Saturday, January 29, 2011

Got Grace?

I love the milk ads that display “Got Milk?” and show a person with milk on their mouth. You know they got milk because it’s there for everyone to see. So my question to you is, “Got Grace?”

This month I have been attending a parenting class at my church on Wednesday nights. It’s about Grace-Based Parenting and is basically about how parenting is much like we are “parented” by God. If we would just examine the way God deals with us, we would have a pretty surefire way to deal with our children.

The message of grace has just been really resonating inside of me. Grace. Think about that word. It really is a beautiful word. It encompasses everything that Jesus is and what our life is about, once we have come to know the Lord. We are saved by grace and we continue to live daily by grace.

But grace is not something we keep for ourselves. It is meant to be doled out, to be shared with others. As God fills us with grace it is our job to pour it out on others. But the problem is that our flesh often gets in the way.

While this class is definitely teaching me about the need to dispense grace upon my children, it is also speaking to me about the need to dispense it everywhere else.

I think of the times that I get frustrated. Like when I’m driving and someone in front of me isn’t going fast enough. I need to dispense grace. Or when I am in line at the grocery store and the person in front of me has to “quick” get out of line to get something else and I am left standing there for what feels like forever. I need to dispense grace.

Instead I get irritated and impatient. But that’s because I am thinking of only myself. Grace is not selfish at all. Grace is all about the other person. It’s giving to someone something they may not deserve but hey, how many times a day does God do the same for me?

Grace is forgiving the person who has wronged you. Grace is biting your tongue when you really want to let them have it. Grace is not making a big deal out of something that is really quite small. Grace is loving the unlovable. Grace is choosing to put your needs aside for the sake of someone else.

If you think about, everything about the “Christian life” is really based on grace. We often think of this verse when we hear the word grace: My grace is sufficient for you… (2 Corinthians 12:9). We use that verse to apply to our own lives. But I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:15 which says, “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”

He needs US to reach “more and more people” and we do that with grace. Why? So others can see the glory of God working in your life. Got grace?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Love the Skin You're In!

Have you ever felt uncomfortable in your own skin? Perhaps it was just for a fleeting moment because of something you said or because of an embarrassing situation that happened. I remember one time thinking I knew someone and calling out their name, waving to them. When I got a better look at their face I realized it wasn’t who I thought it was. I wanted to crawl out of my skin as they looked at me like I was half-baked.

Sometimes that feeling of being uncomfortable in your own skin lasts more than a moment. It could be something that you struggle with on a daily basis. It could be for a number of reasons…you don’t like your outer shell or perhaps you wish you had a differently personality.

I used to struggle with the whole wanting a different personality thing. I used to read that part of I Peter 3:4 about how women should have a gentle and quiet spirit, feeling like I could never attain that. It isn’t natural for me to be “gentle” or “quiet.” I could name a dozen other women that were more fitting and I began to wish that God would make me more like them.

However over the years I began to discover that God didn’t want me to be just like them…He wanted me to be me. He made me the way I am, personality and all. Sure, I come with a few (okay, maybe more than a few) rough edges but that is what reading and living out the Word was about, smoothing out those rough edges. It wasn’t about being someone else.

What I greatly appreciate about the church I attend is the massive amount of talent there. I don’t look at the worship team and wish I could sing like them. Instead, I embrace and enjoy their talent. I don’t look at the dancers in some of our musicals and wish I was graceful like that. Instead, I appreciate the way they make everything so much more beautiful.

Learning to become comfortable in my own skin has taken many years. There are still some things about my skin I would like to shed, such as a few pounds. But God reminds us in Jeremiah 18:3-4 that we each start out as being marred.

We are imperfect in the hands of Jesus. So what does He do? Thankfully He doesn’t just leave us as we are. He makes us into another vessel. When once we were nothing more than a piece of clay, we become a vessel. That is powerful! Vessel sounds so much nicer than clay, doesn’t it?

But here is the key…we are made “as seemed good to the potter to make it.” He has free will to do with us as He desires. So who you are is who He has desired you to be, flaws and all.

Instead of complaining or pouting about those things you don’t care for when it comes to your “skin,” appreciate them and value them for how God wants to use them. Going back to the whole gentle thing…one of the things I have come to discover is that for the tasks God has give me, gentleness (at least in the way I was envisioning gentleness) wouldn’t work for me.

You see I had this skewed idea of what gentleness is about. I took it to mean that I had to speak quieter; I had to be meek and just let life happen around me. If I didn’t have the personality God has given me I wouldn’t have been able to do some of the things I have been able to.

I am learning to appreciate some of those very qualities about myself that I used to disdain. It doesn’t mean I don’t work on those things that need work. It just means I am learning more and more to be comfortable in my own skin. What about you? Are you comfortable in your own skin?

Here are some snapshots from Psalm 139 of what God has to say about this:

• You are familiar with all my ways
• For You created my inmost being
• You knit me together in my mother’s womb
• I am fearfully and wonderfully made
• All the days ordained for me were written in Your book

Love the skin you’re in!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Be an Empty Vessel

We are halfway through the first month of the New Year. Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions? Set some goals? This would be a good time to analyze how you are doing.

Sometimes we go into the New Year with the focus being on things like our health, money and relationships. While all of these are important areas in our life we can’t forget the importance of our spiritual walk. In fact, that should be the most important area that we work on.

It helps to first consider if you have grown in your relationship with the Lord. Are you any different than you were at this time last year? Are you any different than you were five years ago? Ten years ago?

We should really be seeing a difference in our spiritual walk as time goes on. That’s not to say that we somehow arrive at this place of having it all together…because we never will while on this earth. But there should be some definite differences between the person we were five years ago and the person we are today. We should even see growth from a year ago.

A relationship with Jesus is about learning and growing. It never stops. I know sometimes we get discouraged and we feel frustrated that we constantly have to be tested and challenged. Just when it seems like we get one thing in our life dealt with, along comes something else.

We will always be shown those things that need work. But that isn’t something to be frustrated about. James 1 talks about testing our faith. When our faith is tested our character is molded and shaped. It will always need work. But it’s the only way to develop endurance, wisdom, humility, perseverance and the list goes on.

Embrace those things that Jesus wants to change within. Allow Him to continue to refine you. When you make yourself into an empty vessel, you leave room for Him. The more you open yourself to His work in your life, the greater the outpouring. I don’t know about you but I would much rather be overflowing with His character than my own.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Longer You Are In, the Harder It Is To Escape

Many years ago I watched a prison movie. I’m not entirely sure if it was a true story or not. It was based on an innocent man who was given two life sentences in 1947. There was one part of the movie where an elderly man who had served for 50 years was finally released.

The day he found out that he had made parole, he almost snapped. Instead of being happy that he was finally going to walk out of those prison gates, he was scared. He had been in that prison for so long he didn’t know if he could face what was on the outside.

At one point he even took a fellow prisoner hostage with a knife to his throat. He figured that if he just cut the guy’s throat then he would have to stay in prison. It’s kind of crazy to think that someone would not want to leave their prison cell. Yet isn’t that the truth for some of us?

Our prison cell might not be a dark, musty cell like the one he lived in. Instead our prison cell might be dependency, fear, anger, jealousy, addictions, lust and the list could go on. The truth is, any time we are locked in a prison cell of sin it is really just like the one that elderly gentleman lived in—it is dark and musty and there is nothing really good about it. Yet we still want to stay there.

Some of the other prisoners finally convinced the man to put the knife down. The next day he was walked to the gate of the prison by the guards. He was all dressed up in a suit, carrying his little suitcase.

He quickly discovered how drastically life on the outside had changed. He described it as being too fast. He felt like everyone around him was just moving too fast through the days. Yet the reality was that they were just living, just doing what you do when you live.

But he didn’t know what living was about. He had been stuck in that dark place for so long he couldn’t recognize the bright light of living.

He tried to fit in with society. The prison system set him up with a little apartment and he got a job bagging groceries. But he didn’t want to be free. He would have rather been back in his prison. Sadly, he ended up taking his own life. He had finally had enough. He had been in his prison so long that he didn’t know how to escape…even though he was free.

Do you ever just get tired of the same old struggle? The same old sin? Do you ever feel like victory will never come? Perhaps it is because we haven’t taken that step toward freedom. Some of that bright light (Jesus) shines in our face and we shrink back…back into the dark but comfortable prison cell we have been so used to.

Yet Jesus is calling us out of that dark prison cell. Because the truth is, like the elderly man from this movie, if we stay too long it will be that much harder to escape. So are you ready? Are you ready to finally move out of the prison cell? Are you ready to take that first step toward freedom?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Your "Plans" for 2011

It is January 1, 2011. I am sitting here thinking about things. Doesn’t the first of the year tend to be a time of reflection for many of us? We think about the past year and everything that happened. We consider the future and what may be ahead. Some of us make New Year’s Resolutions, others of us set goals.

But you know what I am thinking about? My children. As I consider 2011, I really don’t know what to expect. I don’t know much of what God has in store but there is something I do know about this year. It will be the year that my oldest son enters his last year of high school. It will also be the year that my daughter enters her first year of high school.

It is a bittersweet thing to consider. The idea that my son’s high school years are almost over is saddening to me. But at the same time I am excited about his future. So far his plans are to attend Gateway Technical College to earn his aeronautics-pilot training degree. He is seriously considering a career as a commercial airlines pilot. But really, all he knows at this point is that he just wants to fly.

It is also a bit sad for me to think that my daughter is leaving behind her K-8 school and heading off to a much larger high school. I feel like I can breathe a sigh of relief that we have almost made it through the middle school years with just a few bumps in the road. But to know she is about to enter her last four years of school is also exciting and I trust that God has much in store for her.

So while I should be thinking about losing some weight, setting some personal goals and working on relationships…this first day of 2011 my mind is on my children. It is just one example of not really knowing what God is going to do in their lives. But isn’t that the way it is for all of us? In every area of our lives? We just really don’t know what He is up to and what He has in store for us.

The truth is that we can make all the plans we want, like my son’s plans to attend Gateway Technical College, but really…it all comes down to fulfilling the destiny that God has for us. Our ways are not necessarily His ways.

I can help my son fill out his college applications and figure out the path he needs to take in order to become an airline pilot but unless these plans are submitted to God, they won’t mean as much.

So go ahead and make out your New Year’s Resolutions and set your goals for 2011. But as you do, ask the Lord to guide you in this. Ask Him to show you what He would have you do. Remember to Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans (Proverbs 16:3).