A Principle of Grace to Live By

IMG_3174I have reached an age where I like to believe I know myself pretty well. I think that’s largely true, but my husband often comments that he continues to learn something new about me all the time after more than 50 years of marriage.

It reminds me of a line from a favorite movie series. The line is from The Lord of the Rings when Gandolf tells Bilbo Baggins, “There is more to you than you know.”

I love the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. My husband and I actually enjoy it so much that we have the “expanded edition” of each of the movies in the set and at least once a year we watch all of them through again. Each time we seem to discover something new in a scene or dialogue or insight.

One clue to not knowing ourselves perfectly happens when we might hear ourselves describe an action or comment we made and then add, “It was so unlike me.”

Intersections of times and moments such as that can often trigger a discovery of something within us we had not noticed, dismissed, or denied. It reminds us as C.S. Lewis has written; “We live in a constant tension between the lofty side of our nature and the lowly side…part of us rooted in the soil and part reaching for the sky.”

I think we see Paul’s recognition of that in Romans 7. You know the passage in all likelihood. It begins in verse 15 and continues from there with Paul talking about the struggle within him when he does what he would not want to do and doesn’t do what he would desire.

It’s easy to relate to that passage, but it can also expose a part of us (despite a relationship with the Lord through grace) that can fall prey to viewing ourselves through the lens of the law.

We never should use grace as an excuse to knowingly sin, but maybe we have forgotten that we are not just saved by grace, but we are to live by grace as well.

How do we respond when we discover a truth about ourselves we had not known? Perhaps the choice is to go to the Lord for His direction, His mercy, His forgiveness, and His grace. Maybe condemnation is the path we choose as a result of this weakness, failing, or sin.

The choice may also be to offer excuses and explanations for the existence of the issue. Others might decide they were not accurate in what they sensed, saw, or heard so they brush the thought away as untruth versus truth.

Only one choice is the best. It begins with recognition of our need for God’s grace and that we are to live by grace as well as be saved through grace. With that as a foundation, the writer of Hebrews 4:16 clarifies the best choice: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.”

A few years ago I also read a great book that I keep in the forefront of my mind regarding this subject. The author writes about a principle that provides the truth I need when I discover something negative or sinful I had not seen in myself.

Jerry Bridges writes these good words about the principle in The Discipline of Grace:

Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your good days are never so  good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”



Focusing In More Closely

IMG_3234 Every day we are flooded with images. They come from our environment, our electronic media, print media, and so much more.

We are bombarded with images to the point that we don’t even see certain things as we pass them by, they become a background with no form.

It shows up when we are driving and shift into that automatic mode while driving to the routine places of our daily life.

That glazed over habit of not attending to all that is in our field of vision may be a skill that can be handy possibly, but it also can become our default setting that causes us to miss key things. That is especially evident in our relationships.

Without even realizing it, we start only seeing the surface of the lives of those around us as we pass by them. We see through filters of the surface image and our ears become less keen in hearing. We hopefully hear words spoken, but not as often the heart, the spirit of the one speaking to us.

The consequence is often relationships that are also surface and never satisfy the depth of our soul.

I have heard the repeated story of hunger for relationship that a person is longing to have and the loneliness that has resulted from a barren landscape in this context.

The reasons are certainly many, but one common thread is often this lack of seeing and hearing into the soul of the person we most desire to be in relationship with. We miss the heart of that other person too often in our effort to have our own heart noticed. The result is predictable. No significant relationship develops.

I have a dear friend that I have been blessed to know for quite some time. She is passionate with a ministry the Lord led her to create. God has used her mightily and the ministry from her life and vision has produced much fruit. Everyone who knows her can see the fruit and rarely is she spoken of without comment about this work.

What most around her miss while in awe of what the Lord has done through her is the soul of this precious friend. This ministry is an expression of it, but to see into the soul from which it sprang one has to look more deeply and take time to see that there is more to her being, her heart, and her spirit than simply this tremendous ministry.

I am blessed to know her well and savor each new discovery of how the Lord is moving in her heart, what is burdening her, and how she is growing. I cherish the depth of what we can share.

There is another woman who is new to my life. I do not yet know her well.  IMG_3221

I have been participating in a Bible study for some months now in the home of a woman I am just getting to know. It is a beautiful home and I could tell you about what things might make it so, but as I look more carefully what I see is something about the soul of this woman.

Her home is arranged in every room that speaks of her desire to make anyone who comes feel welcome. Chairs and couches are positioned to enhance conversation or sometimes to offer a quiet spot for solitude. Her choices of each detail in the rooms speak to what her heart loves whether in the photos of her children, fresh flowers she has chosen to add little colorful touches here or there, or the music playing in the background. This physical place invites me to not only relax, but has allowed me to get to know her beyond the words she might say.

To do that, I need to look beyond the first glance of the home to the person who has created the environment that reflects her heart.

This focused seeing” is something I see in the winsome exploring by young children who notice so many small things we have long since lost sight of.

When we lose that somewhere along the way, we no longer discover the wonder of those around us nor the wonder we can have in our relationship with the Lord. We become driven, self-focused and absorbed and then wonder why we feel empty.

The Lord is painting a new canvas every day. We have seen it in the fall season as leaves change, in the sound of leaves crunching beneath our feet, and in the taste of fresh apples from the orchard. We have seen it in the people He has allowed to intersect with us.

He has created a bountiful feast for the senses, but my desire is to focus more closely on the heart of the One who created this bounty, to deepen that relationship so I don’t miss the best part.

When I do that with Him, the bonus is that it helps me to do it with my human relationships as well and my heart and soul become more deeply satisfied.


Portrait of Humility

Indian Paintbrush WildflowerA dictionary defines humility as “a modest or low view of one’s own importance”. The origin of the word is humus, which means, “dust” or “earth”.

We can see that in action in ancient times when a humble person or a person of lower station might be seen acknowledging another person’s power or position by bowing. It demonstrated respect as well.

We can see humility demonstrated in the Bible where we see many persons whose lives evidence such attitudes. The cultures of the time show us the physical customs that represent the characteristic.

Paul E. Miller writes about the ways Ruth demonstrates humility in his book, A Loving Life, which also speaks of the nature of humility. The book challenges us to look deeply and go beyond our postmodern view of love and humility as he walks through the book of Ruth in the Old Testament.

Above all, Jesus shows us the epitome of humility, choosing to lay aside his deity to take on human flesh, be born in a stable, be taught and trained by human parents, and submit to his Father to die on a cross so we might never be separated from his love.

Wherever we turn in scripture and see humility, we see submission as a component. Though the submission may appear to be to men or circumstance, the true submission is to the Lord who is above every circumstance and situation. And we see how much the Lord values humility as an attribute necessary for leadership.

A classic example is that of Joseph who had grand visions, was favored above his brothers, bragged about his dreams, and got sold into slavery. That ended with him imprisoned where the Lord changed his heart, his attitude, and prepared him for the role he had seen in his vision.

Time and again the Lord humbled leaders and kings who fell prey to pride in order to equip them for His purposes and to remind them of who they were.

In the postmodern world it can be harder to see examples of humility lived out versus proclaimed as a quality one owns. Certainly we can think of some such as Mother Theresa, but can you identify any one you have known personally?

There is one I have known that easily comes to mind, but none of you would have heard of him.

He was born into a farm family as the youngest of six children. His older brother was 19 years his senior followed by four sisters. His brother worked hard helping his father with the family farm while his sisters worked alongside his mother as he toddled about the farmhouse.

When he was five years old, his father died without him really getting to know him. His older brother took on the role of “head of the family” until he was killed after falling off the barn roof. It was then, at the age of thirteen, this boy becoming a man, sought the help of his uncles on the adjacent farms to move into the role of handling farming.

He was disappointed not to be able to continue his love of learning by going to high school in order to handle the farming duties and learn from his uncles. But he submitted to their council and also to the place life had brought him.

His love of learning led him to humbly ask his elementary teacher if he could come back a second time to the eighth grade in the one room school a mile from his home. He explained that he thought he could perhaps learn something more by going through a second time. The teacher was so impressed that she offered to try to provide as much as she could to add to his education.

A centerpiece of his life was his developing spiritual life that grew year by year. His quiet, gentle personality, selfless service, and extraordinary patience were hallmarks of his character along with his dry wit.

He married only after he earned enough money to prepare for a family of his own while still running the farm. He weathered losses without complaint or self-pity. These included the death of his first son and seven years later, the birth of a handicapped son who would never leave home and always need his care.

He sacrificed to give his only daughter what no one in the family had ever achieved, a college education.

He served year by year without fanfare or acclaim or a belief life had been unfair to him.

He served his family, his church, and his community seeing it as his privilege and responsibility. I never saw him judge anyone, nor did I see him angry. He expressed gratitude often and rarely spoke of tiredness from hard work.

He looked always to the Lord to see what he must do and how he was to walk.

His birthday would have been tomorrow.

He was my dad.

He left a legacy of humility to anyone who knew him.


Gifts Gained from Sacrifice

IMG_1194Many will pause to acknowledge sacrifice this Veterans Day while some will barely notice. For some of us, it is a very personal remembrance. I am one of those.

I was a young Marine Corps officer’s wife and a few short weeks after learning we were expecting our first child, my husband picked me up from the school where I was substitute teaching with news that shattered our excitement. He had just learned he had received orders to deploy to Vietnam.

How could this be?

He had only returned two months ago from being half a world away for five months on another deployment. Everything in me tumbled and jumbled with thoughts and emotions too difficult to comprehend or express.

Within a few days, our one bedroom duplex was packed and moved back home from the base in North Carolina. First stop for my husband would be Camp Pendleton, CA. With no certainty of how long he would be there before being shipped overseas, we decided I would travel with him to CA to stay with him as long as I could.

It became clear within a few days that there would be no housing for me there, so I prepared for the flight back home to the Midwest. He could not be released from duty to drive me to the airport in San Diego, so it fell to me to drive him to the base and say goodbye and drive away.


I recall it as if it were yesterday, driving down the winding road, watching him for as long as I could see him in the rearview mirror, trying to memorize every detail of him.

He was in California a month before being deployed and we used so many minutes talking long distance on the phone that the phone company called my parents where I was staying to ask if we wanted to pay the bill of $200 in installments. (Yes, that was before cell phones, iPad, Skype, Face Time, etc.)

We were apart for fourteen months, short by WW II standards, but longer than I thought I could endure. There were daily letters back and forth and later my husband bought two little reel-to-reel tape recorders to send recorded messages back and forth. (Yes, it was just before cassette tapes also!)

It was a different kind of war, the first one that showed battlefront footage on the evening news and the first one that so bitterly divided our country over our involvement. Both things were difficult for me and the other family members back home.

Anxiety was easy to feel and hard to quell.

In the middle of his deployment, our son was born. We would not have planned a pregnancy for this time of separation, but in it we discovered one of the first evidences of grace and blessing in the midst of sacrifice.

The pregnancy and our son’s birth gave us both something positive to anticipate and focus on beyond the circumstances we were living out each day. I came to see how it steadied my focus away from the headlines about the realities and dangers my husband faced.

A second gift was developing greater skill in communication as day after day we filled pages of letters with thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams. Each line on the page was precious. Each of us was aware any one of them might be the last we would hear each other express so we were deliberate in choices of words to convey all our hearts held for one another.

My husband’s return home at 6AM on an Easter Sunday morning could not have seemed more poignant or appropriate. He was thinner and more deeply tanned than I had ever seen him and he was about to meet our eight-month-old son for the very first time.

There were many sacrifices during that time, but each one left a gift that has served us well in our marriage and life.

What were some of those gifts?

  • Communication matters and should be handled with love, care, sensitivity, and respect
  • Be sure to tell someone how precious they are to you and what you appreciate about them when you see them because you cannot be sure if you will have that opportunity again
  • Prioritize relationship with those you love and never take time with them for granted. Time with them is not guaranteed.
  • Trusting the Lord is not for the faint of heart and requires practice

When I consider some of the gifts of sacrifice this Veterans Day, I am reminded of how the disciples must have felt with that short precious three years they walked with Jesus. I think they learned these lessons as well from the One who sacrificed everything for them, for us.






Stumbling With Obedience

PPP 023The word obedience seems to have fallen out of fashion and little by little we have set aside its value in our daily lives. As a child quite a few years ago, I heard the word and saw it in action routinely.

Back then, children were taught to obey and understood the word and the consequences if they did not. At the altar, a future wife was asked to commit to “love, honor, and obey”. It was common to recognize and understand we were to obey the laws of the land whether they were speed limits or something far more significant.

It’s rare to listen in on parental admonitions and hear the word “obey” in the mix for many parents. They may expect their children will “listen”, but how does that compare to the word “obey” and its meaning?

                                                  Obedience means compliance.

Perhaps that is where the difficulty comes for most of us. It is easier to think the rule, request, order, or law does not apply to me or I may think it is unfair, foolish, unnecessary, or unjust so I make a choice to exclude myself from compliance.

As each of us makes a choice about obedience, do we not sound like our ancestors at the end of the book of Judges where everyone did what was right in their own eyes?

The semantics of it all are less important than the principles. From the beginning of time the Word shows that God values obedience in the midst of his lavish love and abundant grace. And in the very beginning, we humans could not manage to obey the one thing He asked of us and it seems to have become a bigger struggle century by century up to the present day.

We do so as believers despite more than a few examples in the Word about the risks of disobedience. We brush those thoughts away like a pesky fly buzzing around our heads.

It seems we have forgotten that at one point in Egypt, we learned that even flies could be obedient when God commanded them to swarm over the land. Time and again we saw the waters obey. The Red Sea parted. Jesus spoke to the wind when the disciples feared for their lives on a rocky sea and it became calm. Water became wine.

From the beginning, God spoke and every aspect of creation except one complied. He gave us the gift of our free will and time and again the seduction of the enemy and our “human nature” has tempted us to do the opposite.

We have the knowledge of what we are asked to comply with. What causes us to stumble?

Here are some possibilities:

  • We believe we know better or have a better way
  • We think we can handle the situation ourselves
  • We think we have a shortcut that is better
  • We have stopped seeking the Lord’s counsel
  • We no longer recognize His voice
  • We think that obedience will deny us some pleasure or ease

These and many others not listed point to our preference of being self-sufficient rather than God reliant.

These speak to our belief that compliance is not for our good, but only to limit what we want, desire, need, or demand.

Maybe we have also forgotten that obedience releases us from our old sin nature and our self-will that can still sneak into a believer’s life unless vigilance is maintained.

Possibly the enemy has also clouded our remembrance that obedience taps into the power and unlimited resources of the One who created us and everything around us.

The enemy would prefer we believe we have all the power we need within ourselves and do not need to rely on the Lord.


The enemy wants us to believe we are powerless and have no access to the One who has ALL the power.

When we are tempted to fall prey to his devices and schemes, the choice is nearly always disobedience.

                                      He asks us to obey because He loves us.

He desires to reside in us, which taps into the power to overcome the obstacles over which we stumble on our way to obedience.

John 14:23 (ESV)

   “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him an make our home with him.”

Stream at Blackberry Farm, TN