Sunday, May 20, 2012

Be Perfect! (I Didn't Say It, Jesus Did!)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Boy, do we need more grace and more peace in our lives! Are you like me, feeling rushed and overwhelmed? Forgetting details because your mind is overflowing with everything on your “to do list?" It seems that everywhere I turn people are feeling the same way, too much to do and too little time, and the things that we are doing don’t always seem to be the priorities. We get distracted with the mundane and the insignificant details of daily life.  

My husband and I recently experienced this as we traveled over a long weekend to visit family. We both remarked at the end of our trip that “we had left God at home." Of course that is not theologically possible. One of my favorite names for God is Immanuel, God with us. So while I know it’s true, it played out quite differently on our trip. All the planned activities for the weekend seemed to take over as each hour slipped by. Even though my husband and I know and love God, we let other lesser things get in the way. What should have been a priority had been relegated to the bottom of the list. Does that happen to you? Do you ever oversleep and miss out on your morning devotion time? Does a rushed drive-thru dinner cause you to “skip” meal time prayer? Does your weekday evening schedule mean no time for bedtime prayers with your husband or kids?  (I just checked “yes” next to each one of these)

I have good news for you. And it comes straight from the gospel. 

Christ came to set the captives free. The gospel is the liberating truth that Christ has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. You may be asking yourself – yes, but what does that have to do with "leaving God at home” over a long weekend?  

Here’s the deal. The standard that God requires is perfection.

Jesus said,  

It is an undiluted, inflexible standard. It is not good enough to say I’m getting better or improving. Perfect holiness is what God accepts, period.  

That’s why Christ came. He lived the life that you and I never could. His sinless life and spotless record is counted towards our sinful and lawless account.  

That’s good news, isn't it?  

Our imperfection, our best intentions, our failed plans – 

exchanged for Christ’s perfection, Christ’s pure motivations and His perfectly executed days!

Speaker and author Elyse Fitzpatrick puts it this way;

“There is enough law obeying in Christ’s life to cover every law I break. Jesus Christ answered all the demands of the law in my place.”

That’s good news isn’t it?  

Condemnation and guilt no longer have power over you. Because Christ answered all the demands, the law can no longer condemn you! In Christ you are free from all the guilt, regret, and condemnation you’ve been carrying around.

As I thought about that weekend with my family I found myself giving into guilt and shame for choosing lesser things than God that weekend. But the freedom in the gospel reminds me that yes, I did choose lesser things. I will always choose lesser things because the standard is perfection and I will never attain that. So the gospel comforts my weary soul with the refreshing good news that Christ is my perfection. In Him I can rest because the perfection I long for, the “rightness” I am seeking, and the forgiveness I desperately need, I already have. 

Jesus says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

You see, apart from Jesus and his righteousness we would all be relegated to the bottom of God’s list. But God, being rich in mercy sent His Son to rescue us from ourselves. With Jesus, we go to the top of God’s list! Free from guilt and shame and free to love and serve because of the great and unending love of Christ!

That’s good news, isn’t it?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Real Life Wednesday!

Welcome to Real Life Wednesday!

You might be thinking,

"But wait, it's Thursday!"

Yes, welcome to my real life.  As much as I wanted to post this yesterday before the stroke of midnight, I just didn't have it in me. Between my home, family, a new position at work and keeping up with friends, I literally had no time left in my Wednesday. But that's a good thing, and I'll tell you why:

My Wednesday began on our patio with my husband and a cup of coffee. These days, that's how we start each day. Sometimes we talk a lot, sometimes we don't say much, but every morning is spent together - connecting - in the same space - face to face.
My day ended with my husband - and prayer. It's the best way I can think of to end a day that is full of distractions.
I've started a new position at work. I love it! My mind is swirling with thoughts about it. I was devoted to working hard throughout my day. It's good. I am kind of surprised that I get to do what I do :)
I sat at the dinner table with my husband. I know - in this day and age that's rare. But despite the constant pull to do other things, we have decided this is a big deal - dinner together, at the table. It's nice.
I went to bed early. Some nights it just feels good to actually be in bed by 9:30pm! Nothing beats a good night's sleep!
I put a note on my computer today to remind me to ask myself this question every day "Does my calendar reflect my ministry?". I want to spend my time each day focusing on people not tasks and "to do" lists.
As I look at the things that filled my day yesterday, it makes my heart glad that the things that "got in my way" of completing my "Real Life Wednesday" post had to do with my husband - he is what matters most.

It hasn't always been that way. God is good. His grace is unending.

Happy Thursday :)!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I'm O.K. [I Lied]

I saw a friend at church several weeks ago and as we passed each other that Sunday morning he asked how I was. I know him pretty well - he is in the community group my husband and I have been attending for several years. Although I was crumbling inside, I gave him the cursory response. You know the one..."I'm fine". I smiled as I politely replied - not missing a beat.

I wrestled with that brief exchange all day and into the next morning. I cringed when I thought about my response. This young man had no idea what I was going through and would never know. I believe he was genuinely asking the question to find out how I really was. Why would I think any differently?

Am I so conditioned to believe that everyone at church on Sunday morning is simply just making random conversation, all the while considering what they'll be ordering at Starbucks after the sermon?

While that may be true to some extent, I don't want to believe that about everyone all the time.

Call me Pollyanna, but I really do think most people truly care. If that is the case, why is it so hard for me to tell the truth and so easy to respond with a lie?

Let's face it - the truth is that for most of us, most of the time, we are not O.K. And even when we think we're O.K., we're really not. We've just managed to bury and shove to the rear those thoughts, feelings, fears and doubts that would consume us otherwise. We compartmentalize our struggling marriage, an abusive past or the rebellious child who has yet again zapped every last ounce of patience you think you have. That's exactly what I did that morning. But this time was different. In the past I would have skipped on my merry way without a second thought. But God loves me so much that He would not let me get away with the fake"ness" I'd grown comfortable with. The next morning driving in to work all I could think about was calling my friend. Not in a guilt ridden way, but in a freeing way. God has been teaching me more and more about His love for me and what He has accomplished through Christ's finished work on the cross. Christ came to set a sinner like me free. Although I am a mess and although I lie he loves me still, and His love assures me that I am free - free to admit I'm a liar, a fake and a mess.

It was a hard call to make, but profound for me. I told my friend that I lied when I told him I was fine on Sunday. I told him of my marriage struggle and I shared my heart. I asked him to pray for us and I know that he did and continues to. Out of honesty came exceeding abundance! Freedom from pretense, prayers on our behalf, a telephone call to my husband for encouragement - all that would have not happened apart from transparency!

I want that in every area of my life because there is nothing sweeter than knowing Christ and the freedom he died for on my behalf. It's so hard because it's not our nature. It's not our default. I am moment by moment tempted to believe the lie that I have to pretend in order to be in control, gain approval and respect, and guarantee my security.

Christ said it is for freedom I have set you free. It's a gift that all the superlatives in the world can't describe!

Next time you see me, remind me I'm free! I need to hear more about this freedom that only the gospel of Jesus Christ brings. I need you to remind me often, and I need to remind you often. That's how we can help each other - by preaching the gospel to weary sinner-saints.

Friend, you are free. Free to love, free to serve, free to be who you really are. Free to admit fault and weakness and failure. Why do I talk about freedom so much? Because I need to hear it so much. I need to hear it every moment of every day because I forget it every moment of every day :).

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Real Life Wednesday!

When my husband and I exchanged our wedding vows we placed beautiful shiny gold bands on each others' fingers and said "I do". They were a symbol of our love and commitment for forever - til death do us part.

That seems so long ago and time has a way of blurring memories. Life creeps in and sometimes it's hard to to see what seemed so clear in the beginning.

These are our original wedding rings. 

The two bands were diamond cut - polished and gleaming.

The engagement ring was simple - a small diamond given to me by my grandmother.

Over the years the bands became dulled and scratched. My husband Peter, works with his hands and chemicals and dirt had taken a toll.  His band was worn down and almost completely smooth. One year I decided to add emeralds (my birthstone) to the top of my band and the jeweler did very poor work almost ruining the band. Peter had stopped wearing his ring to try and prevent it from getting worse. So, for our 10th wedding anniversary Peter bought me a new diamond ring and two gold and diamond bands for either side of the engagement ring. They are beautiful and I've been wearing them for such a long time that the memory of our original rings had faded.

Fast forward to recent years.  More than our rings suffered under the effects of "wear and tear".  We found ourselves in a very difficult season of our marriage.  As God began to put back together what was torn apart, I thought about those beat up rings.  I actually found them in a small blue velvet pouch tucked away in my jewelry box and pulled them out to find them just as I had remembered - beat up and barely resembling the once glistening new bands.  I knew in an instant that I wanted to try and have them restored.

The next day I headed over to a local family jeweler in town and presented them to the woman behind the counter. She is the jeweler's wife and an expert in gold and diamonds. She took one look and her face said it all. She explained that it would be impossible to restore my band because there were six tiny holes drilled all the way through.  And, Peter's band would take a lot of work to build it back up and then make the precision cuts look like new. My heart sank. She said she would check with her husband. I could see their faces as they discussed the rings and I saw her husband nodding. My heart soared - he said it would take work but he thought he could do it!  He would have them done in a week!

Several days later I went to pick up the rings and when she took them out of the little black pouch I could not believe it!  My eyes started to well up with tears as I looked at these beautiful restored rings.

All the memories of our wedding day came flooding back...

I was overwhelmed as I thought about how God was restoring our marriage and how these rings represented that restoration work and all God has been doing in each of us and in our marriage these last few months.

It was no coincidence that God gave our newly restored rings back to us! That's His business - making all things new! Rescuing, recreating and restoring!

If you see me around, I'm sporting my "new" ring. It's beautiful! My husband wears his around his neck on a gold chain.

When I look at my band each day it is a piercing reminder of the mess we are and the cleaner upper God is.

His grace goes after sinners.

His grace never stops.

His grace did not speed up when we were "good" or slow done when we were "bad".

His grace knows no boundaries...and never, never gives up.

It's who He is.

In a word - Redeemer.

God's not finished either.

He is guiding and directing each of us as we struggle to give up our selfish, self-centered ways.

But more and more we recognize that we are great sinners - both of us - in need of a a great Savior!

Thanks for visiting Real Life Wednesday!  You can check out last weeks Real Life Wednesday! post here.  I try to give a weekly snapshot of different things going on in my life.  It's probably not that exciting, but definitely real!  Maybe you see yourself in some of the things I deal with.  If so, I'd love to hear about it!