Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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Moving from Less-Than to Lovely

It’s ten degrees above average where I am in North Carolina today – which isn’t a big deal, considering that spring has been beautiful here, and we’ve been spared the kind of weather that’s been disastrous in other parts of the country. But April, which is usually my favorite month of the year, has been far from typical where I live – meaning down in my soul.

From my car, I watch as my daughter struggles up the school steps, bent over with a book-bag stuffed with year-end projects on her back. In her, I see myself, burdened by a load of cares and my same-old shortcomings. Somewhat ironically, the places where I feel lacking are the places which pile on my insecurity and disappointment.

I’m writing this post to join Emily’s discussion, Let’s Share What We Learned in April. But I think, at the month’s end, I know less than I did before. And oftentimes I feel less-than-Christian for the ways I struggle.

For everything I don’t know, however, I still know this – Jesus is mine and I am His. On days like these April days, I remind myself that where I am less-than, He is more-than. I have little else to claim but His complete acceptance of me.

Perhaps I’ve learned a few other things from April. It makes sense to expect that being generally weary and downcast would decrease one’s capacity to see things clearly. On the contrary, this season of struggle has sharpened my ability to notice and appreciate, to listen and observe. I like how Annie Downs expresses this dynamic:

My ability to feel the depths of something good was strengthened by my choice to feel the depths of pain. I don’t know exactly how this works. I just know the more I hang on and feel, the more I am able to feel; and each time more balm gets rubbed into the wounds of my soul …Looking for lovely is not about pretending everything is beautiful and nothing is ugly and you have no questions or doubts and picking out the beautiful in your everyday is going to protect you from anything hurting ever …. there is beauty in choosing to feel that pain, in calling hurt what it is, and not pretending everything is okay (Looking for Lovely, pages 75 – 76).

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In the past 2 weeks, I’ve been looking-for-lovely and I’ve filled my phone, and even my “real” camera, with photos as spring unfolds herself. It’s humbling to see that I don’t have it all together but even more humbling to grasp that the Creator does. The word “humility,” after all, comes from the root humus, meaning “earth.” Pausing to appreciate His hand in this loveliness gives me perspective.

Look at the birds in the air. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them. And you know that you are worth much more than the birds.  You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it. Matthew 6: 26 – 27

The spirit of humility which God desires for us is never accusatory, like the less-than thoughts I struggle with. It’s being absorbed with His majesty and mercy. Every “less” in my life is swallowed up in unstoppable, lovely (saturated-with-love) grace.

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As I find solace in the works of God’s hands, I’m learning how restoring it is to set my own hands to creativity.  Every day we go about our lives maintaining things – our possessions, our bodies, our jobs. All this maintenance is necessary; it’s a fulfilling of God’s commandment to steward the earth. But creativity can be spiritual practice as well, a reflection of God who makes things new. When we cook a fresh meal or move furniture around to find a new look or write words or bake cookies or put a plant in the ground or play a few chords, the process can be inspiring and lovely and freeing in itself (no matter what the product looks like).

Unlike God, of course, the outcomes of my creativity are often imperfect or incomplete. It may look “less-than” to me, but every effort makes me intentional, unique, and more alive as an image-bearer of the Creator.

Perhaps I am moving from a “less-than” state of mind toward a recognition of the loveliness within, because of Jesus.

As I learn to regard myself humbly and kindly and patiently, I soak in these wise words from Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

By cultivating a spirit that is more inclined toward delight and less toward duty, I’m treating others more kindly as well. By releasing demands on myself and my people, I let go of those measuring sticks that would keep us living less-than freely, authentically, and abundantly in Christ. The love of our Redeemer is more than we could ever ask or imagine.

I’m ready. Are you? Let’s come alive together.

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There is a correlation, I’m finding, between beauty and perseverance. It feels like beauty might be knots in the rope you are climbing, gas stations along the cross-country journey, the water stations set up strategically on a racecourse. Beauty is what makes it possible to keep going … I needed to find beautiful if I was going to hang in there. I have spent significant time over the last few years looking for lovely because I do love beautiful things. But mostly because I just don’t want to quit anymore (Annie Downs, Looking for Lovely, page 50).

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Even as we accept our own frailty, help us not to despise ourselves for it. Instead, may our weakness be a reminder of your strength within us. Embolden us to speak even if we misspeak. Enliven us to move even if we fall down. Encourage us to embrace even if we get hurt … As we face those places in our souls that are frozen, may the hard spots begin to thaw in the presence of Christ. May we not try to mop up the water that comes from the melting but offer it somehow to quench the thirst of someone else (Emily P. Freeman, a prayer in Simply Tuesday, pages 199- 200.)

I’m joining the “Let’s Share What We Learned in April” discussion at Emily’s site today.

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Don’t Draw the Line

It’s just been THAT kind of week, I think as I peer into the oven at a cake that won’t rise. This is the second attempt at this cake; we inadvertently left out an essential ingredient the first time around. And as I wash dishes from tonight’s dinner of chicken and crunchy rice (also known as undercooked), I think about how we left a bag of perishable groceries outside overnight and made extra trips to school because of forgotten things and called a locksmith when our dog locked us out of the car.

Gently – persistently – for what seems like the hundredth time this week, the Holy Spirit whispers, “Don’t draw the line.”

Several years ago, my daughter came home with a “Fifth Grade Blue Card.” She started each week with 10 points and received a reward if she maintained them without deductions. As she pulled her card out of her folder, I saw “Grace” instead of “Grade” in the bold heading. The stem of the letter “d” in “Grade” had faded so that it looked like a “c” instead.

As I studied the card, it struck me how slight is the difference between the words “Grade” and “Grace” in print. Just one little line, a mere downward stroke.  Conceptually, though, “grade” and “grace” are opposites. A grade is a mark of measurement; it orients us toward performance. But grace orients our hearts toward peace with God, ourselves, and others.

When I have days like these, when I’ve missed the mark by my weakness and/or my outright rebellion, the stem of the letter “d” – the turning of “grace” into “grade” – feels like a measuring stick that tells me again and again that I have failed.

Drawing the line happens when I say things to myself like –

“You’re so stupid.”

“Why do you even try?”

“You can’t change.”

Sometimes I wield that same little line like a rod of criticism against my people, either silently or aloud.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“You’ll never understand.”

“Why can’t you change?”

But this week, in the midst of the inconveniences and the numbskull things that we’ve done, the Spirit has prompted me to notice and then pray for the fading of the line, the stem that differentiates “grade” and “grace.” I come frustrated and broken and rejected, and He erases the marks that I hold against myself by reminding me that the Cross is Jesus’ exclamation mark:

You’re loved!

You’re accepted!

You’re chosen!

You’re forgiven!

You’re Mine!

I think about the One who wrote the Ten Commandments with His fingers. But as He knelt beside a woman caught in adultery (direct disobedience of one of the Commandments), Jesus skimmed those fingers across the sand. We don’t know what He wrote, but He didn’t grade, accuse, or draw the line against her. Jesus wrote her a new story, calling her to a redeemed life of purity. No, she wouldn’t become perfect but I believe His love perfectly changed her from the inside out (John 8:1 – 11).

Grace reminds me that our acceptance in Christ is never achieved, only received, and our worth lies not in what we do but only what He has done. His love is so freeing, and I feel the line fading … I mess up and fall short daily but Jesus doesn’t grade me. He graces me. A drive for achieving stems from insecurity. Am I enough? But a posture of receiving secures my identity in Christ. Jesus’ grace is enough.

And when we see ourselves as receivers, we become releasers as well. God pours out His love to not only to satisfy us but to spill from us as grace to our people.

Jesus, thank You. Your banner over us is love. You are the embodiment of Grace and Truth. There are no deductions in this life in Christ. In fact, You delight in us! (Zephaniah 3:17) In You …

We’re loved!

We’re accepted!

We’re chosen!

We’re forgiven!

We’re Yours!

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Romans 8:1 ~ There is no therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I John 3:1 ~ See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

“We all get to choose where we set up the stage of our lives — before the Crowds, the Court, the Congregation, the Critics (inner or otherwise)-– or the Cross of Christ. All except One will assess your performance. Only One will accept you before your performance … Only in Jesus is there 100% acceptance before even 1% performance.” :: Ann Voskamp

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“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.” ~ Corrie ten Boom

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Prayer is the place where God never tires of telling us that life’s not about earning anyone’s love, but believing that we already are His beloved. ~ Jennifer Dukes Lee

Jesus wants us to trade our purses of “perfection” for a much lighter load instead. He offers us security in place of striving. Full hearts instead of full schedules. Receiving instead of trying to buy our way to acceptance. ~ Holley Gerth


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Grace and Truth {and a prayer for our pastors}

CareerBuilder just released its latest study on the most outrageous excuses employees give when taking a sick day.  A few of my favorites:

Employee’s false teeth flew out the window while driving down the highway.

Employee claimed a swarm of bees surrounded his vehicle, and he couldn’t make it in.

Employee claimed she got stuck in the grocery store blood-pressure machine.

Wikimedia

Wikimedia

If you’re not as creative in coming up with excuses, there are webpages that have already done that for you:

“I always say food poisoning.”

“I have a bat in my kitchen cupboard.”

Oh, to tell the truth.  Research suggests that about 60 percent of us have a hard time getting through a ten-minute conversation without lying at least twice and that the average person lies about 11 times a day. (Research doesn’t lie, you know.)

Truth, any way you look at it, is held in decreasing esteem. I suppose one could nitpick about distinctions between honesty, dishonesty (as in the above examples), and Truth as a spiritual concept, but I think it all boils down to one’s worldview. Is self at the center, or Jesus?

In our relativistic culture, a claim to truth is equated with a judgment upon those who disagree. This perspective, however, separates truth from grace, and the two are more compatible than we may realize on the surface.

As a Christ-follower, I believe that He is the truth and His Word is truth that transforms. According to 1 Corinthians 2, this conviction is an outcome of grace and the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart, not my own wisdom. As Randy Alcorn says, “Truth is far more than facts. It’s not just something we act upon. It acts upon us.” And so, I don’t claim truth as if it is mine and guard it as if defending my own ego, my own infallibility.

Christ is the fulfillment of grace and truth in perfect harmony (John 1:14). I know myself and how tempting it is for me, as a fallible person, to be arrogant with the truth at the expense of grace or to be soft with grace at the expense of truth. And so, I claim Jesus and ask Him to set my mind & heart in the balance that He exemplifies.

We know by grace that grace may be known” (Douglas Groothuis).

The ability to discern truth is a work of the Spirit, and I am learning to see myself as not an owner of this gift but its servant. Jesus is inextricable from the Truth (“I am the way, the truth, and the life“), and as I am a servant of Jesus, I am a servant of the truth.

Because Jesus is the Life, I am also a servant of life. According to Proverbs 18:21, my words (and yours) have the power of life and death. Societal issues – the ones that get us into arguments about truth – are, at the core, sacred issues about life, its holy origin, and God-ordained designs.

And so, for me, resigning “pro-life” or “traditional marriage” to political platforms is a cop-out. It’s my everyday responsibility to choose words and actions that honor God in the most ordinary of ways in my home and communities.

I’m not waiting for a court ruling or an act of Congress to set society right; I’m asking Jesus for a right spirit within me. This doesn’t mean that I confuse grace with approval/tolerance of immorality. Love covers but doesn’t justify sin. I’m learning that a high view of truth and a high view of grace go hand in hand. I look at myself and I see how far & how often I’ve fallen short of God’s holy, absolute standards. And then I grasp the wonder of His grace that sent His Son to the cross.

The Scripture says –
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 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. So from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view (2 Corinthians 5:14 – 16).

Christ died for my life. Your life. Your neighbor’s life. The sex slave’s life. The homosexual’s life. The refugee’s life. The unborn baby’s life.

As a Christian, that truth has to radically transform how I see and treat life – whether young or old; rich or poor; able-bodied or impaired; slave or free; weak or strong.

Truth lets people know where you stand, but grace lets people know you love them (Pastor Eric Mason).

And if Christ’s love is what truly compels me, my goal is not to win political or philosophical arguments. My goal is to be like Him and make disciples.

As Albert Outler prayed,  “Lord, protect us from the mindless love that deceives and the loveless truth that kills.”

This prayer expresses our holy dependence upon God, that we might live humbly and uphold truth as grateful recipients who engage culture without haughtiness or fear or condemnation but with love, fervent prayer, and confidence that God is in control and is still moving all things into His redemptive, eternal purposes.

And let’s take every opportunity to support and encourage our pastors and pray especially that they would speak with grace, that truth may be realized, and speak with truth, that grace may be received.

O my Lord,
Let not my ministry be approved only by men,
or merely win the esteem and affections
of people;
But do the work of grace in their hearts,
call in Thy elect,
seal and edify the regenerate ones,
and command eternal blessings on their souls.
Save me from self-opinion and self-seeking;
Water the hearts of those who hear Thy Word,
that seed sown in weakness may be raised in power …
Make my every sermon a means of grace to myself,
and help me to experience the power
of Thy dying love,
for Thy blood is balm,
Thy presence bliss,
Thy smile heaven,
Thy cross the place where truth and mercy meet.

A Minister’s Prayer, From The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

It is false piety to preserve peace at the expense of truth. It is also false zeal to preserve truth at the expense of charity. –  Blaise Pascal

Truth-oriented Christians who address abortion and homosexuality without grace are dead wrong. Grace-oriented Christians who assume every attempt to speak out against these comes from people who know nothing of grace, are equally wrong. Since Christ is full of both, we dare not choose truth over grace, or grace over truth. – Randy Alcorn

If we speak of “our faith” we should emphasize that the truth is not our possession; rather the truth possesses us. No one put it better than G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy who confessed concerning Christianity: ‘I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.’ – Douglas Groothuis

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples” … not converts to your own opinions.  – Oswald Chambers

MadelineL'Engle

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