Grace is So Much More

When most of us think of grace, we think of salvation. Ephesians 2:5 (and other verses) tells us we are saved by grace and that it’s a gift from God. Then in 2 Peter 3:38, we are told to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You can find a lot of information and many studies online about growing in grace, so I won’t try to replicate that here. 

Besides the gift of salvation, grace also means having compassion, mercy and kindness, and in a nutshell, these are the things we are to grow in, becoming more mature in Christ. God shows these to us and then we, through the Holy Spirit, can show them to others. Just as 1 Corinthians 13 is a description of who God is, the definition and properties of grace show us who God is – his very heart. He is our champion, always on our side, always for us and wanting the best for us. 

God’s grace is a beautiful gift and fortunately for us, it doesn’t stop with our salvation. His grace covers us daily and continues to teach us the way of Jesus – the way of the Kingdom.

Afraid of a Little Solitude?

The first time a friend of mine went to a silent retreat, she brought a suitcase full of books. She was afraid of spending several hours alone, with “nothing” to do. After the retreat, she was pleased to tell me she hadn’t needed all those books. She had enjoyed her time alone with God, including the silence. 

I think most people are afraid of silence and solitude. The proof is in the plethora of devices, distractions and diversions available to us – and we all make good use of them, don’t we? It’s especially difficult to get away from them if you’re at home. I made it about ten hours last time I tried a mini retreat – too many distractions within easy reach. But the hours I managed to forget about all of that were great. Solitude and silence are necessary tools in the Christian life. 

Henri Nouwen called solitude “a place of conversion – where the old self dies and the new self is born; the place where the emergence of the new man and the new woman occurs” (The Way of the Heart). He also said we must first remember solitude isn’t just getting privacy, time on our own to do our own thing, or simply recharge our batteries. It’s so much more – it’s just me, just you, being vulnerable, weak, sinful, broken, nothing, before God. This is so difficult most of us want to run away, back to the safety of our distractions and devices. But if we can stick it out, we can come to the place of complete surrender. We can face our sin, show our wounds, give up our fears and face our true nature. That’s where we become the new creature. 


(I have paraphrased some of Nouwen’s thoughts from The Way of the Heart.) Next week: how to develop a discipline of solitude.

Praying to Whom?

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he introduced a new way to address and even think of God – as our Father. Before then, prayers did not begin this way even though some verses referred to him as father. It wasn’t appropriate to do so as it was too familiar and didn’t show the proper respect. But Jesus went so far as to use the intimate term “Abba,” which probably shocked some of the Jews. We pray to him and we think of him as our Father both because of Jesus’ example and because we have been adopted as God’s children.

Some will tell you not to pray directly to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Some will tell you to give the Father, Son and Spirit equal time and if you don’t, you may be guilty of neglecting one or the other. I’m addressing this because I quoted someone in a previous post who said exactly that – if we don’t pray to the Holy Spirit, we should repent and begin giving him equal attention. If you searched for this person on the Internet, you may have found his article and wondered about this. Is he correct? Should we repent of neglecting Jesus or the Holy Spirit if we are not giving equal attention to each person of the Trinity?

The answer is no. This kind of thinking is tritheism, separating the one God into three gods or three beings. He is indivisibly one with three distinctions. When we pray to the Father, we are also praying to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. When we commune with Jesus, we are communing with the Holy Spirit and the Father. We don’t have to worry that we’ve been neglecting the Spirit if we only pray to the Father or to Jesus. We do acknowledge and understand that Christian prayer is to the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit, but thinking of God as three separate beings who each demand equal time is to misunderstand his triune nature. God is one in three and three in one and hears our prayers no matter how we address him. Believing he feels neglected or gets offended is thinking he’s like us and making him over into our image.

(For more on the triune nature of God, go to www.gci.org/youre-included/, featuring interviews with trinitarian theologians.)

Attitude Adjustment

Have you ever been told you need an attitude adjustment? I have. In the old days, it often took the form of a paddle to the rear end. One of the definitions of attitude on dictionary.com is tendency or orientation, especially of the mind. We all have an attitude and some even have attitude. Not all attitudes are good even though a lot of people think anything goes. But every now and then we can all use an adjustment.

Here is the Bible definition: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5, NLT). Many verses, especially in Paul’s letters, expand on his attitude and how he thought of himself and treated people. He no doubt never needed an attitude adjustment, but we sure do, and not just once, but many times over the course of our lives. “Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean we will never need to repent, clean up our attitudes or address the brokenness within. We may be covered by the redemptive work of Christ, but God’s work is an ongoing deep work” (emphasis mine; from a YouVersion devotional plan called Make Room).

God is invested in the inner transformation of each of his children and has given us his Holy Spirit to affect our change in heart to help us grow in grace. We have the responsibility to participate in the transformation through the spiritual disciplines. We also need to pay attention to those times we let outside influences and our own desires pull us away from the same orientation as Jesus – not thinking too highly of ourselves and living in humble obedience to the cross, the crucified life.

Keeping It Fresh

I don’t know about you, but around here, every day seems pretty much the same as the one before. It’s like someone said, maybe we should bring back underwear embroidered with the days of the week, so we know what day it is. I don’t have undies like that, but we have established a routine of having the same meals each week: Taco Tuesday, Fish Wednesday and Pizza Thursday. It gives us a routine and something to look forward to. My husband makes most of our lunches, but I’m in charge on pizza day. We all love my sourdough crust.

It can be difficult to keep time with God from feeling the same every day too. It’s important to try to keep it fresh, continuing to learn, grow and know God better every day. This quotation from Bill Volkman (in the book, Spiritual Disciplines Companion by Jan Johnson) gave me a shot in the arm so to speak: “The longer I walk in faith and acknowledge my beloved Spouse by waiting on Him in silence, the more I ‘hear’ Him and sense His leading in the details of everyday life. Now, instead of agonizing over every situation, I rest in Him, aware of his involvement in the myriad of daily decisions, and excited beyond imagination about each new day as it unfolds.”

“Excited beyond imagination” – what a way to begin each day. I must admit, I rarely feel that excited, but thinking about who God is, how he interacts with us and his desire for union and communion with us, truly is something to be energized and enthusiastic about. It’s more exciting even than homemade sourdough crust pizza.

Hand-in-Hand

Three weeks ago, I was ordained an elder in Grace Communion International. As I prepared for this third covenantal milestone in my life, I couldn’t help but wonder what new adventures await. I also looked back over the events in my life leading to that moment. When Joe and I got married, he was what was then called a local elder, with not much responsibility in the congregation. We both worked full time and had no clue about what was on the horizon.

When his dad became president of GCI, we were asked to move to California so he could work in church administration. Skipping ahead, when we went through our monumental and earth-shaking changes in doctrine – in everything really – our world was turned upside down and we began learning about grace. New possibilities opened for women as we discovered women’s ministry and saw hints (could it be?) that women might become pastors.

I often said I was just standing around with my hands in my pockets and God looked at me and said, let’s go. He took my hand and off we went. I wish I could say I boldly went where no woman had gone before, but I was less than bold as I often hid in the ladies’ room before speaking at women’s conferences, asking, like Jonah, to be let off the hook. But he always said he would go up on the stage with me, so I went.

In all that time and in all those experiences, I never felt as though I had received an assignment or a mission from him. God was leading me, and I followed as best I could, but it was always together, always knowing he was right there to hold me up, help me and strengthen me. The difference is grace. He didn’t give me a job and then sit back and wait to see how I would do, giving me good or bad marks according to my performance. He filled me with the faith, strength and courage of Jesus and we did it together.

As I enter this new chapter of life, I know nothing has changed. He is still holding my hand, filling me with grace and faith to continue to go, perhaps even boldly, where I’ve never gone before. He continues to be my Source. Wherever we go, it will be together, with me holding on tight, laughing as he winks and says, let’s do this!

God Isn’t Limited

I came across this video on Facebook and it’s so good, I thought you might want to see it. It’s part of an interview with theologian Gary Deddo, “On Second Chances, Missions and Evangelism.”

Dr. Deddo’s basic aphorism in this video is to never think or preach about a God who is limited in the ways that we are. We have many limitations, but God isn’t like us. He is Lord of time and space and his grace is everywhere.

He talks about the motivation for evangelism: not fear, guilt and anxiety, but faith, hope and love.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WZcscTiFpA&list=LLMrxvuuDgvxHOji2HWniA5g

The Power of Prayer

One of the more prevalent phrases used among Christians is the power of prayer. James 5:16 does say, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective,” (NIV) but what is this really saying? I think we all know the power is God’s, but the way it’s most often used seems to mean the person who is praying has the power. At least that’s the impression I get when I read devotionals or books about prayer and I’m afraid that’s the impression a lot of people, including non- or new believers get too.

Believing our prayers are powerful leads us to think we are somehow responsible for the results, when it is God who answers those prayers. I like the way The Amplified Bible puts it: “The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power].” Our prayers can be dynamic, fervent and effective, and can produce great results—but only as God puts them into action and makes them powerful by his great power.

The other problem is the word “righteous.” Unless we believe our righteousness comes from Jesus and is in fact, his righteousness, we could become self-righteous about our prayers and look down on those whose prayers don’t seem to be effective and powerful. I have often wondered if my prayers were effective when someone I had been praying for didn’t get better and then died. At those times, I was at a loss when it came to understanding the verse in James. His words have been used as yardsticks to measure and compare prayers.

It’s probably best to quote this verse sparingly. And when we read it, it might be a good idea to pray that God will take our prayers, no matter how humble and bumbling, and make them effective and powerful by the power of the Holy Spirit—and leave it at that.

How to Declutter for Spiritual Growth

Getting rid of clothes that no longer fit, knickknacks that collect dust, extra sheets and towels, and coffee mugs that seem to reproduce in the dark of my kitchen cupboard, is relatively easy. All I have to do is put them in a bag and set them out for the local charity to pick up. But decluttering the spiritual takes more effort, probably because it’s less visible and harder to measure.

Many writers, preachers and speakers will try to tell you they have a key or some special insight about getting close to God (which is why you need to buy their book). Chasing after every new revelation about how to connect with him is fruitless and tiring. I know, I’ve done a bit of this. I’ve read a lot of devotionals and books that claim to be just what you need and will change your life. They usually don’t.

I’ve found the best path to spiritual transformation is the somewhat old-fashioned but tried and true method of practicing the spiritual disciplines. They’ve been around for centuries and are still the best strategy for growing in grace and knowledge of God. The basics are well known to most of us – Bible study, prayer and meditation.

Meditation is sometimes misunderstood – I suppose because it’s used by so many religions and secular groups and there are many ways to do it, including non-biblical ones. Wrong ideas about spiritual practices such as meditation could be some clutter you need to take out. I don’t have a special key, but I have learned something about it that has helped me, and next week, I will share it with you.

Space and the Spirit

Space, which I mentioned in a previous post, is often thought of as a luxury. Only the wealthy seem to have space to display works of art (or even have them). But space is something we all can attain. In our homes, we make space by getting rid of clutter, which is defined as things that are in the way, not needed or not useful. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been working on eliminating the clutter in my home. The process has made me realize I have too much stuff, and the more I take out, the more I’m determined to stop bringing stuff in as well.

Space is also desirable in our spiritual lives. When I think of making space for God, I picture the same thing I want in my house – no clutter and lots of room for what’s important: just me and Jesus. Space means time to spend with him, exploring and deepening our relationship. It means not getting distracted by going down rabbit holes of questionable theology or chasing side issues that don’t contribute to knowing Jesus and becoming like him. I try to be discerning about the devotionals I read and the way I spend my quiet time. I want my focus to be laser sharp on Jesus, no room for anything else.

Next week: De-cluttering the Spiritual Spaces