He Gives More Grace

As it became known that Preston and I were dating, a lot of family and friends were left shocked and utterly confused.

Why? It’s simple, really.

When comparing track records of the four years prior to our relationship, things didn’t quite match up.

I moved to Nashville, attended university, stayed involved in church, and, for the most part, did what was expected of me. Meanwhile, Preston’s life took a little different path.

For people that knew both of our stories, the match-up was puzzling. I knew it would be, and I had already anticipated the questioning and comments I would receive. In fact, before we decided to pursue a relationship, we discussed many of these things.

“What would people say? How would they react? Did it matter what everyone else thought? How will that effect us? How do we respond? Do we have to respond? What’s their business and what isn’t?”

We spent a lot of time in prayer and pursuing a deeper friendship before attempting to navigate a relationship. Ultimately, we decided our relationship was between us and God, and that was enough.

But I won’t lie and say it was easy. Making a decision against the status quo is hard. Really hard. Especially for a gal whose life is rooted in people-pleasing.

But what hurt the most wasn’t defending my choice 400 times or enduring lectures on the potential repercussions of this decision or navigating everyone’s “what if” scenarios or even the damaged relationships.

What hurt the most was seeing the hurt and disappointment in his face every time he looked at me and said “I made stupid choices. A lot of choices I would take back in a heart beat, but I’ve made that right with God and I’m doing my best to do better. Why doesn’t that count for anything?”

“Why doesn’t that count for anything?”

I wanted to scream and shout IT DOES! IT DOES! KEEP GOING! IT MATTERS!

But I knew why it seemed as though it didn’t matter. Regardless of what decisions he made presently, his life was repeatedly painted with the choices of his past by those looking in. And even more, with the tendency of people to subconsciously label sins as “big” or “little”, we also label those who have “bigger” sins as more of a lost cause. For those looking in, they never saw past his “big” sins. (As if one sin is more worthy of punishment than another.)

For a group of people who preach forgiveness, we have a lousy way of showing it.

We forgive in words, but continue to press charges with our actions. We preach grace, but shout the details of their past. We ask them to come, but judge them for how they came.

We say we believe in the changing power of Christ, but do we really?

I can tell you this, most of us don’t live a life claiming the changing power of Christ. We see people who have made bad choices, and all but put a timer on them for when they’ll fall away again. We wait and watch, knowing this change won’t last.

What lousy proclaimers of the Gospel we become when we ignore the power of Christ to change lives. Every life. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

So why do we stand so far away from those who have ugly pasts? I offered him two thoughts.

For one, the temptation to exhibit spiritual pride, just as the Corinthians experienced. Those who haven’t committed those “big sins” feel superior to those who have. Like their white robes are less tainted, more deserving of cleansing, more worthy of the forgiveness of Christ.

And the second, the temptation to live out the life of the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. Those who have never wasted time on prodigal living feel like they are more deserving of God’s reward. Even more so, those who have wasted time on prodigal living don’t deserve the same reward. There’s a sense of jealousy and perceived unfairness that goes along with someone who hasn’t been as “obedient” as you receiving the same level of reward. If we truly forgive, and look past the person someone used to be, we have to recognize that they are the same “level” of Christian that we are, and, likewise, they deserve the same eternal reward.

For a lot of people, this is a hard pill to swallow. It certainly was for the older brother of the prodigal son. He didn’t want his father throwing a party for his brother who had come back. Instead, he thought he deserved punishment for his choices. But the father, just as Christ does, ran to meet his son, embraced him for who he was, and celebrated his return home.

He didn’t require him to work in order to make up for the bad choices he had made. He didn’t put him on probation for him to prove he was a changed person. And he didn’t look at him with skepticism, wondering if he was really back for good or not.

He ran to meet him. Threw him a party for coming home. And embraced him as the same son he had always loved.

The lessons we could learn from this parable in regards to embracing sinners who come home are invaluable.

We run to meet them where they are. We celebrate their return home. We love them despite their past choices. And we continue to encourage them, love them, and embrace them in the days to come.

After explaining the thoughts I imagined some of these people might be having, I reminded him of what really matters.

God is a good, good Father. He’s the same Father presented in the parable. He loves you. He ran to meet you when you turned back and came home. He embraced you for who you are and who you are becoming. And he showered you with grace, forgiveness, and mercy.

Even though Christians might be lousy at affirming the forgiveness found in Christ and the changing power of His Word, He provided reassurance for us.

“But HE gives MORE GRACE.” -James 4:6

He gives more grace. Over. And over. And over again.

He gives. More. Grace.

I’m thankful that on our darkest day, Christ meets us in the despair, offers a hand to pull us out, forgiveness to wash our sins away, and grace to try again.

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What if Doing Nothing…Cost You Everything

As I get older, I’ve noticed that most people who are familiar with the Bible have at least one story they have problems with. Generally, it’s because they sympathize with the character in the story who is being reprimanded or disciplined.

For me, the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 has always been one that didn’t sit well. As the story goes, the master gives talents to three different servants. To the first he gives 5, the second 2, and the third 1. The servants were suppose to take these talents, go out and make more talents.

A lot of people struggle with the idea that one servant gets 5 talents while the other gets 1, but that’s not my issue. I can deal with the idea that life isn’t fair and we’re all dealt different hands. However, what I’ve never been able to get past is the reaction of the master to the 1 talent man.

The 5 talent man and the 2 talent man both went out and doubled their talents, meaning they earned 5 more talents and 2 more talents, respectively, for their master. But when the master asked the 1 talent man what he did with his, he responded with: “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.”

I was afraid. I hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.

I see myself written all over this character. I am not a gambler, a risk taker, or a faith jumper. I do not thrive on spontaneity. And I hate the unknown. I’ve written, extensively, about that here.

So when the servant, in all his vulnerability, tells the master he hid the talent in the ground because he was scared, essentially, of losing the talent, my heart sympathizes with him. I think, “Hey, man, that’s exactly what I would do. Look at us liking the security of the certain.”

But the master doesn’t respond with sympathy, not even with light reprimand. Oh no. The master calls him a “wicked and lazy servant!” and instructs them to “cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Woah. I understand rewarding the 5 talent man for producing 5 more talents. I unerstand equally rewarding the 2 talent man for producing 2 more talents. I would even understand the lack of reward for the 1 talent man, because, we can all agree, he didn’t do anything to be rewarded for.

But what gets me is the punishment the servant receives for not growing his 1 talent. I would understand the punishment if the servant lost the talent or wasted it on riotous living, but all he did was bury it safely in the ground.

He settled for safe, because he was scared.

I feel like my whole life relates to this servant.

My family and friends often joke about, and get annoyed by, my inability to make decisions. But like the 1 talent man, burying my head and letting others make decisions is much more appealing.

I’m the girl who was sick for 3 days after picking out a couch for my apartment because, “What if we get it inside and it doesn’t look good?” or “What if I decide it’s not as comfortable as I thought it was?” or “What if I get tired of looking at it and want something else?” or “What if it’s not worth what we paid for it?” or or or….

Literally. Sick. For Three. Days. OVER A COUCH!!

Is it ridiculous? Absolutely. And it’s equally annoying that I go through that much anxiety trying to make a decision about anything over the fear that it won’t work out.

So I related to this 1 talent man. And every time I read this story I think, “that poor guy.” Because I see myself being that guy. And I don’t want to be punished for my lack of action due to paralyzing fear. I want to be excused.

But God doesn’t make excuses for our lack of action no matter what our reasoning is. And sometimes, that’s a really hard pill to swallow.

Instead, He CALLS us to action…

“Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” -James 1:22

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4:17

“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

So, it’s time for us (me) to stop taking after the 1 talent man, and instead use our talents to produce more for our Father.

It’s time to take risks, get out of our comfort zones, push ourselves to achieve more, and rest in the knowledge that His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-11).

For the days when you don’t feel smart enough, brave enough, good enough, or strong enough, maybe this song will help.

Go out and be great, friends. The armies of the Lord are behind you.

 

Lost Girl

GPS, Vehicle Navigation systems, and Google Maps. Ahhh the luxuries of the technological age.

I remember many nights spent printing out directions on MapQuest before leaving for a trip. Even more “ancient” than that….a few vacations involved pulling out an atlas and figuring out a new route.

A few short years ago printed directions and paper maps were our only ways of navigating the roads. Boy am I thankful that’s not how it is anymore.

I don’t “do” lost. Sure, I’ve been lost trying to find somewhere plenty of times. Toria and I have made more than our fair share of U-turns attempting to find our way around on spring break.

But we were never truly lost.

We weren’t where we were suppose to be. We couldn’t find where we were suppose to be. But we knew our navigation and our phones both knew where we were. We could type in somewhere to go, and it would take us there. It might not be exactly where we wanted to go, but we knew we could get somewhere.

And we could always get back home.

There’s comfort in that. In knowing that you can always get back home. Because, to me, you’re never truly lost if you can find your way back home.

But what happens when you can’t find home anymore?

Recently, I’ve been reading a book by Jenny Simmons called “The Road to Becoming: Rediscovering your life in the not-how-I-planned-it moments”.

As I’ve said before, I am a “make a plan, have a plan, stick to the plan” kind of girl. I need all of the help I can get when it comes to letting go of those plans and trusting Him in times when things don’t go according to plan.

In the section of chapters I’ve read most recently, they are focused on being lost and what that truly looks like.

Jenny begins the section by talking about how her military dad explained to her and her sister the procedure they should follow if they ever found themselves lost in the woods by her house.

“If you get lost, the best thing you can do is to stay where you are and let someone come find you. Don’t keep walking around. Just stay put.”

I, too, was taught this as a child. And Jenny and I, well, we’re on the same wave length when it comes to our response.

“I always found this to be an absolutely terrible idea. Terrible. It seemed so paralyzing and hopeless. Sitting still? In the woods? Waiting for nightfall, waiting to be eaten? Trusting someone else to come and un-lost you?

No thanks.

I’d rather get more lost. And be more terrified. And keep repeating the senseless cycle. Anything but siting in the lostness. Anything but waiting for someone else to come and find me.”

Anything but sitting in the lostness. Anything but waiting for someone else to come and find me.

I so relate to that. I’m suppose to wait for someone else to come find me? I should just trust that someone else will notice I’m missing, come look for me, and successfully find me?

I’d rather just try to find my way out myself.

At this point in Jenny’s story, she finds herself lost in her own life. The Christian band she was in her with her husband just dissolved, meaning her career vanished, she has become a full-time stay-at-home mom, and feels as if she’s doing nothing she ever dreamed of with her life.

But what’s even worse for her than feeling like she’s doing nothing, is she can’t even find any answers or directions about where to start. She’s begging to be pulled out of the lostness and offered some direction, but nothing is happening. No doors are opened. No stellar advice is given. And no clear path is shown.

She’s sitting, in the middle of her life, completely and totally lost.

And here’s what she has to say about that season of her life, now that it’s over:

“Had it been up to me, I would have become a lifelong barista. Not because I dreamed of pulling the perfect espresso shot, but because it was an answer. And sometimes, desperate people will take a wrong answer over no answer at all. But that really isn’t the answer either, is it?…I dreaded looking at a blank calendar; I hadn’t seen a blank month on the calendar in over a decade.

“I was neither virtuous nor interested in patience…And being lost along the way was definitely not taught in school or church. Self-reliance, fully mapped-out futures, and divine epiphanies, these were the things that young adults should strive for- not lostness. Accepting lostness as a viable way of existing, even for a short season, is not a mantra our culture is familiar with. It certainly sounded backwards to a girl who was desperate to move forwards. Yet time and time again the same message arrived at the door of my heart. Just be lost for awhile. My husband, parents, preachers, friends, therapists, random books I picked up to read, even song I heard for the first time, all echoed the same sentiment. Lean in to the lostness. Don’t find your way out too soon. Riches hidden in secret places. Treasures in the darkness. Stay. Find them. Be lost. So many voices were reaching a fever pitch and the exhaustion from trying to un-lost myself was evident- so one morning, I gave in.

“It was time to embrace being a lost girl. Time to accept the seemingly insignificant nothingness of the blank page in front of me.

“Want to unnerve someone? Make peace with your lostness. When they ask ‘What do you do?’ respond like this: ‘Well, I wake up and take a shower, sometimes. Then I look in the mirror and remind myself that I have no job, no future plans, and no 401(k) account. I tell myself this is exactly where I am supposed to be right now and I contend to do absolutely nothing about it because I have decided to be lost for a season. Then I usually go eat a bowl of cereal and watch The Today Show. So- I just do lostness. What about you? What do you do?’

“They will be horrified! Horrified! It is quite entertaining to watch. I once told this from the stage to a group of young, twenty-something Christian adults. They looked at me with disgusted shock. Their glares told me everything I needed to know about our culturally ingrained idols of productivity and purpose….Pity and judgement oozed out of them as they looked at me suspiciously, wondering if I was one of those people who lives off of the government instead of my own two hands! I instantly felt the weight of our generations disdain for lost people. And I smiled. Maybe I was doing the right thing after all.

“Did it ever cross their minds, I wondered….that the abundance of pity they felt for me could have just as easily been given to those in the room working jobs they hated, for companies they didn’t believe in, simply to avoid being lost?

“Lostnesss is just a season, I told them. ‘For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven….A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away.’

Lostness is a season, says the writer of Ecclesiastes.

“We would rather focus on the other seasons in Ecclesiastes 3, like planting, building up, and harvesting, while disregarding the less attractive ones like quitting, dying, and throwing away. Our basic instinct tells us to hold on, not let go. Perhaps that is why we have become a culture of doers who would just as soon accept a wrong answer than quit searching and inhabit lostness for a time.

“Making peace with my lost state in life happened in small ways. Refusing to apply for a job at Starbucks- a job I knew wasn’t meant for me. Shutting down the calendar and not looking at blank days as shame-driven motivation to just move on already. Learning to quiet the frantic voice in my soul that kept telling me THE WHOLE WORLD WOULD END if I did not figure out what came next. Replacing that voice instead with a simple prayer: You alone are a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. And relearning how to tell the truth to others about myself. This was hard since most people expect you to lie. When asked how life is going or what the plans for your future look like, no one expects the person answering to say, ‘Actually, my future looks really bleak right now and I have no idea what comes next and I am a bit scared.’ This kind of vulnerable honesty terrifies people. Especially Christians. What type of good Christian doesn’t have a Jesus answer readily available?…I got the sense from many believers that in their opinion, I was a woman of little faith. Somehow my sitting in the dark reflected poorly on my faith in God.

“But I think it is the other way around. A person who is willing to inhabit their lostness has the faith of a great army. People who don’t have faith don’t allow themselves to get lost. They do not trust God to show up in the darkness and shine a light on the path that leads to being found. A faithless person holds on because they cannot control what happens when they let go. They are unwilling to follow anyone into the dark.

“As a person of deep faith who believes I have a good Guide who delivers lost people to found places, I no longer go the wrong way just to avoid impeded streams. Impeded streams bring me face-to-face with God. That is where the real spiritual journey begins.

“God sees what I cannot. He leads where there is no discernible road. He Himself is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Here at my impeded stream, after the dying and burying. I make a crucial decision to allow the season of lostness into my life. And I put the onus on God to un-lost me.

“I get the feeling He has been waiting for me to do this all along.”

Our walk with God looks much different now, than it did for people like Noah and Abraham. People who had direct communication with God.

God led Abraham to a new land. And God led Noah to build the ark.

But the God of Abraham and Noah is still the God of today. He is a God who is still there, offering to lead us, maybe in different ways today than He led in the days of old, but still there. Still willing to lead us to the path He has prepared.

Don’t settle for a wrong answer just because you want an answer.

Be patient. Settle into the lostness. And wait for Him.

 

 

Excerpts taken from: The Road to Becoming by Jenny Simmons         https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00XNPCIMC/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

 

So the Lord Surrounds His People

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore.”- Psalm 125:2

It’s funny how ordinary events can spark extraordinary ideas, isn’t it?

For 18 years, I have gone to the same church. Every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night that I was alive and well, I was at church. I never had to wonder if we would go or where we would go. I knew.

Maybe it was because I never remembered a time where I didn’t have a church family. Or because a lot of people in my church family were actually my family (last I counted, I’m related to 25 of you (; ) Or maybe it was because I considered my close “church” friends, simply my friends, that I never made the connection.

A couple of weeks ago, I joined close to 50 other young adult and college individuals for a Spring retreat with my newfound church family here in Nashville. Friday night we made our way to Short Mountain Bible Camp in Woodbury, TN, and got ready for a packed weekend.

To end our first night, we all stood around a bonfire and sang in worship together. The songs we sang were very familiar. I had sang most of them many times, including the one that hit me the hardest…

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

So the Lord surrounds His people.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

So the Lord surrounds His people.

Surround us, Lord.

Surround us, O Lord.

We need to be in Your presence.

Surround us Lord.

A short, simple song. That suddenly made a thousand light bulbs go off in my head.

As I looked around, I was literally surrounded by God’s people. Many of whom I did not know. But here we were, all singing the same words, in praise to our same God. We were asking God to surround us, and as I looked around, I realized He already had.

And that’s when it hit me. THIS is why God ordained the Church. THIS is why organized worship is a vital part of Christianity.

It’s not about appearing holier than someone else because you go to church three times a week. It’s not about a check list we have to accomplish to “earn” our reward in Heaven. It’s not just something we do because we’re told to. And it shouldn’t be a guilt trip we have to give ourselves to motivate us to attend a worship service.

Church, as God designed it, goes way beyond those four walls, public prayer, a quality message, and singing praises. Church, in all of its fullness, gives us a community of people to share life with. People who will encourage us in the hard times and rejoice with us in blessings. We are created to be a community that can physically surround our people with the presence of the Lord.

There’s something incredibly valuable about finding a group of people who can serve as your family when your biological family is miles away. People who surround you with love and encouragement and step in to take care of you when times are tough. I guess it’s a value that you don’t fully appreciate until the ones who always did those things for you are gone.

Those times when you’re sick with the flu and 300 miles away from your mom. Or you get a flat tire and your dad is in another state. Or your birthday falls in the middle of the week and your family is too far away to visit. But your church family shows up ready to fill that gap. Soup and crackers for the flu. A quick tire change. And dinner and a cake to celebrate your birthday.

Those moments are worth more than gold. And they are all found when a church is functioning as a family, surrounding each other with the presence of Christ, just as the Lord intended.

God knew what He was doing when He ordained organized worship. And it’s to our benefit to take full advantage of the community we find there.

“and let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Thank you for pulling me in and loving me well Crieve Hall. You are gracious.

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When It Hurts to Pray

Have you ever been anxious about a decision you had to make? Cold sweats, stomach knots, sleepless nights and all? Then suddenly remembered you had a much easier method of dealing with it….just pray about it. So you start to pray and then…

You stop. Because you remember how many times you neglected that devotional book you were suppose to be reading. Or the crappy “I really don’t want to be here” attitude you had last time you went to church. Or how rude you were to the girl in class who couldn’t seem to keep her irrelevant comments to herself for 5 minutes. Or the way you blew off your friend when they asked for a listening ear. Or the small dig you made at the guy who drives you crazy. Or a host of other things that remind us we aren’t worthy. We aren’t perfect. And we are very, very broken.

Have you ever been there? Where you felt like you had to do something, say something, be something better than you are in that moment before you’re worthy of approaching the throne?

Like studying your Bible for 30 minutes or feeding the homeless or helping the helpless makes you more deserving of God’s attention. Or, even worse, neglecting all of these disqualifies you from approaching God in prayer.

Why do we do that? Why do we think we have to polish ourselves before we can ask God for things?

Maybe it’s because, in that moment that we are pleading with God for something for ourselves, we realize how little we deserve the chance to even ask. We are reminded of God’s infinite power. We know what he can do. And when we acknowledge what He can do, we remember all of the small things we have failed to do. All of the little ways we fail Him everyday. And suddenly, like a child with their head bowed in defeat, we compare our resumes, and feel unworthy. We feel ashamed that we are asking for things when we have failed to give Him anything.

Maybe it’s the Devil’s way of deterring our prayers. The enemy has a knack for reminding us of our failures every time we try to succeed. In a lot of ways, I think the memories of the past are the Devil’s most valuable weapon. He throws those mistakes in your face in hopes that you will give up entirely. And maybe that’s where the guilt comes from when we begin to pray a selfish prayer.

Maybe we realize the painful truth that we haven’t been giving it our all. When we start to ask for something, we feel better about asking when we have something to offer in return. And when we ask for God’s help in a season of being lukewarm, we are faced with the harsh reality that we expect a level of effort from God that we haven’t been offering ourselves. And that stings.

Or maybe, it’s because that’s the love we, as humans, are most familiar with. As a child, if you wanted something from your parents, especially something big, any semi-insightful kid wouldn’t dare ask for it right after getting in trouble. Most kids, wouldn’t even ask after an average day of behavior. Oh no. If you wanted something from your parents, and you knew it was going to be a long shot, you asked after you voluntarily cleaned your room, took out the trash, washed the dishes, and made a special effort to not fight with your siblings for a whole 24 hours. You wanted all of the stars in the universe working in your favor in hopes that you would get what you wanted.

Is that not the attitude we have sometimes with prayer? Like “God I know this is a lot to ask, but I’ve done this and this and this and I’ve really been working on this and I’m putting a lot more effort in than her and I deserve this. Okay I know I don’t deserve this, but I’ve really worked for it. I’ve worked for it God.” We would never verbalize it like that, obviously, but I think that’s the thoughts we have behind the scenes sometimes.

And in those times when we start to pray and then realize all of the ways we haven’t put in effort lately, we feel as if the answer is automatically a “no.” Because we haven’t done enough to deserve a “yes.” We should be in trouble, not being rewarded.

We are constantly stuck in this cycle of subconsciously trying to earn what we ask for in prayer. Trying to be good enough, holy enough, saved enough for God to want to “reward us” by answering our prayers. It’s as if we are using our good deeds to motivate God to want to help us out. We want dad to say yes, so we try to provide him with incentive. You know, because God might feel guilty for answering our prayers when we haven’t yet earned an answer.

But while this is an easy attitude to fall into, I’m glad it’s not the truth behind the story. Not even close.

We don’t have to be good enough, righteous enough, or strong enough, for our prayers to be heard. We don’t have to fix ourselves before we are worthy enough to approach God.

When I think about that simple statement, that we don’t have to try to make ourselves perfect before we come to God, I’m reminded of the words Christ spoke to the multitudes in Matthew 11:28:

“Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Were the people tired from all of the good works they had been doing? I’m sure some of them were. But I also believe that some of those people were tired from weathering the storms of life. They were beaten down by trying to follow the old law perfectly. They were constantly reminded of their sin, because of their continual needs to offer sacrifices. And they were probably feeling weary from constantly trying to reach perfection, but failing.

And the words Christ offered to them were simply, “Come to Me.” He didn’t tell them to put forth more effort and then come. Or do more good deeds and then come. Simply, come.

We’ve been studying Hebrews on Wednesday nights, and it’s all about how the New Law is superior to the Old Law. Over and over again it points out how much better the new way is, because of Jesus’s sacrifice. And while all of that is enlightening and inspiring, there has been something we learned a few lessons back that I never knew, and it has been a game changer.

In chapter 9, the writer is describing the old tabernacle and the details surrounding the topic. In the midst of this description, the author describes the ark of the covenant, overlaid in gold, which had the tablet of the covenants inside. Now catch this. The cherubim of glory and the MERCY SEAT were above the ark of the covenant. Any light bulbs going off?

By intentional design, the MERCY SEAT was ABOVE the tablet of the covenants. Mercy was literally above the law.

Because of Christ’s death, we are offered grace and mercy. A mercy that transcends our understanding, offering us love, grace, and acceptance when we least deserve it.

The kind of love that does not offer us “better answers” because we have earned it. A love that doesn’t ignore our petitions because of how much we don’t deserve it.

The love that simply asks us to come. To bring our requests to Him. Not with a long list of our good works in tow to offer us a better chance of approval, but simply, to bring our requests.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Because of Christ, we have the gift of approaching God’s throne with confidence. We don’t have to hang our heads low, and feel unworthy. We don’t have to prove ourselves before we ask for something. Honestly, we would never do enough good to deserve God’s ear anyways.

But He offers it freely to us.

“The Lord is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him in truth.” Psalm 145:17-18

He is near.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14

He hears us.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1

And HE is GOOD.

When Loving like Jesus Looks Different Than You Think

If you have had any connections to the outside world in the past week, you know some major changes have occurred in our Nation. And I didn’t want to address them.

As a non-confrontational, introvert, there aren’t many things I hate more than stirring the pot, causing arguments, and stepping on toes. I don’t want to call you out or upset you. I don’t want to be the cause of hurt feelings.

So I planned on keeping my thoughts to myself and remaining silent on the issues at hand.

But what I hate more than the idea of stirring up arguments, is the thought of having to answer My God one day on some tough questions:

“Where were you when my Words weren’t being defended?” “What were you doing when the world was dictating what was right and wrong?” “Why did you sit idly by?” “Why didn’t you speak out for Me?” “Why didn’t you FIGHT for Me?”

The longer I sat on my hands, quietly observing, the more I saw Christ’s very identity being twisted, marred, and distorted to fit every different agenda.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” “Win them over with love.” “Never judge. Just love.” “Love wins.” “Love like Jesus.”

Our society today gets a lot of things wrong. We have a long list of ways we have missed the mark in every way. But one thing we seem to understand, is that Christ loved.

He loved well. In fact, He loved with the greatest love to ever walk the face of the earth.

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

In keeping with Christ’s example, we are called to love one another.

“Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” – Ephesians 5:2

The command to love seems fairly simple. But what does it really look like to love like Jesus when it comes to dealing with sin?

In light of the recent decision by the Supreme Court, it seems a mass amount of believers have turned “Speak the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15) into “Just love.”

The problem with the idea of “Just loving” is it’s not Biblical. It’s not even Christ-like.

Yes, Christ showed loved without partiality. The greatest of love. But have we forgotten what happened in the temple with the money changers?

“In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them ‘Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!'”

The people were distorting His Father’s intentions for the Temple. And Jesus didn’t stand for it. He acted immediately and forcefully. There was no question about Christ’s opinion of the events at hand.

Did this incidence diminish the love Christ had for the people? Certainly not. But he didn’t sit idly by, trying to love without offending. He got angry when His Father’s laws were disrespected. He turned the tables over, a violent display of disapproval. He spoke up for what was against His Father’s will. He took a stand, and He made it known.

When the woman caught in adultery was brought before Him, He showed her love and compassion. But Christ told her to go, and sin no more. He didn’t simply overlook her sin. He didn’t brush it under the rug, or seek to “just love her.” He showed love, while addressing the sin. Because He loved her too much to leave her in sin.

After all, what kind of love comforts others with a lie? Certainly not a love I want shown to me.

Homosexuality is a sin. No greater or less than the sins every one of us commits. But the truth remains, it is a sin. Sin separates us from God. Homosexual marriage is the blatant decision to live your life everyday in defiance of God’s commands. And living in sin leads to eternal punishment.

It’s harsh. It’s not a fun stance to take. But it’s the stance we are called to take as Christians.

But taking a stance against sin doesn’t equate to forsaking love. Quite the opposite, actually.

So I will seek to follow Christ’s example to love you in your sin, whether it be homosexuality or any number of other sins. But I won’t comfort you with a lie. I won’t overlook it, sweep it under the rug, or pretend you’re ok.

Jesus got angry when His Father’s laws were disrespected. And we have a right to be angry too. But be angry and sin not. Speak the truth, but choose your words carefully. Always with grace, seasoned with salt.

I want to love like Jesus. But I want to really love like Jesus.

Jesus loved fiercely. He loved with the greatest love ever to walk the earth. But He loved those souls too much to leave them in their sin with the impression they were okay. He loved them too much to approve, accept, and encourage behavior that His Father will punish. He loved well. But He didn’t love wrong.

Suffering Gracefully: Lessons from My Modern-day Job

2014. What a year.

Engagements. Weddings. Graduations. Pregnancies. Birthdays. Dreams. Projects. New loves. New places. New choices. New careers.

A year full of exciting adventures and life-giving discoveries.

But for some, 2014 was anything but a dream.

And for my grandmother, Mamaw, it was a relentless year, full of punches at every turn.

It’s been said, “When it rains, it pours.” and, boy, has Mamaw weathered some pouring rain.

On February 5th, my Papaw, her husband, was diagnosed with a very aggressive esophageal cancer accompanied by blood-clots in his lungs.

Shortly after, he began radiation and chemotherapy treatments that wrecked his body, leaving him unable to lead his normal life. Graciously, Mamaw took up the slack and made sure everyone and everything was taken care of.

On April 28th, a tornado ripped through our hometown, destroying Mamaw’s house with her, Papaw, and my cousin Brooke inside. In the aftermath, Mamaw was left with no house to go home to, numerous priceless family mementos lost, a broken foot, and a body bruised worse than I’ve ever witnessed. Papaw was also left with stitches, scrapes, and bruises.

In late July, Mamaw and Papaw lost one of their closest friends in Tupelo after complications from heart surgery. Losing anyone is difficult, but losing a best friend of almost 30 years hurts like losing a family member.

On September 11th, Mamaw lost her mother after suffering complications from a car wreck.

And on December 16th, cancer violently claimed the life of Papaw.

In a short 10 months, Mamaw lost her house and a majority of her physical possessions, her best friend, her mother, and her husband.

All of that on top of the common struggles and frustrations that come with raising two teenage girls.

Woah.

When I found out Papaw had passed away, I had no idea what to expect from Mamaw. I didn’t know how anyone could still be standing after suffering all of those things in a relatively short time. But when I asked, with slight confusion in their eyes, everyone who had been with Mamaw the night Papaw died assured me she was handling it well.

How do you handle the death of your husband well? How do you handle any death well?

But when I finally got to see Mamaw for the first time since that December 16th night, I understood what they meant. It wasn’t that she hadn’t cried, or that she was acting as if nothing was wrong, but there was something in her eyes that assured you she was okay. There was something inside her that assured her she was going to be okay. She had fight in her heart, and she wasn’t giving up.

And as I stood by her for a total of 7 hours over those two days for visitation and the funeral, I was amazed at the things she said, the wisdom she shared, and the things I learned. And when someone remarked that she was like a modern-day Job, I thought there couldn’t be a more fitting description.

So, in the midst of suffering and loss, these are some things I learned from my modern-day Job.

1. Crying is good for the soul, but danger comes when you invite yourself to a pity party. As countless people asked how she was doing or if she needed anything, she would always respond with “I’m okay right now. I’ll probably take some time later and just cry it out, but I’m okay right now.” To me, this was obviously a normal response. But what struck me is the one time she answered, “I might throw myself a pity party after it’s all over. Well, actually, no we don’t have time for that! We have too much to be thankful for!” I’m sure my eyes bugged out when I heard her say she had too much to be thankful for to feel sorry for herself. Thankful? You’ve suffered more loss in a year than most people do in 10 and you’re saying you still have things to be thankful for? Which brings us to point 2…

2. Always, always, always look for the silver lining. Count your blessings, even if you feel they are few, and find something to be thankful for. What does it profit us to focus on all of the things that are going wrong in life? Literally nothing good can possibly come from reciting to ourselves over and over all of the horrible things that have happened to us. But you know what can help? Shifting our focus to the things we have to be thankful for. Even if it’s something as seemingly insignificant as good weather, find something. For Mamaw, she started naming things like a new house after the tornado took her old one, insurance that has helped replace what was lost, family that is still alive and able to help out, a church family that cares, a God who never leaves us, a Savior who suffered for us, the hope of Heaven and the assurance that Papaw’s life didn’t end the day his earthly body died. Regardless of how many awful things life has thrown at you, start naming off everything you have to give thanks for. Once you start, I guarantee you will be uplifted when you remind yourself all of the things you still have to be thankful for.

3. Never let the fact that someone else seems to be suffering more diminish the pain you feel, BUT acknowledging that other people have it worse, does help keep your suffering in perspective. As someone was talking about how unimaginable the circumstances were, Mamaw mentioned that she had a friend who had lost 2 brothers, a sister, a son, and her mother all in the same year and commented, “It could always be worse.” It goes back to being thankful for the things you still have. Count your blessings, not your problems. And recognize that it’s never as bad as it could be.

4. Fall down 7 times, stand up 8. Life can only beat you up if you give it permission. So many times we are tempted to wallow in self-pity and have a “woe is me” attitude, justifying it by siting the awful circumstances surrounding our lives. But regardless of the circumstances, we can only be beat down if we allow ourselves to. We control what we let effect us and to what extent. It doesn’t mean life doesn’t hurt, or we can’t express that pain, but, rather, that we acknowledge the pain and commit to continue moving forward. However fast or slow we move, just keep moving. Never stay down.

5. Find someone or something that motivates you to keep living. Remind yourself of your reason to continue. For Mamaw, this is often her 2 granddaughters that she’s raising. I can’t count the number of times she would tell people, “I can’t fall apart. I have 2 girls I have to be there for. They need me.” Whether it’s a parent, a friend, a child, or a goal, find something that motivates you to keep going. To keep pushing. Never give up. As long as there is breath in your lungs, you have a purpose. Keep. Going.

6. When life brings you rain, grab an umbrella and keep praising Him. Never stop praising. Never stop PRAYING. In times of trouble, run to God with everything you have. Use those times of sorrow to grow closer to Him and strengthen your relationship. Take advantage of those vulnerable times. God has so much love and comfort ready to share, run into His arms and enjoy His embrace. He’s waiting for you, as He always is. Use this time to show the world the reason for the hope that is in you. Let God shine through you and bring more people to Him.

There are so many more things I’ve learned about handling life and loss from Mamaw, but these are a few of the biggest ones that have stuck with me.

Life doesn’t always happen the way we wish it did. We all experience pain and loss, some to a higher extent than others. But, thankfully, we all get to experience joy and blessings as well.

Some seasons of life bring showers. Some bring rain storms that last for days. But after every good rain, comes beautiful growth. Flowers, green grass, and rainbows.

He will turn our mourning into dancing. And we will dance with our loved ones again one day. What a beautiful day that will be.

“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—  always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”- 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

In loving memory of Charles “Papaw” Milam. We miss you everyday.