Falling from grace, It may not be what you think…

“You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish?  After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?  Have you suffered so much for nothing–if it really was for nothing?  Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”

I remember when I first began to believe the Good News.  It’s hard to describe the feelings, the changes I went through, and how my life began to be transformed on the deepest levels.  To even try to put my experience into words seems to diminish the power of those early encounters with the grace, love, and truth of God.  I’ll trust, however, that it won’t.

The first thing I remember, sitting in that warehouse church, was what could seem to be two opposing feelings.  As someone who didn’t believe in God, but desperately wanted to, I was not unfamiliar with the feeling of emptiness– of this realization that I needed something more than myself.  But that day in the dimly lit building, there was a difference.  The need for God that I had  felt before, it was still there.  This time, though, what I was lacking before– seemed to suddenly ignite in me the smallest ember.  Faith.   Where was this new kindling coming from?  I had always wanted to believe, and couldn’t– why now?  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) As I look back on that day, one of the strongest differences I remember was that, for the first time in my life, it felt like to allow myself to believe in this God and His Son Jesus Christ might be the wisest decision I could make.  There was a sense that, although I knew something was going to have to be done about all this sin and darkness in me, that somehow, He might be big enough to take care of it.  That, maybe it really is good news.

Like many others who have walked the path before and beside me, and by the grace of God, will come behind me, that was the beginning of the craziest journey I’ve ever started.  I’ll spare you the details of my early days of “being on fire”, to “walking through the desert”– wondering where or why that strong Presence that seemed almost tangible had suddenly disappeared, to learning that this whole thing is a process– more like a marathon than a sprint.

What I do want to talk about is Grace.  And Trust.  And how every. single. good and perfect thing originates with God.  I don’t know about you, but for me, this topic of grace?  It’s been a bit controversial– which shows there’s a lack of understanding what exactly it is.  Some folks get afraid when you just say the word…”grace”;  Their faces get red and their jaw tightens as they think, “oh boy, it’s one of those ‘greasy grace’ people, thinking they can just use God’s grace as a licence to do what they want.  Lord, help me to teach them the truth.”  I use the term “afraid” because I think that’s exactly what it is.  I think many of us are more afraid of clinging to grace than falling from grace.   This may sound weird, and I don’t think it is intentional on our part, but I think it needs to be addressed with truth so the liar can’t deceive us.
“You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4) Paul is telling the churches in Galatia that it is through trying to be right with God (justified) by the law that would make them fall from grace. It was a matter of what they believed in their hearts! As if to say, “Don’t you know Jesus came and made right with God all who would believe Him?!  There’s nothing left to do except know Him more and more and keep walking with Him through grace!” Based on my study of the Scriptures, I think one of the main things God wants us to keep at the forefront of our understanding is our complete dependence on and the total, provided sufficiency offered in Christ. “We love because He first loved us.”(1 John 4:19) At whatever point we are depending on ourselves for sufficiency, righteousness, right standing with God, justification, healing, salvation, anything…. we are proclaiming an area in our life which we do not need Christ to come in and do what ONLY He can.

We know all the Scriptures that tell us that when Christ saves us, it is ALL about believing that it is only by grace that we are saved.

Let’s pause there, read that again.

And, we know, that even after God initiates the relationship, it continues to be His grace that grows, sustains, transforms, renews, and makes us more like Jesus.  If you don’t know this, just do a word search on the word “grace” and you will soon find that everything good continues to originate and grow from Him. Or, do a word search on “righteousness” to see how we get it. This is just one of the many reasons that God rightfully gets ALL the glory.

Beloved, I believe God is so concerned with us having the Truth in our hearts in this area so much. I believe He wants us walking in freedom (Gal. 5)! In confidence in His love!(1John 4:18) Being vessels that really show that the power is FROM HIM! (2 Cor. 4:7) A people who are ever-believing that there is yet EVEN MORE love to be experienced and explored! (Eph. 3:18, 1 Peter 2:2-3) He wants it known that He. Is. God. ~worthy of praise and with love that endures forever. (psalm 100) And for our hearts to be depending on and clinging to the ALL-SUFFICIENT sacrifice He promised He is. For it is is Christ and Christ alone from Whom comes all Truth and Grace. When these out-of-this-world truths begin to take root in our hearts, we are compelled to worship. To worship with abandon, gratitude, and the humility that acknowledges Who He is and who we are. We are compelled to know this God more.  “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”(2 Cor. 5:14-15)   Praise and glory to God.  This God “from whom all blessings flow!!”  Taste and see that He. is. Good. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Indeed, Body of Christ, cling to grace.

On Real Trust and Real imperfection

I think my biggest problem with trust has always been this stark awareness of my own ability to mess things up.  I’m learning how — trusting and believing– they’re very closely related.  I remember how the amplified Bible often included “clinging, trusting, depending on” as it explored the depth and beauty of the language from which we translated “believe”.

But trusting Him…clinging to Him, it’s not really about me.  It’s about who He is, what He says. His trustworthiness.

And what will it be? No, what is it?  Because, I really can’t control what I will choose in five years, five days, five minutes.  I can only choose in this moment.  It’s all I’ve been given in this realm of time and space.

Real trust keeps believing and swallowing the life-sustaining, enough-for-this-day peace-Bread He offers.  And Jesus is that Bread.  And He keeps on giving, because He is Living Bread.  Real trust surrenders the perceived  need for any exemptions from the command, “don’t worry about anything, but pray about and give thanks for all things.”  Real trust allows for perception change when that, which we cannot see as grace, becomes a deeper glimpse into the heart of a God Who is Love, and has a plan that is good, and which nothing can thwart.

Because He knew how anxiety gets us into so much trouble.  How it twists our stomachs, our hearts, and the paths that He would make straight.  And how He really is using it for conforming these images to the Image.  And how it strangles the peace, chokes the faith sustaining our intimacy.  Paralyzes these clay jars that He purposed for all-surpassing-greatness revealing.  And how all worry is just “this desperate clinging to wanting things my own way”.

Real trust can only be if there is a God who is good and loves me.

“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’  Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the One he has sent.'”  John 6:28-29

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever would believe on Him, would have eternal life.” John 3:16

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” 1 John 4:16

“And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us.” 1 John 4:23

When mountains move

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

A friend of mine recently wrote a great blog about a similiar passage I thought was worth sharing, you can find it here http://weaklyexperience.blogspot.com/2012/08/fig-trees-and-mountains.html

I was thinking about these ‘moving mountains’ today, too.  About how the ego in us wants to be involved even in being the “best” Christian, the spiritual giant of our time.  Then, I was thinking how Jesus always seemed to be pointing us to be doing the secret, almost imperceivable things to be great in His kingdom.  I wondered, how can our faith moving a mountain not get us some kind of spiritual clout?!  What does moving massive boulders have to do with loving others?

Here are some thoughts:

Perhaps, it has to do with the prayer of faith that literally changes the atmosphere.  That that which was once an immovable obstacle to a fellow sojourner has disappeared as we join our faith with the heart and will of God.  That, when we trust in Him, lean not on our own understanding, acknowledge Him in all our ways, He makes our paths straight.

That, when we strengthen ourselves in the Lord, we “make level paths for our feet, so that the lame may not be disabled but rather healed.” Heb. 12:12-13

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God..” Hebrews 12:15a

What do you think?

“You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded…

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.  You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”  Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24

When you don’t feel it

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

1 Peter 2:24

I don’t know what particular set of events, genetics, or personality make-up in me contribute, but I have been one who, in the past, was absolutely consumed with guilt.  There were times when my guilt was appropriate.  When I stole a piece of candy at the store on vacation when I was 6.  When I lied or gossipped behind a friend’s back.  The list of my infractions could go on.   But there have been times, too, when I’ve turned from my sin through God’s power, asked forgiveness, yet did not feel forgiven at all.  What does that mean?  If Christ says that I am forgiven, then isn’t it so?

  I came to accept Christ’s payment for my unrighteousness when I was 17.  Understanding that there was nothing I could do to overcome my sinful nature in my own power, I fell head over heels in love with a Saviour who came to earth and said He would make it possible, and then did.   Jesus, the Son of God, lived a sinless life, was fully God and fully man, able to empathize completely with our weakness and struggle, and the only one able to overcome through a perfect life and sacrificing that perfect life on behalf of every human who would receive the gift.  This news absolutely changed my life.   For a time, my faith seemed so solid.  I genuinely felt forgiven when I asked for it.  It seemed there was unlimited power to overcome the things in my life that weren’t pleasing to God.  It was obvious, I was a new creation.

As time passed, the feelings became less powerful.  And somehow I connected my faith with my feelings.  I doubted that God was continuing to forgive and work in my life because I didn’t feel it.  James says that if I say I believe, and my actions don’t show it, I don’t really believe and I’m lying to myself. (James 1&2) He didn’t seem to think feelings were as relevant as actions in connection with my beliefs.  

I see this same paradigm, not just with faith, but with all of God’s gifts.  For instance, Love.   “Love is a verb.  It is a choice, not a feeling.”  Wise words that stuck with me and rang true in my core.  After 9 years of marriage, I can say I agree wholeheartedly.  When everything is not about me.  When things do not go my way.  When I do not feel romantic or have butterflies in my stomach.  When I am hurt.  Love is not a feeling.  It is a choice.  It’s interesting that psychology tells us that there is a circular behavioural pattern involving: thoughts–>feelings–>actions.  That you can choose to change one of those and the others will automatically be effected.  For me, dealing with the thoughts and actions arena has proven most helpful.  And I love that God reminds us through Paul that, “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy–think on these things.” (phillipians 4:8) Word in, Word out.  When I change my thoughts or actions, slowly but surely, my feelings line up.  I cook dinner when I don’t feel like it because I want to love my family, warmth oozes in.  Give a massage to an achy husband– love in action, a butterfly flutters.  Suddenly, I am feeling love.  With Service: give to someone in need, feel more blessed.  It is the same with forgiveness; Fall short, fall on knees, fall on grace; get up with the knowledge that I am white as snow, eyes catch a glimpse of Him.  Feel it or not, I’m forgiven because God said so. When I can’t choose the feeling, I can choose the thought, the action.  It is a hard process, but so worth it.  I had never read the Bible before I was 17.  I have never hungered for anything like I do the Living Bread.  I need it.  My process has been messy.  We’re all a bit broken.  That is why He came.  That is the good news!  That when I don’t feel it, He is true.  That when I am so infantile and have so much to learn, He is the Grace I need to get where He is leading.   I can trust and believe by acting like it and thinking like it.

 Word in, Word out.  Change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.  “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

Have you heard the Good News of what Jesus has done for you?  Yes, you!  Jesus said, “For I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.” And when the “church people” of Jesus’ day saw him eating a meal with folks who were looked down upon in their community they questioned why He would eat with the “sinners”.  Jesus responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  You see, Jesus had nothing to offer the folks who thought they had it all together.  Even though they claimed to love God, follow all the rules, and even deprive themselves for ‘religious’ reasons, Jesus said they were “hypocrites”, “white washed tombs”, and “snakes”.  So, if you find yourself among the “not enough on your own”, knowing there is an inner life that He sees and desires to make right, there is a place in His Kingdom for you.  He is the Door.  We can only enter through Him.  His death on the cross is what we can accept for our righteousness.  This is where we all begin the real life.  You can take a step in faith by seeking more. For more on new life with Christ, read the Bible, begin to talk to God, (I know that sounds crazy, but He is real and He wants to have a relationship with you), find other Christ-followers.