Archive for the ‘ grace ’ Category

Margin

Margin is defined in the dictionary as, “an amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary.”  Margin is space in our lives.  The white space that borders the text in your notebook, textbook, or Bible can be used to add extra thoughts and notes, unless you are prone to neuroses about actually (gasp) marking in a book.  Margin is your extra space to use in times of necessity or desire.  In the same way, margin is the space in our lives that holds a reserve of extra energy, time, or resources.

As I remarked to someone last week that I felt exhausted and overwhelmed, she replied, “it’s really not that bad.”  While her statement was invalidating, in many ways, there is truth in that statement.  I could easily name dozens of maladies or circumstances that would seem much worse.

The challenge is not that our hectic schedule is “bad,” per se, but it is more so that we have no margin in our lives.  Because of our current circumstances, namely that my husband does not have a drivers’ license and works an hour away from where we live, my husband and I daily use all our time and energy primarily just getting to and from our respective full-time jobs.  We are away from home 15 hours a day on weekdays, and weekends are only slightly less hectic.   Because of our work schedules and other necessary obligations, our lives do not currently allow for a Sabbath day of rest.

When nothing unexpected arises, we can manage to get through each day.  We both feel constantly depleted and exhausted, yet life goes on; we get to work, we do our jobs, we come home, we eat, we sleep.  However, when circumstances require us to give extra time, energy, or attention to something out of the ordinary, everything suddenly seems completely overwhelming.  When I do not get a good night’s sleep, when I feel sick, when there is a traffic accident, when we must travel somewhere out of the way, it feels like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I remember learning in a stress management course in graduate school that crisis occurs at the point when the external stressors and life demands exceed our internal coping resources (e.g. time, energy, financial resources).

 

A friend encouraged me today and said that she senses God’s presence the most when she has just passed that manageable state.  As I teeter on the edge of barely coping and complete meltdown, I sense God’s presence upholding me and sustaining me.  What feels like a crisis is opportunity for God to take over and uphold me with his grace.  I realize again that I cannot do this in my own strength.  Every day I am reminded that it is by His grace that we have jobs, transportation, and provision.

I am thankful that the Lord sustains me, and I am so blessed by my husband and our time together.

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Grace is Sufficient

What are you gonna say to God

When all you do is pray to God

To take the thorn away?

And all you hear Him say is:

My grace, My grace

My grace is sufficient

My grace is sufficient

“Grace is sufficient” – Shane and Shane

I woke up this morning, like most mornings these days, feeling utterly exhausted.  I said a quick prayer to God asking Him to give me the strength, motivation, and energy to get me through the day, and thanking Him that He is faithful to do this every day.

Overall, I am extremely blessed.  I have a strong relationship with God and am blessed with a deep faith in His promises to provide for all my needs.  I have an amazing husband who loves me far more than I deserve.  I have shelter and a warm bed, plenty of food, a reliable car, a job I enjoy, good health, and dear friends.

Yet we all have struggles and difficulties, and mine right now is constant exhaustion as a result of the demands on my time.  Of course, what I often perceive as “my” time is in reality God’s time that He has stewarded to me to use for His glory and for my spiritual growth.  He is teaching me to humble myself before Him as I spend this time His way, not my way.  And while it is painful at times, death must take place in order for life to flourish.  (“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24)

As an introvert, I like to have a lot of quiet time at home in order to feel both physically and mentally refreshed and recharged.  But because of my husband’s and my schedule, that is not possible during this season of our life. I arise at 5:00 am and am away from home until 8:00 pm every weeknight, and weekends are nearly as hectic.  Most weeks, out of necessity, we do not have a Sabbath or a day of rest.  I think of my friends who have babies or young children and I cannot even fathom the exhaustion of being a mom.  I have newfound respect and admiration for my friends who are young mothers, as their job lasts from 5:00 am to 4:59 am every day.

I have been thinking lately about how easy it is for us to feel that we will be satisfied with things other than Jesus.  It is easy to think that I “need” more money, nicer stuff, uncomplicated relationships.  It is tempting to think that life would be better if I had more free time, or that I need more sleep.  Yet God’s grace is sufficient.  All I need is Him.  Literally, God’s grace is sufficient.

No matter what the struggle, all I need is Him.

Ultimately, the “good” things in my life do not point me towards my need for God.  I thank God for the blessings, but ultimately, if I had no struggle, it would be frighteningly easy to think I had it all together, that *I* was enough.  It is the hardship that reminds me that I desperately need God.  In my exhaustion, I want to feast on Him, I want to know Him better, I want to serve in His name, I want to sing praises to Him, I want to call out to Him for help.

I have good health and great friends.  Praise His name.

I am exhausted.  Praise His name.

I have food and shelter.  Praise His name.

I am struggling financially.  Praise His name.

I have an amazing husband who is my best friend.  Praise His name.

I long for more rest.  Praise His name.

I am His.  Praise His name.

Hardship

As a result of recent events in our lives, my husband now needs a ride to and from work each day, which is about an hour from where we live (and an hour from where I work).   This means a 2 hour drive, both morning and evening, 5 days a week.  Suddenly, I feel as though life has given me an extra 20-hour a week job, unpaid.

Like most people, I immediately wanted to grumble and complain and vent to my friends.  I wanted validation and sympathy.  I wanted to wallow in self-pity.  Fortunately, I have a few great friends who listened and gave me the sympathy I was looking for and helped to encourage me.  A little validation goes a long way.

Those friends must be praying for me, because within just a couple of days, I really don’t feel a lot of self-pity anymore.  Maybe a little.  As I was driving to work this morning, I spent time thinking about all of the blessings in what seems like hardship.  First and foremost, I know that God is working all things for good in my life, that He supplies all my needs, and that this is a blessing meant for my sanctification and to draw me closer to Him.  I trust in God for His goodness, knowing He is completely sovereign, so I trust His plan for me, even when it doesn’t seem pleasant on the surface.  I can admit the struggle and difficulty but also know that good will come of it.

I am thankful for the opportunity to serve my husband.  I believe it will draw us closer together.  I am thankful for a reliable car that gets good gas mileage, and for God’s protection over me during all the driving I have done over the past year in general.  I enjoy listening to the Bible while driving, and I like listening to sermons, as they take my mind off the stress of traffic, and now I will have more time to do those things.  I hope that my husband and I can listen to sermons together as encouragement in the morning.

I offer my time in the car to God as a sacrifice.  I offer my life as a sacrifice to Him.  My agenda never mattered to begin with; He has always been the author of my life.  My plans are laughable.  What I think is the best use of my time is but dust.  His plan for my time and for my life brings life.

As I have experienced God’s provision and the way He works things out, the way He answers prayers, I realize that number one, I am not in control anyway, and number two, He will supply all my needs and He will work all things together for my good.

I was reading a devotional this morning about being overwhelmed not so much by the sheer amount of things we have on our “to do” lists, but more so being overwhelmed by the anxiety and worry about those items.  This observation resonated with me.  Each day is an opportunity to serve and minister to those around me (first and foremost, my husband).  I can focus on today or this hour and feel it is a manageable chunk.  If I think too much about the next week, the next month, the next year, I get overwhelmed, thinking there is no way I can do this or that.

God’s mercies are new each day, and He gives us what we need for today.  I would love if He could just put a few million dollars in my bank account (literally and metaphorically), but then I would not need to rely on Him daily for my needs.  I would start to rely on myself and forget that I need Him.  The consequences would be disastrous, or meaningless and wasteful at best.

The reason for my faith, the reason behind my joy and peace in the midst of hardship is. . . through hardship and trials.  In God’s mercy, He has allowed trials and difficulty in my life.  As God has walked me through trials and hardship, I have grown closer to Him.  As I have experienced His love for me, His mercy, His goodness, His provision, and His patience with me during the trials in my life, I have grown as a person.  I have experienced more of the fruit of the Spirit growing in me (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.).

I do not know what God has in store for me, but I will seek Him, trusting that His plan is wonderful.

Psalm 105:4

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Grace

I’ve been listening to a particular pastor via podcast lately who preaches very gospel-centered, expositional messages.   

Something I am becoming more aware of through digesting his sermons is that hearing the gospel, hearing about the character of God, hearing about the person of Jesus (1) makes me fall more in love with Him, and (2) heals me.  The healing leads to obedience, but I don’t think obedience in the sense of behavior modification (which is often how I subconsciously think about it) is the point.  Our sinful and frustratingly blind human nature, not to mention our current culture, and even church itself, makes obedience the point.  But I think that is our blindness, not the gospel.  I’m not saying obedience is irrelevant, just that our minds distort it into something it is not.

This has impacted me on a practical level (as well as the theoretical/theological level).  As I think about and adjust to marriage, it is so easy for me to approach my husband with advice like “spend more time in the Word,” “put on the armor of God,” “go to your brother when he has offended you,” etc.  I so often revert to behavioral modification language, and I admit that I may have even used the words, “why can’t you just . . . ?”. 

But the more I listen to the gospel message again and again, daily (gospel- and grace-centered sermons as well as the Bible itself), the more I think that what my husband needs from me, or what we all need from others, is for me to model Christ’s love to him.  In times of conflict, my prayer life is shifting to “Lord, how can I show him Christ’s love in this moment?”  This is grace: not that I would tell my husband (or anyone) about the Bible, but that I would be a living example of Christ’s love. 

Well, I fail miserably on a daily basis, of course.  I am insanely impatient and selfish.  I want to analyze everything and come up with an action plan (usually not the Christ-like approach).   Yet my new awareness is evidence that sanctification is taking place, that I am gaining a deeper understanding of the gospel, and that is exciting.

I think again, “What is healing for me in my life?” and thus, what is probably also healing for others that would enable me to better minister to them?  The answer is to be filled with the character of God, by hearing about the character of God (and/or the person of Jesus) and by experiencing it from others.  Hearing a list of things I “should” be doing as an obedient Christian is not healing or really all that helpful (especially, I think, for those of us who grew up with abusive parents who used guilt and fear as modes of punishment/behavior modification, as we erroneously tend to view God similarly to our parents’ nature).

The Real Meaning of Easter

Bay Area Fellowship in Texas is giving away $2 million in prizes to people who attend church on Easter weekend. Each person will receive a gift bag, but more impressively, some attendees will win cars, Fender guitars, flat screen televisions, iPods, furniture, and my personal favorite (almost worth the plane ticket), skateboards.

The pastor, Bil Cornelius, says of the giveaway, “We’re going to give some stuff away and say, ‘Imagine how great heaven is going to be if you feel that excited about a car.’”

I do not understand how promoting materialism is going to increase people’s understanding of what Jesus did for us. Perhaps I’m missing something.

Consumerism and materialism are real problems in our society. We are bombarded with advertisements and messages that say, “Stuff will make you happy.” This beer will make you into a strong and respected athlete like Lance Armstrong. This car will make you more macho to counteract how emasculated marriage has made you. This body spray will make you irresistible to the ladies. Your life will be better if you buy and consume more and more.

The gospel teaches the opposite. Happiness is not at all found in material possessions or worldly things. Love, hope peace, and joy are found in Christ alone.

Paul writes in Philippians (3:7), “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Paul considered all the things he attained in life – material possessions, achievements, reputation – as rubbish, averring that those things have no value in light of what he had gained in Jesus Christ.

Matthew quotes Jesus as saying (6:19-21), “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Material possessions are fleeting and worthless. What is worthwhile and meaningful is in heaven, it is the eternal, not the temporal.

God does bless people with material wealth, and there is nothing wrong with that. But how is promoting materialism and treating church like an Oprah show going to help people understand the gospel? The gospel is that Jesus loves us so much that he lived the life we should have lived and died the death we deserved to die so that we may have eternal life. He desires to have a *relationship* with us, not so that we can “get stuff.”

“We really checked hearts on this,” Pastor Bil said.

Oh, really?

“A lot of people won’t come to Easter services because they think, ‘Well, I haven’t been good.’ … That’s not what it’s about. You don’t have to be ‘good’ to come to church.”

Bil’s statement here is correct; you don’t have to be good to come to church. You do not wait until you are healed to go to the hospital. Churches are like hospitals for the spiritually wounded. You do not need to wait until you are free of issues to come to church; this is impossible. Come to church because you admit that you need help. The hole in your life that you have tried to fill with women and/or men, video games, television shows, alcohol and drugs, sex, work, and money is not working for you. So maybe try God.

The List

My girlfriends and I frequently talk to each other about our Lists. The List is an itemized inventory of all the qualifications we are looking for in a potential husband.

I sometimes think that what men are looking for in a woman is:
1. Attractiveness
2. Shared Interests (optional)
3. Good Character (optional)
Once those criteria are checked off, within about the first five minutes of meeting a woman, he is satisfied that she is suitable for him. He then does not worry or constantly overanalyze the relationship as they begin to date and get more serious. He is basically happy and content, and his main source of unhappiness comes when he feels he is not able to make her happy.

Women, on the other hand, do not have such a simple checklist. We have catalogued and cross-referenced databases with which all men must be analyzed and evaluated. Our extensive Lists are a great source of stress and ambiguity in our lives and dating (mis-)adventures, and we are constantly updating and editing our Lists.

There are thousands of books written addressing the topic of qualities to seek in a mate (all purchased and read by women, of course). I have read approximately 4,589 of them.

Neil Clark Warren, founder of eHarmony, avers that we should come up with a list of 10 “must haves” and 10 “can’t stands,” qualities that are deal breakers in a relationship. He also states that there are 29 dimensions of compatibility, and that in happy marriages, partners are compatible in at least 26 of these areas.

John Gottman proposes seven principles for making a marriage work, although that does not really address what people should look for in a date who may become a potential mate.

I had lunch last week with my dear friend Emily*, who has a wonderful, strong, and happy marriage to her husband. She remarked that when she was single, she had lists, too, but at the time she started dating her future husband, she had four qualifications that she was seeking in a man.

1. He loves God more than he loves me.
2. He supports my ministry by encouraging me and praying for me.
3. He truly understands God’s grace, and is thus able to love the Lord and be forgiving.
4. He fights for me and for our relationship.

Emily said that these conditions are not for everyone, but for her, she felt that these are what God wanted for her. I wrote them down and have been thinking about our conversation now for several days. Her list is certainly simpler than mine. And it worked out very well in her life.

I am not sure what this means for me. I wish I were better able to trust in God in all areas of my life, but specifically with regards to dating. I often erroneously believe that if I overanalyze my relationships and tweak my List into perfection (read: in my own strength), then I will be in control of my love life and I will live happily ever after.

But God is sovereign, He knows His plan for my life, and He wants me to put my faith and trust in Him. I have to remind myself daily (actually, on a minute-by-minute basis) that God is in control, I can cast my worries on Him, I can do all things through Him, and He will use all things together for good. I am thankful that He is sovereign and that I am not, and thankful that I am not perfect because it is a reminder of how much I need Him.

2 Corinthians 12:9
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

*Names have been changed.

Love Languages

I have been thinking about love.

Gary Chapman has written several books about the 5 Love Languages, which are ways in which people express and interpret love. People feel most loved when their partner “speaks” their love language. These languages can be learned once you know what to look for, and they can help you care for your partner in ways that are most meaningful to him or her.

The 5 Love Languages are as follows (adapted from www.5lovelanguages.com):

Words of Affirmation
If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. You like being affirmed and told you are important and missed when your partner is away.

Quality Time
In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. You do not care what you do, necessarily, but you enjoy just being with your partner.

Receiving Gifts
Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you.

Acts of Service
Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.

Physical Touch
This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.

I had a general idea of the love languages that are most important to me, but I just took the online quiz and I was a bit surprised when Physical Touch came out far ahead of the others. I love physical affection like hugs and kisses and holding hands, and I love sitting close to someone with whom I‘m in a relationship. I feel most loved when my boyfriend is very affectionate with me. My family of origin is not affectionate at all, and I do not tend to be physically affectionate with friends, but in a romantic relationship, it is very important to me. Conversely, I feel extremely hurt and rejected when affection is withdrawn or withheld.

Quality Time and Words of Affirmation are also important to me, though less so than Physical Touch. I feel loved and cared for when a man gives me his undivided attention, when it is clear that he enjoys my company and wants to get to know me. Slightly less important, but still very meaningful in my language of love, is the sense of being verbally affirmed. I feel loved when a man tells me he misses me, when he tells me that I make him happy, or when he tells me he likes it that I am a part of his life.

Acts of Service and Gifts are appreciated, as they are thoughtful gestures, but they do not necessarily make me feel more loved. I once dated someone who spoke primarily these two languages; he got me little gifts or items he knew I needed, and he tried to do things for me that made my life easier. I really appreciated his efforts. But when he did give me words of affirmation, I was surprised. Because while I valued his actions and tokens of his care and concern, they did not make me feel loved.

My dad speaks almost exclusively in the Acts of Service love language. He shows my brothers and me that he loves us by working on our cars. For a month or so, I have had some general maintenance issues with my car with which I knew I needed his help, and then a few days ago, I started having problems with my brakes, and I called my dad in a panic. He reassured me that everything was fine, that I could come by his house and switch cars with him, drive his car, and that he would take care of everything.

Two days later, he called me and told me my car was ready. He put on four new brakes, turned the rotors, put in a new sensor and solenoid for the EGR component, replaced the air filter, changed the oil, and checked all the fluids. I am extremely thankful to my dad for taking care of me by taking care of my car. I work in non-profit and would have had a hard time paying for these repairs had I taken my car into the shop. Almost as valuable as the financial aspect is the fact that my dad saved me a lot of worry and time spent waiting on repairs.

So, while Acts of Service is my fourth of five love languages, I am very appreciative that my dad’s love language is Acts of Service. I feel that God is showing His love for me and His provision for me through my earthly dad, and I feel so blessed and loved. I also feel enormously appreciative and thankful to my dad and to God, who always provides for me exactly what I need.

Matthew 7:11
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.