What I Never Knew About Grace

For most of my life, I haven’t known what it is like to not be trying to impress people. I’ve had people tell me, “You don’t have to impress anyone.” My problem wasn’t just about impressing people. My problem was also everything that goes into impressing people, and I needed people to be impressed with me. It takes a lot of energy to try and impress everyone so that they will like you, or the work you create. In fact, trying to impress people takes so much energy that I often felt exhausted when I was at home. Alive where the crowd was. Exhausted at home. My drive to impress people wore my soul like tattered clothes.

I was so caught up in the art of impressing people that I didn’t notice how this played out in every relationship. The relationship it played into most was my relationship with God. A.W. Tower wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” I know this to be more true now than ever in my life. I was spending so much time trying to impress God, trying to prove myself to God, that I had no idea how to enjoy God. The other thing I was clueless about in my own heart was the grace of God. I was too busy trying to impress God with how good I was to comprehend grace.

Many days now, I wonder how many people walk around trying to impress God with their moral muscle. I wonder how many people are exhausted in every part of their life, because they don’t understand what it is like to truly be accepted. Grace is not just God covering my sin. Grace is God covering my sin, and placing me in a position of value, worth, and honor in His eyes.

Grace is a wrecking ball destroying the pride of man. Grace devastates self-righteousness. Grace unravels this idea of me impressing God by doing enough good things.

Paul wrote about grace like this, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more…” Romans 5:20.

And yes, some of you right about now are flinching inside just like I flinch when I read that verse and say, “Yeah, but Paul’s not making excuse for sin or disobedience. I mean, let’s talk about obedience.”

Sure, let’s talk about that sometime. But not before we bring to the forefront of our minds, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8.

When you and I couldn’t do anything, Christ died for us. At our worst, Christ loved us best.

Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.

I think God is asking us to receive something we can never pay back, and to stop trying to pay Him back for grace. I think God wants us to love Him instead of trying to strike bargains with him. What do you do when you’re not trying to impress God anymore? I think it is then that you’re free to really love God and to love people.

My whole life, I’ve been around the things of God. I’ve been around the church, learned the bible, sang the songs, and heard the sermons. This year, I believe I’m starting to comprehend the incomprehensible grace of God. It is messing with me in great ways. I am asking questions about what is important. I’m also learning to leave behind this idea of trying to impress people because God accepts me for who I am instead of who I wish I was, and how I wish I was. To be quite honest, it is not easy to move from the way you have oriented your life for years. Yet, I believe God loves me and accepts me for who I am. Hopefully, I will have the humility to accept this.

Here are two things I’m saying more often to God.

“Thank you.”

“I love you.”

Grace is greater than we would have ever imagined. Grace is bigger than our minds could believe. Grace is and will continue into eternity where we find ourselves at rest with the God who created us, and loves us as we are.

Advertisements

Hope Rises With The Dawn

The longest day in the history of the world had to be for the people who followed Jesus the day after he died. The disaster they felt in their souls. The deep ache of their beloved friend now gone. The devastation they felt as the Savior of the World, their Lord and Master was on the other side of a stone in a tomb. They had bet the farm on Jesus. They left everything for Jesus. They believed Jesus was everything for them. Now, he was gone, and it felt like the hope they held so tightly in hand had slipped through their fingers and vanished into the night.

We all have moments when we say, “What just happened?” The day when hope turns into hopelessness. In those moments, darkness closes in as our realities or dreams are crushed. This is true in loss. In heartbreak. In the grave.

Bewildered. Devastated. Crushed.

We can be there in a moment. We may feel like we’ll be there forever. Those followers and friends of Jesus must have felt this, but Jesus had something more in store for them.

Early in the morning before the sun came up the next day, the third day, Heaven laid waste to the darkest day of humanity. In love, redemption, courage, and hope, Jesus was raised from the dead. The Resurrection of the Son of God is the Hope of Heaven and Humanity speaks a final word that all things are not lost, and all things will be made right. Things that die can live again, and the ache is not without comfort.

On that day, the third day from Jesus death, and the first day of the week, Mary, one of Jesus followers showed up at the tomb, looking for Jesus. The Scripture in John 20 says,

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” John 20:1

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:11-17

There came a point in the story when Mary went from crying in the dark to seeing in the soft light before dawn. The angels were visible to Mary. The shape of a man, a gardener, was even seen. Maybe just the outline of him. The glow of a new sunrise was on the horizon, and the faint light before the rising sun told the story to Mary as Jesus said her name. All was not lost. This was not the end. There is Resurrection.

Truth. Comfort. Hope.

When you experience unexpected loss, the feeling of disaster may overwhelm you. When your heart is broken, your dreams may feel destroyed and devastation sets in. When you approach the grave of one you love, there can be an ache greater than you could imagine and your soul may just feel crushed.

When the darkest of nights sets in, then you will feel the weight and burden of the darkness. Even then, may peace like a quiet comfort slip into your soul. There is a day coming when all that is wrong is made right. This is not the end of all things. A faint light appears on the horizon. It is dim warmth of the rising sun, a reminder that even in the dark God is working. A reminder that there is hope and a future no matter the moment.

Hope rises with the dawn.

The Prayer of Resurrection

What do you say when you are overwhelmed?

Where do you go when plans fall apart?

Who do you turn to when you reach the end of your line?

At the end of Jesus life, He said, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”

This is the prayer of Resurrection.

My end is here.

Escape is beyond what I can see.

There is nowhere left to go. No one else to turn to.

Something is dead.

God I’m leaving this in your hands.

I place what is dead in your hands.

The only hope for dead things are in the hands of God.

This is the prayer of Resurrection.

Only one make dead things live.

Only one can bring overwhelming good out of overwhelming sadness.

Only one can pour hope into the bleak outcome of this moment.

This is the prayer of Resurrection.

This prayer is the beginning of life for a new believer.

This prayer says, “There is One who is completely trustworthy. I place my life in your hands, God. I trust you.”

“Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”

What do you say when you are overwhelmed?

This is the prayer of Resurrection.

The Problem with Almost Living

Today, I was in a workout. For me, working out is something I haven’t done a lot of over the past 11 years. That is a sad reality, because I spent the first 18 years of my life as a very active person. When I went to college, I stopped valuing physical activity. I have been someone who works out for spurts of time. Sometimes a week, 6 weeks, or a few months. I haven’t been a person who has kept myself at a high level of physical conditioning. That being said, this is not advice on how to stay in shape. Talk to a physical trainer for that. This is a lesson I re-learned today.

I had gone through 2 rounds of circuit training this morning. I was exhausted. Sweating. Wondering why I woke up so early. And the negative voices started to speak.

“You usually quit after a few weeks anyway.”

“You’re too tired. Head home.”

Maybe the most tempting voice was this one. “You’ve already put in good work today. Isn’t that enough?”

I walked back to do another round of squats. Someone had taken the weights from the squat rack and was using them elsewhere. I’d have to set up another rack. At the beginning of the workout, that’s no problem. Today, it served as a great excuse to be done with my workout. I walked to the locker room to wash the sweat off my face. I wasn’t dizzy, but things were a little blurry.

“You’ve done enough. Just go home.”

Seeing a little bit more clearly. Wipe some sweat off my face again. I begin the walk across the gym. It would be enough. This was enough.

Almost. The problem was the workout wasn’t complete. I would think about the final round I didn’t do all day. I wouldn’t be satisfied later with the other 2. I would be frustrated that I didn’t finish what I started.

I walked back over to set up the rack for squats. Got a motivational song going. Then I attacked the rest of my workout. When I finished, I put a check next to every part of my workout. That was an awesome feeling. I am writing this now, because I found the value in finishing again.

Almost is a big word. It is a word that can fill us with regret. You can almost do a lot of things. The problem with almost living is that it isn’t the real thing. It almost is. There is no relief to the challenge of life when you’re almost living. There is no catharsis at the end of almost.

Almost is a shortcut costing you a lot of fulfillment.

What are some things you almost do?

Almost give your life to God. Almost love your family. Almost apologize. Almost reconcile. Almost live your dreams. Almost tell the truth. Almost be courageous. Almost finish the workout.

Almost.

If you’re tired of almost living, then I encourage you to do one thing.

Do it.

You May Be In A Better Place Than You Think

Most people I talk to are not living the life they hoped would happen. I think this is for two primary reasons. The first is their dreams were not fulfilled, and they look at other people’s lives wishing they had that kind of love or success. The second reason is this – we overlook where we are and what we have been given in Christ. I love how Paul writes about this life we have been given through the work of Jesus.

 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover  at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us.  We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

(Romans 5:1-2 MSG)

It isn’t that one day you made all the decisions that made you right with God. You made one decision. To receive “what God has always wanted to do for us —set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus.

I do not have it all together if you look at my life for what it is. I fall. I mess up. I sin. I wish I didn’t, but I’m human and I do.

I do have it all together with God because of what Jesus did. I’m not living in a state of fear with God. I trust the grace of God in my life. God has set me right with him, and I have it all together with God only because of what He has done.

My life is way better than I would ever imagine. I find myself standing where I always hoped I would stand. It isn’t a small, narrow area of thought. It is not in the corner of a judgmental life. I am not in the place of disgust and resentment. What God has done is much better than that.

I am standing in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory. No person gets there on their own. It is what God has done through Jesus on the cross.

But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace.

When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down.

(Romans 5:20 MSG)

You may be in a better place than you think. The place you’re standing in may be better than the place you think you’re standing in. When you accept Christ, you are in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory. You’re not confined to small thinking, a judgmental mind, a bitter heart, or a repressed logic. You may feel like you are sometimes. Open yourself back up to what God has done in your life. You’re in wide open spaces.

So what do you do when you’re in wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory?

Stand tall. Don’t believe the lies that say you aren’t worth it, that your life won’t count, or that you’re not making a difference. Keep your head up. This isn’t about pride. This is a quiet confidence in what God has done for you, knowing that Jesus has saved you and has great plans for you.

Shout your praise. One of the things I see this summer at Contact Mission is kids shouting praise. It is amazing to see how they praise God. They do not care what others think of them. They are going to shout their praise to God. When God’s love comes into your heart, it isn’t a small thing. It’s transcendent. Amazing. Magnificent. Above and beyond. It stirs you up. Let’s you see how great God is. Shout your praise to Him.

Stand tall. Shout your praise. You’re in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory.

The center of the X

A lot of people I talk to end up back here frequently. It is a place of questioning, and wondering what the next move is. This is the place of transition, the crossroads of life, or as I think of it, the center of the X. 

You made your way to the center of the X by moving forward, or going backward. You may have had plans that fell apart, or quite possibly success at something you didn’t like made you go back to the drawing board and start over. 

What do you do when you get to this place? There is so much tension involved because this is your story, and you only get to live your life once. Here are three questions I have found helpful in providing me clarity for my next step from the center of the X.

1. Who am I? Before you write this off, this isn’t a question for me anymore that comes from a place of not knowing. I know who I am. Sometimes, I forget to live out of that core. I am a passionate, loving man who can do whatever God tells me to do. I am working to create a courageous, real, and passionate life. I am energized by influencing others through public speaking, writing, conceptualizing, strategic thinking, connecting, and encouraging. I am competitive and adventurous. I am a son, brother, friend, and a sinner saved by the grace of God. I believe as a Christ-follower the best is yet to come, and I can live a life of faith and courage instead of a life of fear and anxiety. 

Does my living always match up with my core? No. But when I line up with the way God made me to be, life becomes much more enjoyable. When this is a blueprint for the life I build, or a map to lead me on the path I’m walking, life is much more exciting and full of impact. 

What about you? Who are you? At your core?

2. What is my purpose? I believe my purpose is to love and glorify God, to love people and make disciples. I believe purpose comes from God, not from us. I’m thankful to have found my purpose, because life makes a lot more sense to me when I live on purpose.

3. What is my mission? Before this sounds all Mission Impossible types of cheesy, that’s not what I mean. Another friend calls it “my particular purpose.” This is that sweet spot that I can live from. It is the place where the desires of my heart and the work I do match up. I’d tell you this, but you can’t know just everything about me. 

What is your mission? What do you come alive doing? 

These three questions are great at helping me clarify what is important. These questions help me remember why I do what I do, and why I want to get better. 

Are you at the center of the X? If not, where are you in your journey? I encourage you to take time to reflect on these questions for yourself, and then do more of what you love from the core of who you are. 

Live Your Life – Why It Is Okay To Let People Down

I don’t like letting people down. In a sense, this almost ruined my life. I used to live my life based off of making other people happy. I loved people, but sometimes I was more interested in pleasing people than loving them and being loved by them. One of the things I’ve learned over the past few years is that you only go around once. I know this may seem obvious to you, but when you think about it, this can be both a heavy and/or light truth to accept.

A few years ago, one of my mentors said to me, “If you’re wondering what people are thinking about you right now, I have something to tell you. They’re not.”

At first it kind of hurt my feelings. I mean, here I was trying to make sure that everyone was okay with my decisions in life. Then, I realized no one really was thinking about me. That’s not to say my decisions don’t have a weight to them, nor to say that being a good influence isn’t important. It just means that people aren’t thinking about you a lot of the time, and that can be something that can really free you up. It can make life fun and exciting. And maybe a little bit scary. I mean, it could be scary if you’ve spent years trying to make other people happy by your decisions, and then decide that you’re actually going to do what you want. Why is it scary? Because change often feels scary. Especially if you haven’t done that before.

I guess what I’m saying is this: Just because your mom likes Cheerios doesn’t mean you have to have Cheerios for breakfast. If you like bacon and eggs, have yourself some bacon and eggs. And just because your dad wants you to be an accountant or a doctor doesn’t mean you have to be an accountant or a doctor. If you want to be a lawyer, or an entrepreneur, go for it. Just because your friends and everyone around you says you should date or marry that one person, if you don’t want to be with them, then don’t. Go after a person you would want to be with.

That probably sounds like a sweeping statement, and a bit overdramatic. Breakfast, Career, and Marriage. It might even sound condescending that someone is writing a blog to say, “Don’t let other people tell you what to do with your life.”

We only get one shot at this life though, and in 75 years, don’t look back frustrated because you did what you thought would make everyone else happy. They weren’t thinking about you during that time. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t happy with all of your decisions. Your not asking them to live for you. You don’t have to live for them.

I think at the end of our days, we’ll look at God and He’ll probably ask us what we did with the life He gave us. He’ll know the story, because He is God. And we will tell God about where we went, and what we did. Who we spent time with. And how we lived our lives.

I just don’t want to get to the end of my story, and see God smile at me and then kindly shake His head as He says, “If you didn’t like Cheerios, why did you eat Cheerios for all those years? Didn’t you know about Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, Bacon, Eggs, Hashbrowns, and this magical little place called Waffle House?” That’s why I think it’s okay to let people down. Because Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch beats plain ol’ Cheerios 10 times out of 9. Because working a job you want to work is better than living someone else’s dream. Because love is better than pretending.

There is a world of excitement waiting for us. One of the most thrilling things is that we get to make our own choices, and then we are responsible for the lives we choose to live. Don’t live anybody else’s life. You don’t have time for that. Live your life.