Friday, October 14, 2016

Amazing Grace

January 29, 2012

I woke up this morning full of a quiet joy.

Through the doors, I could see the band of gold around the horizon; it glowed between the white blinds.

When I opened the doors, it was as though I opened my heart to Him, and Jesus took me in His loving arms and I worshiped and adored Him.

The air was all clear and crisp, but not cold and the pool was a deep, still blue.

My little calendar joyfully proclaims:

"Praise Him; sun and moon!
Praise Him, all you twinkling stars!
Praise Him, skies above!"
-Psalm 148:3-4


Yesterday, Keith and I spent almost the entire day outside, doing yard work and then grilling steaks for dinner. I spent the whole afternoon digging up the little flower bed around our mailbox.

Knowing that we're going to be here for two more years has changed a lot of my perspective and now I want to invest some in the landscape. I often think of the future now, and how we may be bringing our children home to this house.

The ground in the flower bed was matted with heavy growth and roots, but I took the hoe and chopped it up into chunks, shook the dirt free of the roots, and tossed the weeds aside.

I pulled up the bricks that had edged it and cleared them of dead weeds. Then I stirred up all the soil, and put the bricks back in around the edges.

I still have dirt under my fingernails, but it looks so much better now. It's all ready for some colorful annuals, whenever the right time happens to be to plant in Georgia. I have to look that up.

In the evening, I was reading an ancient, battered and beloved book of mine, and I felt Jesus draw near to me.

I feel Him settle comfortably in with me, not come to talk or to teach, but just to be near, just because He loves His children and loves to be near them.

I love this- I love for Him to come, just to spend time with me, because He loves me and I am His.

My heart can instinctively and joyfully yield to Him, because Jesus is the God of my salvation, and He took away all my shame and fear. There is nothing in life better than Him, and I have no other god beside Him.

All last night, I dreamed of children. I dreamed that I was working at a day care center with my beloved mentor Annie of Happy Valley, the day school where I worked when I was much younger.

In my dream, we were hosting a parent night, along with the children, so the entire building was full of people, companionship, warmth and the excitement and voices of small children.

My love and ability flowed out of me in an easy and natural way. Even my discipline was natural and loving and without angst.

The whole dream was full of joy- the joy of children and their funny and unique ways, the joy of easy companionship with my mentor and the joy of doing something that was challenging, creative and rewarding.

When I woke, the dream lingered with me. I leaned up against the warmth of my husband and thought of the upcoming adoption.

Whenever I think  of adoption, I see a little girl.

I have no idea if we'll be matched with a little girl or not- whatever Jesus has planned is fine with me, but for some reason, I always see a little girl.

My thoughts wandered into the future and I thought, what happens to her when Keith and I are gone? She won't have any other family. We have to adopt two.

Unless, I thought to myself, she has her own family- gets married and has children of her own.

But what if, I thought to myself, she doesn't have her own family? What if she remains single? She'll be all alone.

She will always have Me, Jesus said, in His so familiar and dear voice.

"Jesus!" I said, joyfully. His voice changed my entire perspective. "Of course she will! She has You even now, whoever she is. She always will."

Isn't this so kind of Him? He quieted even my fear about my not-yet-here children with an eternal truth.

Or maybe Jesus is starting to prepare my heart with this lovely truth far ahead of time, knowing I'll need to hear it and rely on it many times in the coming years.

January 30, 2012 Suffering

This month is flying by.

My beautiful new dental crown is filled with pain now, pretty much day and night.

I am not sure why and it is discouraging. I've been doing some research and I think it's because that particular tooth has not had a root canal, so the crown had been cemented onto the stub of actual tooth that got ground down.

Sometimes, I've read, the stub of the tooth begins to experience pain and nerve problems and then a root canal is required.

So, not only would I have to get a new crown made, but have a root canal as well as a second metal post driven up into the bone of my upper jaw.

Fun times.

But have you ever seen the faith of people that have suffered greatly in their life?

I have, and I want what they have- I want that kind of inner beauty and strength and serenity.

Oddly, I don't think any of that comes from never weathering any storms; it comes because of the storms.

So, when I think of that end result, I don't mind the pain in my tooth and I can look past the dental work and consider what inner beauty Jesus might be bringing forth through the whole experience.

I trust Jesus in the suffering. I've already learned this lesson with things that are far greater than tooth problems, and always beauty comes out of it. That's what Jesus does.

January 30, 2012 One with Christ/The Father’s Love

I've been thinking about this verse a lot lately:

"For He raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus."
-Ephesians 2:6

Sometimes, I close my eyes and I dwell on the truth of that, the truth that right in that moment, my very life is bound up in Jesus, right against and in His heart.

There is no separation; I could not get any closer to Jesus. I live because He lives, and I live in Him.

Sometimes when I do this, it's as though I have burning, live coals nestled deep in my spirit and a wind blows on them, and the coals flare up into flame. I actually feel the burning warmth of this all through my spirit.

Sometimes when I do this, it's as though I have suddenly been caught up into a flood of living water so strong, clear and powerful that I can't encompass the depths or strength of it.

Sometimes when I do this, I experience a quiet tide of Jesus' love for me. I feel His arms around me and His head close to mine.

So, it is as though I have pulled back a curtain and I see what is true behind it. I have connected to a deeper truth behind this veil of clay.

When the Father says that we are His children, He does not mean this in a symbolic way. He is not throwing us a bone or a platitude.

It's a spiritual reality more meaningful and more lasting and more defining than the physical heritage that we pass on to our children.

All of that is just a shadow, sort of a broken image of what is in every way deeper and stronger and eternal, and it's something that was ordained before the foundation of the world was laid.

It's not possible that earthly fathers could love their children more tenderly, more protectively, more proudly, more authentically, or more passionately, than the Father could love His.

But how hard that is to remember! I tend to think of God as being above all that sort of thing. I tend to think of His love as being of the distant kind, the condescending kind the let's-wait-and-see-how-they-turn-out kind.

But that's a lie.

January 30, 2012 Self-Righteousness

It was Paul who said he had come the closest to perfection by his strength and ability to keep the law, and he compared it all loss, compared to the righteousness and freedom of new life in Christ. (Philippians 3:3-9)

But it's like we don't want to give up self-will, because it's so easy to not really trust Christ to be enough. We're trying and trying and trying on our own, exhausted and worn down and discouraged, because it's not working the way we want it to work.

Of course, from that view point, sin looks very attractive. When I was trying and trying by self will to perfect myself for Jesus, was I experiencing joy or freedom or satisfaction or love or abundant life?

No. No way. Not a bit of it. I was a truly miserable, carnal creature. I was trying to reach spiritual perfection through carnal self-will.

So even the miserable half-life of sin seemed attractive to me, since I was mostly dead myself.

See, I didn't go from grace to sin.

People seem to worry about that. Well, they think, if I have complete grace, than I can do whatever I want to do, and get away with it!

It’s only possible to think this way if one hasn’t tasted the true freedom and joy and delight and wonder of being alive in Christ. Once that has happened, sin is the last thing in the world one wants to do.

Nowadays, sin as a desirable destination isn't even on my horizon. Who would want to sin? I beg Jesus each day to help me to grow in Him. I don’t want to be going in the other direction and I feel miserable if I let Him down in even a small way.

You know what is on my mind?

Self-righteousness. Now, that scares me.

I often hear the words of this hymn in my head:

"My Jesus, I love Thee! I know Thou art mine. For Thee all the follies of sin I resign."

But sin, in the light of Jesus, is the smallest thing to give up. I don't want to just give it up, I want to be free of it! I don't want the follies! I don't have to  be resigned to give them up, I want them out of here. So I change the lyrics. I sing:

"For Thee, all the follies of self-righteousness I resign."

That has meaning to me. Self- righteousness as a sin I worry about all the time, and that I do have to resign, after being convicted of it. I have to be convicted, otherwise I'm often unaware that I've gotten tangled up in it.

January 30, 2012 (Published)

I've been dwelling on this verse a lot lately:

"For He raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus."
-Ephesians 2:6

It's a lovely thing to think about and rest in. Right now, we are just as much seated with Jesus as we are living down here.

There is no need to go searching for Jesus, because our very lives are hidden in Him, right where He is.

I've been understanding something in a new way lately, though I'm still very much thinking these things through, so I'm just sort of talking out loud.

I know that my spirit has been born again, that it is a new creation.

But, I think our souls are not. I've been learning that our souls are the mind- our reason and perception and consciousness, and the emotions.

I think this is why Paul says that we should renew our mind- because our mind and emotions hold all the pain and injuries and misconceptions of this current life, while our spirit holds the mind of Christ and is hidden in Him.

So, sometimes it's like we're holding two worldviews.

We're holding the eternal and lasting and true worldview- that we are the children of God, born in Him, that we are the righteousness of God and sanctified in Him and made perfect. This is the spiritual view.

But we're also holding the former view, the one of what was past- that we are unacceptable but capable of perfecting ourselves, and the idea or hope we can find satisfaction and fulfillment in the things of this world. This is the carnal view.

That view is no longer true, but our poor minds and emotions are kind of stuck there sometimes. This duality is, I think, the wellspring for much of our confusion and distress in this life.

I think the more we can joyfully abandon ourselves to the eternal truths, to our true and lasting identities, the stronger that identity will become in our mind and emotions.

I think this is why guilt, shame and fear are not helpful in character development. Those were the tools I was using when I was trying to perfect myself in my own strength. But those tools were just damaging!

Our true character is in Christ. Out of unity in Him -abiding in Him- we produce the fruits of the Spirit, which define our character and give glory to the Father. Those fruits are grown by looking at Jesus, resting in Him and casting ourselves on Him in faith that He will complete the work.

There is no room or purpose for guilt, shame and fear in our unity in Christ.

Despite this, I sometimes try and use them even now, but they don't work in the light of the work of Jesus Christ. Shame, fear and perpetual guilt only reinforce my former identity, because they take my eyes off of Jesus and onto myself in a kind of despairing judgment.

They did nothing but hold me back. It was as though I were running from Jesus, instead of resting in Him.

It's very like the healing process from sexual abuse.

At a certain point, I had the choice to either embrace the emotions engendered by that abuse, thus perpetuating my identity as a victim, long after it had finished.

Or, I could release that identity and recognize that I am not there anymore, that it is not happening to me anymore and it doesn't define me, even if I still feel the echoes of the pain.

Here's an even trickier part of this whole equation.

I'm leaning more and more toward the understanding that self-will is of the mind.

That would mean that self-will is carnal, not spiritual. I don't mean the self control that is grown as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, but the strength and intent of my fleshly self to reach righteousness on my own, instead of receiving it from God as a gift by faith and being sanctified over time by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Back in the day, when I tried with every ounce of my own self will to make myself acceptable to God, not only did I fail spectacularly in being acceptable, but I only managed to develop a toxic combination of shame and religious arrogance.

If I succeeded in something, I knew it was because I myself had subjected my own flesh or mind, by the strength of my self-will.

Therefore, I could be self-satisfied, thinking somehow that I had made myself more spiritually acceptable to God.

If I failed in something, I knew it was because I was a miserable sinner, subjected to the law of my flesh and not spiritual enough to succeed.

See? I had drawn all the lines wrong, because I was drawing them myself. I couldn't reach spiritual perfection using carnal strength. I was just stopping and starting or going in confused circles. I certainly was not experiencing any intimacy, joy or life in my day to day relationship with Jesus.

When I gave up self-will, and surrendered helpless into Jesus, He Himself drew all my lines. I think this may be one reason why Jesus said His strength is made perfect in weakness.

In Christ, we have faith expressed in love, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, that no one may boast.

It makes me think of Paul saying this to those crazy Galatians:

"Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love."
-Galatians 5:2-6

It seems that it's either all free gift through the perfect and finished work of Jesus that we accept by faith expressed in love and that we live out through His Spirit, producing lovely fruits of the spirit to the glory of the Father or it's obedience to the entire law through self-will, doomed to failure and leading to sin and death.

But I don't think it can be both.

So there is now no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit—and this power is mine through Christ Jesus—has freed me from the vicious circle of sin and death. We aren’t saved from sin’s grasp by knowing the commandments of God because we can’t and don’t keep them, but God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours—except that ours are sinful—and destroyed sin’s control over us by giving himself as a sacrifice for our sins.

So now we can obey God’s laws if we follow after the Holy Spirit and no longer obey the old evil nature within us.

Those who let themselves be controlled by their lower natures live only to please themselves, but those who follow after the Holy Spirit find themselves doing those things that please God. Following after the Holy Spirit leads to life and peace, but following after the old nature leads to death because the old sinful nature within us is against God. It never did obey God’s laws and it never will.  That’s why those who are still under the control of their old sinful selves, bent on following their old evil desires, can never please God.

But you are not like that. You are controlled by your new nature if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that if anyone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ living in him, he is not a Christian at all.) Yet, even though Christ lives within you, your body will die because of sin; but your spirit will live, for Christ has pardoned it. And if the Spirit of God, who raised up Jesus from the dead, lives in you, he will make your dying bodies live again after you die, by means of this same Holy Spirit living within you.

So, dear brothers, you have no obligations whatever to your old sinful nature to do what it begs you to do. For if you keep on following it you are lost and will perish, but if through the power of the Holy Spirit you crush it and its evil deeds, you shall live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

And so we should not be like cringing, fearful slaves, but we should behave like God’s very own children, adopted into the bosom of his family, and calling to him, “Father, Father.”

For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we really are God’s children. And since we are his children, we will share his treasures—for all God gives to his Son Jesus is now ours too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

-Romans 8:1-17, Living Bible