Grace

It’s a well-taught concept. A word used often in religion: grace.

This word easily slips off my tongue when I talk about my spiritual life. Many “say grace” at the dinner table by muttering tired, repeat prayers. But, ‘grace’ deserves such better treatment. Please, take a moment to remind yourself of the immense beauty of God’s grace. One brief pause in a busy day to reflect on the gravity of the love story he has with you:

When I sinned, God knew death was inevitably coming for me. He had to stop this calamity, had to find a solution, a loophole, anything to save the child he so desperately loved. And he did. God found a loophole that would save all of humanity. An exit he could offer to every single one of his heirs from the clutches of death. But it wasn’t by eradicating the punishment and it was too good to come for free.

A tremendous price was attached; my Father was willing to pay. To save me, he let go of his only son. A righteous son who never committed the heinous betrayal that I had. I treated my Father’s law as if it were dispensable and in doing so, relinquished my precious heritage. Jesus, though innocent and undeserving, accepted the most painful death in human history; a torturous, unfair fate because of me. He found a way to rescue me from my own self-inflicted demise. An innocent was so overwhelmed with love that he surrendered his life to give me another chance.

Is that not the most beautiful love story you’ve ever heard?

That’s your story. Write this on your heart, let it inundate your mind the next time ‘grace’ flutters through your thoughts. In this moment, let the full weight of grace weigh on you. And praise God for his passionate rescue and purchased escape given freely to you.

Halloween Angel

Halloween was always foreign to me. All it meant was Mom picking me up early from school and my missing out on whatever mysterious classroom festivities were celebrated. The one year I remember actually staying in school for the day, I recall being dressed as an angel. Maybe it was an effort to realign those evil kids’ minds. The Halloween angel come to save your soul.

A brief history lesson

In reality, a Halloween angel isn’t far off from the Christian history of the holiday. Halloween was celebrated as the evening before All Saints’ Day—All Saints’ Day Eve. For the Christian world, this was a time for honoring lost saints and loved ones. Even today, in some parts of the world Christians visit graveyards and adorn their loved ones’ tombstones with flowers and candles.

It’s also rumored—by Wikipedia, take it or leave it—that children went to houses and offered to pray for loved ones in exchange for sweets, years down the road evolving into trick-or-treating.

Merry not scary

Today, I see a lot less of the “trick” and mostly just treating during Halloween. Last week I volunteered to hand out candy to kids during Boo at the Zoo. It was a blast! I treated Elsas and Spidermans, even a pint-sized Michelin Man with chocolate. My night consisted of giving away candy to cute little children. There was no scaring off demons or fear-inducing rituals. Simply making some kids merry. The intention behind the event made me glad to be a part of it.

Tradition without reason

Often in my Christianity, I find myself following tradition without reason. The abhorring of anything Halloween-related was instilled in me during my entire childhood. Yet the reasoning was based more on tradition and preconceived notions than anything else. Neither are good reasons to continue, or refrain, from doing something.

Jesus scolded the Pharisees in Mark 7 saying, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Granted, that was a more serious subject than celebrating a holiday. But the lesson still applies.

I hope that all my actions are motivated by the unquestionable moving of the Holy Spirit. Even if that means making a change in my personal opinions. I don’t want to be a blind follower of second-hand rules. I want to do God’s will because my love for Him compels me to, not because ‘that’s what Christians do.’ My Father judges my heart, so that’s what I plan on following: the Spirit’s guiding of my heart.

God, in fact

God and facts have a rocky coexistence. In turn, many fact-driven people have the most strained relationship with God I’ve seen in Christianity. The catch-22 that trips many up is that no one can prove spiritual trut. Yet, if someone were to prove God’s existence, the entire spiritual realm would no longer be faith-based, stripping away an intrinsic foundation of our salvation story.

I like how C.S. Lewis puts it, “If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe – no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house.”

We see ripples

Because he isn’t constrained to the universe he created, we can only observe influences of the spiritual realm for now. We believe by individual experiences. My favorite analogy comes from physicist Michio Kaku. He says we are like fish in a pond. While we can’t leave our pond, we can see the ripples on the water’s surface as evidence—not proof—of another world.

Until the day God enters our pond, a leap of faith is required. Facts and evidence can lead to God. They can be laid out in a logical path that begs belief in his existence. But they are only stepping stones to an inevitable cliff jump.

Assured conviction

A well-quoted Hebrews passage defines faith as, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The facts are these: no one will ever scientifically prove God is real until the second coming; it is logical to believe based on evidence supporting God’s existence; and in the end, just like many scientific theories, believing in God requires faith to bridge the gap between evidence and fact.

Suspended in our leap over that gap, we have assurance that something will catch us, a conviction that it is our Father. With that beautiful surrender of faith comes a personal experience with the Creator. Don’t pass by realities that beg you to believe deeper spiritual truths. Ask for open eyes to see evidence woven into the fabric of the universe. And when it comes to the leap, enjoy the free-fall on the way down.

The Human Anomaly

When I was younger, singing was my expertise. In high school choir Mr. Peterson would call out names, “Carol, Meagan, Cole, Grant, Brianna sit down.” We were disallowed to sing until told we could stand again. This was one of the highest honors. Our director was trying to make the rest of the choir sing well without the vocal leaders. Which meant that when I was sitting I was exceptional, important, special.

While I may not have the same bird-like singing voice I did in high school, I carry with me the same yearning we all harbor: to be special. Tell me you’ve never cared about being unique from others and I’ll call you a liar. It’s a basic human desire. We want to be an anomaly, to stand out. Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy because from the start God made created us different by mirroring us to his image. He then let us name and rule over seven million animal species on the planet, quite a special privilege.

Creations creating 

The Creator also passed on to us the ability to create, part of our likeness to him. Humans want to create, improve, re-imagine. This includes creating our own future. When it comes to making a future, you can chose from hundreds of tendrils branching out from the trunk of your most recent decision. We have the intelligence to weigh which future we want, a part of God’s gift of free will.

Think about it

This intelligence is proof of an extremely significant mind God place in each of our skulls. We can think abstractly, consider our own consciousness, and make moral judgments—a freedom that allowed our downfall and also enables us to choose salvation. In turn, when we chose salvation each of us can have a personal relationship with the Creator; something no other Earth resident has been offered.

Because God loves us, he gave us dominion on Earth and freedom to create, chose our future, make ethical choices. Our Creator granted us the ability make an intelligent, free-will choice for a personal relationship with him. Not only is our species highly extraordinary, but you can have an exclusive relationship specific only to yourself and God.

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV).

God chose you, crowned you, made you holy. You are God’s special possession.

Sneaky sins

Mine is selfishness. I fight it constantly. It’s my sneaky sin. Many times I catch myself trying to cover its truly disgusting nature with a decorative mask. Like dousing a slimy monster with feathers and glitter. Ugh, that is so inconsiderate of her to wait for the fourth doorbell to answer the door for me. Or wow, I cannot believe he didn’t even bother to say thank you. 

I shouldn’t expect people to drop what they’re doing, sacrifice their time, or express gratefulness for me. That’s selfish behavior that I’ve redefined as someone else’s lack of courtesy.

In C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” several characters harbor sneaky sins—sins of the spirit. Each character comes to a moment of decision where they can hug tightly to their monster or surrender to true freedom. Sadly, many chose to coddle their downfalls. One refused to admit that her constant nagging “love” was far from righteous. Another shrunk into his own self-pity, blaming others for not caring enough.

Smoke out a sneaky sin

Sins of the spirit nest in quiet corners of your soul. They’re not blazing obvious like the over-exemplified murder, bribery, lying, cheating; sins of the flesh. However, sneaky sins are just as dangerous. You may have found one if:

  • It causes you to blame others for your actions/reactions
  • It gets in the way of self-improvement
  • You find yourself persistently justifying it
  • You say phrases like I earned this or I deserve better (God’s grace says otherwise)

Instead of allowing these sins to simmer below the surface, choose to dish out the fruits of the spirit. Don’t let the enemy burn you. Smoke out your sneaky sins and replace them with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

It won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight. In fact it will be  difficult, like losing a part of yourself. There will be pain when extinguishing such deep-seeded iniquities. But I can assure you that the Holy Spirit, our great guide, will help you make ashes of your sin and emerge one day washed in righteous flames.

Spiritual segregation

What would happen if we organized media by lifestyle instead of genre? Browsing a book store you’d read categories like Straight-A student, Artful soul, Deadbeat, Selfless volunteer, Philosopher. It’s interesting we don’t organize this way…except with Christianity. Why?

An entire worldview is segregated into it’s own genre in books, music, movies, art, news, entertainment. Look for Bach’s work and you’ll find it categorized in classical or instrumental. Yet the musician himself commented, “At a reverent performance of music, God is always at hand with his gracious presence.”  Bach knew something that many Christians miss; a simple wisdom that dates over 6,000 years.

Original goodness 

Everything we experience was originally created glorifying God in perfection. Seven times in Genesis 1, the Bible calls God’s creations “good.” Flawless.  That includes creating music—angelic choirs existed before we did—, story telling—the Bible makes evident God’s love for a good story—, even concocting culinary delights—there are well over 20,000 edible plants God made for us.

Everything God has touched harbors potential to be used for his glory. So why mentally segregate jazz from religious music, a Psychology book from Christian non-fiction? I know I’ve been guilty of disconnecting my spiritual life from “secular” pastimes. Don’t get me wrong, religious music is a wonderful blessing I would never give up. The problem is categorizing it in a different department than the rest of my life. The Enemy uses this separation to make religion seem dry, monotonous, predictable when in reality…

Freedom comes 

A liberation happens when we merge our “spiritual” life and “other’ life. We can praise God in so many more venues than before. The painting I create of our neighborhood Milky Way praises Him just as much as a painting of the second coming would.

Corinthians 12 tells, “There are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.…All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit” (ESV). Each of our talents are blessings that God wants us to use freely for His good. That doesn’t necessarily mean painting fifty variations of the Crucifixion.

I can praise God in a chalk drawing of sapphire ocean waves, bring honor to His temple (my body) training for a half-marathon, and bask in His goodness while enjoying Bach’s music. Free yourself from spiritual segregation today. In everything you do, let it glorify God!

70-year old Samaritan

I was shocked out of my dull  rush-hour drive to work today when I exited the interstate and my steering wheel began shaking uncontrollably. The realization quickly dawned, I have a flat tire. Thank God I was only going about 40 mph and literally at the ideal place to pull off.

I’m sure I solidified some major stereotypes standing on the side of the road, a twenty-something year old female, flipping through my owner’s manual with a jack and spare tire at my feet. Okay, I did this once with Mom when I was 16, if I start maybe it’ll come to me as I go. 

After five minutes of figuring out how to lower the jack enough to fit it under my car, I began twisting the handle, scraping my soft, lady-like knuckles on the cement every turn. After about the third knuckle grinding I heard a kind voice say, “Hello, how’s it going?”

Glancing up, I saw a white-haired man smiling, walking toward me on the side of the road, cars whizzing past. “Um, okay I think,” I responded. It was not going okay, apparently.

He knelt down on the cement and helped me through the whole process. I’m extremely grateful because there were some details I would have missed like hooking the jack in the groove and putting my lug-nuts on facing the correct way.

Ten minutes later,

I was pulling back into traffic on my spare. That old man completely turned my day around. His kindness washed over me and reminded me of the verse, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose,” Philippeans 2:13.

I truly saw Jesus in him. And I’m not entirely convinced he wasn’t an angel because he walked up out of nowhere claiming he’d parked around the corner, but when I drove away I never saw any car around the corner merging back into traffic.

The point is, he stopped. Out of the countless people passing by in rush-hour traffic, an elderly man was the only one willing to spare a little time and kindness.

Don’t be like everyone else whizzing by in too big of a hurry to spare ten minutes. God needs us to do his work and fulfill his good purpose here on Earth. He doesn’t ask us to passively pray for the girl on the side of the road, he asks that we actively do his good works.

Look for the opportunities he places in your path and take them gladly. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” Matthew 5:16.

Coronation of a servant

One of my favorite parts about the Bible is that I can never fully grasp its complexity. I praise God for the tantalizing mysteries of paradoxes and unanswered questions.

Particularly beautiful to me are paradoxes, which comprise the foundation of Christian culture. “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up,” James 4:10. Exaltation through meekness, freedom through service, life through death, gaining through losing…

In other words, God will help you get praise, glory, and wealth only when you don’t care about them anymore. It seems impossible to attain personal goals without a transformation of character and rewriting of your goals along the way.

What a catch-22!

The only way to succeed is by aligning your future plans with God’s. Desiring to be well-known for being humble. Being happier to serve by free will than in chains of sin. Choosing to die to this world rather than forgo eternal life.

God requires loss to gain reward. He wants you to belong in His kingdom of servants.

The hard part is surrendering your claim to earthly thrones. Personally, I often sit on a throne built on time. I hoard the minutes in a day. Thrones of self-importance, future plans, and old ways get in my way too. Yet once I empty the clutter that consumes me, ironically it leaves no room for unimportant pursuits with God’s blessings overflowing in the newly freed up space.

Contrary to the world we shouldn’t live for tangible treasures and time-constrained legacies. Our pride should lie in our humility, service, and surrender. We gain everlasting wealth in simplifying, living minimalist; joy from a simple, yet more substantial life. In stripping away insatiable worldly desires, we are left with a holy hunger from the spirit.

I want this life. Driven by the Holy Spirit, I want to aim for continual transformation into a simple, humble subject of my King. Only in being a servant am I worthy of a crown. When I see my Father in heaven, before He graciously crowns me, nothing would overwhelm me with joy more than hearing Him say, “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, whom I love, and with whom I am pleased!” (Matt. 12:18)

How the Bible fails us

The Bible is an ancient book with true accounts of desperate romance, bloody battles,  climb of empires, murders, affairs and so much more. It is the sun around which the Christian world revolves. Yet, there is one major fault with this revered book. It gives more questions than answers.

Over 2,000,000,000 devout Christians are guided by and would die for the teachings in the Bible. Yet, in the creation debate this week, Christian spokesman Ken Ham couldn’t provide one lick of scientific proof that our book contains truth. Many a childhood hero, Mr. Bill Nye the Science Guy, brought one piece of evidence after another refuting the validity of our book, using evidence from 9,000-year old trees to accelerating stars.

This only proved an eternal fact: scientific arguments will always win agains the Bible, in every logical fashion. Christians are set up to fail because of the one major flaw: we don’t have answers. We live in a foggy world of trust falls and leaps of faith. Which is exactly how God intended.

The Bible provides only enough, never more. Much of the genius authors in history leave readers guessing at the end. In fact, it’s a literary device to starve your audience from information. In this way, the Holy Word has remained a topic of debates, theories and soul-searching for centuries. Its mystery captures our intrigue.

The compelling unknowns of the Bible are also a proclamation of God’s love. By withholding answers, by refusing us scientific facts, it can only be understood by those who first have faith. Faith is the decoding factor that reveals hidden spiritual truths.

Had God allowed the Bible to be laden with facts of his existence and proof of the invisible war, it would no longer be a matter of choice to follow him. If all evidence were provided, together we would blindly follow facts. Instead, the Word of God deprives us, yet gives just enough historical accounts and life-lesson metaphors to remain both credible and helpful.

Our holy book may fail in providing facts of God’s existence or scientific proof. However, as Ronald Reagan said, “Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face.”

Overflowing with nourishment for a hungry soul, it’s thick with answers on where we came from, where we’re going and how to live a gratifying life along the way. The Bible will never satisfy those who seek evidence. But,  it will never fail when you seek spiritual guidance and comfort. God’s Word gives us not the evidence we want, but the answers we need.