How Bad Is It?

When something unpleasant happened, if you asked my dad how bad it was, he’d say, “Bad, but not too bad.” This became almost a motto for us over the years. I still say it and he’s been gone for over seventeen years. We tell ourselves nothing in life is so bad that it couldn’t be worse, but that doesn’t really help, does it? Saying a problem or trial is “bad, but not too bad” can bring a smile to my face, no matter what it is.

Paul might have been the first one to have an attitude of bad, but not too bad when he endured so many terrible hardships – shipwrecks, beatings, going hungry, imprisonment (2 Corinthians 11). He went a step further when he realized that in all these horrible circumstances, God’s grace was all he needed. Everything he went through, including his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12) was survivable because of grace. He even learned to “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” (verse 10). He discovered when he was weak, he was strong in Christ.

The whole world is enduring hardship this year and even though it’s worse than other years, every year brings its share of trials, problems and heartache. With Christ in us, we can face these trials head on and say, it’s bad, but not too bad. With God’s grace, in our weakness, we can be strong. Like Paul, we can boast about our weaknesses so the power of Christ can work through us and shine brightly in the darkness.

The Beauty of Grace

Did you spend some time contemplating beauty last week? I was able to ride my bike through the forest near my home and admire God’s creation – the pine trees, blue sky, clouds and of course, wildflowers. I even spotted some deer crossing the road ahead of me. I am in awe every time I ride through this amazing area and give thanks for these blessings.

But do you know what the most beautiful thing is in the entire world? It’s knowing all I see is because of God’s grace. It’s living in the reality of God’s unbelievable love, assured of my place in his embrace for eternity.

When I think of grace, I remember all the years I spent believing what God wanted most was my obedience, then learning what he really wants is to love me and have me love him in return. His beautiful grace has freed me from seeing him as judge, jury and executioner. It’s opened my eyes to the tenderness of my father, the self-emptying and sacrificial love of my friend and brother Jesus, and the loving guidance of my comforter, the Holy Spirit. His grace is truly amazing – and beautiful.

God’s Not Sitting on His Hands

I grew up thinking God isn’t very busy. After all, he finished creating everything a long time ago and the world seems to keep going on its own, so what’s left for him to do? What does he do all day? Maybe he sits at a desk waiting for prayers to be submitted and then decides which ones he’ll answer. Or maybe he manages the angels, telling them where to go and who to protect. Some think his anger meter just keeps going up and one day he’ll blow his top because of the sin and evil in the world.

I’m being silly of course. God doesn’t do any of those things. But he is busy, and he is not bored. God is active in the life of every believer. He’s active in the lives of those who don’t yet believe, even though they pay little to no attention to him.

As the meditation of St. Patrick indicates, “Christ behind me. Christ before me. Christ beside me. Christ between us. Christ beneath me. Christ above me. Christ within me.” He is always with us and as we learn to walk in his rhythms of grace, moving in tandem with the Holy Spirit, we will see all the ways he is involved in everything we do. In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

As my husband, my mom and I have prepared to move to another state, I’ve prayed for him to move in our lives in all the ways listed in St. Patrick’s prayer. And I’ve experienced God doing just that, as I have my whole life. I’m so thankful he isn’t sitting on his hands. God is busy creating, transforming, arranging, rearranging, blessing and working in our lives.

Out of God’s Way

Does God really want us to get out of his way? You’ve probably heard this and silently agreed, believing, as I have, that getting the self out of the way is the humble, Christian attitude we are all to possess. While it’s true that we are to die to self, meaning we die to our natural, carnal desires by being crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), are we in God’s way? I submit the answer is no – no more than a child is in the way of a loving parent.

I rank this phrase right up there with being used by God to accomplish his will. Saying we are in his way implies we are a hindrance. This not only can make us feel guilty and worthless, but it casts God in a bad light. God’s sole purpose is not simply to bring glory and praise to himself, as though he’s a giant egomaniac, and he sees us as preventing this. I’m pretty sure getting us out of his way is the farthest thing from his mind.

God created us to be in relationship with him. He loves us so much, he has gone above and beyond to ensure we have everything we need for lives of godliness and to bring us to the measure of his fullness (2 Peter 1:3 and Ephesians 3:19). We are not hindering his will, not preventing him from receiving all glory, praise and honor; rather we are participants in the life of Christ, in his love and grace and his master plan of a beautiful eternity with him. In fact, God has gone out of his way to put us in his way, right next to his heart, where we all belong.

Reminders of Grace

I’ve always loved flowers. A lot of people do, but most only think of them when they need a gift or when tending their gardens. But have you ever considered that flowers are a gift from God? The greatest detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes, who rarely missed a clue, noticed this about flowers: “Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes).

And what a sweet little extra they are. The variety and complexity of flowers are astounding. But they are more than embellishments and extras to life. Dallas Willard said they point us to grace: “Beauty is, above all, a manifestation of grace, of abundance and generosity. It’s the reason why God placed flowers on the earth: to have little voices calling to us constantly about grace” (Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews and Talks).

I know this is true when I drive, or rather inch along, on the California freeways. The wild sunflowers I see on the side of the road when I and a few thousand of my fellow drivers are stopped in a traffic jam lift my spirit and remind me of his grace. I hear God saying in their beautiful petals that he is good, kind and loving, even amid the hardships of life. Grace, like flowers, are everywhere, if we will open our eyes to see and appreciate.

Praying Psalm 63

Psalm 63 (NIV, 1984) is one of my favorite psalms—but only the first eight verses. I must admit I stop reading there. I have memorized these verses and often make them my prayer or my meditation. For me, this psalm contains and highlights the goodness of God and helps me focus on him rather than on myself or my problems. I hope you find this psalm as inspiring as I have.

“O God, you are my God.” Only you are my God, not money or fame or any of the glittering idols this world offers. Help me be more single-minded in my devotion to you.

“Earnestly I seek you.” Help me desire and seek you more than anything my fickle heart wants.

“My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you.” I need and enjoy you. Please give me a stronger desire to spend time with you in prayer and in your Word and remind me simply to enjoy your presence.

“In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” This world is like a dried up leaf, in great need of your healing, soothing balm. I get dry too; lead me to the river of your Spirit and quench my thirst.

“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.” When I look at the moon and stars and gaze on the beauties of nature, I am in awe of your majesty, power and glory.

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” Nothing is better or stronger than your unconditional love. I have experienced your love and grace and know you will never leave me or stop loving me.

“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” You deserve continual praise; I lift up my face to receive your blessings and lift my hands in surrender to your love.

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” You and your goodness are a feast for my weary soul; you fill me up with heavenly delights and satisfy me as only you can—with yourself.

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” You watch over me as I sleep; when I awake, you are there. I am always in your tender loving care and feel your loving kiss on my cheek as you sing me back to sleep.

“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” I have nothing to fear from my safe place near your heart.

“My soul clings to you.” I hold on as tightly as I can. Help me never let you go.

“Your right hand upholds me.” Thank you for holding me with the ferocious love that went to the cross for me. Amen.

Free in Christ

Freedom is precious. Most cultures protect the freedoms of their people, but sadly, some allow other priorities to get in the way and don’t allow as much freedom as they should. Those of us in countries where it is protected and defended often take it for granted until it’s encroached upon.

Chain expressing freedomGovernments can take away any or all of our freedoms but not our freedom in Christ. It comes with a guarantee more ironclad than any constitution. With his blood, he bought us back from the slavery of sin and death. Nothing can reverse the redemption we have in him. He has freed us from other shackles as well: fear, guilt, addictions, selfishness and worries about the future.

We are free, but what has he freed us for? What are we to do with our precious freedom? We certainly ought to cherish and appreciate it as it was purchased with so dear a price. God wants us to be thankful to be out from under sin and death, but he also wants us to use our freedom in positive and constructive ways.

We are free to live under grace, which means we are able to accept God’s gift with gratitude and joy. This allows us to live gracefully by turning around and freely extending his grace to others.

We are free to be the unique individuals we are. We can enjoy and appreciate the gifts God has given us and use them for his glory, without worrying we or our gifts might not be good enough. This opens up opportunities to serve God and our neighbors in ways we wouldn’t dare if we were still shackled by the need to conform or measure up to impossible standards set by others.

We are free to love and be loved. One of the sad consequences of legalism is that it often convinces us we aren’t good enough to love or be loved. It makes us feel we’re letting everyone down, God, family and friends. The grace of God lifts us up and tells us we are worth loving and we don’t need to measure up. Jesus measured up for us. Freedom in Christ means no more wondering if God really loves us. We have the freedom to accept his love, enjoy it and never worry it will be taken away. His love is ours to keep forever.

We are free to have our significance in God, rather than anything this world has to offer. The search for significance sidelines many from what’s really important in life and bogs us down in a mire of self-centered anxiety. Knowing God values us because we are his allows us to get our focus off ourselves and on loving God and our neighbors.

We are free to share in the fellowship of the Father and the Son through the Spirit, which is the biggest blessing of grace and is why we were created. Participating in the secure, loving relationship of Father, Son and Spirit gives us the foundation we need to follow Jesus and help others to a relationship with him.

Our freedom in Christ makes it possible to live confidently, be loved and loving, secure in our worth to God and free to have full, rich lives, doing all to his glory. We are free to be the best we can be and grow into the kind of human being Jesus was.

Letting God out of the box

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting on my blog over the past year. My intent when I began Bible verse a day was to write every day for the year and then turn the posts into a devotional, which I hope to make available in ebook and book form soon. I’ll let you know when it’s done.

My goal was to let God out of the box or rather, get our thinking about God out of the box, by exploring who he is in various verses. I hope I’ve helped you expand your concept of God. This been a real challenge for me—finding verses, writing every day and letting God expand my concept of him as well—and a great experience. Thanks for being part of it.

For 2013, I’m planning a series of posts on who Jesus is in every book of the Bible. I won’t be posting every day, but at least once or twice a week and will continue to post my monthly articles.

English: Gian Lorenzo Bernini - Dove of the Ho...

Happy New Year! May God bless you and may you continue, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to get to know him better.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all” (2 Thessalonians 3:16, NLT).

God loves us more

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NLT).

Father & Mother with Newborn

When my son was little, I often gave him one hundred kisses on his forehead. Sometimes as I counted them out, he’d start squirming, so I held him tight until I finished. At other times, we’d play the “I love you more” game, going back and forth until usually I won by telling him and later, my daughter, I loved them the most. Most parents love their children so much they would do anything for them. We would rather be sick than watch them suffer. We would take the proverbial bullet for them rather than watch them die.

Some believe God the Father of all humankind only loves his children after they declare, in acts of contrition and repentance, they love him too. But that’s not how it works with human parents and it’s not how it works with God. We love our children before they’re ever conceived and God loved every man, woman and child before the foundation of the world. He doesn’t wait for someone to say the “sinner’s prayer” or stop sinning or even understand what sin is. He loved us first, best and most.

When you believe God can’t love you until you repent, your theology (what you believe about God) says he can’t love us as much as we love our children. If my child said he or she hated me (which happens, especially with teenagers) or ran away, never wanting to see me again, I wouldn’t stop loving him or her. I wouldn’t turn off the porch light. I would never stop hoping for reconciliation and would do everything in my power to bring them back.

God did just that. He loved the world so much he became a human being and took the bullet for us. He has already forgiven all. Just as loving parents never give up on their children, God never gives up on any of his children. His love is stronger than we can imagine and he proved his determination to reconcile with us by going to the cross. He loves us more!

Jesus, the Source and Offspring

“‘I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star'” (Revelation 22:16b, NLT).

I'm My Own Grandpa

A silly song came out in the mid-40s called “I’m My Own Grandpa.” It’s the mixed up story of how, through several marriages and births, a man became his own (step) grandfather. It’s an unlikely but possible scenario and the song was a hit because of the fantastic and humorous conclusion.

In a way, Jesus is his own great-great-great, etc., grandpa. He is the source of all life (John 1), a descendant of David and by extension, a son of Adam and a son of God. Matthew Henry’s Commentary notes: “this Jesus, as God, is the root of David, though, as man, his offspring—a person in whom all uncreated and created excellencies meet.” It’s a bit of a mind twisting experience to follow the relationships in the song but it takes only a little bit of faith to believe Jesus is the one who was and is and is to come. Thankfully he is the source of our faith and everything else we need. He is the bright morning star of life.