A Reflection on Grace

“Shame says that because I am flawed, I am unacceptable.  Grace says that though I am flawed, I am cherished.”

Here we are, December 26th. The day after the big day.  The shopping is done for another year.  The leftovers are being finished up.  The New Years Resolutions are being written….  I was watching my eleven year old son as he put his latest Star Wars Legos set together while the gifts he had opened the previous morning littered the living room floor around him….and it got me to thinking….

Yesterday was a birthday party.  What usually happens during a birthday party?  The birthday boy or girl gets presents from family and friends celebrating the fact that they were born and now those invited to the party have meaningful relationship with them.  A great idea!  What made yesterday different though?

Yesterday was Christmas day.  The day we remember the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  Yet isn’t it interesting how we’re the ones receiving the gifts…. As I watched my son, I thought to myself, “What a great example of the love God has for humanity and the grace He makes available to us through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the “Lamb of God”.  Here we are as flawed human beings, yet we’re surrounded by “gifts” from the Father that we get to “open” with every new dawn.  The gifts of life, purpose, love, compassion, kindness, provision, sustenance and the chance to be a blessing to others (just to name a few).

I love it when God opens my eyes to the depth of His love for us through such familiar human traditions.  They’re so familiar in fact, that they’re sometimes easy to overlook and miss completely.

“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

This is such a familiar verse, yet like the familiar tradition of opening gifts on Christmas morning, do we really take the time to reflect on the depth and truth revealed in these moments?  Do you ever ponder, “Why am I getting a gift on Jesus’ birthday?”  And if we really think about it, all of the trinkets we can get excited about pale in comparison to the real gift being offered to us.

God would never force Himself on us.  That’s not what love does.  He offers it as a gift to be willingly received.  The gift is this…. an unending, soul saving relationship with Him.  If you’ve never invited Jesus into your heart and life, I would encourage you to do it right now.  You can use your own words or pray something like the following….

“Dear God, thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus.  I believe that He was born, crucified, died and resurrected as an atonement offering on my behalf.  I know that I am a sinner and I need and accept Your gift of salvation made possible only by Jesus.  I turn from my sins and towards You.  Please save me right now from my sins and free me.  Fill me with Your Holy Spirit, help me to live the life that you’ve planned for me to live and help me grow to be more like Jesus every day.  Amen.”

If you prayed this prayer in a sincere manner, welcome to the family!  You have just been “born again” as the Bible says and right now, today is your spiritual birthday!

“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Luke 15:10

If you have any questions as you begin this journey, please know that the door is always open.  You can contact me through this blog and I would be happy to walk alongside you as you traverse the path.

May God bless and equip you as you set out.  There are battles ahead but know this, you are now never alone. God bless!

“….in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

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Beauty in Disguise

“The mundane and the sacred are one and the same.”  Alan Watts

Last night I was thinking about my visit to the emergency room this past Friday, mixed with the current comings and goings of my symptoms and the thought came to me, “What if you are gone within two weeks of that visit?”  It wasn’t a depressing or dark thought in my mind.  It was simply a “what if” question…seemingly out of nowhere.  The first and immediate answer was that “I’m not ready.  I need to raise Sean and I have more to do here.”   There was no follow up question.

I didn’t think much of it after that and within a few hours, I went to bed.

At about 1 a.m., I found myself in a semiconscious “between sleep” state, at which point I started hearing what I perceived as ethereal stringed instruments.  Like an intricate, interwoven string section creating melody and harmony that I’d never heard before….ebbing and flowing like ocean waves.  This morning, I described it to a friend as “living music”.  At first I thought someone might have left some music on in the living room…that was until I recognized the uniqueness of the sounds I was hearing.  The music grew in intensity a bit and I began to become completely alert.  At that moment, I sat up with a start and heard the beauty of that music seamlessly dissipate into the drone of the traffic noise coming from the highway a mile or two away.  Again my first thought was….”I’m not ready.  I need to raise Sean first.”

Now to be clear, I’m not saying I’m that dying but it did make me wonder about how close the two worlds really must be and what that transition must be like.  I remember speaking with my younger cousin numerous times as he was battling cancer.  As he was getting closer to his own transition, I asked him if he ever saw or heard anything unusual.  Amongst other things, he would tell me about seeing colors he couldn’t describe and feeling a warmth and a “pure love” as he called it.  He was never scared of these things but I believe, strengthened and encouraged.  In fact, he told me that he wasn’t afraid to go, he just felt for his family (it’s worth noting that it was during his cancer battle that he became a believer and put his trust in Jesus for his salvation).

“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting?”  1 Corinthians 15:55

What I also thought back on was how the waves of music pulled back like a tide rolling out to sea….back into the sound of the traffic….and I began to wonder…. In the rush of our lives, how much beauty do we miss when it’s hidden in the simpleness of everyday living?  What is really  hidden behind all that we take for granted?  Our kids, our spouse, our friendships, our family, the kind word of a stranger, the homeless man asking for change?  What is lingering there just underneath the surface….just out of our conscious reach….yet is there and could be more real than our current perception of sight/smell/hear/taste/touch reality?

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”  1 Corinthians 13:12 (New Living Translation)

So what could we do with this in a practical sense?  I would encourage you to be on the lookout for those glimpses of hidden beauty.  Be aware that there is much more going on around us than we would realize.  I feel that even with being aware of this reality, I would probably miss more than I would ever take in.  That being said, I also believe God loves to surprise His kids….but we need to be willing to see it.

Are you?

A Season in the Shadowlands

“God has not being trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality.  He knew it already.  It was I who didn’t.”   C.S. Lewis

It has been awhile since I last sat down to write.  I guess I felt like I had nothing of any real importance to share or maybe it was a bit of a pity party as I navigated these dark waters, often introspective.  Trying to draw close to Him while also wandering off the path looking for other ways to self medicate.  In that, the depth of a long buried brokeness becoming ever more apparent to my conscious mind….

A year ago this month, I unknowingly entered a season in what I like to call the “Shadowlands”.  If we live long enough, we all enter her gates at one time or another.  These seasons can often be related to love, loss, work, school, family, marriage, illness and death.  The “what” of my time in this place (I am still here) is not as important as the “why”.  God, in His sovereignty, love and grace has chosen to keep me here, for now.  Some days are oppressive to the point of a real struggle against the spectre of depression, while others I am able to find refuge.  I noticed my prayers have often gone from “big plan” prayers to “Lord, give me the strength to get through the day.”  My simple goal was to get to bedtime and sleep, allowing me a brief respite….that is until sleep wouldn’t come.  God would continue to remove crutches or illusions of security that I had put in things, relationships or individuals.

So what have I been learning through this season you may ask?

Where to begin?

You know all of the concepts that we the faithful followers of the Way will intellectualize lightly over coffee or a beer?  I’ve learned how to implement those tactics in raw, moment by moment ways.  I have voraciously thrown myself into the book of Psalms.  Praying them out loud both for myself as well as a witness to the spirits that might be within earshot.  When I discerned them, I rebuked demons in the name of Jesus.  More often than not though I learned to sit in the midst of it, waiting on the Lord….By His grace, I have never lost trust in Him or what it is He is trying to accomplish through this.

Disrespected, set up, invalidated, unjustly accused.  In the midst of this, no evidence to any wrongdoing ever appears.  God has given me the wisdom and discernment to see traps being set for me.  Even when I’m left to stand alone before those that would plan my exit, like Daniel before the lions, God silences them and shuts their mouths.  I have long declared God Himself to be my refuge and strength.  He fights for me, I just need to be still.  In that, I cannot be broken….

I had lunch with my mom recently while I was in California and she said, “This is the strongest I’ve ever seen you.”  A small but significant validation to me, of His purpose and a glimpse into what He continues to develop in me…in each of us who walk with Him.  The Lord is a warrior after all (see Exodus 15:3).  This is often an overlooked character trait of His and we being made in His image….shouldn’t we also expect to be trained as such?

“There’s a wildness in God’s mercy; I cannot find in my own. 

And He keeps His fire burning, to melt this heart of stone. 

Keeps me aching with a yearning; keeps me glad to have been caught;

in the wreckless, raging fury that they call the love of God.

Joy and sorrow are His ocean; and in their every ebb and flow:

Now the Lord a door has opened; that all hell could never close.

Here I’m tested and made worthy; tossed about but lifted up.

In the wreckless, raging fury that they call the love of God.” Rich Mullins

Depression and struggle combined with understanding and faith.  He doesn’t always calm the seas and bring us right to the shore, but like a coach He’s there through the struggle, developing something deep within us.  It may be something so far down that we would have a hard time understanding, describing or even truly perceiving it ourselves.  So what do we do while we’re here?  We’re honest in our prayers….“How long O Lord?”(Psalm 13:1).  “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.  Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue…a strong fortress to save me.” (Psalm 31:1a and 2).  We apply those intellectual faith concepts that we have in our heads…in real world ways and we learn to wait on Him.  It may be days, months or years but we trust His ever-loving purpose.  We pray for our enemies.  This is tough but nevertheless we persevere in it.  “Save them Lord.  Create in them a clean heart and renew a right spirit within them.” 

“You cannot comprehend the deepest love God has for you until you realize that He has that same love for the person or people you most despise.” 

So here I sit.  Maybe this season ends tomorrow.  Maybe not.  Through it all, I am not abandoned.  He is with me even when He is silent.  I trust.  I love others.  I refuse to allow bitterness a foothold.  I push on.  I am faithful.  And if you find yourself in a similar place?  You do the same, my friend. 

“The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?”  Psalm 118:6