Friday, January 31, 2014

Part 2 of Lessons in Grace: Car Repair Adventures

The theme for part 1 was that grace ≠ merit and that our very culture, my deepest ingrained ideologies, is a deterrent to fully walking in grace, to living by and receiving freely God’s grace every day. Our culture says that we work to receive, that you can’t or shouldn’t receive something for nothing, and so pride and self-sufficiency is our great hindrance to grace, which freely gives what is so undeserved, which freely gives in no regard, whatsoever, to our merit or demerit.

Sure, we can admit our needs when we are desperate—as I was desperate that day I stood in the middle of 5th street in the cold with a police officer blocking traffic while we wait for a tow truck to pick up the pieces and the tire and the three-wheeled 4Runner sitting lopsided. Of course, I was desperate then.

The problem is that because we are our own hindrance to grace—by living and operating based on earthly cultural values—when we get desperate enough, when we truly need God because we just. cant. do. it., even then we pick up a different hindrance to grace: entitlement.

I’ve written about this entitlement thing before, but I feel like I see it in two different ways now. The first is when we begin mentally checking our magical piggy bank to see if we have stored up enough credits (enough merits) to ask our wish-granting God if He will hear us. When we are desperate, we are all-the-more demanding.

And this goes two ways, too (back to work-therefore-entitlement): either we say, but I’ve done this and this and this, so can’t You just do this one thing to get me out of my desperate bind? Or, we say (as I did), well, my sin is so great this week, my piggy bank is pretty depleted; I guess I’ll just take my consequence now.

All of this is a very wrong and very limiting understanding of grace.

So, part 2 picks up the second half of our second cultural hindrance: entitlement. And I’ve already said entitlement is related to our sense of works (I worked; therefore, I am entitled). But there’s another kind of entitlement game, and I play it a lot. It’s called the game of justice: what is right and fair.

I’ve been reading through a Bible study written by Paige Allen, and toward the end she talks about the verse in Micah to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And she comments that she sometimes loves justice more than she loves mercy.

Me too.

Blame it on my personality—that I’m so black-and-white, but I have a very strong sense of justice and fairness, of right and wrong. And it’s not always just for me—it’s for others who often face great injustices that make me so angry I cry out, But why God? It’s so unfair!

Before you think I’m only selflessly carrying the justice torch for others, let me tell you, I carry my own torch really high. Most people like to get the fair deal and to be right, but I really like it. In fact, the greatest issue I have had to work through in our marriage is this very thing: marriage is about compromise, about humility and selflessness; it’s not about being right or “winning.” (If you’re a newlywed, and you’re bull-headed like me, put that on your mirror. When I let go of the need to “win,” it changed our marriage forever.) Okay—soap box over.

Here’s the deal, though, I still very much like to be right—and more than that, it’s hard for me to get over what I think is unfair.

Example: $3,000 worth of damage (a conservative estimate), and we likely aren’t responsible for any of it.

So, enter again, Day 8 of the lessons-from-my-car-repairs: I’m reading about the parable of the rich landowner, the one who gives a very fair pay to the laborers who worked all day and a very generous and equal (but unfair) pay to the laborers who only worked an hour.

Jerry Bridges in Transforming Grace puts the parable in a modern perspective: a class of students who take an exam. Some studied very hard and earned an A; others did not study at all and deserved an F, but the professor gives everyone an A—both earned and undeserved.

If you know me, you know I was highly concerned with grades in college and grad school, particularly. So, as a student, this makes something inside me go, Ahhhhhhh!!!!! As a professor, I think Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Either way, my heart cries out—but that’s not right…it’s not fair!

And yet the landowner says, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13-15).

God is indeed very generous; it’s in His inherit nature to give. But when we feel entitled to receive, we lose sight of His generosity.

Bridges writes, “But for Christians, such a high sense of entitlement is especially detrimental to our spiritual lives. For one thing, God is the ultimate supplier of all our needs and desires. Every good gift is from Him, regardless of the intermediate means through which it is supplied… If we do not receive what we think we have a right to expect, it is ultimately God who has withheld” (p. 65).

The bottom line is this: “None of us wants to get what we actually deserve” (p. 69).

God doesn’t owe us anything. And any gift He has given us is by His grace, His inherit generosity—to give what is undeserved.

Through Jesus, I am made righteous; through Jesus, I can do anything; through Jesus, I am more than a conqueror. But when I begin to think it’s really me that’s so great and awesome: I am not. Apart from Jesus, I am nothing. I have nothing without His generosity. And I can never give Him anything He hasn’t already given me.

So I began to pray last week that God would pierce my heart with this truth. I don’t deserve to have my car fixed on my time table; I don’t deserve to pay nothing. It’s not my right nor is it justice.

It’s only grace to get what we don’t deserve, but if we think we deserve it, then we miss the gift—we miss grace.

If you’ve made it this far and are, at this point, really only interested to know what happened, here it is: By God’s grace, the service manager took most of the weight of the repairs, and we paid less than 10% of what those repairs should have cost—and by His grace upon grace, our initial estimated cost was even lower when we picked up the car on Wednesday.

Did we deserve it? Nope. Not at all. But we have a generous Father who gives gifts of grace upon grace, and when our heart releases our culture and ideologies, we see and receive His grace everywhere.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Day my WHEEL FELL OFF on 5th Street... (Part 1)

So, it's no secret that my car has been in the shop, and let me tell you, there's nothing more testing of your Christ-like-ness than being at the mercy of a repair shop.

Here’s the short and edited version: my u-joint needed replacing (I still don't know exactly what that is, btw), and the wrong part was ordered—that was week one, plus throw in some broken promised call-backs, lots of time on hold, a little rudeness, and in general, good ole waiting. And then, you know, the day we go to pick it up (Day 7), my wheel fell off while we were driving, on 5th Street. (Fortunately, the service manager and the technician were in the car to witness it.) So, the next week of work involved wheel replacement, axil repair, and good ole body work to the entire side paneling and bumper bracket.

About this time, our church started a series on judgment. Oh boy. Did I attach significance to that event? Um, yes. Did I get angry and offended? Oh yes.

I don’t generally consider myself an angry person, but if you’ve been around me at all—and if I love you enough to be real with you—you’ve heard my rant. And, of course, because I’m not confrontational enough to take it out on the repair personnel, I end up just being really angry in my heart and head—and in my head, let me tell you, I can say all kinds of rude things and do lots of brave things that I would never actually do in real life.

Here’s a better summary version: I am proud and arrogant, and I’m convinced I could do a better job, more quickly, than 10 technicians put together. I’m also impatient and am the most important customer you’ve ever had. And, while we’re at it, I’ve added a “because” to every “observation” for why the work isn’t done and X person was rude (which, of course, is also my own perception). And again, I’ve attached significance to all. of. this.

This is where God got me and ever so gently reigned me back in—around Day 8.

When the wheel fell off and caused greater damage to the car (Day 7), there was this question of who is responsible and who will pay? As Hal and I are not confrontational people, we listened to lots of versions of why the company should do the right thing, or our being justified to ask them to pay. We needed little help coming up with all the reasons, but, in short, my mind played on two key phrases: they should pay because it’s only fair; it is the right thing to do.

Because God’s word for me this year is grace and because I want so badly to wrap my head around this concept, I began praying—really more like questioning: Daddy, where is grace in all this? Why are we not favored and blessed with a fixed car already? Why do more problems keep coming?

So, as far as my understanding of grace to this point, read: grace = granting wishes.

Then, of course, my performance/punishment system sets in, and I begin thinking, Well, I guess you don’t want to be gracious because I’ve been angry in my heart and judgmental toward the service people. That’s fair; I know I’ve repented of those things, but I deserve the consequences for my actions, and this is my consequence.

Read: grace = works.

But the morning after my wheel fell off, I read the parable of the rich landowner, and let’s just say, God humbled me completely.

Jerry Bridges writes, “The landowner could have paid [the eleventh hour workers] only what they had earned, but he chose to pay them according to their need, not according to their work. He paid according to grace, not debt” (p. 50).

His goodness, His grace is not in regard to my works or efforts; neither is it suspended by my sin. His grace is not in regard to works or sin—it is beyond what we could have ever deserved or earned. His grace meets our need, not our merit.

Our deterrent from understanding God’s grace is pride; we still want to place some work and effort on ourselves. It’s not in our nature–certainly not our American culture—to receive something for nothing. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” we say, so we resist living on a spiritual welfare system (Bridges, p. 59). Who needs a handout when I’m perfectly capable? This: pride.

God began to show me that the root of my anger and pride was fear, and my fear was connected to lack: that the repairs would be expensive and that it would be a strain on our finances.

He also began to show me that it was by His grace, His favor, that my wheel didn’t fall off while I was going 80 mph down I-27—both before we took my car in and after we got it out. What if it hadn’t made the noise when we picked it up on Day 7? It was in His graciousness that the wheel fell off at the exact time that it did.

So, humbled, I thanked Him for His favor, I thanked Him for His grace that meets every need, and I thanked Him that even if we had to pay, He would provide.

But there was still this pesky business of who would pay and what was right or fair…

(Coming up in Part 2!!)

Friday, January 10, 2014

How do we LIVE by GRACE?

I’ve been reading Jerry Bridges Transforming Grace—a book I once read in college that has collected 7 or 8 years of dust on a bookshelf. Given that God’s word to me for this year was grace, I’ve read countless verses and commentary on verses over the last couple weeks, trying to understand grace as more than the undeserved gift of salvation. My favorite verses and commentary so far—and likely my “theme verses” for this year:

2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
James 4:6: “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says, ‘God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
John 1:16: “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.”

The Greek word charis in these verses is defined in a two-fold manner: 1) the undeserved gift of salvation, the freeness we have in Christ, given by God with no expectation of anything in return (i.e. getting what we don’t deserve); and 2) the joy or gratitude we experience because of this favor or gift.

I feel like I understand—at least in some small, in-my-head kind of way—the saving grace: that I’m a sinner and the wages of sin are death. Not getting what I deserved: mercy. I am saved by grace; I have eternal life; I am made righteous—the wrath for my sin is satisfied. Receiving what I don’t deserve: grace.

One commentary for John 1:16 talks about “grace for grace” being literally “grace upon grace”: “…and that grace for grace is the same with grace upon grace, heaps of grace; and that phraseology is the same with this Jewish one, ‘goodness upon goodness,’ an additional goodness; so here, grace upon grace, an abundance of it, an addition to it, an increase of it” (emphasis mine).

I like that.

But what does it mean to live by grace. What is grace upon grace? And what does it mean that His grace is sufficient? What grace is this? 

Grace for the moment. Grace to accomplish. Grace to teach. Grace to love. Grace to grow. And more… Grace to face the challenges. Grace to wait. Grace to heal. Grace to trust and hope.

What I read today was particularly convicting—and enlightening. First, that the Biblical definition of grace is always the same—whether we’re talking about salvation or our daily living (p. 26). And in that vein, we must understand that the Biblical view of grace is not about God supplying grace to make up our deficiencies, as if we needed to fill a 20L bottle of salvation, and we have 5L of our own goodness and only needed his 15L of grace. Bridges writes, “The invitation to come [Isaiah 55:1] is addressed to those who have no money—not to those who don’t have enough money” (p. 27).

So this presupposition is important: that all grace is not only always undeserved but also totally and completely sufficient, separated from anything we could offer.

Later, Bridges notes, “Neither our merits nor our demerits determine how much grace we need because grace does not supplement merits or make up for demerits. Grace does not take into account merits or demerits at all” (p. 32).

For some reason, it seems to be easier to accept this truth when we’re talking about salvation: of course, I’m a sinner; of course, I couldn’t save myself; of course, His gift is not of my works or merit. We know this—and believe it—and say it—because it’s the biblical doctrine that’s in our hearts, which is great—if we’re talking about salvation. But why doesn’t this translate to our daily living by grace? How do we take this truth and incorporate it into our everyday living?

At the end of this chapter, Bridges writes,  “To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life” (p. 33).

In the first chapter, he puts it this way: “We are saved by grace, but we are living by performance.” He continues:
Not only are we legalistic by nature, our Christian culture reinforces this attitude in us. We are exhorted to attend church regularly, have a daily quiet time, study our Bibles, pray, memorize scripture, witness to our neighbors, and give to missions—all of which are important Christian activities. Though no one ever comes right out and says so, somehow the vague impression is created in our minds that we’d better do those things or God will not bless us.

Then we turn to the Bible and read that we are to work out our salvation, to pursue holiness, and to be diligent to add to our faith such virtues as goodness, knowledge, self-control, and love. In fact, we find the Bible filled with exhortations to do good works and pursue the disciplines of spiritual growth. Again, because we are legalistic by nature, we assume our performance in these areas earns God’s blessing in our lives. (pp. 17-18)

I know I’ve been told these things—not to be legalistic with a quiet time, not to perform. I’ve even written about them: that His goodness is not conditional to my performance. (Thank God!)  So, on some level, I know I know this. But I don’t walk it out—certainly not consistently. I’m so driven, type-A, black-and-white, a “Rules Rule!” kind-of-person that I don’t know how to wipe away my nature and replace it with His grace—with a living by grace, a life that chooses to walk in heaps of favor, chooses to believe I’m immersed in His blessing, regardless of my behavior or performance that day.

Maybe that’s why He gave me the word grace this year. Not just that this would be a year of blessing, of gifts underserved, of heaps and heaps of His goodness for our family (although I pray it’s all those things!), but that I would breathe grace, that it would be on my tongue and in my heart and on my mind—all. day. long.

Jesus come. I have no money—not just that I don’t have enough; I have none. May that concept be so deep in my heart that all I can grasp for is Your fullness—for grace, upon grace, upon grace. Infinitely so. Infinitely forever.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Reflecting on 2013; Praying for 2014

Like most people, I feel like January 1 is a day of reflection and a day for looking forward. Most people use this day to make New Year’s resolutions—and I’ve done my share of that. It’s usually always the same list: eat better; work out consistently; pray more, worry less; stay ahead at work; read, write, and publish, etc. I always begin with good intentions—and then, well, there’s a reason my list is usually the same. J

As I think about the last few years, it seems every time I reflect, I find the year hasn’t been all that I hoped. I blogged about 2010 here—my darkest year of struggle with the Lord despite His faithfulness to me. In 2011, we lost two grandfathers and our dog. 2012 was a year of bad news—from Tomi’s battle with breast cancer that sent our family reeling (read about our journey here) to my battle with infertility: from doctor to doctor and test to test, all saying either I’d be unlikely to conceive on my own or even if I could conceive, my uterus may not even successfully carry a baby. 2012 ended with three failed fertility treatments and a house on the market that hadn’t even showed.

When 2013 began, I asked the Lord to let this year be a year of promises and blessings, of dreams fulfilled, of prayers answered. It’s crazy to think that this time last year (literally—this week, this month, a year ago), we were praying, as always, for God to give us a baby, for Hal to get the safety specialist position at Airgas (a promotion!), for us to sell his truck and buy a fuel-efficient car, for us to sell our house and move to Plainview, for Erika to find a teaching job that was close (closer than 10 hours, anyway!), for Jaime and Michalea to get pregnant, and for Tomi to be cancer-free. And even though He hasn't answered all our prayers, I can truly say that this year was blessed, a year of promises fulfilled, of prayers answered. He heard our cries.

  1. In February, I got to stand next to my future sister-in-law and watch my brother get married. I’ve never been so proud of him; I cried through the whole thing.
  2. In March and April, the Lord provided the money we needed to re-plumb our whole house in Lubbock, to sell our house for the price we needed, and to purchase our dream home in Plainview for far less than we ever thought we would get it for. 
  3. We moved to Plainview in May, and the Lord provided an incredible church family for us and brought us friends like we’ve never imagined. From Scott and Pam Roberson, who have acted as our surrogate parents, helping us move and get settled, to KB and all my friends in our department who make working at Wayland a joy and a gift; to Bryan and Amber and Thomas and Erin—and our entire life group—who have loved us and prayed for us and welcomed us as friends. I can honestly say we’ve never been so surrounded by so many friends as we have here in Plainview and at Harvest Christian Fellowship.
  4. At the end of August, Tomi finished her last chemo treatment—and both her scans and blood work last summer and fall were cancer free!
  5. At the first of October, my sister and Jaime found out they were pregnant—and this year, I’ll have a little nephew! Some may not see that as my blessing, but if you know me, if you know my family, it is! When Michalea was diagnosed with PCOS and endometriosis, like me, my journal immediately filled with tear-stained pages, begging God that she wouldn’t go through this, that He would spare her from walking this journey I’ve been on. And by his great love, and mercy, and grace, He did! People asked if I was jealous or angry. Absolutely not. And you better believe I will hold and treasure and spoil that little boy to pieces!
  6. I’m continually amazed by the love and support of my family—and that includes Brandi, who is another older sister to me, and Erika, my best friend. From trips to Plainview, to painting, to hanging pictures, to, well, you-name-it, my family is the best. And Erika—she should have a whole post dedicated to her. She has sacrificed her time, again and again, to be there for me this year.
  7. And lastly, my greatest blessing of all—who has been my greatest gift all these years, even the ugly ones: my husband. This year we celebrated five years of marriage! He is my best friend, my partner, my greatest fan. We do everything together, from yard work to house cleaning, from TV watching to front-porch sitting—and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He has seen me through some pretty rough seasons—and probably more emotional breakdowns this year than in the eight years he has known me. But he is an incredible leader for our home, he prays over me daily, and he encourages me and loves me like none other.

So here’s my prayer for 2014: May this be a year of grace. Sometimes prayers aren’t answered in the way or the timing that we want (or think or hope). Sometimes, as Jason Craft once said, favor means “no.” And sometimes I’ll be weary—when plans change, when things don’t work out, when gratitude is forgotten. But today, I can say with full certainty, my God is faithful, my God is good, and my God has a plan for us this year. I can’t wait to see how He pours out His grace on us in 2014!