Monday, April 4, 2011

His Grace is Sufficient

It's almost become a John 3:16, or Philippians 4:13 in some sense. We hear it over and over; almost as if its been branded by the Christians as a marketing tool of our faith. My Grace is sufficient for you.... I've heard it 1,000 times. But, out of those 1,000 times, how many times was I actually listening?

Gods Grace is something I have always struggled with as a Christian. I am one of the most ungracious people I know. I can hold grudges, get easily upset, judge person by a single action, blame people, make excuses, put my own interests above others, and the list could go on forever. This is probably the reason I don't understand the grace of God. Why would a perfect, sinless man want to die for the greater good of the innately bad?

Honestly, I don't trust the grace of God sometimes. Maybe its the attitude of the secular world we live in, but somtimes I think, "Well, there is no way God's grace will cover me this time." Maybe you have never gotten to that point, but I can say with assurance that we have all had our moments where we have doubted or wondered if God's grace will really be enough. The moments where I doubt the grace of God are the moments where I know, by admitting my need for grace, I will feel the most weak.

I believe that for most of us, the battle with Grace revolves around our inability to accept something we absolutely know we don't deserve. Think about how hard it is for most people to take compliments or accept some type of unwarrented gift/card/charitable service from a friend. Initially, most people refuse; insisting that the compliment is not true or the help is unessecary. Some people even feel a sense of weakness or guilt in these situations because we are admitting we need the affirmation or help of others. Those same feelings, intensified by 10,000, are what I feel when I need the God's grace.

I have heard the acronyms for grace many times over: God's- Riches- At-Christ's- Expense... and the others of similar phrasing. Acronyms are great for some people, but personally, I need something a little less ambiguous. Dr. Aaron, my theology teacher, summed up what grace is by saying this, "God extends his goodness and love to those who ought to experience his judgments; that is God DOES GIVE US what we DO NOT deserve."

I have screwed up a lot in my life. But my biggest battle with Grace came when I was seeking to be redeemed from my sexual impurity. Throughout my teenage and young adult years, there have been numerous times where I have compromised boudaries and given parts of myself to guys who do not deserve my heart, let alone my body. As I began my search for redemptive love, I felt like this was one area in which I could never, truly feel redeemed. I confessed my sins and still felt heavy. I asked for forgiveness but still felt guilt. I cried out for freedom but still felt bondage.

It was just a few weeks ago at my church where words from my pastor led to a major breakthough in this area. Pastor Kerry was giving a sermon on whether or not God wants us to be wealthy. He said this, "God wants us to experience the wealth that comes from his Grace." He referenced 2 Corinthians 12:9 in saying, "His Grace is sufficient for us. There will never be a situation his Grace cannot cover."

In this verse, God promised that he would demonstrate his power in Paul even through his intense physical affliction. My battle of feeling undeserving of God's Grace is exactly the type of weakness God wants to work through. By finally understanding that, because I am human, I have limitations and admitting my sin as a weakness, God's strength was affirmed.

God's grace is a free gift that he is dying (well, died, ha, whoops) for us to experience. By his Grace we were saved, and by that same Grace, he can redeem us. Whatever we are struggling with or against, imputrity, lonliness, loss of someone close to us, battles with our sin nature, insecurity, unknown futures, singlness, strained or empty marriages, and everything else inbetween, his grace will cover us. Ephesians 2:8 says "For by grace, you have been saved, through faith ---- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God ---" We became Christians through God's unmerited Grace. That same Grace also allows God to experience the wealth of Christ. He wants to give us something we do not deserve because he loves us in spite of our weakness.

Now, by opening ourselves to the Grace of God, it doesn't mean that he will take our battle against sin away, remove our pain, find us a man, or write us an exact plan. In fact, I still have moments in which my guilt from my sexual history tries to take over the progress I have made in engaging in the Grace of God. We must realize that the point of God's grace is not to remove us from our affliction (although he might), but rather, just as he did with Paul, God wishes to demonstrate his power through us. When I had over my battle to God every morning, I am relying on him rather than myself. I am trusting that his Grace will be enough. Because of this, my heart has slowly started make ground in permanent healing. When I am weak, he is strong.

Choosing to allow God to work in our weakness should give us courage. The kind of courage that allows us to open up and let Christ work his effectiveness through us. Whatever battle you are fighting, I encourage you to open yourself to the Grace of God. The same Grace you experienced through the gift of salvation is once again available to you in your weakness. His grace will be sufficient for you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Dangerous Masquerade

The cosmetics industry in the United States brings in over $170 billion annually. Women everywhere are constantly searching for the latest mineral make-up to enhance and even out their skin tone, or the best creams to minimize lines on their face that scream "I'm aging!" Whether it's a little blush, a quick dab of gloss, or light coat of mascara, most women today wear some product on their face to enhance their beauty.

I am one of those women. I will admit to waking up in the morning and engaging in the ever-so conforming ritual of covering up blemishes and imperfections that I would never want anyone to see. At the same time, I am also the same woman who finds it offensive when my good (guy) friend refers to make-up as my mask. How inconsiderate, right?

I would never tell him this, but he is actually right. The same ritual that we believe to enhance our beauty is one that ultimately allows us to mask our true self.

Outside of make-up, the mask most people wear everyday is the one they want others to see. Not one of us can walk around and say we have never put on this type of mask. Personally, I engage in this almost everyday.

My go-to mask consists of: confidence, humor, being outgoing, sarcasm, collectedness, strength, intelligence, a grounded faith, and not having a care in the world, among many others.

I walk around, masquerading myself, hoping others can't see through my disguise. Because, especially as Christians, we have been groomed and taught how to act, we can go about our days without having anyone truly know who we are. But, when I go home at night, who am I? who are you?

Unfortunately, this part of my life became such a habit that I began attempting to, not only masquerade myself from friends, but also the Lord. While at my Christian school I was the person mentioned above; the confident, strong, outgoing, Christian athlete. I was the person I was convinced God was seeing. I was sure nobody saw the sinful, destructive behavior going on outside of campus. As Casting Crowns would put it, my "performance was convincing." Little did I know, over a period of 6 months, both my worlds would come crashing down.

After getting caught breaking school rules, underachieving in the classroom and an unbelievably destructive, sinful relationship, and other various quiet steps I reached the breaking point. This September (2010), I sat in my room, completely broken, and took off my mask. I cried out to Jesus, who took me in with open arms, and I began a journey of redemption.

There is no mask with God. Pslam 139 reminds us that we cannot flee from his presence; he knows everything we do. I was a drunk, deceitful, adulterer, living a disobedient life while claiming to know Christ. I traded in eternity for a life of blemishes and imperfections, but HE CHOSE to love me anyway.

"I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine and I will finally know you as Lord." -Hosea 2:19-20 (NLT)

When I finally stopped wearing my mask and allowed the Lord to work in my life, I saw his faithfulness, love, and compassion. I began to know him as, not only the Savior of my heart, but the Lord of my life. I immediately EXPERIENCED FREEDOM from confessing the disgusting nature of my sinful heart and the desiring to repent and be forgiven.

God won't force us to have a desire for redemption. In fact, Romans 1 talks about how God allows some of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness (me) to be given over to their shameful desires and sinful behaviors. Although he loves us, he will not coerce us, rather allow us to choose our own way. The above verse shows us how, when choose God, he will show us a forgiving, just, compassionate, redeeming love, unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Once we reach complete transparency in our repentance and relationship with the Lord, we must also carry it over into our relationships with each other. It is unfortunate that so many Christians portray themselves as completely put together. Too often we feel as if everybody else around us is strong, and has their life in tact. This creates an inferiority complex that triggers us to put on our masks and fit in. We need to STOP BELIEVING THIS LIE. Even as I sit here and write, two beautiful women of the Lord are having a conversation about the freedom that comes from not only confessing our sin to the Lord, but also to each other. Now, I am not asking you to run around telling everyone you know your most appaling secrets. Rather, I am encouraging you to realize that the battle of wearing a mask is something we all go through. We were all born with a sinful heart full of insecurities and struggles. Whether big or small, those things can eat away at your heart. We need to realize that those who truly love us, and Christ, will not pass judgment on us. Through Christ working in us, we can open our hearts to each other, without judgment, and walk together in our struggles. This can give us a small, real glimpse of Christ's redeeming love.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Quiet Steps

I was a pretty mischevious little kid. There were often times I would tip-toe by my parents, whether they were sleeping or in the other room, to do something I knew I would get in trouble for. I snuck cookies and candy, took peeks at Christmas presents, and did things they told me not to. As I got older, the behavior contiunued. I dated before age 16, took my sisters clothes, then lied about it, and even snuck out of my bedroom window in 8th grade.

I have come to realize two things about my behavior from those days:
1. It was always a poor attempt of self satisfaction.
2. It was an attempt to avoid trouble, but always resulted in consequences.

Early this fall, I was listening to my itunes when "Reasons Why" by Nickel Creek came on. I didn't know a song that I had heard over 100 times could rock my world like this one:

"Where am I today I wish that I knew. Because looking around there's no sign of you. I don't remember one jump or one leap, just quiet steps away from your lead." "With so much deception, its hard not to wander away..."

I quickly realized that the same quiet steps I used to avoid trouble when I was younger, were the same ones I was taking in my walk with the Lord. My life was full of sinful, deceitful behavior. Much of what I was doing was looking for fulfillment in things that I thought I wanted or needed. I was pursuing destructive relationships and behaviors that did not reflect the beliefs I stood for and the faith I claimed to have. I was constantly wondering why God refused to move in my life. I didn't even notice that I was the one moving; And might I add, in the wrong direction.

As I mentioned previously, I was a living, breathing version of Romans 1:

"For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools." v. 21-22

In this story, it wasn't Gomer, but I, that was the unfaithful wife running in the direction of sin.

To understand our need for redemptive love, it is imperative that each of us identifies the quiet steps in our lives. Any one step we are taking toward our own desires takes us one step away from the Lord. Being human, humility is not our strongest suit. However, if we are unable to humble ourselves enough to pin point our struggles, we will never truly understand what it means to be free from our sin.

As an encouragment, any one step we take toward our father and heavenly bridegroom, we are taking away from ourselves! As we change the path of our quiet steps and begin to move toward the Lord, he will move toward us! He will help carry our burdens, allowing us to overcome the sinful nature of our flesh. As you drink from the deep well of Scripture, the Lord will refresh you and cleanse you, mold you and re-create you through His Living Word. We, together, will be one quiet step closer to truly experiencing his redemptive love.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Journey: Discovering Redemptive Love

When looking to define a word, it is always important to go to the most "reliable" source you can find. Urban dictionary defines the word Gomer in the following (but not limited to) ways:

1. An unwelcome patient in a hospital (typically old and lacks the decency to die).
2. Someone who is a social reject
3. An idiot. Someone who is clumsy, ignorant, or caught in a blonde moment.
4. Someone who does something right, but in an odd way.

Until a few years ago, I had only heard the word being used as an insult in middle school, when my friends and I were being ridiculous. When you are 13, you aren't always aware how one small word or phrase can change your entire life.

In the Bible, we see that the word Gomer has an entirely different meaning. First of all, Gomer is a name. More importantly, the name belongs to a woman being pursued by the prophet Hosea. Regardless of her history as a prostitute, God asks Hosea to take this woman to be his wife. Gomer proceeds to flee from Hosea numerous times, leaving him to be with other men and solidifying herself as an unfaithful wife. The relationship Hosea has with Gomer is commonly used as a metaphor for the relationship between Israel and the Lord. What people, including myself, often fail to see is that it is also a picture of our personal relationship with the Lord.

I am Gomer. We all are. Whoring ourselves out to the next idol in our life with no regards to our Lord and Savior. We constantly run from him in every direction possible. This is exactly where I found myself just a short time ago.

The most beautiful part of the story of Hosea (and God with Israel) is that although his wife was unfaithful, he remained faithful because of the covenant he made to her through marriage. Fortunately for me, God does the same. I find it completely ridiculous that although I practically spit in God's face by the things I say, and do, he loves me just the same. In fact, he loves me SO much that he allowed me to turn away and run from him (Romans 1:18-32) until I reached my breaking point.

My desire for this blog is to share my brokenness with you. To have you journey with me in my discovery of true, redemptive love. As I seek healing, forgiveness, and share my story and heart, I hope to encourage Christians (especially women) in being vulnerable and transparent with each other. We all struggle. We are all whores and prostitutes, unworthy of the covenant Christ made to love us faithfully wherever we are running. Thankfully, none of us are alone.

My prayer for all of us in this journey of discovering redemptive love is put beautifully in the words of Francine Rivers, author of "Redeeming Love":

"Beloved, surrender wholeheartedly to Jesus Christ, who loves you. As you drink from the deep well of Scripture, the Lord will refresh you and cleanse you, mold you and re-create you through His Living Word. For the Bible is the very breath of God, giving life eternal to those who seek Him."