More Momma Grace

In my last post I shared a little bit of my struggle in this new season. However, if you read that carefully and saw that I mentioned that one of my daughters is in college then you know this season isn’t really new. In fact, I’ve been in it for probably five years, I JUST DID NOT KNOW IT! My oldest daughter, Liv Loo, knew it, but I was completely oblivious to the fact that the game had changed and I was still trying to play it the way I always had. In other words, lay down the law and expect to be obeyed at all costs, OR ELSE!

What is new however, is that I am in a reflective, nostalgic, evaluate-my-entire life place, and well, all I can say is that I am grateful for God’s unconditional love and that His mercies are new EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for me and every member of my family.

Over the last several years though, I did miss a lot of opportunities for relationship, particularly with my oldest daughter, who has been the one to lead the way through all of these parenting transitions. I spent an awful lot of time telling her what to do, what to think, how to dress, who to hang out with, and just generally communicating all of my thoughts and expectations, but not really letting her try on some of her own.

But as transformation has occurred, albeit slowly, I’ve tried to give her the room she needs to live life as an adult, which has honestly felt like driving on the left-hand side of the road…completely unnatural. In the grand scheme of things I don’t feel like I’ve been very good at it and it only feels like I’ve been doing it for five minutes, but I’ve decided I can’t change the past I can just trust God in every moment I move forward through and trust Him to redeem the ones I’ve left behind in the wake of fear and control.

Left side driving

And in His love and mercy He gives me beautiful glimpses, Momma grace moments) into how only He can redeem all and restore all.  A couple of weeks ago Liv Loo was sharing a conversation with me that occurred between her and a friend who is also her age, almost 20 years old – an adult (I wrote that to keep reminding ME that she is an adult…it’s really hard). Without going into too many details, they were discussing an encounter her friend had with his parents and his disappointment in their response to something he wanted to try. The long and the short of it is he felt like they were treating him like a 14-year-old instead of a man.

And then some of the most precious words I’ve ever heard (and she didn’t even know it) came out of her mouth, “They don’t treat him like you treat me, Momma. You listen to me, ask questions, make suggestions and then let me make my own decisions. They just tell him what to do and what to think.” All I could do was thank God for letting me see that He is so much bigger than my mistakes.

He truly makes all things new, even when I make a mess.

I receive that grace.  This is abundant life.  This is walking through life with my tiara on straight, not because of anything I’ve done, but because of Who He is.

Well, It’s A Little Bit About Us

In my last post, It’s All About Him, I talked about how abundant living is believing and trusting God is Who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.  And I also said, “…even though God includes us in the story and invites us to partner with Him in the story, IT’S NOT ABOUT US and the outcome does NOT depend on us.  It all depends on God, His infinite Love, amazing grace, and His Sovereign plan.”

I wanted to follow up on this a little bit because while all of that is true, I don’t want to create a sense of God being distant.

Have you ever asked yourself, “What’s the upside for God?”  Well I have.  My close friends know that for the last couple of years I have said this many, many times.  And while most of the time I was being sarcastic and funny (I know, you are shocked) I truly wanted an answer.  I truly wanted to find the purpose in all of this for God.

Back to my question…do you get my point?  I mean really, from the very beginning, Genesis chapter 3, our story is one of disobeying and rejecting God.  Even in a perfect world, the Garden of Eden, we rejected Him and His plan.

This is our story, Love reaches out to us and we reject Love.  So what does He get out of all of this?

If you back up further, I think there’s a question that comes before, “What’s the upside for God?”  I think the first question is, if God is Omniscient (and He is), “Why did He set all this in motion in the first place?”

I think Jesus told us the answer when He met Nicodemus…God so loved.  The God who is Love, the Triune God, who lived in perfect community with Himself (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) loved so much that He wanted to express that love and multiply it.  Love created us to love us and for us to be so loved that we would multiply that love in all the earth.

Love creates, Love expresses, Love needs an object.

We were created to be loved by Love Himself and to express that love.  And that is how it becomes about us.  We are the creation and object of His love.

But He knew we would reject Him.  He knew we would reject Love instead of receiving it and living it.

So again, why?  Because He is Love regardless of what we do, whether we love Him in return or not.  He continues to be Love and to Love.  He is the definition of unconditional Love.

As believers in Jesus Christ, reigning in life is allowing the Love of God in us, that Love that created us, saves us and transforms us from the inside out, to reach out to others.  It’s exactly what God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply.”  It’s the same thing Jesus said to His disciples, us, “Go make disciples.”  Jesus also said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

How did Jesus love us?  Unconditionally, fully and completely.  He gave all of Himself for us, knowing not all of us would receive it.  Knowing in fact that many would reject His expression of love and refuse to be the object of His love.

For those of us who receive Him reigning is receiving Love and then in turn loving.  It’s allowing Love, Jesus in us, to create through us, that same Love in us to express itself, and that same unconditional Love in us to love others, the objects of His love, even if they reject Love.

And that, I believe, is how it’s about us.

Elf Yourself

Just as a follow-up to my snack food post, Guilt Free, I wanted to let those of you who may be wondering, the expensive snack I tried was good, but not great.  But since I realized I had built it up so much in my mind over several weeks that it never could have met my expectations, I did ask my husband what he thought about it.  He agreed it was good, but not great.  As further confirmation, there is still a partial bag in my pantry which means no one in my family was thrilled.

My point in that post was simply that living the resurrected life, on this side of the cross, means that we are no longer constrained by guilt.  We are in fact guilt free and that is where I would like to pick up and continue.

The reason that we are guilt free is that God so loved the world.  As believers in Jesus Christ, He set us free from the law of sin and death.  We have been crucified with Christ and have died to the law.  The law is what used to convict us and pronounce us guilty.  As believers in Jesus Christ we no longer live by the law, we live by the Spirit.  In Christ, the law no longer has the power to convict us.

We are well-loved people.  God is love and out of His divine nature He beckons us to live in that love with Him, through the blood of Jesus – or to put it another way, to put on our tiaras and reign in life and live abundantly.  Often though, we choose much less than God’s perfect love.  When I allow guilt or fear (residuals of the law) to keep me from embracing all that God has for me, then I am living a “less than” life.

So as I was thinking about what it meant to live well-loved  (e.g. embrace all that God has for me, to receive His love, to live in expectancy) and what that would look like in day-to-day life, I got this mental picture of Will Ferrell’s character Buddy the Elf.  Yes, from the movie Elf.  I really am not trying to lose all credibility here (if I ever had any), so hang in there with me for just a little longer.  By the way, Elf is one of my favorite movies and once again I have to ask you not to judge me and not to email me, I am simply sharing my heart here :).

BuddytheElf

I LOVE how Buddy moves through almost every scene in that movie expecting good things to happen.  He never self-protects, he never shields his heart, or erects walls between himself and others.  In fact, he isn’t even aware of the walls others have built to protect themselves.  He just pushes right through them.  He opens himself to everyone he meets, he celebrates even the smallest things (that “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” scene makes me laugh until I almost wet myself), he enjoys every second of his life (the “The Revolving Door Scene”).

He fully embraces other people for who they are, not what he wants them to be.  Even when his birth father rejects him at the beginning of the movie he never loses hope.  He lives well-loved (by Santa and Papa Elf) and out of that loves other people.

I realize the analogy could start breaking down at any second here so I’m going to restrain myself from going further with it.  But the truth is, I smile every time I think about it.  I could go on and on about Buddy the Elf, but by the time I elaborated on all the examples of living expectantly and well-loved, then I would really have recounted the entire film.  So, if you haven’t seen it, watch it.  If you have…well I think you get my point.

I am not advocating wearing a Happy Mask every single day.  Real is better than well-behaved.  God can deal with real, fake…well that’s just hiding and being dishonest.  Honesty, even if it is ugly, is one of the characteristics of the abundant life.

When I talk about Buddy the Elf, I am talking about living from who we are, not developing a formula for how to live.  We don’t need to all go buy elf costumes and pour maple syrup on everything we eat.  That would just be exchanging one law for another and every time we reduce living the Christian life to a formula we are cheapening the gospel.  It is so much more than a formula and a set of rules.  And yet it is simple, living in dependent relationship with God.

I am going to pause here and leave you with one more thought that I want to talk about next time:  Love transforms us from the inside out, while the law conforms us from the outside in.

The Apple Store, A Thirteen Year Old Girl, and God’s Amazing Love

Lest anyone think I sit atop a mountain of grace with this whole thing figured out, let me present Exhibit A, and allow it to testify to all the things I still need to learn about God’s great love for me.  I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but apparently every word was required in order to communicate how great God is and how slow I am.

So last week I heard the words that I dread, “Mom, my iPod screen is frozen.  I need to get it fixed.”  Why dread these words?  So many reasons:  1) I am a technology dinosaur; 2) I am not sure my kids, or anyone else’s these days, know what life apart from technology at the touch of a thumb is (therefore, I don’t know what my kids are like apart from technology, just kidding girls :)); and 3) (most importantly) I am afraid of the Apple Store.

When I say I am a technology dinosaur what I really mean is that I am lost in the world of Apple.  Who wouldn’t be overcome with panic when they have so cleverly, and intimidatingly, named the store tech support the ‘Genius Bar’?  Not only that, but in order to get to the Apple Store I actually have to go to the mall.

Malls are a whole separate problem for me.  When someone says, “Let’s go to the mall,” my blood runs cold and I start to sweat.  It’s the mass parking, all the people, all the choices in the stores, and did I mention all the people???  I just don’t like large crowds or spending lots of money or making decisions about spending lots of money and to me those are the things that going to the mall is all about.

So, back to my dilemma with the frozen iPod screen.  My daughter looked me straight in the eye and said, “We need to go to the Apple Store and they will give me a new one.”  When I resisted (because I could not believe such a thing was possible in what could be considered the worst possible customer service period of history!) she repeated it, numerous times.  My daughter is the most persistent person I know and completely uninhibited about asking for things she needs.  I have no idea what gene pool she drew from, but it was not mine.

Since I was horrified at the thought of the mall and the Apple Store (two phobias for the price of one) I told her I would see if I could Google a solution.  I was positive this has happened before and some genius twenty or thirty years younger than me had posted the solution online for me to find.  I jumped online full of faith that God was not going to make me go to the mall or the Apple Store because He loves me that much!

But of course that would be the end of the story and I am convinced God loves a really good story.

When I had to admit that my Google prowess had failed (I am otherwise known as ‘The Google Queen’) I told my daughter that I agreed that we would need to go to the Apple Store.  That was on Thursday.  I told her I thought we could work it in on the following Tuesday.  I figured this was going to be an all-day affair, I’ve heard the horror stories of others, and the following Tuesday was the first spot on my calendar that I had a long, uninterrupted block of time.  I also figured that would give me several days to mentally prepare for the trek.

Yes I know I was acting like this was going to be the equivalent of climbing Everest.  But you see, for me, it was the equivalent of climbing Everest.  And God knew that.  And He didn’t try to make me feel guilty about it.  He just met me right where I was with love and not condemnation.

When I dropped my daughter off at school Friday morning she asked me if we could try to go to the store that afternoon.  So I started to ask myself, “Why can’t I go this afternoon?”  The truth is fear was the only thing keeping me from going.

I heard a sweet whisper in my spirit to hit Google one more time.  Through a series of what appeared to be random mouse clicks (but you and I both know differently) I found that I could make an appointment that afternoon at 4:30, so I did.

My daughter got home and was ELATED when I told her we were going.  I, however, felt like I was preparing to enter a medieval torture chamber.  I couldn’t imagine any scenario where this went well.  I thought we were going to be there for hours and at the end of the day my daughter was still going to have a broken iPod, which translates to a broken heart for a teenager.

We arrived at the mall at 4:10 and headed in through one of the department stores.  I told my daughter I didn’t know where the store was and she said, “Why don’t you ask that lady?”  Duh.  I think I wrote something about self-sufficiency LAST WEEK!!!  Probably the day the iPod broke.  The lady at the make-up counter gladly pointed us in the right direction and off we went.

As we turned the corner into the store I almost had a full-blown panic attack (as if everything else I have recorded in this post hasn’t proven I need to be on meds).  The store was wall-to-wall people.  My heart started to race and I think I stopped breathing for a few seconds…I hold my breath when I am stressed, like I am waiting for a punch in the stomach.

God showed up.

My daughter led me to a friendly young man with an iPad.  We told him we had an appointment.  He said, “Great!” and asked us to wait over by the wall.  Before heading there I said something like, “You should serve alcohol.”  He laughed.  I think he must hear that a lot.

Within five minutes a kind, older woman walked up to us, introduced herself and started looking at the iPod.  After no more than two minutes she looked up and said, “I’ll be right back with your new iPod.”  Since we all know my hearing is not great, I looked at my daughter and asked, “What did she say?”  She replied, “She said, ‘I’ll be right back with your new iPod.’  I told you mom!”

The truth is, until we were walking out of that store and got into our car with a new iPod (a mere 20 minutes after our arrival at the mall), I still didn’t believe it.  How could this have been that easy?  It didn’t cost me a dime.  It barely cost me an hour on a Friday afternoon and it was 100%, completely taken care of.  I didn’t have to ask her to do anything.  She assessed the problem and solved it for us.

It was ridiculously easy.  I still can hardly believe it.  I can also hardly believe the unnecessary stress I put myself through.  By the time I pulled out of my parking spot my stomach was hurting from having been in a knot all day.  On the drive home my daughter was so happy and kept saying, “I knew it.  I knew they were going to give me a new one.”  And it’s true, she never doubted for a minute she was going to leave with anything less than a working iPod.

So I asked the Lord, why didn’t I know it?  Why didn’t I expect something good to happen?  Then He showed me all the ways He had been good to me through the whole process – leading me to make an appointment, giving me the perfect parking spot, the lady at the make-up counter who gave us directions, my daughter who confidently led me through the entire process, the kind check-in guy with the iPad, the sweet Genius Bar lady who gave us the new iPod.

My point, in relationship to reigning in life and abundant living?  When our tiaras are on straight, we live in expectancy; expectancy of God’s goodness towards us and His love for us, not necessarily of perfect outcomes.  We can walk through the most challenging situations (even if they are only in our minds) knowing that God has good things in store for us regardless of the results.

Even if we had not walked out of that store with a new iPod, God was amazing to us every step of the way.

Thank You Father that Your love never fails.  You are faithful even when we are faithless.  Thank You for mercies that are new EVERY SINGLE DAY even when we struggle to receive them!

Abundant Life?

In my last post I talked a little bit about what the Lord has to say about living as resurrected believers in Jesus Christ.  Specifically, I asked what does it look like to live the abundant life Jesus gave us and what does it mean to reign in life?

I certainly don’t believe at this point in my life that I have figured this out, but I think I have exhausted myself finding ways NOT to live abundantly or to reign in life.  So I think that is a starting point, what is it NOT?

Over a year ago, through a series of what I believed at the time to be random mouse clicks (now I know for certain it was God’s divine plan), I stumbled across the most profound, uncomplicated, bondage breaking teaching on grace I have ever heard from a man I had never heard of, Terry VirgoThe three-part series I heard was called, “God’s Lavish Grace.”  I could never do his message justice, but one particular point stopped me in my tracks:  the sufficiency of the sacrifice.

He shared how in the Old Testament people would bring their perfect, spotless lambs for sacrifice to the Temple.  When they arrived the priest would inspect the animal they had brought to see if it was good enough.  The interesting thing is the priest never inspected the person who brought the offering.  It didn’t matter what their job was, what clothes they wore or how they did their hair.  The sacrifice is what made the person acceptable to God by atoning for their sin.

His point (and mine)?  Jesus was our perfect sacrifice.  In fact, His sacrifice was so sufficient that it covered all sin for all time (past, present and future) for all who believe.  So why do we (or maybe I should just say ‘I’ in case I am the only one) keep living like we have to measure up to some standard we can never meet?  Why do I keep inspecting myself, so to speak, to determine what I am doing right and wrong?  Why do I keep trying to make myself acceptable to God? Why do I keep TRYING HARDER?

I spent a lot of years doing a lot of things, particularly Christian service, trying to prove to God that I was good enough for Him.  I tried to be Superwoman for Jesus.  I mean He did give His life for me, right?  Shouldn’t the least I do be to kill myself for Him?  I was in church every time the doors were open. I volunteered for anything Jesus needed me for, or at least anything with a sign-up sheet. I read my Bible diligently.  I prayed for everything and everyone I could think of.  And you know what?  It NEVER felt like enough.

You know why it wasn’t enough?  Because I couldn’t repay a debt that I was unable to pay in the first place!  In hind sight it sounds ridiculous…I was trying to repay Christ for my salvation, for the GIFT of righteousness.  Gifts and debts are not the same thing.  The gift of salvation was exactly that, a gift to be received, unwrapped, treasured and enjoyed.  Debts are bondage, plain and simple.

According to 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB):  “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Bottom line? The sacrifice of Jesus, and believing in Him, was all it took to make me right with God.  Abundant life, reigning in life IS NOT trying harder.

The Day After (And Every One After That)

Yesterday (as I write) we celebrated the Resurrection of Christ, our Risen Savior.  God, who squeezed Himself into an earth suit and came to earth to dwell with those whom He created to fellowship with to share Himself with.  We couldn’t come to Him, so He came to us.

But His God-ness was too big for us, so He became small.  So small in fact that He surrendered His bodily care into our hands as an infant.

He lived an earthly life sacrificing part of who He really was for the sake us – living as if He was just one of us, not living fully as God.   He chose not to access His divinity while here, for our sakes.

He lived life just like the rest of us.  He lived in community and fellowship with others.  He ate, drank, worked, went to weddings, went to the Feasts.  There was however one significant difference – He did it in perfect obedience to the Father in heaven.

It was the first time God Himself had truly lived with man since the garden, since Adam and Eve, the lie and the fruit.

How did we handle God with man?  We accused Him.  We blamed Him.  We tried Him.  We convicted Him.  We nailed Him to a tree.  Our sin – my sin – nailed Him to that cross.

Not only did all sin for all time nail Him to that cross, but He actually BECAME all sin for all time for all men ON that cross.  There is not one sin unaccounted for, unatoned for.  He became the curse that God promised would come to His people if they did not obey (see Deuteronomy 28) Him.  In Himself, God fulfilled that Old Covenant of bulls and goats.  He satisfied it, He completed it.  What we could not do for ourselves God did for us.  He became one of us and sacrificed Himself, Jesus, for us.

When God the Father resurrected Him, He approved the sacrifice.  He proclaimed it sufficient to satisfy His wrath.  The blood sacrifice was so sufficient that no other sacrifice would EVER again be necessary.  In Christ, God is satisfied and for those who receive Jesus – the way, the truth and the life – the covenant of sin and death is finished.

We are children of God, we are complete in Him.  He has given us EVERYTHING pertaining to life and godliness.  We are righteous, loved and 100% accepted by God.

So this is really the point of my post today, as believers in Jesus Christ, how are we to live this day and every day after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Jesus had some things to say about why He came:

John 3:16-17 (NASB) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

John 10:10b (NASB) “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

So according to Jesus, He came that the world might be saved and that ‘they’ (those who are saved – see earlier in John 10) may have abundant life.

So I have to ask myself, as a believer, am I living the abundant life?  Ok, maybe I also have to ask myself, what does abundant life mean or what does it look like?

Does it depend on my circumstances?  Does it depend on my health?  Does it depend on my finances?  Does it depend on my job?  Does it depend on my wallet?  How much does it actually depend on me?  How does it happen?

Am I living the life Jesus came to give me?  If not, why?

Here’s a bit of what Paul has to say about the life Jesus came to give me:

Romans 5:17 (NASB) “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”

So according to Paul, those of us who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness, or in other words those of us who are saved, will reign in life through Christ.

Now I have another question for myself.  Am I reigning in life?

I’ve been running into these verses for years and honestly, I haven’t known what to do with them because the truth is abundance and reigning are probably the last two words I would ever have chosen to describe most of my life.  They almost sound extravagant and regal.  But given how sometimes well-meaning church folk can throw them around when we are facing very real, very difficult life situations, they can also sound trite, convenient, and dismissive.

But this side of the Resurrection of Christ they should characterize the life of the believer.

So, if you are being 100% honest with yourself and God, would you say you are reigning in life?  Would you say your life is abundant?  It is ok to be honest with God, He knows anyway.

If you are willing, I would love it if you would share some of your thoughts, feelings, or questions about this.  If not, just begin talking to the Lord about it.

My desire is to chew on the ideas of abundant life and reigning in life for a bit.  I have no agenda here and I confess upfront not to have all of the answers.  But if God says in His word these are what He came to give us, and we just celebrated the death, burial, and resurrection of the One who made it possible, maybe we need to think about it a little and ask God to shed some Light for us.

Father, You promise in Your Word that if we will ask for wisdom You will give it liberally and without reproach.  We are asking Father. 

When We Don’t Want to Hear

And then there are times we just DO. NOT. WANT. TO. HEAR…

Last night I was sitting in my warm car, once again thanking God that my sweet husband picked a vehicle for me with heated seats, watching my youngest daughter’s soccer practice.  It was the first practice of the season and all the kids were really excited.  Unfortunately, March in North Carolina can be very tricky weather-wise.  It had been beautiful and near eighty degrees over the weekend, but on Monday evening it was raining and about thirty-nine degrees.

I was secretly hoping that practice would be cancelled, but it wasn’t.  About thirty minutes into practice though I thought I heard thunder.  So I looked up at the field where about one hundred kids and adults were running around in the rain doing soccer drills, but no one else reacted to the sound.

I assumed I misheard since I have a history of not hearing things correctly (for a good laugh click here…apparently there is no such thing as Beached Whale Deficiency!).  I waited a few minutes and it happened again, but still no response from the field.  I started thinking about being a kid in the swimming pool during the summer and when we heard the first pop of thunder we all pretended NOT to hear so we wouldn’t have to get out of the pool.  I think a lot of kids and adults were having fun and just didn’t want to come off the field.

Then it got a lot louder and I knew that unfortunately I was going to have to be THAT parent who went out on the field and insisted practice stop.  The heated seats were really working against my desire to be a good parent.  Apparently a warm behind slows down your brain function.  Just as I was winning the battle over my warmth and had actually opened the car door, a tremendous flash of lightning lit up the sky like it was noon.  It was followed by a roar of thunder that shook the ground.  At that moment adults started yelling and kids started screaming and running towards the parking lot and I was saved from exiting my cocoon of warmth.

I was thinking about my post on mutilating an unripe avocado and how sometimes we just aren’t ready to hear the truth.  But honestly, there are also times we don’t want to hear it so we choose to ignore it.  That storm sent gentle rumblings warning those folks to get off the field, but there came a moment when it was not going to be ignored anymore and it announced itself loud and clear.  To ignore it any further would have been very dangerous.

There are times when we may not be ripe to understand something God is trying to say, but we can always choose to listen when He is speaking.  We can always ask Him for revelation.  Unlike us, He doesn’t turn a deaf ear when we, His  children, truly desire to talk to Him.  He wants us to know Him, He wants a deeper level of communication and relationship with us based on our dependency on Him.

The longer we choose to ignore the voice of the Lord, the harder it becomes to hear it.

Father, I can’t make myself ripe to receive truth, only You can do that.  But I humbly ask that You give me ears to hear You when You speak.