Posted in Character, Faith

Taking off the Mask of Pride

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Pride can take many forms. As a long-time Christian, I like to think that I’m free from it. Just when I feel pretty comfortable about my relationship with Jesus, He reveals a hidden area of pride. The Lord recently unmasked some pride in my life at a doctor’s appointment. I have been dealing with some health issues for many years, all my life really. When he mentioned that I will probably need to be on medication for the rest of my life, tears filled my eyes. I didn’t like hearing that news, and I told him so. Ever so wisely and I believe he was led by the Holy Spirit (My doctor is a Christian), he asked me to explain. I told him I know the Lord uses medication to bring healing, and I would completely support my husband or kids or friends taking medication to support their health. But I don’t want to be that person…the one needing to take the medication. Gently my doctor inquired, “Do you think that might be a form of pride?” Immediately I sensed the Lord’s conviction, and I said, “You have definitely given me something to pray and think about.”

I went home and prayed about it. Sure enough…the Lord shined His gracious light into my soul. I want to be the one person in my circle of family and friends to be untouched by physical or mental pain. I want to be free from the need of any medical or emotional assistance. Why? Because I want to be the person lending encouragement and support without requiring anything in return. Because I want to be available to minister from a place of strength to those that are hurting. Suddenly I saw it clearly. Beneath the noble looking veneer lay spiritual pride. My desire centered on being adequate in my self rather than dependent on Jesus.

Spiritual pride is deceptive and sneaky. It disguises itself in many forms, and it can take prayerful discernment to recognize it. Here are just a few ways it shows up.

Being ungrateful. Pride blinds people to their blessings. What we have is not good enough, and we complain about it. When asked how he was doing, my former pastor would always answer, “Better than I deserve.” He was keenly aware of God’s grace. In reality, because of our sinful, fallen natures we deserve nothing good, and yet the Lord blesses us far more than we deserve. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps. 107:1).

Wanting recognition. Pride causes people to seek attention from others with a desire to please them. If our efforts are not noticed, we feel rejected or resentful. As Christians we are to do everything as to the Lord and not to men. If you serve others, God notices. That’s all the recognition we need. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ” (Col. 3:23-24).

Acting defensive. People that struggle with pride are unteachable. We are not receptive to learning from others, and do not listen well. We do not readily admit to making mistakes, and often will blame others. “Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning” (Pro.9:9). Pride is also highly critical of other’s shortcomings, quick to notice and point out other’s faults, while deflecting or making allowances for own own. The Scriptures in Gal. 5:22-23 describes the fruit of the Spirit that should characterize our lives. Our approach to others should be loving, patient, kind, and gentle.

Seeking independence. This is one I struggle with most. It manifests in two thoughts: “Don’t be a burden” and “Do it perfectly.” God created human beings for relationship with Himself and each other. His Word instructs us about the vitality found in community. Somehow though we still buy in to the “self-made man or woman.” As we try to be self-sufficient, pride isolates us. Not wanting to burden others (or the Lord) with our problems cuts us off from the life-giving source we need. Spirit-filled community is highlighted throughout The Book of Acts. Then there is “Do it perfectly.” That belief is a slave driver. Perfectionism torments us to strive to be perfect, which is absolutely impossible. Perhaps, then, we will be pleased with ourselves and worthy before the Lord. Pride tells us our value is determined by our works and we are capable of achieving it ourselves. It ignores the grace of God He so lovingly gives and upon which He builds His Kingdom. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

So I have surrendered this area of pride to the Lord. I am taking my medicine every day and thanking the Lord for it. I believe that He is ultimately my healer, but I am not the one in charge of how that looks. He is.

“…The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8, NLT).

Friends, I issue you a personal challenge. Ask the Lord to reveal an area of your life where you allow pride to affect your thinking or actions. Refuse pride access and open your heart to His humility and grace.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I come before You, knowing that I am prone to pride. Forgive me for the times I am ungrateful and seek personal recognition. Forgive me when I am critical of others and for the desire to be sufficient and perfect in myself. Open my eyes by the Holy Spirit when I open the door to pride. Teach me to walk in humility, love, and complete dependence on you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Two Reasons to be a Forgiving Person

release butterfliesToday I am writing about a loved one. Before we get started, don’t try to guess who it is. And if you are reading this, don’t assume it is you. The truth is this dear one is no longer alive, so it’s highly unlikely he or she will be paying attention to my blog. The sweet wonderful lady (now I’ve gone and given a little of it away) had a lovely heart and endeared many people to her. But she had a very scary habit of holding grudges. If someone offended her, especially the people closest to her, she would cut off all communication. She refused to forgive and she refused to try to work things out. If you hurt her, you were stonewalled, sometimes for life. It was hard for me to understand how someone so gracious, generous, and kind could also be so hard and unforgiving.

Today I am also writing about a subject that affects us all. Forgiveness. It’s human nature to hold grudges. It’s an instinct to protect and preserve ourselves from further harm. Isn’t it fascinating that we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to our own motives and intentions? However, when someone else does the same thing to us, we react with doubt and suspicion. The Lord, in his perfect wisdom, knows that relationships are messy and he asks us to forgive.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord (Romans 12:19).

The Lord, in his perfect wisdom, also has our best interests in mind. Here are two of many reasons we should pursue forgiveness, even when it is difficul

It is healing for us.

Unforgiveness is like pouring poison into a cup and then drinking it yourself, hoping to get back at the person who hurt you. Does this analogy sounds ridiculous to you? It does to me. However, it is what happens when we refuse to forgive. We get stuck in the past. Bitterness takes root and makes us toxic. However, when we forgive, we open the door to God’s forgiveness in our own lives. We realize we ourselves deserve no forgiveness, but the Lord extends his grace to us liberally. When we extend the Lord’s gracious forgiveness to those that have harmed us, we loosen the chains that grip our souls.

We take the high road of hope.

When we refuse to forgive, we pass a condemning sentence. In our minds, the offenders will never change and the damage they created can never be undone. That can be the case apart from the intervention of the Lord. But, take a moment and think of your own past. Has the Lord delivered you from bad habits or unhealthy ways of relating? Are you the same person as you were five, ten, or twenty years ago? God has been patient and views you through the lens of who he created you to be. He sees you with the lens of possibility and potential, that transformation he has planned. Don’t take the low road of judgment. Take the high road of hope. As long as there is life, there is hope. Hope for a change of heart. Hope for a change of lifestyle. Hope for a change in perception.

A word of caution…forgiveness does not mean subjecting yourself to on-going abuse. Yes, God can do great things in the heart of the offender, but you aren’t required to be close friends. Sincerely wish them well, and continue to pray for their transformation. Take the high road of hope and freedom.

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! (Matt. 18:21-22).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me and forgiving. In the midst of painful and difficult relationships, help me to walk in forgiveness. Remind me that you have poured out abundant grace on me, and empower me to extend grace on my offenders. Give me the assurance that You protect my heart and keep me safe from harm. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Remember God’s Patience

traffic jam

My Grandpa Stiverson taught me how to drive. He was an excellent teacher and passed on his love for defensive and safe driving. One of the lessons I still remember is what to do when I am the first car at the stop light waiting for it to turn green. Count to three slowly and look both directions before proceeding. His advice has saved me from numerous accidents. I consider myself a careful driver. But some people would consider me an annoyance. Yes, I am the one trying to drive close to the speed limit. I am the one who switches lanes slowly, because I want to be certain it is clear. I am the one who causes people in a hurry to stumble by evoking various degrees of road rage. For that I am truly sorry.

I am bothered when someone, even a stranger, responds in anger. I try hard to avoid offending anyone, even in slight ways. I also know, try as hard as I can, it is unavoidable. A few days I did it again. My cautious driving triggered another driver’s anger. I cringed as he honked and gestured impatiently, and raced into the traffic. I asked the Lord to help him get to his destination safely, and then I thank the Lord for His great patience toward me.

It takes quite a lot for me to get rattled by someone else’s driving. I don’t mind following a slow poke. But I get triggered in other areas of life. At times I can be so critical of others’ behavior or performance. My thoughts can become brutally judgmental until the Holy Spirit nudges me. Most people would never know the extent of my negative thoughts, because I have learned to cover them over with right actions and words. Nevertheless, the Lord sees it all. He is so patient with me and doesn’t condemn me, yet He challenges me to allow His transformation in my hidden inner places.

Sometimes I compare myself to others. As a dedicated Christ-follower, my outward life looks pretty good. Before I start patting myself on the back, I have to remember that comparison to others is a flawed measurement system. First, I can only see the outward appearance; the Lord sees the deepest motivations. Second, the correct comparison is with the Lord Himself. How do I compare with His holy perfection? I fall dreadfully short.

That is where the Lord’s divine patience comes in. He extends grace—undeserved favor—on me. His grace covers over my many imperfections, allowing me to be in relationship with Him, the One true, perfect God. When I stumble, He continues to patiently administer grace, cleansing me and encouraging me to allow His Spirit to change me.

In which areas do you get impatient with others? Remember God’s patience with you. As we live with, love, and lead others, let’s strive for excellence while demonstrating patience and grace.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. ~Psalm 103:8

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. ~2 Peter 3:9

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your wonderful patience and grace. Through the sacrifice of Jesus and the empowering of the Spirit, You have given me so much more than I deserve. Help me to be patient with others and extend grace to them. Teach me to hold high standards, and also treat others with kindness and patience. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Finding Grace in Thanksgiving

I am grateful

The Thanksgiving weekend tops my list of favorite holiday celebrations. I love Christmas and Easter, because of their spiritual significance. I know the calendar dates are not accurate, but where would we be without the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? However, Thanksgiving is the pinnacle for me, as I reflect with gratitude on the many blessings of life surrounded by the people dearest to me.

We hear a lot about the importance of gratitude this time of year. The deliberate practice of gratitude comes to the forefront, especially for Christ followers. In fact, it is entirely possible to be thankful without expressing gratitude. We may recognize God’s blessings and appreciate the kindness of others (being thankful). The next step is to actively express that recognition and appreciation (being grateful).

There is another element we do not hear much about during this season. That is grace.

A thankful heart starts with finding grace. In the Old Testament God’s grace describes deliverance from enemies or adversity. It also speaks of empowerment, daily guidance, forgiveness, and protection. In the New Testament, God’s grace focuses on the provision of salvation. It is God’s love in action towards people who earn the opposite of love. (That would be all of us.) Grace is the undeserved favor of God.

The longer I follow Jesus, the more I’m aware that I don’t deserve any of God’s kindness. There is no way I can measure up to His standard of absolute perfection. He has already paid the penalty for every single wrong thing I have done and made the way for me to spend eternity with Him. I am truly entitled to nothing. Anything I receive is a beautiful gift of grace, and the Lord continues to give and give and give.

I am not suggesting that we become self-deprecating. We are highly valued and deeply loved by the Lord who created us and knows us by name. He desires to be in relationship with us. Nevertheless, His love and desire originate from the Lord Himself not from our own greatness.

Even though we have been given much, our human nature complains about what we don’t have and that what we do have is not enough. It zooms in on the suffering, the tragedies, the injustices and inequities. Thankfulness cannot be found among such negativity. I don’t want to ignore the sorrows or pretend that everything is rosy, but I want to view life through the lens of grace. The lens of grace helps me to see the good in the midst of messy relationships and a hurting world. It leads to a thankful heart, which I choose to express.

Cultivate an awareness of grace, and be thankful. Don’t let your thankfulness go unsaid. Practice gratitude by giving voice to your appreciation.

Have a grace-filled Thanksgiving, my friends.

PSALM 100 (NLT)

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
     Worship the Lord with gladness.
    Come before him, singing with joy.

 Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I am so thankful for Your goodness and love. You have provided me salvation through Jesus Christ and pour out many blessings. Shine the light of Your Holy Spirit on the areas of my life affected by selfishness and entitlement. Teach me to see through the lens of grace, to recognize your gifts, and to express thanks. Empower me to be a person that practices gratitude well. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Communication Skills, Servant Leadership

Don’t Expect Too Much!

frustration

“Don’t expect more than they are capable of.”

On a road trip, a new friend verbalized something I had been pondering for several months. While taking her to a speaking engagement in a city a couple hours away, she shared what the Lord had spoken to her heart while praying about a difficult relationship. That simple statement helped her navigate some painful circumstances and experience peace in the midst of it.

That simple statement also shed light on what the Lord had been speaking to my own heart, to extend grace to the challenging relationships in my own life.

It’s good to have high standards for our personal and work relationships. There should be kindness when dealing with conflict. There should be respectful and safe behavior at all times. Abuse of any kind is unacceptable. However, many of my disappointments stem from expecting too much from others.

For example…

There are people in my life that are not detail oriented. Don’t expect more than they are capable of. They can come up with systems to help them become more organized and efficient, but they won’t become detail oriented.

There are people in my life that avoid dealing with emotional issues. Don’t expect more than they are capable of. Some people do not have emotional intelligence. They can learn listening skills and acknowledge the pain of others, but the emotional realm will not be a strong or comfortable area for them.

There are people in my life that seems to live in a completely different universe than I do. Don’t expect more than they are capable of. No matter how much I explain my perspective, it won’t help them to see things my way. A good friend recently shared why she thinks marriage can be so hard. “We only want our own way all the time.” I agree with her, and I believe this applies to all our relationship troubles on some level. My way is the right way. Your way is the right way to you. Different universes.

Acceptance of the way other people are wired or the way they see things allows me to extend grace to them. It helps me feel peace instead of disappointment, while adjusting my expectations.

All relationships are messy. Some more than others. Not expecting too much from others helps us thrive when relationships are less than smooth.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:2-3).

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the people in my life. Help me to see them through Your eyes rather than my own. Teach me to get rid of the plank in my own eye before insisting on helping others with the speck in theirs. Help me not to expect too much from others. May I approach all my relationships with realistic expectations and grace.

 

Posted in Communication Skills

The Art of Clarifying

clarifying ideas

My husband, Jonathan, has the worse luck with drive through restaurants. There is something about the pitch of his voice that makes it difficult for the person on the other end of the speaker to hear him. It doesn’t matter where he goes or who is there to take his order, his experience is the same.

“I’m sorry, would you say that again.”
“I can’t hear what you’re saying. Please repeat that.”
“Ummm…Have you said anything yet? I don’t hear anything.”

If I were Jonathan, I would quit trying the drive through and go directly inside. But he isn’t deterred in the slightest. He keeps going back, determined to enjoy the convenience of staying in the car, and work through the inconveniences of communication difficulties.

Effective communication is rarely easy. Most of us don’t have problems ordering at a drive through. However, sharing an important concept on the job or working through a relational issue can create quite a challenge. But it’s worth the effort for the sake of our personal or work relationships.

As a young woman I used to imagine being married to a wonderful, thoughtful, romantic man. He would sweep me off my feet and know what I was thinking without me needing to say a word. In fact, the more he loved me the more his mind reading abilities would increase. I went through a lot of disappointment and heart ache before I realized how unrealistic my expectations were.

I am married to an amazing man who loves me very much, but he is no mind reader. After almost 32 years of marriage I realize more than ever how important it is to invest time in effective communication.

Each of us brings our own experiences and mindsets to the table, but we must be careful not to assume that others, even those closest to us, have the same perspective. Assumptions stand in the way of communicating well.

When we do not assume, we are more comfortable practicing clarification. Clarification is a type of reflection that seeks to remove ambiguity, confusion, or misunderstanding.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for more information. In some settings, I can hear words but I don’t grasp the concepts. I can either pretend that I understand, or I can ask questions in order to understand. To me, effective communication is more important than looking intelligent. I set aside “my image,” to ask questions because I want to truly understand.

What did you mean when you said ____________?

What does that look like to you?

When, where, how, or why questions are great for helping to clear things up.

Also, don’t be in a hurry. Hurry is another obstacle that hinders effective communication. If it’s important, you can’t rush the process. Approach the subject when there is time. The clarifying statement is another tool to guide the conversation.
I hear you saying __________. Is that correct?

It sounds like you feel _____________. What else would you like to add?

Let me summarize your main points. __________ Did I cover them all?

Practicing clarification requires courage and time. A crucial part of effective communication, the goal is to promote understanding, so that you and I can be on the same page and work together.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (James 1:19).

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, help me to communicate clearly and with grace. Teach me how to treat others the way I want to be treated and to build understanding with those around me. May I become good at clarifying. I long to be an ambassador of peace, representing You in speech and action. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Loving and Leading with Grace

the-21-rules-of-this-housesource: choosinghomeschoolcurriculum.com

This is a picture of the rules posted on our fridge during my child raising years. “The 21 Rules of this House” was the centerpiece of our home. I added a few extra rules for good measure, along with a consequence chart for offenses.

I was a stickler for rules when my kids were young. I had an intense desire for order, believing that there should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. Schedules were created to follow strictly without exception. Someone could drop by our home at any time of the day or night and find a clean and well organized house with angelic children (in my dreams). If I had my way our home would have resembled a private boarding school rather than a loving safe haven.

Through the school of hard knocks (a nice way of saying that I often felt like I was going crazy), I have come to the understanding that, while rules and high expectations are important, loving and leading others well require continual grace.

For some reason, the Babcock kids had difficulties with Rules 12, 14, and 18; however, Rules 13 and 20 rarely were problems. Looking back, I wish I had given more grace.

The Ten Commandments are the cornerstone to a godly society. Why are they so difficult to follow? Adultery and murder are not tempting to me, but keeping the Lord at the highest place in my consciousness and actions, as well as guarding against envy are constant struggles.

The Apostle Paul described the human conflict in the book of Romans.

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing (Romans 7:18-19).

We wrestle with knowing that God’s law is holy and good, and actually following it. The only remedy for our inability to perfectly master the law is grace.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Grace is undeserved favor. Even though we cannot possibly be good enough to achieve perfection, the Lord extends kindness to us. He desires His best for our lives. Love for us is His motivation.

As recipients of God’s abundant grace, we are instructed to practice grace with others.

In preparation for my granddaughters’ visit this summer, I decided to post a new list of rules on the fridge. You will notice that 21 rules have been pared down to six, and the rules are more general. There is no consequence chart, either. Time out is the only consequence, followed by hugs and affirming conversation.Our Family Rules

For me, our new list of rules represents life lived with grace.

What does practicing grace look like to you at home? With those you lead? In your circle of friends?

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the grace You have poured out on me. As the Shepherd of my Soul, You gently lead me in Your ways and re-direct me when I go astray. Teach me to love and be kind to all people in every circumstance. May my life honor You and be a blessing to others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Love…No Matter What

love-pexels-photo-195364

On my flight to Chicago last week, I sat next to a young woman and her boyfriend. We introduced ourselves and exchanged some social niceties. Then she turned toward her boyfriend and the two of them engaged in conversation, while I began to read a book. Within a few minutes the couple’s discussion became quite robust. The noise in the cabin drowned out their words, but their body language spoke loudly. I prayed under my breath for the Lord to help them, and wondered if I should intervened.

The young man’s arms made exaggerated gestured. The young woman wiped tears from her cheeks and her body quaked as she tried to stifle her cries. I could hold back no longer.

“Is everything okay?” I asked. “I can’t hear what you’re talking about, but you’re clearly involved in an intense discussion.”

They looked at me in surprise, sheepish expressions on their faces. The young man explained.

“We just spent the weekend with some really good friends. We’re from Chicago and are very liberal. Our friends are very conservative. We had some arguments with them. Now my girlfriend and I are talking about what happened. It’s really hard.”

Now it was my turn to be surprised. I had imagined several scenarios, but I hadn’t imagined this.

My heart went out to them. A dear friendship was threatened by differences in political ideology. Sadly in our nation, this is becoming increasingly common. Belief in a cause or the adherence to a particular faith takes precedence over decency, even when those closest to us are involved. This great divide can be excruciating.

Too many people are choosing their beliefs over kindness, respect, and love. This shouldn’t be, especially for Christ followers.

We can believe wholeheartedly in the teachings of Jesus and still treat unbelievers with kindness. Cruel and rude words must have no place in our lives.

We can adhere to moral standards and still respect those with whom we don’t see eye to eye. Caring for them does not equal moral compromise.

Followers of Jesus are called to love people. Period. In fact, Jesus instructed us to love our enemies, those who stand in opposition to our beliefs or wish for our demise. Lest we forget what love looks like, take a stroll through 1 Corinthians 13 or Matthew 5 where our Lord teaches us to turn the other cheek, give your shirt to someone demanding your coat, and bless those who curse you.

Think about the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). A man looked beyond religious and racial differences, and treated an injured human being with compassion. He tended to the victim’s wounds, brought him to an inn, paid for his room and board, and offered to provide for other expenses if needed. The Samaritan was a neighbor to one who was culturally an enemy. Shouldn’t we do the same? It may not be as dramatic as saving someone’s life but we can certainly treat others with decency and respect.

And what about those who are closest to us? If love transcends political affiliation and religious beliefs (and it does) and if every human being is priceless because they are created in God’s image (and they are), how much more should we love our family and friends without strings attached? Differences must not be divisive. We can take a stand for our beliefs and do what we know to be right without rejecting others for thinking differently. We can hold tightly to our faith and convictions, while still holding tightly to our loved ones.

I have recently adopted a phrase from my granddaughters’ story book:

“I love you, because I love you.”

I try to say and show that often.

As I got ready to exit the plane, I offered encouragement to the young woman and her boyfriend. “Don’t let go of your friendship. Listen to what your friends say. Try to understand where they are coming from. Make it a learning opportunity. And hopefully they will do the same.”

Will we do the same? Let’s approach our relationships with grace, committed to extend kindness, respect, and love no matter what. Let’s love them simply because we love them. After all, isn’t that what our Heavenly Father does with us?

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other (1 John 4:9-11).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me when I struggle and do not honor You with my choices. Thank You for walking with me, as I live imperfectly and try to figure things out. Help me to treat others with the same grace You give me. Teach me how to balance my zeal for You and Your ways with loving others who believe differently than myself. Empower me to love others unconditionally. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith

Living By Grace

grace

What was your life like when you surrendered to Jesus?

What would your life be like today if you had not trusted Him as Savior?

My husband posed these questions at church during a Sunday morning gathering.

I remembered my pain and desperation as a young teenage girl looking for unconditional love and meaning in life, and coming up empty. When I heard the message of Jesus, I opened my heart to Him, and was radically changed.

Then I imagined myself without Jesus. A woman who never found purpose and hope. A life marked by substance abuse, addiction, ravaged family relationships. Emptiness, despair, depression, attempted suicide, death.

These mental pictures remind me that I still desperately need Jesus, thirty-five years into this journey with Him.

I am an ordained ministered, and I direct a non-profit, Christ ministry. I have thirty years experience of mastering the ministry lifestyle, with the appropriate godly exterior and accompanying conversations. My struggles do not involve blatantly sinful behavior. I am not usually tempted to return to old habits or to leave my husband. Every so often though, pride subtly wraps itself around my soul, a silent weed slowly choking out spiritual life. I feel content by my condition, cloaked with smugness as I entertain the lie that, while not perfect, I have arrived. Apathy takes control until I can no longer ignore the nagging, gnawing dissatisfaction.

God, in His grace, reminds me of the truth. I realize that I stand today only because I am saved by grace, transformed by grace, and I live by grace. Christ in me makes me who I am and ignites my spiritual passion. Left to the devices of my old, sinful nature I am truly lost, selfish, without hope. Underneath my carefully decorated veneer, without Jesus I am a broken mess.

Thankfully I am not left alone. By the power of the Holy Spirit working in me, my new Christ-like self is in control. I am a child of God. I no longer live as a sinner. But I will always be a woman in need of my Savior. I will never arrive. I will always be in need of His grace.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless (Galatians 2:20-21a, NLT).
I simply cannot go through the so-called Christian motions. I cannot rely on my own human efforts to become transformed and live a God-honoring life. It is not enough to complete my checklist for Bible reading, prayer, fasting, giving, serving, and other important practices. These things are an extension of my love relationship with Jesus, an expression of His grace. I am absolutely dependent on walking closely with Jesus, abiding in His life-giving presence, being constantly aware that He lives in me.

Every moment Jesus extends His grace. Every moment I must live by His grace.

My life is demanding. There are times when being a leader feels overwhelming. The truth is I do not have what it takes to accomplish what God is asking of me. But He always does. Thriving happens when I stop striving and instead trust and rest in Him.

In the words of Ida Lewis, a courageous woman in the 1800s who spent her life as a lighthouse attendant and rescued dozens of people from the sea, “I am not that strong , but God  gives me the strength as I need it.”

Truly, there’s no greatness in what you see in me or in the things that I may achieve. Through it all, see the grace of Jesus. Amazing grace.

The Lord extends an invitation to you to live by grace. Will you accept it?

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14, NIV).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I depend on You, but sometimes an independent spirit gets a hold of me. Open my eyes to see my need of You in every area of my life. Teach me to rely completely on You and Your grace. May I live and move and breathe by Your grace. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Wait for the Slow Work of God

WaitPatiently

We sat in a prayer circle, each of us sharing one request that was close to our heart. The elderly couple next to me took no pause to mention theirs.

“Our sons—all three of them—are not serving the Lord. We saw other family members come to Christ last year. We’re waiting and trusting the Lord for our sons.”

As we prayed together, my heart was moved with compassion for this couple. They had poured their lives into church ministry and had taught their children the ways of the Lord. Now in their mid-seventies, they continued to be faithful examples of Jesus. And they continued to trust Him to work in their sons’ lives. In that moment, I could sense His loving kindness toward them as they waited.

Ministry to people requires a great deal of patience and grace. It’s hard to wait. We do all that we can to point others to Jesus. We pray. We speak the truth in love. We encourage them to get back up when they stumble. We share the powerful promises of God’s Word. We pray more. We catch ourselves worrying, and then we turn it over to Jesus. With our entire being we yearn for people to experience the fullness of Christ. We just want it to happen quickly.

Gregory Boyle (the founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program in Los Angeles) refers to the slow work of God. Our Heavenly Father, who so loves His children, never stops His work of drawing them to Himself. Through people, circumstances, and inner promptings, He ceaselessly seeks their attention. He is eager for their fellowship and surrender, but He is patient.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Loving people is so much more than following a formula that leads to a specific outcome. Our human nature wants there to be a guarantee. We think, “If I pray and do and say the right things for the right amount of time, I should see people making the right choices.”

Sometimes I forget that only the Holy Spirit can change someone else’s life. He waits for permission, and it’s not my permission He needs. I find myself trusting in my own righteousness, which doesn’t change anything. I need to say “yes” to the Lord for change to happen in myself. Yet, I expect Him to operate differently with other people.

In the words of Boyle, “Ours is a God who waits. Who are we not to? It takes what it takes for the great turnaround. Wait for it.”1

As we wait, we are not doing nothing. We are still actively engaged. We shine the light of Jesus in the darkness. We love others, and speak to them with grace and truth. We trust God to use us to make a difference in this world, even when we may not see it. We don’t give up. We wait for the slow work of God.

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, You have given me a heart to serve people. Help me not to rely on my own strength and abilities, but rather trust You to work in their lives. May I cooperate with Your Holy Spirit and be Your representative in this world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 
1 Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (New York: Free Press, 2010), 109-128.