Unearned Kindness

How far will God’s kindness go? His mercy and graciousness toward me is so undeserved, and sometimes I wonder, when will it stop? I can’t do anything to deserve it. And yet sometimes I fear that if I don’t “do better” in my Christian walk, He’ll take it away.

I still have so much to learn of Him, and I recognize that these thoughts only expose how much I don’t know of His grace or of His character.

Because really, does our good works earn us the grace and blessing He pours into our lives?

There is no doubt that God rewards those who seek Him, so I’m not advocating a spiritual laziness because God’s grace will cover our lack of discipline. But in no way does our attempts toward holiness merit His grace or kindness or mercy. Rather His kindness and mercy is meant to lead us toward greater holiness.

I feel increasingly undeserving of His goodness; and I am undeserving. But because of His goodness, I am led continually toward repentance. I hope that as we realize the magnitude of His grace, we do not trample on it in pride or hardness of heart, but we repent, turn to Him, and love Him because He first loved us.

“…Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4

“…[He] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…” 2 Timothy 1:9

Thank you, God, that you alone are worthy. And that your kindness to us through Jesus has changed us and given us hope beyond compare. I pray we’d look to you and respond to your kindness and give glory to the work of Jesus who has clothed us with His righteousness. Amen.

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Money, Marriage, & Real Life

I recently sat down with a soon-to-be college graduate who asked me about the greatest financial lesson I’ve learned since I got married and graduated college.

Without pausing, I answered: I learned to tithe.

My sudden response surprised me. I wasn’t trying to be spiritual; God knows it’s been a lesson learned. But it’s a lesson that kept my heart in check and put my treasure in Christ alone.

I went into marriage with a somewhat solid understanding on financial success: live within my income, spend wisely, and save as much as I’m able. Of course, it isn’t always that simple, which I quickly learned as a young, newly-married college student. But I grew up with a dad who was very wise with his money and taught me basic financial principles that I took seriously. So granted, I went into marriage with a solid conviction to live within my means, even if it meant living with less than what all my friends were able to have. Sure, it kept me and my husband humble. We weren’t trying to match what others were able to spend, and we weren’t pretending to. We just wanted to live humbly with what God provided us and be content with His provision.

Of course, I admit that I’m kind of overly frugal. So it wasn’t until Mike and I got married that I slowly learned to give to God, and to give cheerfully. My husband has the gift of giving and a deep conviction to give to God. Me…not so much, not initially. Our conversations early in marriage began like this:

Husband: I prayed about our tithe, how much do you think we should give this month?

Me: Oh dear, he remembered. I hoped he’d forget. We don’t have the money to tithe! Well, what’s the LEAST we can do…hmm…(numbers rolling through my head)…uuggh…I guess whatever 10% is.

Husband: Pray about it. I think we should give more.

Me: !!! MORE?!?!?!

I know…my heart was ugly. So I’d humble myself, pray, and of course, God would give me a number. I’d write it down; Mike wrote his down; pass and exchange paper; and waalaa…they’d often be the same! And if they weren’t, I submitted to his number because let’s face it, his heart was beautiful and my heart…well, not so much.

So now, five years later, God’s changed my heart and taught me more about godly stewardship. I’ve learned to give of our first-fruits, not our leftovers. I’ve learned to give enough that my flesh cringes as I release its grip from my hands (and heart) and drop it in the offering bag. I’ve learned to give enough that I have to trust God. And I’ve learned that God always…always…provides (what we need, not always what we want). Because at the end of the month when I did the budgeting, the numbers didn’t always make sense, they didn’t add up, but somehow we came out even.

Is tithing an end-all to our financial struggles? No. I think godly stewardship is about a whole lot more than tithing, but I think that tithing is at its core. God promises a blessing with it; and He blessed us. Ok, ok…God blessed Mike, but I am his other half. ;) So thank you, Mike, for your faithfulness to God and for teaching me what it looks like to give from your heart. And thank you God – for challenging my heart, for changing my heart, and for giving us abundantly more than we need. Though the world may call us poor, we are rich and overflowing.

What financial lessons have you learned?

Rags to Riches

I am unworthy to glance upon your Glory. I am unworthy to bow before your throne, O Holy God. I come before you as a tainted rag: stained, undignified, and lowly. A guilty sinner unable to wash what’s been stained, and there is no place for filth in your kingdom, for sin in your holy presence.

And yet you beckon me…

You beckon me into the inner courts of your kingdom, to approach your throne of Grace. Not because of who I am but because of who you are. Though I stood as a tainted rag, you washed my filth and you covered me with the righteousness of Jesus. You gave me life when I deserved death. You made me rich with the knowledge of Jesus, my Savior.

And that is the astounding and unparalleled grace of God.

He ate with the lowly. He embraced the lepers. He visited the outcasts. He gave sanity to the demon possessed. He stopped everything to heal a peasant girl without a name. He didn’t condemn the harlot. He forgave the sinner. He called us heirs and gave us life.

He bore our cross, and we wear His robe.

Jesus – I love you because you first loved me. I give you my life because you first gave me yours. I humble myself because you humbled yourself, and you are God. Though what I have to offer is nothing, I give it to you.

Her Sin Was Ugly

This past weekend I heard of and got to meet several women whose lives have been wrecked by sin: Anger. Jealousy. Abortion. Divorce. Addiction. Murder. Adultery. Lies….Sin is ugly.

But they’ve also been redeemed by grace….and Grace is beautiful.

For those of us who know the scriptures, we can be quick to condemn, can’t we? I’ll go first in the sad though honest confession: my heart didn’t condemn them… hesitant whisper…but my mind did. Because in my mind I know that scripture tells me these behaviors are wrong and against His commandments. So what then: Does our knowledge of Truth place us in a position as judge? Does it eradicate the power of Grace?

Religion causes rigidity in our faith. But His loves causes grace.

God totally rocked my faith this weekend as He reminded me of His character. He in His holiness bore our sin upon Himself. He in His love died the cruel and horrific death we deserved. Even in the midst of our sin and rebellion, He proclaimed, I love you!

And we’re supposed to imitate His character.

We can be quick to condemn, to point the finger in accusation, to gossip about the ugliness of another’s sin (even in the guise of prayer!). And the caution in this self-righteous behavior: when we take our eyes off of Jesus and look intently on another’s sin, we step out of His grace in our lives and step into sin. And sin is ugly. But grace is beautiful.

Have we all sinned? A profound yes! Have we all received grace? An even more profound YES!

Well, then…who are we to condemn, to judge, to hate? Since you have received His grace, walk in His grace. Since you have been forgiven, forgive. Since you have experienced His love poured over you when you were still a sinner, love as He has loved you.

Because outside of Christ we are ALL defined by our sin. But in Christ, we are ALL defined by His righteousness. Grace is beautiful.

Fear of the Almighty

The Night Fury. That’s what the vikings on the island of Berk call the most powerful, glorious dragon of the land. He is swift and unseen against the night sky. The blue bullet-like fire balls shoot out of his mouth with accuracy and potency. When he comes, he comes with vengeance. Of course, I’m referring to the animated film How to Train your Dragon. Haven’t seen it? You should…it’s a cute movie. But I won’t give it all away; let me just say that every time this dragon comes, the whole village runs because of two reasons: he cannot be destroyed and he has the power to destroy.

I love this because it reminds me of God. Except for the part that seldom do people fear God. We often don’t have an appropriate fear of Him who has power over life and death. We mock Him. We test Him. We accuse Him. We curse Him. And above all, I think we doubt Him. We doubt—or are just ignorant of—His power. God has the power to destroy. Nothing…nothing…is greater than He. It is the ignorant man indeed who would test or mock or accuse or doubt this God. He alone should be feared. Need I say it again? He alone should be feared.

Big Sigh. And I gotta tell ya…the more I realize this, the more I love Him because I realize He has loved me first and has been completely gracious toward me. It is by the mere grace of God that we live. It is because of His grace that He has compassion on us.

Friends, we cannot take what the grace of God has done for us (given us compassion, love,  forgiveness) and then act as though there is no need of His grace. He is a powerful God. At best, His presence would kill us, and at the least, His brilliance would blind us. The Israelites begged Abraham to not let them in the presence of this God. He is full of glory and mighty in power.

Have we forgotten whom we serve? Yes, He is compassionate, kind, and loving. But it is because of His grace. He is a just and righteous God; LORD of lords and KING of kings.

Take a moment to dwell on His power and then rest in the assurance of His grace. I pray this revelation would sink deep into your soul and leave you in a place of reverence, worship, and love for the Almighty God.