Grace/Disgrace

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I was known, as a child, as the kid who asked too many questions. I remember one exasperated church lady saying, “Questions! Questions! Why do you have to ask so many questions? Why can’t you just have faith?”

I felt reprimanded and like I was about to be assigned to the lower decks of the good ship Faith. I thought about it for a while, then realized that if I didn’t have faith that God is good and has an answer waiting discovery, I wouldn’t be brave enough to ask questions.

I still ask impertinent questions, but now I have a somewhat better sense of where and when it’s safe to ask them. Maturity or pragmatism? I’m not sure.

I ask God a lot of questions. Sometimes I get a direct answer in sundry ways. Sometimes all I get is a nudge to rephrase or ask a better question. Sometimes God asks me a question in response to my question. That happened this week.

I woke up to the clear question, “What’s the opposite of grace?” (I was too focussed on how wonderful my pillow still felt to come up with it myself.) Two mugs of coffee later I contemplated the opposite of grace. The question, “What does grace feel like?” (here) took months to answer. I’ve learned not to rush when my heavenly Father asks something he already knows. Something important this way lies. This time it didn’t take as long.

What is the opposite of grace? Disgrace, I guess.

And what is disgrace?

Help me out here, dictionary. The pre-fix dis means to do the opposite, to deprive, to exclude, expel, annul. If we put the prefix dis on a word it changes the meaning to the opposite. To empower is to give power to someone. To dis-empower is to remove power. Dis-ease is a medical condition that negates ease. When a lawyer is dis-barred, he is not called to the bar, he is sent away from the bar. It’s like a “not” added to the word. Dis-agreeable means not agreeable. When we say something is a disgrace it is without grace. It is loathsome, unhelpful, shameful. When we say someone has been disgraced, they have been dis-honoured, shamed.

I think that’s it. When someone has been disgraced, when there is no grace for them, they have been shamed. When someone is a disgrace, they are an embarrassment, a source of shame, an object to be rejected. (Guilt comes from something we have done wrong. Shame is the feeling that we are something wrong.)

There you have it. The opposite of grace is shame.

Why are you asking me this, Lord?”

So then, what is grace?

Your grace is the empowerment to become the person You see when You look at us.*

Grace is not an excuse to be content with dis-obedience or dis-function. Grace empowers transformation. Ah! I get it. Dis-grace wraps a wounded soul in a trash bag, hides it in the trunk, and hauls it to the dump when no one is looking.

I realized how many times I have seen dis-grace masquerading as grace: unrequested judgmental prayer or “prophetic words” that mislabel, unfaithful “wounds of a friend” that leave marks, demands to maintain “standards” that are really about maintaining power, discipleship training that instills dependence on a leader, sermons emphasizing sin-focussed “shoulds” that dis-courage, or traditions that make putting on a façade of respectability more important than enjoying the freedom found in a loving, honest relationship with God.

I realized that although I write about grace, I still have areas of my life in which I have believed the lie that I didn’t just do something wrong, I am something wrong. Every time the enemy of my soul wants to make me less effective, he tugs on the lie like yanking on a rug and I topple over. Sometimes I even hide under the rug. I have not always soaked in the grace God lavishes on us, but rather have self-applied dis-grace, mistakenly thinking that shame could motivate anything other than temporary change.

My prayer in the days before I heard the Lord’s question was like David’s in Psalm 139:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (verses 23, 24 NASB)

After I asked to be shown any place where a lie had taken residence in my heart I saw an area of my life in which I felt like I was still a failure, even after years of effort to measure up. For the next few days, I was sucked into a vortex of shame and anger. (But God! It’s not fair!! I have tried so hard!) I wanted to hide. I realized later, that in his kindness God was not showing me the hurtful way at the root of so much frustration; he was showing me the shame that kept me bound to the lie that I expected him to reject me like so many others have.

He hasn’t rejected me. Instead, in his kindness, he is showing me a little more of who he is, and a little more of how he sees me. Shame is what he intends to remove by his grace. He says I am a person he enjoys walking with. He continues to lead in the everlasting way.

*via Graham Cooke.

Grace’s Baby

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It was the same sermon we heard this preacher deliver many times in the five or so years we sat in rows of hastily assembled chairs as he expounded from the pulpit. The illustrations varied from week to week, but the theme seldom did.

“Okay. Got it. Can we move on now?” my friend mumbled over her coffee later. “I think the man has issues.”

The man had issues. But here’s the thing: we all have issues. If you read or follow the same person for any length of time you will probably sense a theme. If the theme is one that prompts you to say, “Good grief. What’s your problem?” you either move on or, if a sense of duty keeps you entering the same doors week after week, volunteer in the nursery, or spend sermon time counting the offering, or  make coffee or something.

If the theme aligns with your own familiar issues, and if you hear God’s voice in another person’s words or actions, you listen, ponder, and engage. And ask more questions. I appreciate people who share what they have learned, but I know the really helpful concepts come out of their weakness, not their expertise, because the struggle is real.

If you read through the stories of people who have wrestled with God, you will notice he chooses people with issues. Answers floating around in the air only gain value when they attach themselves to questions.

The answer my questions have latched onto is grace. The twin enemies that have dogged my steps since childhood are fear and despair — fear of rejection and despair because I’ll never be good enough. They tell me I’m only as good as my last performance, which was, again, disappointing.

I have learned and I am learning. I have learned to apply the grace freely poured on me by the Giver of grace. I am still learning, because fear and despair still poke their ugly noses into my life when challenging circumstances show up. The Lord reminds me there is yet more empowering grace to experience.

For a long time, I mistook mercy for grace. I thought grace was a free get-out-of-jail card – unmerited favour. That’s mercy — and mercy is absolutely great. But grace goes beyond mercy to empower us to become the person God sees when he looks at us in Christ. He sees our true identity.

Sometimes I forget who he says I am. I see something else. I asked him to show me again.

I had a dream. A man who reminded me of Jesus was driving me around a neighbourhood similar to my childhood street. He stopped in front of a house and told me to knock on the door because someone in there was anxious to meet me. I did so reluctantly, because, well, I was afraid. The person who met me was excited. Apparently this was the home of my birth mother. Now I heard my own mother complain about my birth enough times to know I was not adopted in real life, but in the dream it seemed plausible.

A small older woman entered the room supported by several friends. Her name was Grace. Just like in the TV shows about reunions, she held me and wept with relief and affection. Then she and her friends brought me gifts. These were gifts she collected for me since birth. Since I have reached retirement age in real life, the number of wrapped presents was overwhelming.

I noticed a name tag on all of them. It said “Ashira.” I had never heard this name before. Grace said it was the name she gave me at birth. My “driver” stood in the doorway, smiling. I woke.

I searched the name Ashira. I found it on one of those baby name sites. It means “she who sings.” Then I realized the dream was telling me I was a child of grace and now a recipient of the gifts of grace. Nice.

A few minutes after I told my husband I felt curious about the dream, people arrived for the Bible study he leads, we read a passage in Galatians 4. This chapter is about freedom from performance-based religiosity. Paul includes an allegory (I love allegories.)

Abraham and Sarah were promised a child. When no child was conceived they tried to make it happen their own way using Sarah’s slave. That didn’t turn out so well for any of them. Eventually, miraculously, supernaturally, a child was born to Sarah. He was the child of promise, not slavery, not self-effort that thinks the end justifies the means.

This is the passage in The Passion Translation that stood out to me:

These two women and their sons express an allegory and become symbols of two covenants. The first covenant was born on Mt. Sinai, birthing children into slavery—children born to Hagar. For “Hagar” represents the law given at Mt. Sinai in Arabia. The “Hagar” metaphor corresponds to the earthly Jerusalem of today who are currently in bondage.
In contrast, there is a heavenly Jerusalem above us, which is our true “mother.” She is the freewoman, birthing children into freedom!” 

My dream! I met my “true mother.” She had gifts for me. Verse 28:

“Dear friends, just like Isaac, we’re now the true children who inherit the kingdom promises.”

I asked, “Lord, who am I?” He answered. I am a child of the free woman, the child of grace.

Verse 31: “It’s now so obvious! We’re not the children of the slave woman; we’re the supernatural sons of the freewoman—sons of grace!”

Oh, and Ashira? She who sings? I’ve learn that for me, the best way to defeat fear and despair is by singing about the goodness of God. He’s reminding me my weapon is a melody. My chosen pen name means Grace Song. I was a singer most of my life and now I use my “voice” here and other places to communicate this theme: God’s grace is sufficient. He loves people with issues, because His power is perfected in weakness.

Who do you think you are? Who does God know you are? Do the identities match? Ask him.

 

 

Words That Both Pierce and Heal

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No one speaks words so anointed as this one—
words that both pierce and heal,
words like lilies dripping with myrrh.

(Song of Songs 5:13 TPT)

A woman told me how excited a doctor was when he diagnosed her mother with an extremely rare disease. He was quite proud of himself.

“The problem,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes, “was that he could offer no cure. She died soon after.”

Living under religious laws is like that. Performance-based religious systems are quite good at telling you what you are doing wrong and why, but without empowering grace to change the heart, well, nothing changes. The law is like a doctor who can tell you what you’re dying of, but can’t fix it.

I have learned that truth hurts, especially when I’ve been avoiding it for too long. But I’ve also learned that unlike people who have knowledge without power, the Lover of my soul never puts his finger on a pain in my heart that he doesn’t intend to heal. Like a surgical laser, His words both pierce and heal and the result is always greater freedom.

For if you embrace the truth, it will release more freedom into your lives. – Jesus

 

Resting in Greatness

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Ever lift Thy face upon me

As I work and wait for Thee;

Resting ‘neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus,

Earth’s dark shadows flee.

Brightness of my Father’s glory,

Sunshine of my Father’s face,

Keep me ever trusting, resting,

Fill me with Thy grace.

 

Jesus, I am resting, resting

In the joy of what Thou art;

I am finding out the greatness 

Of Thy loving heart.

 

(From Jesus, I am Resting by Jean Sophia Pigott. 1845 -1882)

All the Way

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I held the hand of an elderly friend after she learned her disease was in the final stages. She asked me to sing for her.

“What would you like me to sing?” I asked.

All the Way My Saviour Leads Me,” she answered, without hesitation. I sang.

All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

After the second verse she said, “It’s true, you know.”
She smiled. “Sing that verse again.”
I did.

All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread,
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living Bread.
Though my weary steps may falter
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see;
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.

As I looked through a cache of photos I took of a winding country road near Turner Valley, Alberta a little while ago, I thought of her. It wasn’t until her home-going celebration that I included the last verse. With tears rolling down my cheeks I sang:

All the way my Savior leads me,
Oh, the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way;
This my song through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way.

It was as if all nature was proclaiming with her, “It’s true, you know.”

 

All the Way My Saviour Leads Me, lyrics by Fanny Crosby

Potential

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I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Philippians 1:6 TPT

Sometimes we are so quick to evaluate people-in-progress as if this is as good as it’s going to get. Maturity is a process. Even in old age the process continues. There is grace for you to change, so you can afford to extend grace to others.

Some people are stubbornly foolish and will not be content until everyone submits to their foolishness. Keeping a distance may be a wise decision in these cases, but many (okay, all) believers need time to fully become what the Lord created them to be. If you pull away now you may miss seeing something wonderful blossom later.

God is not finished with us yet.

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Stepping into Freedom

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Have you ever assembled your paints and brushes and canvas, or sharpened your carving knife and fondled that perfect piece of wood, or pulled the new fabric out of the shopping bag, and then asked yourself the question, “What should I make?”

For me, deciding on subject matter is the hardest part of creativity. I collect potential. It’s easier to spend time imagining possibilities and gathering materials in arts and craft stores, or stationery stores, or fabric stores, or writing app stores, than it is to decide what I want to say. Always there is the fear deep down somewhere, What if it’s not good enough? What if I waste time and materials and create disappointment that doesn’t measure up to what other people are doing?

Sometimes I need a nudge to just do it already. Painting as a form of creative worship moves me out of my comfort zone. Way out of my comfort zone. People are watching. Time is limited. I’m an amateur. I don’t know what I’m doing.

The musicians at most Sunday services play for less than thirty minutes. In the circle my friends have invited me to hang out in, a weekend conference with a guest speaker provides three sessions with a total of about one and a half hours in which to paint something.

I don’t even have as much time trying to decide what to paint as I usually spend trying to pick a Netflix show. Sometimes I have ideas before I get there. Sometimes nothing.

This past weekend, as I prayed about it while the band did their sound check, I remembered a picture I had in my head as I listened to people worshiping God one morning recently. I saw a pretty scene with an inviting path. Then it was as though the camera pulled back and I realized my point of view was behind barbed wire. An gate opened. When I looked up I saw the words written over many prison camps in Europe in World War II: Arbeit macht frei. Work makes free.

But I saw them in reverse. I saw them from the point of view of someone inside the prison camp who knew too much, someone who knew those words were not true. Arbeit macht frei was a ruse meant to placate people who were anything but frei.  I understood. I had worked and worked for years and still didn’t feel good enough — and definitely not free.

I asked the Lord what this was about. I understood it was an invitation to step out of the captivity of believing the lie that if we work hard enough, if we prove ourselves invaluable to God, if we perform well enough to impress him, he will notice us and accept us into his kingdom.

In my vision the gates were open, not only for me, but for everyone who responds to his call to come away with him. We are free to step out of imprisoning thoughts of having to earn his love. We are free to step into all the beauty he has for us. We are free to walk with him now, knowing the Creator of the Universe as the Lover of Our Souls.

So this is what I painted, imperfect as it is. I choose to step into freedom. I choose to step into all he has for me. Jesus Christ sets the captives free.

Then we cried out, “Lord, help us! Rescue us!” And he did!
His light broke through the darkness and
he led us out in freedom from death’s dark shadow
and snapped every one of our chains.
So lift your hands and give thanks to God for his marvelous kindness
and for his miracles of mercy for those he loves!
For he smashed through heavy prison doors and
shattered the steel bars that held us back, just to set us free!

Psalm 107: 13-16 TPT