Give yourself a break – Amazing Grace

Break

The other day my daughter was working on a Rubik’s Cube. She wanted to know if I could help. I told her that I had solved it years ago when I had put solving the Rubik’s Cube on my “bucket list.” It was after solving it by watching some YouTube videos that I wrote my first blog on a site that I could not even find when looking for it today.

It makes me wonder how things would have been different if I had given up when I was making mistakes in solving it or when I struggle with writing a post. That takes us to one of my favorite books that I have read in the last couple years: The Making of an Ordinary Saint by Nathan Foster. Nathan is the son of author Richard Foster and one of my favorite quotes from that book is, “Yet grace understands my humanness. Grace gives me space to keep going, appreciate the process and accept what I lack.”

I love this. And this “grace that understands my humanness” goes past things like Rubik’s Cubes and blog post to every part of our journey to follow Jesus. God’s grace is with us as we mess up in our attempts to live the complete life that God has for us.

I need to remind myself that, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) This is not just encouragement for those who have just begun to follow Jesus, but those who are trying to grow many years into the journey. God’s grace is bigger than our imperfect attempts to follow Him.

This is not to say we give up trying and just resign ourselves to the lowest common denominator. Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns of that thought in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, when he warns again “cheap grace.” It is actually exactly the opposite. When we understand that will always be a work in progress and God’s grace understands that, we respond by getting back up again.

If you like fancy words this is what theologians call, “Progressive Sanctification.” They mean that when you first start following Jesus you still have sin patterns in your life that you will work on and continue to work on for the rest of your life. So be kind to yourself and continue to grow in your love and faith in following Jesus. At some point the struggle will be over when you are with Him forever. It is like what is written on Billy Graham’s wife Ruth’s tombstone: “End of construction-thank you for your patience.” 

Ruth-Grahams-Gravestone

*If you buy either of the books mentioned using the link a portion of the profits will go to help the ministry. If you prefer not you can simply search for either of those at your favorite book place. Either way I recommend both of them.

My Spanish journey

Spanish

About a year and a half ago I made a commitment to learning Spanish. (See the reasons here.) Knowing that in this case I was going to need to take the slow approach and fit it in my schedule I added working with the app Duolingo to my daily schedule.

The way that Duolingo works is you learn new words and slowly move up a tree. A couple days ago I made it to the top of the tree. See picture below.

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I don’t tell you that to brag because as you can see even by their standards I am only just over 50%. I went a couple weeks ago to the Spanish service at my home church and I am well aware that I still have a long way to go. And I am still committed to putting in the work.

Which is why I am writing this. I made the commitment over a year and a half ago and then it becomes a day after day activity. Sometimes it seems like a long time and I don’t feel like I am making much progress.

It reminds me of the verse- Romans 12:1- “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” There is an old saying that goes, “The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep getting off the altar.”

There is a challenge of things that God calls us to do that takes time. It is temping when it feels like a long time to want to get off the altar. Chris Guillebeau, in his book the Happiness of Pursuit was talking about dying for something. He said, “…living for something can be mundane- and therefore far more sacrificial, because seldom does anyone notice.” I am not saying anything against martyrs because they have an important place in church history but I get what he was saying.

I am guessing this is part of why Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Certain things are a daily choice to die to ourselves to walk in obedience to Jesus.

Let me suggest three things when you get in the “long” season of whatever God has told you to do:

Reconnect to your why: Why are you doing what you are doing? Maybe it is simply because God has told you. But stepping behind that you will find powerful motivation. Leonard Ravenhill’s tombstone reads: Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for? Or as I learned when I visited the site of the Moravian revival one of their slogans was, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!”

Find encouragement from a fellow traveler. -For me the last few months I have found motivation by finding another person working on the same Spanish app as I am working. I am also encouraged to work out at the gym because I am in a contest with my brother-in-law. Competition or not a friend can give you strength in your journey of obedience to God.

Celebrate the progress you do make. Even though I still have a long way to go on my Spanish journey the fact that I am to the top of the Duolingo tree is motivation to keep going. I am guessing that Noah would have been motivated when half of the ark was finally built.

I hope this helps you stay the course. For me it is back to learning Spanish.

Accelerate your life by following God’s priority plan

Priorities

Back in my years as a pastor I used to love introducing people to the content of John Maxwell. Even though we were a small church with not a big budget I bought a video series called Priorities to share at a leadership day. I find that it is easy in life to get off track in our priorities and miss out on all that is possible with God.

There is a story found in a small little book in the Old Testament that reminds us of this important lesson. Although Haggai is only two chapters it contains a powerful punch and could have been written to an audience today.

The story is pretty simple. The people of Israel had left captivity and gone to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. But as can happen with any project that takes a while they got discouraged and stopped working on the temple. God sends a couple of prophets to get them back on track. Haggai asks them to think about their priorities.

His message went like this:  Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?  Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.” (1:4-6 ESV) He encouraged them to get back to work and that is what they did.

He gives three principles that I can use for my own life and you can use for yours.

  1. Take time to consider your priorities. It is easy in our world to get so busy that we don’t even take time to think about what is most important. We run with a frenzy pace that doesn’t allow for us to hear from God or even hear ourselves think. Haggai encourages them and us to take the time to think.
  2. Evaluate how things are working. Haggai points out that although they are working hard on things they are not getting the result they want because God’s work has gone down the list. This is not about guilt this is about being effective. When we put God’s plan first He helps us with our work.
  3. Make the adjustments that need to be made. This story has a great ending because they actually made the change that needed to be made. It is one thing to take time and think about having the right priorities and to evaluate what is working and what is not, but it is another thing to actually do something about it. They did something about it. Will you and I?

This is not the most complicated thought but it is important to remind ourselves what is important. It is easy for drift to happen in our priorities if we are not careful. Jesus put it this way: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33