But God

We’re singing about grace this morning.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace.

And here’s the thing about grace.

It tastes all the sweeter when you’re really and truly convinced that you don’t deserve it, that you didn’t do anything to earn it.

In fact, that’s what makes it grace.

Once upon a time I didn’t know the wretchedness of my own heart.

I was a good girl, a rule-follower, a perfectionist.

I grew up knowing about Jesus, knowing all the right answers.

And still

I was dead in my trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1).

My righteousness, my striving, my efforts would never be enough.

But God

Gracious and compassionate, abounding in love,

This God snatched me up out of my self-righteous striving and set me free.

Free from finding my identity in what I’ve done, free into living my true identity as Beloved.

Free from running hard to prove myself, free into abundant, extravagant rest.

Free from fear of not being enough, of not doing enough, free into confidence that Jesus paid it all.

Free from red-hot anger that feels justified in the moment, free into honestly seeing my own brokenness and feeling empathy.  Free into love.

It all catches me a little breathless again this morning.

This story I’ve heard thousands of times, this utter dependence and absolute need for rescue.

And this grace.

This marvelous, infinite, matchless grace.

Grace that shines light into darkness.

Grace that breathes life into dead hearts.

Grace that is greater than all our sin.

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Faithful

Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you.

Through it all, through it all, it is well.

We sing the words again this morning and I remember.

Another day we sang this song, a day not too far in the past.

Today I can sing with gusto.

That day I could barely breathe.

That day I collapsed under the weight of what felt impossibly hard.

Making space for grace, making space for Love

During the home stretch in Little One’s case.

I was exhausted.

And I knew the days ahead would likely leave me more ragged and vulnerable than I already felt.

That day I knew that ultimately it would be well with my soul.

But it was the prayers of dear ones whispered in my ears when I couldn’t drag my needy self off the floor that breathed life.  That spoke it to be well.  Right then and there.  In the middle of the mess.

The words today feel like a victory chant.

Like a standing stone.

Because, friends, our God is faithful.

Not just because Little One is asleep in the other room right now, all arms and legs and outside voice and fiery personality.

But because in the days to come, I got to watch love win right in the court house.

Because I got to stand in the sacred space of speaking worth and value into hearts that others dismissed too easily.  And some days I still do.

Because when I didn’t have the strength to drag myself off the floor and singing it is well made me feel like a hypocrite, it left no question who made beauty start to uncurl from the broken places.

And it sure as anything wasn’t me.

And so, today, I sing with gusto.  Knowing that there will be other days when I collapse under the weight of what feels impossibly hard.

But still it is true.  Still it is well.

Because, friends, our God is faithful.

You alone

Once upon a time, I made a little girl’s profession of faith.

My ears heard the story I had heard since I drew my first breath.

God created you.  Sin wrecked you.  Jesus died to make a way for you.  Choose him.

My heart snatched onto these words because all at once it knew them to be true.

And I believed.

It was honest.  It was genuine.  It was enough.

A decade later, I was mired in adolescent angst.

In retrospect, my life was decidedly not that hard.

But at the time I felt betrayed.  And angry.

I locked myself in my room and scrawled my angsty thoughts onto paper, filling notebook after notebook.

One whole year.

And then, out of nowhere, I heard Jesus.

It sounds crazy, I know, but it is as close to an audible voice as I have ever heard.

It was an ultimatum.  Walk ahead with me or walk away.  Today.  Right now.

Knees on my bedroom floor, the answer rushed from my heart without hesitation.

Where else would I go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.  I believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.  (John 6: 68-69)

Those words have come back to me over the years.

As I’ve lived through days much darker than my notebook scrawling year.

Days burnt out on ministry, wondering if I could ever love the church that Jesus called his bride.

Days of fear and picking up pieces of dashed dreams, wondering if there was still a place for me.

Days of holding a raging child, terrified of what people would think if they really knew.

Days of interminable waiting, begging for resolution and getting only resolve.

Days of aching, of walking around with a giant gaping hole in my heart and trying to pretend it was ok.

And many, many days of holding stories.  Stories too hard.  Of abuse and unfaithfulness.  Of self-hatred and self-harm.  Of terrible diseases and relentless love.  Of so many Little Ones lost too soon.

If you’ve lived any time at all, you know we aren’t immune to these too-hard stories just because we love Jesus.

But where would I go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.

The words come again this morning.

As I wrangle a squirmy toddler and sing in faith words that I desperately want to be true.

For me.  And for all the dear ones with the too-hard stories.

You alone have the words of eternal life.

Only here, in those words, can we be anchored.  Secure.  Hopeful.

You alone.

Rooted in Love

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ… (Eph. 3:17)

You prophets, bold speakers of Spirit-truth, we need you.  Your words make us brave.  Brave enough to love well.

You servants, compassionate care-takers of the practical, we need you.  Your hands and feet free us to listen.  We hear the drum-beat of Spirit-love in your quiet footsteps.

You teachers, increasers of insight and understanding, we need you.  Your stories help us grasp love with our hearts and open us to be grasped by Love.

You encouragers, you gentle walkers-beside, we need you.  Your capacity to listen well helps us know that we are heard.  Your words ring true in our hearts because we know we are loved.

You givers, free-flowing vessels of grace and provision, we need you.  Your generosity lets love trickle into corners it couldn’t otherwise reach.

You leaders, influencers of mind and heart, we need you.  Your voice points us in the right direction, helping us encounter Love for ourselves.

You mercy-givers, edge-sweeping holders of the broken, we need you.  Your hearts bleed love and we notice.  You see the ones the rest ignore, and we cannot escape it when you are around… you are covered in the aroma of Love.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. (Romans 12:6)

But our gifts are not to be hoarded.  Not to be locked up inside of us.

No.

Our gifts are for the body.  For a desperately needy world.  For the Giver.

Your gift is valuable.  Indispensable.

It’s only together that we have power to know the width and length and height and breadth of Love.

A Love that changes everything.

And they came

The house was packed, there was no room left.

The road was rough, it took all their physical strength.

Jesus was busy, there was no guarantee they could push their way through.

And they came.   (Mark 2)

Their friend was sick.

They knew the One who could help.

And so they came.

Surely digging through a thick mud roof wasn’t their original plan.

But they were desperate, ready to do what they must.

And so they came.

What did Jesus see when he looked at this spectacle?

Not an interruption to his sermon.

Not a gaping hole in the roof.

He saw faith.  Belief.  Faithfulness.

Can I be honest for a second?

There have been times in my life that my prayers have been the desperate pleas of a woman digging through a thick mud roof, intent on getting through to the Healer one way or another.

But usually?  Usually they’re not.

I say lots of things to excuse and explain, but the plain truth is this:

I need to make time to come.

Even when the house is packed and the road is rough and there’s no guarantee.

I know the Healer and I also know dear ones for whom I need to start digging like mad.

Maybe you do too.

Now is the time, friends.

May it be said of us that it was hard and inconvenient and sometimes a little crazy.

But we were desperate.  Desperate for our dear ones to know the Love, the healing that we do.  And ready to do what we must.

And so we came.

When grace is in the receiving

Today we meet Jesus in the synagogue where he’s teaching with authority and casting out evil spirits. (Mark 1:21-28)

His disciples are amazed.

Amazed at this man who teaches with power, who calls out his enemy and sends him away.

And we are challenged.

When is the last time we’ve stood amazed at this Jesus?

I have stood amazed, no doubt.

The night when words I’d heard hundreds of times before flashed hot and bright behind my eyelids, fluttering in my little girl heart because I got it.

The day when Jesus yanked me out of my adolescent angst with an ultimatum to which the only response was where else could I go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.

The time I prayed for a daughter and everyone told me it never happens like that.  Except that it did.

And when I pleaded with Jesus to be done with foster care and his answer, one thing, brought a Little One who is one of the greatest joys of my life.

The times I’ve watched Love win—in my home.  In my classroom.  In court.

And plenty more.

I figure I’m good.

And so through the closing song, I wrestle with another thought that thumps and throbs.

Maybe I’ll write about it soon.

And then church is over.

And I’m gathering my coat when Jesus shows up in the chair next to me wearing the skin of someone I barely know.

Words of kindness and affirmation tumble over me, then a tangible gift of grace offered freely.

Too much.

Too much from someone I barely know.

But the answer is yes and thank you.

I know this too.

Because the Jesus who speaks with authority is here.  Heavy in these words that I want to shrug away but cannot.  In this freely offered gift of too much.

And so I leave church today standing amazed.

Taken aback again by the extravagant love of One who knows that sometimes

Grace is in the receiving.

With

It’s a little word, one we don’t think about much.

But today, it’s the word that captures for me the whole story of Christmas.

The whole story of life.

With.

It’s a joining word, a connector.

Emmanuel.

God with us.

With in the joy and celebration of permanence, of forever family done and done.

With in the endless chatter and toy-strewn house and perennial sleep deprivation that is toddlerhood.

With in the moody angst and pointed words and wishful independence that is pre-teenagerhood.

With in the job that I once loved but now leaves me feeling exhausted, angry and incompetent every day.

With in the silent death of little dreams, the little griefs that feel too silly to even name.

With in the vast expanse of adventure ahead, all shiny and wide and possible.

God with us.

Why does this matter?

Because this Word that was with God in the beginning (John 1:1) had to be with us.

Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.

(Hebrews 2:17)

The Word made flesh had to be with us to bridge the gap.

The gaping chasm between a holy God and broken, rebellious, decidedly unholy humanity.

Broken, rebellious, decidedly unholy me.

This is the story of grace.

The story of Christmas.  And Easter.  And every single day.

This is the story that changes everything.