God’s grace in the taste of warmed peaches

I’ll spare you the details.

Yes, because the details look like a swollen face and dental office tears. I’ll spare you those, because that isn’t what greased my gears these past couple days. I haven’t written because my head felt like a fire breathing dragon in a breath holding contest. Something like that, anyway. So, I didn’t think my words would come out appropriately or coherently or worthy of my small readership (I really do think of you).

Do you want to know what has been marvelous about these past couple days? Autumn.

I think (in my more romantic moments) that Autumn is the heavenly concoction God cooked up to especially delight our senses. Just when we got used to deep green leaves and bright sunshine and bare shoulders, Creation shrugs into a different set of smells and sights and rhythms.

I love to think of God’s delight as Christ holds the universe together (Hebrews 1:3). He doesn’t just hold things as they are, though he could do that and it would still be miraculous. He holds things together and delights to play symphonies and paint tapestries and breathe seasons into reality.

Can you believe His great grace to us – that we get to watch as He traces His majesty into the sky and as He paints Autumn into the trees?

It is not easy to be sick in a new city. But His grace is like a gusty Autumn wind – it’ll meet you in a surprise attack and leave you laughing.

His grace looked like my sister ordering soup from a thousand miles away. It looked like making stovetop apples and lentil stew with my roommate. It looked like an opera with an old friend. It looked like the understanding of my coworkers. It looked like new friends checking in and referring an amazing dentist. His grace looked like the crisp breeze under my chin and the taste of warmed peaches in my morning oatmeal.

Can God’s grace be the taste of warmed peaches? Yes.

Yes, sometimes God’s grace to us and the ways He keeps His promise to protect and provide is surprisingly simple.

Because caring for His creation is not complicated, to Him anyway. He knows what will delight my heart and what will sustain my spirit. He knows because He made me and He knows what it means for His grace to be uniquely enough for my situation.

Of course, the best sufficiency is always more of Christ Himself. But I’m going to be honest. It was hard to make my swollen face focus on anything philosophical. So, I am thankful that in those moments Christ was made known to me in these other ways.

And as we receive grace we fight to believe that God is good to keep giving it because He is a promise keeper.

And He has promised more grace.

 

I am not the fixer: a repeat lesson on grace and faith

No advice is ever new. It’s all been said before and probably many times. When she was growing up, my mom jokingly numbered her dad’s talks. He would sigh deep and launch into a lesson on life and she would say, “Oh, is this #642?” Because, of course, she’d heard them all (hasn’t every teenager?).

Yesterday, I needed to hear a repeat. I don’t know what number lesson it is, but it’s the one I need almost every day and especially on this day. A couple cases were just stretching my heart to breaking. I found myself thinking up ways I could make things easier for the kids and for the parents and for the transitions. But, it’s just all so messy.

Broken relationships, broken trust, broken love, broken houses. Brokenness can never stay as is without someone suffering payment.

When things break, someone has to pay.

I don’t have to tell you about the brokenness. You see it, too. Your best friend, co-worker, dad, brother, cousin, neighbor, step-sister… you are familiar with brokenness and you know its high cost.

I had about an hour after a meeting yesterday and before my nightly rounds began. After work ended, I would have another very difficult personal conversation about brokenness. In the middle of work and personal messes, I needed to remember that messes are well beyond my power to fix them.

I am not the fixer.

The very best way I can respond when messes make their way to my door or crawl out of my own heart is to seek the Lord.

So, I sat with my computer in my lap and read this little devotional from Solid Joys on Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” I needed to hear the lesson on faith because it rightly positions my heart to seek sufficiency where it can be found. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve heard it before, my heart needed to hear it again.

Because I am not the fixer. I don’t have the tools or the expertise. I don’t have the right words or the right timing. I don’t have the power to mend brokenness or pay for its destruction. I don’t have access to that kind of bounty.

Faith is the act of our soul that turns away from our own insufficiency to the free and all-sufficient resources of God. Faith focuses on the freedom of God to dispense grace to the unworthy. It banks on the bounty of God. (John Piper, Future Grace p. 182-183)

Oh, but I love my Jesus!

In faith, I can believe that He is the same grace-giver today that He was yesterday, the same sufficient provider and the same bondage breaker. His resources never end. All the cost of brokenness that ever was does not exceed the payment of the cross. But He does not just make payment for all the ways we’ve been in wrong relationship with God and man, He restores us and renews us and revives us once again. The broken are mended and made new in Christ.

By His grace, we believe He is capable of this kind of miraculous mending. As often as I hear the lesson, I cling to the grace that allows my belief. Yesterday, I needed to hear a repeat.

And do you know what He did?

As I made a mess of nightly rounds, a colleague asked me, “You seem different, peaceful. You kinda strike me as the tree-hugger type…”

I didn’t really know what to do with that, but it felt like he was making a compliment. He backtracked and danced around political correctness (ah, government workers), but I kind of giggled, “Well, I’m not exactly a tree-hugger, but I do feel at peace.”

And then I explained it was because of my faith that I could have any peace at all. I thought that might be the end of it. Nobody wants to hear about “religion” these days, so we’re told. But, he did and he started asking questions. We were both a captive audience in that car and I knew the clock said I was late to my next two appointments, but I felt a very perfect calmness.

He’d been brought up Baptist, but then he got “curious” and frustrated with a God who required punitive damages – the exchange of hellbound consequences for actions didn’t seem consistent with forgiveness and mercy.

I’m almost positive he did not take a direct route to our destination and the part of me that was antsy about the time was won over by the part of me that was excited about his questions. We talked about sin requiring payment (from somebody) and the mercy God showed in giving the payment on our behalf. In our line of work, we are familiar with brokenness and payment required… but the miracle of salvation is that a third party steps in to pay AND to mend. And God is the only one with the power and authority to do so.

I prayed for him and his family all the way to my next appointment – that they would soon be numbered as sons and daughters of the King. And I breathed deep the grace that gave me faith to believe it is possible – for him and for me. This is a lesson I need on repeat.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

making melodies

I remember standing on the wooden pews and singing in Dimnent Chapel during college. The notes got all mingled together above our heads and bounced off the stained glass in the post Sunday night worship sessions.

“I’m making melody in my heart to You
I’m making melody in my heart to You
Pouring out Your praise with everything within”
(Matt Redman)

Now, I know my heart makes melodies whether I ask it to or not. It’s just a thing it does – sing, I mean. That can’t be a surprise, with the amount of music I post here.

Sometimes the songs are of the G, C, D, E variety with simple words and rhythms. Other times, they sound a little more complicated and painful. This song is some sort of mixture, but it is hopeful.

Yes, hopeful.

Love is what has brought us here
With the courage to come near
Chase away our pride and our fear
With the Light to carry
With the Light to carry on

This past weekend I went to John Piper‘s Desiring God Seminar on TULIP (5 points of Calvinism) in Minneapolis. Eight hours of lecture with live Q & A interspersed throughout is pretty heavy – one of those times where you are unsure whether to write anything down because you know what you do write down won’t be enough. (If you’re interested in the slides, they are here for free.)

One take-away I’m still clinging to on Tuesday night is hope. The kind of Romans 5 hope that doesn’t disappoint. Because God is sovereign, I have hope. Because nothing happens outside of God’s control, I have peace that my hope is secure. I can rest even while the world appears to be crumbling – even while there is death and disease and addiction and pain, I have a hope secure.

My pride and fear and sin and doubt are chased away by the Light of One who is mighty to save. God’s promises are trustworthy and His words pierce into the deepest dark with a light that exposes (Ephesians 5) sin for what it truly is: rebellion. And when my heart was dead without any hope of revival, His Light reached out and called me into right relationship while empowering me to take each step by grace.

He called me out of darkness and into His wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9) and then gave me the grace to walk until the sun shone on my face. What hope we have in a God who takes what is dead and makes it alive! What hope we have in a God who extends grace for salvation and grace for the saved to be sanctified. What hope! 

This message of God’s sovereignty is not about being puppets or robots as much as it is about God’s grace enabling those He has called to freely choose Him. This is the kind of hope that makes the dark clouds fade away – the kind of hope that is enduring because God is eternal.

This is the kind of hope that makes melodies in my heart – sometimes simple and sometimes complicated – reminding me who allows the dark clouds and who gives strength to endure.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

what the Lord requires

Nobody told these birds to dance.
Nobody orchestrated their motions into something wonderful.

They did it all on their own.

The music they heard was not a symphony or a rousing indie anthem but the wind rushing underneath, giving power and form to their soaring.

Why?

It seems silly that these birds would make such a display just because – that they would cause such a great, choreographed spectacle in the sky caught on camera by chance.

It seems silly.

Tonight, I’m headed to the city of brotherly love to conference with a crowd of thousands to hear people like Eugene Cho and Leroy Barber and Dr. John Perkins talk about justice.

I’m not going because it’s hip to believe in something, because it is. I’m not going because I think I’m some big deal – some gift to the cause of justice, because I’m not.

I’m going because I want to learn what to do with the awe I feel when I see birds dance for an audience of One. I’m going because God created this world to reflect Him and there is a whole lot that doesn’t. I’m going because part of loving and treasuring Christ means putting one foot of faith in front of the other in my everyday. Because believing in His promises means I think sin and injustice can be overthrown.

I’m going because I know God’s heart for the lost and the suffering and the outcast, but sometimes I don’t know how to make my knowing come out my fingertips.

If God’s grace allows the birds to dance in glorious display of His creativity, then His grace allows me to treasure Him in the dance of justice seeking, with the wind of His power and pleasure beneath me.

It is not mine to win or gain or give, justice that is. God alone is sovereign in how His plan is carried out, but I can walk in obedience and in the footsteps of Jesus. I can do that. And I think what the Lord requires – doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly – might look like a dance.

Pray with me that God would work on my clumsy heart?

trading B for A game

After two days of sniffling and coughing and chugging various zicam and emergen-C products, I got in my car and drove two hours to be a counselor for junior high girls at winter camp last weekend.

I was sure, just sure it would be my B game I was bringing… especially after the emergency level phone calls were still ringing at 7 pm on Friday night. It was one of those “you can’t win ’em all” moments when you think you’re beat before you’ve started.

Winter camp started on Saturday, so Friday found me pulling in to my parents’ long driveway, opening the front door, and throwing my “Hello?” into the living room. I collapsed a little bit into the comfort – the way this home knows me.

My parents were sitting in the living room decompressing their own crazy weeks and I joined them like it was a regular thing for me to be there on a Friday. It always feels kind of like a time warp when I’m in that place – the same two people with the same caring faces in the same living room always brings me back. That night I played hymns on my mom’s piano, sang with my sisters, and didn’t check my work email.

I slept well even in the chilled upstairs and woke up to help my mom transform our valentine’s tradition into a breakfast spectacular. I packed quickly, drank strong coffee and headed in the direction of winter camp, refreshed but still expecting B game.

And then 36 junior high and senior high students happened… at a camp… in the country… where Christ is the main event… and B game is not an option.

It wasn’t even like I decided anything. I was just making decisions to believe God’s grace would be enough for the next moment – and not just enough, but abundant to the point that I was capable of every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8).

As I was making those grace-depending decisions, I stepped further into God’s glorious plan for the weekend: wide eyes, praise, wonder.

I listened to my campers work through what it means to be a fan vs. what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We didn’t mess around during our breakout sessions. I mean, we made bargains (like when they said, “we’ll pay attention if you sing us a song.” Of course, I did), but we got serious about opening the Word and chewing on what we found.

I’m not boasting in bringing A game – not at all. It was like A game was brought to me… if that makes sense. Two days full to the brim with talking about the glory of God, listening to the glory of God, and reading the glory of God in the words of Scripture will make A game happen.

You will love when you have nothing left. You will keep your eyes open when your body wants to sleep. You will create a rap with a ninth grade boy about salvation. You will make up a song and dance with 6 squealing young ladies about the way Jesus made you beautiful. You will run in unseasonal February sunshine. You will glow.

Have you ever experienced this – when you thought you had little to offer but God’s grace proved otherwise?

God’s grace is amazing – so amazing that it can take a body that is not good for anything and make it fit his purposes so that He would be glorified and salvation would be proclaimed.

The Word transforms every kind of body into something useful for the Kingdom. And the process of transformation wakes up the soul to shout praise.

Maybe you are bent or broken or bruised on this Monday and you think you’ve only got B game to offer. Let me tell you, an awakened soul is full of delight and surprises.

“Whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:11

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

silly in starlight

Today was sick with disappointment and human failure – sick with sadness.

But, today was heavy with grace. 

I was stepping in it and leaning on it and drinking it in from one moment to the next, believing there was always enough for the more that I needed.

I just kept getting lost in it – God’s all-sufficient, works-empowering grace – and then I got caught up. It was just me in my car, no kiddos in the backseat this time.

Just me, with room to stretch and sing.

And then there was kind of a tingle that rushed out from my chest and made music all over my civic. I got silly in that city starlight tonight, singing words like proclamations from my soul.

It was like my soul snuggled close to the person I could have been – the person God saved me from being and then burst out and screamed, “I am redeemed!”

All the ugly that threatens to keep a soul downcast, mired in the sin of this world, is not far from where my feet would tread – save for the grace of God. Not one client I have is more hopeless than I was when Christ found me. Not one. And I am redeemed!

The realization was electric. I sang and sang and reached out my hands in praise. This God of all creation redeemed me from the deepest and darkest pit where so many make their home. This same God is able to reach every single, sloppy soul in the wreckage of their sin.

This grace, unspeakable grace, God has made abundant so that I am equipped to do every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8) and He receives the glory.

So, I’ll get silly in starlight and sing.

I’ll sing and let the praise rise up from the darkness and into the night.

I will praise the God who gives the grace that causes a darkened heart to seek the light.
I’ll sing to the One who invites the darkest soul to come and drink and thirst no more.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

don’t you fold, gram and gramps

“Seems like kids don’t respect anyone these days… they don’t even respect themselves.” Gram was telling me stories of the kids on her afternoon bus route, “I just don’t know anymore.”

“Well, we’ve got to hold on to hope… because if we don’t have hope what do we have?” I kind of threw it out there hoping it wouldn’t sound as trite as it felt.

I told her to pass that on to Grandpa and that’s when I found out he was on the line too. I could see the whole scene unfold in my mind: Grandma picked up the phone by the computer and when she said, “Well, Caroline, hello!” she made a motion for Gramps to get on the other line and he went into the kitchen to listen in.

Anyway, so Grandpa was in the kitchen, Grandma was in the living room and I was on my way to make my lunch and walk the dog. Grandpa said, “I just wake up every morning and thank God for another day. I say, ‘God, help me not waste this day because it’s a gift.’ And I just got to keep thinking like that.”

I smiled and I hoped they heard it in my voice. Grace and thanks. Thanks and grace.

We can’t persuade ourselves into an attitude of thanks. We are predisposed to passivity when it comes to thanks, if it wasn’t for grace. Only by the grace of God can we look at the world (and at the children who lack respect for themselves or others) and see hope. But it is also only by the grace of God that we can look at the world and see how dark and dreadful it is without hope.

God gives us grace to see darkness and grace to see light and grace to recognize the difference, because we must know from where we came.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth,

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
(1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

And such were some of you. Paul is clear about who will inherit the kingdom of God, but he is also clear that the Gospel is not about keeping people out. The Gospel is about bringing people in and, with the transforming power of God alone, making them new. When Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he doesn’t have them all stand by the windows so he can point out sinners walking down the street. No, Paul reminds them of their own lives before they were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.

After youth group tonight, I invited a student out to coffee and while I was in the bathroom she overheard a table of middle-aged men chatting about how one of them “scored” on a young blonde.

It’s true – people don’t respect others or even themselves anymore and it’s not just the children on my grandparents’ bus routes. It’s so true it makes me sick to my stomach. Sin has a way of smothering my heart and suffocating my lungs. It’s just so … dreadfully ugly.

But weren’t we once this dreadfully ugly?

God is gracious in allowing us to see sin and evil because only then will we see the weight of grace in our own deliverance.

Don’t fold, Gram and Gramps. Don’t you fold when you’re driving those precious children and they’re running the aisles with arms flailing and curses like sailors. Love because He first loved you.

There’s a lot a darkness out there, so don’t you fold.

Don’t you fold
When the mountain is high,
When the river is wide
Don’t you fold
When you’re out of your mind,
When you’re walking the line