I want to be like Jesus…Thoughts on Grace

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately pondering what it means to be a Christian.  I know WHAT it means, I guess I’ve been more focused on HOW to be a Christian.  What does it look like to be more like Jesus? And why is that so stinking hard?

I love Jesus.  I’ve known and loved Him practically my whole life.  I was given at birth that wonderful legacy of generational faith, all my people know and love Him too.  And while I never had a Road to Damascus type of encounter, I can recall a specific moment where the power of the Spirit was so strong that I could have no more said no to Jesus in my heart than I could have stopped a moving train.

But preceding that moment, and following it, life was not so significantly different.  There was no gutter to glory narrative for me.  I was the one, when around the fire at camp giving testimonies, always felt that mine was, frankly, kind of boring. Especially compared to the stories of others with their broken families or drug/alcohol problems.

Mine has been a comfortable kind of faith.  Like an old sweatshirt on a cold night.

But it has also been not at all like that.  Growing to be like Jesus is not simple or easy for any of us.  Just because I never dabbled in THE BIG SINS like sex or drinking, I certainly have plenty of inner (and sometimes outer) sinning.  And the kind that is far more insidious and hurtful. The truth is:  Sin is Sin.  And God hates all of it.  So I’m no better or worse than anyone on this planet, however I may judge their foibles to make myself feel better.

When I was a little girl I would pray, as I was falling asleep, that the next day I could have one perfect sin-free day, just like Jesus.  I figured that if He could live a sin-free life, then certainly I could make it through a day.  Then I would wake up and smack my brother, or sass my mom, or in general make life less pleasant for those around me.  FAIL!

I’m a pleaser.  I want people to like me, to think I’m hard-working, and friendly, and smart, and funny, and LIKE me.  The worst punishment I could face as a child was when my dad would look over his glasses in disappointment over something I had done or left undone.

So I want to please God.  I want to live a life that makes God proud of me.  I want to do the right things, and obey the right way, and serve the right ministries, and be the good girl.

Except it doesn’t so much work that way.  No matter how hard I try, I will never be good enough ON MY OWN.  Besides, within heartbeats I can vacillate between wanting to be like Jesus with my whole heart, to barking at my kids, or flipping off the driver ahead of me.  Oops.  FAIL!

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around grace and what that means.  I know what it means, theoretically, but how does that play out?  How does it work in my life? And how do I actually extend it to others?  I don’t want to be the wicked servant who was forgiven much, and then can’t pay it forward.  But I feel like I am, so very often.

I’m forgiven.  I know that.  I get that.  In my head.  And sometimes in my heart, but not always.  It seems to me, as an educator, that a student (me) can know the material, but when it comes to actually putting that knowledge into practice, can fall flat on my face. FAIL!

Part of being generationally Christian means that I know the lingo.  I can fellowship with the best of them. (And exactly how did fellowship come to be a verb?  This is one of those buzzwords that makes me kind of crazy. But that’s another topic.) I know all about grace, justification, sanctification, redemption.  But if I can’t let it move from head knowledge to heart knowledge, what is the point?

So here is what I cling to.  I’m a work in progress.  There is no way that I can get it right.  I will never be good enough on my own.  And this is where I need to let Jesus step in.  I need to let Jesus be perfect for me.  I have to hope, to believe that when I stand before the throne, I can point at Him and say “Look at Him, not at me.”  And in the meantime, I get up in the morning and try.  And know that even though I FAIL, He never does.  This must be an on-going and everyday process.  It’s a good thing His mercies are new every morning.




An All-Consuming Fire: On Reverance

During the season of Lent, our church is exploring the quieter virtues, based on a book Awakening the Quieter Virtues by Gregory Spencer.  I confess that I have not yet read this book, not because I don’t want to, but because they have been sold out everywhere I’ve looked.  It’s on order.  As my Lenten discipline, I’ve decided to explore each of these virtues myself here on this blog.  The first virtue is Reverence.

For the sermon on Sunday, Pastor Eric chose a scripture from Hebrews 12:28.  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.  I continue that with verse 29: for our God is a consuming fire.

I’ve been mulling that over this week – what does it mean for God to be a consuming fire?  It sounds frightening.  I’ve seen a fire consume a place very dear to me, and it was terrifying.  We tell our kids not to play with fire.  Perhaps in this context it is appropriate – God is meant to be held in reverence and awe.  As C.S. Lewis says of Aslan in his Chronicles of Narnia: “He’s not a tame lion!”  He is not to be toyed with.

Our generation has been raised with the idea that God is love and our friend (a doctrine I refer to as bumping butts with Jesus), which He is.  There is no doubt about that. But God is also God.  And I think we like to make God fit into some prescribed box of our own choosing, to make Him safe and comfortable for us.  We forget that God is also majestic and awesome (not in the casual way we bandy this word around in our generation, but rather Awe-full).  When we try to contain God into a neat tidy description we defeat the purpose of believing in God, and kind of makes ourselves God.

A fire is an amazing thing.  It can warm us, cook our food, provide protection, bring us joy.  But it can also consume and destroy.  One treats fire with respect.  We used to have a neighbor who said “You burn, you learn” when referring to the natural consequences of treating fire with care.

This is one way this verse can be taken.  God is all-powerful, and must be treated with awe.  Which I think is true.  But I also believe that we can look at this verse from another direction.

God wants all of us.  He doesn’t just want our Sunday best, or the remnants of our busy lives.  This is a trap I frequently fall into.  Does God receive my first, my last, my worst, my best?  Or do I just throw the crumbs of my existence, the times when I don’t have anything else to do, His direction?  He wants to consume it all.  He wants to take the fire and purify us, to burn the dross and leave the gold, to incinerate the chaff and leave the wheat.  That may hurt.  But the end result is worth the pain. If we emerge from the fire finer and purer, we become shiny.  God may then be reflected in us and away from us to others.

Another thing I’ve noticed – the more time I spend with God the more I want to.  Could this be one more interpretation?

To revere God, to live a life of reverence, does not mean to live in fear.  It means to know that God is wild and unpredictable like a forest fire, but also safe and life-giving like a campfire.  While we may think we can contain or control fire, that is not always true.  We fight fire.  We also fight God.  Or we can respect fire, and benefit from the good things it gives.  And respect God, and benefit from the good things He gives.






Holy Hide and Seek

Holy Hide and Seek

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jer. 29:13

Remember when you were a kid, and you would play hide and seek? Maybe you have small people in your house and you are in the midst of those years. “Mommy, let’s play hide and seek!” So someone dutifully covers their eyes (usually the Mommy) and counts to ten and everyone else scatters to hide. Frequently, the kids hide in plain sight, peeking out from behind some curtains, or feet sticking out from behind the couch. In my house, I sometimes took a very long time to count to ten. Sometimes even long enough to sit on the couch with a cup of coffee and flick through a magazine.

There are many variations of this game: Ghosts in the Graveyard, Fugitive, Murderer, Assassin (why do these variants get more gruesome as kids age?). What is it about these hiding and finding games that are so appealing to children? If you are at all like me, you know why they are appealing to the mommy.

Part of it is the unknown. There is a little buzz when you open a cupboard door and are surprised to find someone in it. The thrill of discovery overcomes the trepidation of being scared by what is behind the curtain.

Isn’t it the same with God? Throughout Scripture we find reference to seeking. So many passages speak of seeking God with all your heart, and he will be found.

It’s the ultimate Hide and Seek game. But here is the catch. God isn’t hidden. He’s there in plain sight. This holy hide and seek is more like Marco Polo or Blind Man’s Bluff maybe – one in which the seeker can’t see and the sought-after is right there in front of you.

So why do we even need to seek God? If he is right there all the time, why can’t everyone see him?

In the garden, there was no need to seek God. He walked and talked and hung out with Adam and Eve. They frolicked happily around the grounds. Have you ever watched a two year old after their bath? There is no fear or shame, they sprint around the house naked as a jaybird, laughing their heads off while we pursue them. Until my niece was about five, whenever we were at the cabin she would contentedly strip down to her birthday suit to swim. Sometimes her only item of clothing all day would be her life jacket. I loved seeing those little white buns peeking out.

Then came the apple-eating incident. And the first game of hide and seek. Only it wasn’t so fun. There was no giggling in a cupboard desiring to be found. Adam and Eve hightailed it behind some bushes and tried to cover up their nakedness. In the cool of the day, God came walking in the garden and when they heard him they hid. He called, and when he got no answer, he went seeking. Because God is God, the game didn’t last long. Adam answers “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid…so I hid.”

This game happens in many homes today as well. How often has one of your spawn done something they don’t particularly want you to know about, and they hide? They either hide the broken object, or when they really don’t want to get in trouble, themselves. Isn’t it amazing that the human spirit reacts the same way today, millennia later, that the first folks did. We hide. We hide our sin, our shame, our brokenness. We don’t want anyone to find out what we really are, so we cover up.

God asks Adam and Eve, with what I imagine to be sorrow in his voice, “What have you done?” Then a lot of finger pointing begins. “Well, she…” “It was HIS fault…” The first game of hide and seek does not end well.

The game then turns. Once out of the garden, we became the seekers. We create a divide with God and this separation from him, caused by our sin, makes us feel like he is hiding. Really, aren’t we just seeking playing freely in the garden? Isn’t what was lost what our souls yearn for? But it isn’t the garden we are after. It is relationship with God. We blew it with our stupid version of hide and seek, and now we want it back.

God creates a new version of hide and seek for us. Over and over in Scripture he tells us that if we seek him, we will find him. “Hey guys… come look! Come find me. I’m right here…” And we sit on the couch and count to a bazillion and flick the pages of a cheap tabloid. God is eager for us to find him. Jesus tells a few parables about this: the pearl of great value, the woman who loses a coin.

If you seek him, he will be found 1 Chronicles 28:9

And those who seek me find me Proverbs 8:17

Seek the Lord while he may be found Isaiah 55:6

For it is time to seek the Lord Hosea 10:12

Seek me and live Amos 5:4

He who seeks, finds Matthew 7:8

He rewards those who earnestly seek him Hebrews 11:6

My kids, now teenagers, play a version of this game called Sardines. In this variant, one person hides – preferably in a relatively roomy space – and as the seekers find the hider, one by one, they crawl in with him or her and join the hiding until every last seeker has found what is hidden.

Isn’t this a little bit like seeking God? What he really wants is for all of us to be made right with him. So he hides in plain sight – feet sticking out from behind the couch, or the closet door left ajar. He wants us to crawl, one by one, in with him – back into the garden – to frolic unashamed with the Game-maker. To giggle with him until the others find us.

We are given games like hide and seek so that we learn the greatest Hide and Seek, one that is not a game but a pursuit of the Holy and the Creator.

Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Psalm 105:3-4