective and confidence, and their effects can be very difficult to shake off.

However it can be done. Healing can occur. Either the relationship will heal and grow stronger, or YOU will heal and grow stronger besides. That’s the fist step–simply acknowledging that the heart punch isn’t the end of the story.

Poorly placed words can be retracted and repented of. Confusion can be clarified. Hurts can be expressed, owned, renounced, and repaired. Misunderstandings can give way to clarity, and the agony of the heart punch can eventually fade away.

It will help if you don’t immediately punch back. Our nature when hurt is to either withdraw or lash out. If you are a withdraw-er, you risk nursing your wounds and dying of infection, and if you’re a lash out-er, you risk inflicting damage that might not need to occur.

Although it isn’t easy to uncoil the complexities that sometimes lead to heart punches, we need to commit to trying. Remember, the ministry to which we have been called is one of reconciliation. Reconciliation is never easy, but it is always worth the efforts it requires.

Alexis’ story

Alexis GraceOn May 14, 1996, after 30 hours of labor and an emergency c-section, Alexis Grace was born and promptly stole our hearts. She was gorgeous, with Jessica’s curly hair and brilliant, blue eyes. We never dreamed of how deeply and instantaneously parental love would flow. We also never dreamed we would have to face all  of the shock and horror of those initial days, months, and years with her.

Upon her birth, sweet Alexis entered a world of suffering. Brain damage, a seizure disorder, and multiple health deficiencies caused her life on this side of heaven to be a horrific mixture of doctor appointments, surgeries, potent medicine applications, and 24-hour health care. She spent her first seven weeks in the neo-natal intensive care unit, and then had to undergo the insertion of a tracheotomy. Sick with pneumonia nearly every month of her life, and undergoing seven different surgeries, Alexis faced more pain and trauma in her three years of life than most of us will ever face in ours.

She was an angel who touched the lives of everyone that contacted her, and after she died, eight nurses, a family doctor, and two of the leading pediatric specialists in the Pacific Northwest attended her funeral.

Our hearts splintered into a thousand pieces and we didn’t know if we would ever recover. We’ve cried, we’ve cursed, and we’ve wanted to die. But we’ve also lived again. There’s a little phrase that occurs in the book of Genesis after the sin and fall of mankind that says, “…Adam lived.” This Hebrew word for “lived” means “to live again.”

Adam lived and died in the Garden of Eden and then he began to live again.

That’s been true for Jessica and me as well. We feel like we’ve lived, died, and, finally, have begun to live again. And that’s our prayer for you in your painful situation, that God would take what appears hopeless and unnecessary and transform it into something brilliant and beautiful. He certainly did that in the time we had with Alexis Grace, and despite the grief of your personal heartaches and losses, He can do it for you as well!

(To hear more about Alexis’ story and our journey to reconnect to life after profound loss, check out my book, Praying Through SorrowsFree copies are also available in our Grace Church services).

His “yoke” is “easy”???

herculesIn my city-fied adult life I haven’t spent much time around pairs of yoked oxen, but I can still relate to the heavy burdens that they carry and pull. When the wooden yoke is set on their shoulders and connected to the plow, the animals know it’s time to work.

Even if you and I have never seen a literal, plowing yoke, we can certainly relate to the task of straining under life’s heavy burdens. In fact, when Jesus confidently proclaimed that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light” it’s probably difficult for us to believe it.

I’ve heard multiple interpretations of the Matthew 11:30 passage wherein Jesus asserted the “lightness” of His yoke, and the most popular seems to be the suggestion that any heavy yokes in life must not be from Him. Indeed, if His yoke is “easy” but we’re still being strangled by something “heavy” then we must not be truly yoked up to Him.

The reasoning here is that God doesn’t give us burdens that are too heavy for us to carry. Consequently, we need to find a way to off-load our burdensome yokes and hook up to Jesus’ yoke instead.

I completely disagree with that thinking.

God always gives us burdens that are too great for us to bear apart from Him. The issue is not, “heavy burdens come from Satan while light burdens come from Jesus.” Rather, it is, “who’s next to you in the yoke?”

Jesus’ yoke is easy because HE is pulling it beside us. Life’s burdens will always crush us unless we’re harnessed to a power that is greater than this life.

So…the question today is, “Are you toiling with Him or are you relying on your own strength?” Are you drawing, moment-by-moment, from the powerful life of the Spirit, or are you Hercules, trying to hold up the world on your own?

There’s no other way around it. Those who truly walk with God find a strength that enables them to bear up under life’s burdens, while those who don’t don’t.

Let’s be those who do.

Mr. Clean

mr.cleanNo, this isn’t a self-portrait (although I’d love to have his biceps and he does rock the bald head). It’s a portrait of what I hope we are all aspiring to be.

There is nothing like knowing that we are clean.

I worked with a pastor once who was urging me to be Mr. Clean in my ministry and he said, “I’ve slept soundly with a clear conscience every night of my life.” That’s a pretty awesome testimony. And whether we can make that boast today or not, we can start living that way now so it can become our testimony tomorrow.

God has made a way for us to be clean.

The first step to being clean is to get clean.

  • We need to open the door of our inner lives to God, exposing our sin and asking for His total and complete forgiveness.
  • We need to accept His forgiveness by faith and then reject our affiliation with those sins by closing every open door that entices us to return to them.
  • We need to find a wing-man/girl to help us live in our new, cleansed identity.
  • And then we can shave our head, wear a gold hoop and buy a skin-tight T-shirt…sorry.

“Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you” (Jesus to His disciples in John 15:3).

“To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (from the Doxology of Jude 1:24)

Cured of backsliding

Is it possible?rock climber

Is it actually a legitimate possibility to live free from the issues, angst, and strongholds that cloud our consciences, hurt our loved ones, and dull our spiritual sensitivities?

God thinks yes.

In Jeremiah 3:22 the prophet recorded God’s hope-filled promise, “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding” (Jeremiah 3:22).

What an awesome phrase! “Cured of backsliding.” How is that possible? How do we become cured of the sins that have plagued and defeated us for a lifetime? According to Jeremiah, the cure is in the returning.

“Return…I will cure you.”

Every time we return–moving toward a place of increasing surrender and reliance on God–the cure works a little deeper into our spirit, liberating us from sin’s addictive pull. This doesn’t mean that we’ll never struggle or stumble–it means that if we are habitual returners our backsliding will never have the final word.

Jude, Jesus’ natural half-brother, said it this way. He said that God is “able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 1:24).

Let’s be lifelong returners until we are characterized by the cure.