Thursday, August 29, 2013

grace and the art of bicycle maintenance

it's been darned close to four months since i last uploaded something to a blog.

one word can explain this reality.


if you were looking for two words, here's the second.


for those of you out there in cyberland who don't know this; i enjoy this journey of faith we call "discipleship" and i often find insights to my relationship with Jesus while maintaining bicycles.

hence the title of this post.

now grace is often described as a "free gift from God."
this speaks of the forgiveness offered each person on this planet.
to say grace is undeserved is an understatement equivalent to saying bikes have good MPG ratings.

this grace thing goes contrary to our human way of doing things.

we like to earn our keep.

by now, you're probably wondering what the art of bicycle maintenance has to do with grace.

grace gets us going.
our relationship with Jesus is made right.

but what next?

i've been given more "free gifts" that have two wheels, a chain, some gears, pedals, brakes, handlebars, some rubber filled with air, and a goofy looking piece of steel holding it all together than my wife would want me to admit.
not all of these bikes are ready for riding to the grocery store much less pedaling to victory in the BOFRAF (Big Ol' Freakin' Race Around France a.k.a. Le Tour De France).

where most people see a pile of junk, i see potential for adventure.

that's the way it is with Jesus too, i'd argue.

our life is a mess, sin sucking into a sinkhole of hopelessness.
people around us stare.
but Jesus sees potential.

we accept the free gift of grace.
on our own little cloud we set our sights so high people actually think we are high.
some scripture quotations here, a francis chan shout out there, and we are off to the races.

but what next?

that rusty chain causes your gears to skip. a wobbly wheel didn't seem so bad in the garage, but with the wind in your face at 30 MPH, you feel a bit unstable. squeezing the brakes, you realize you don't really feel ready for this adventure. your tires pop and you're on the side of the road, deflated.

i'm afraid the western, postmodern faith sets people up for a bad crash in matters of faith.

we are all beat-up, broken down, bicycle type people.

as we "offer ourselves as a living sacrifice" to God we are responding to his grace.
he accepts us as a gift, just as we accepted his gift.

but what next?

is he immediately going to fix all our problems?
will we instantly be ready to rise to rooftop levels of sanctified success?
are we going to see great measures of growth overnight?

i don't think so.

scripture speaks of grace as a free gift but it also gives us a picture of a lifelong journey of faith.

second after second
minute after minute
hour after, hour
day after day
week after week
month after month
year after year
decade after decade
we are to turn our eyes from ourselves and look to Jesus.

we live in an instant culture where we can swipe a card, sign a name and get shiny new things.

fortunately, faith doesn't work like that.

in the same way i've become intimately acquainted with the squeaks and creaks, pieces and parts, history and future of many bikes this summer; Jesus and I have a newer relationship over time.

some consistent care, research here and there, and maybe (*gasp!) a helping hand from a more experienced friend will do wonders.
learning the correct tools, replacing the broken parts, and getting out of the garage into the wild world transforms both bikes and believers.

what is it in your day-to-day living that causes you to marvel at God's grace and this long journey of faith He wants to go one with you?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Into the Air Conditioning

It's been really hot out lately. Really hot. But I probably don't need to tell you that. Despite the heat, my little man and I still spend much of our day outdoors: going on our morning walk, Zeke pushing his little umbrella stroller up and down the driveway, digging in the dirt, playing in little backyard pool, going to the park, visiting the neighbor's dog. When I'm in the heat, there are moments when I realize how incredibly warm it is outside; but a lot of the time, I get used to the heat. Until we come inside. And that initial, wonderful sensation of air conditioning reminds me of just how warm I am.

Last week, I wrote about how I felt like I was in this spiritual rut. It's like being outside when it's hot: there are moments when I realize just how stuck I am; but a lot of the time, it's easy to get used to being in that rut.

And this week, I've stepped into the air conditioning. 

I've been refreshed as I have slowly read through barely a chapter in Luke a day. Some mornings I've only gotten a handful of verses read before the little man is up and it's time to cuddle while reading books for 30 minutes. Other mornings, I've gotten an entire chapter read - but not just read, I've actually let the Word sink into my heart, let Him work. And it has been a blessing.

I can't tell you anything earth-shattering that I've read. I can't tell you that I've had any "I-never-realized-this-before" moments. I can't tell you that reading through the book of Luke now is like reading it through for the first time.

But I have been reminded. 

Reminded of what Jesus expects of His followers (Luke 6:32-35). Reminded that Jesus desires me to hear and to do (Luke 6:46,8:21). Reminded that Jesus doesn't always send us far away to tell others about the wonderful things that He has done for us (Luke 8:39).

And being reminded? It's good. I need reminders. Lots of reminders.

So next time I'm out in the heat, when I'm stuck in the rut - because, unfortunately, these air-conditioned, refreshing times never last forever - I'm going to remember to step out of the heat. Slow down a little bit. Get an extra nap. Sit down with the Word. Pray for the revived heart.

And always, always always cling to Him. Because He never changes. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mowers, Ruts and Revival

Our 15-month son Ezekiel loves lawn mowers. Actually, he loves anything with a motor. Trucks, boats, cars, snow-blowers (even though he hasn't seen it in action yet), buses, motorcycles. But it's like he has a sixth sense in regards to mowers. He'll hear a mower blocks away when I wouldn't have even noticed it without him pointing it out. He sees mowers hidden in garages, behind bushes, and on the back of trailers out on our walks. And every time he sees one - "Mow! Mow! Mow!"

It's cute. I love it and I love him.

Zeke's love for mowers, his excitement at seeing them time after time, his ability to pick out the sound of a lawnmower from all the noises happening outside -- its made me think. Its made me think about my love for the Lord. For my excitement at hearing His Word, time after time. About my ability to pick out the voice of the Lord despite all the other noises and business going on about me.

Sometimes, I get in a spiritual rut. Scripture honestly doesn't excite me. Or I feel like I've heard it all before. Somehow, along the way, the wonderful gift of salvation, of God's mercy and grace, of His incredible love, of His righteousness bestowed upon me - became so . . . normal.

And hearing His voice? Sometimes I hardly feel like I have time to hear myself think. Or I wake up slightly early with good intentions to spend time in the Word with the Lord -- and Zeke decides it's a good day to wake up slightly early too.

But I don't like this rut. 

So what do I do?

Maybe my time in the Word with the Lord needs to happen after Zeke is in bed for the evening. Maybe I need to start doing things that actually challenge my faith; that put it into action; things that make me uncomfortable and give Him the glory. Maybe I have my own "church service" during nap time or in those quiet hours of the evening with my husband before we go to bed since Sunday mornings I am so distracted.

Maybe -- actually, really -- I need to pray for a revived heart. A heart that yearns to grow. A heart that yearns to love. A heart that hears the Word and is changed. A heart that rejoices with the truth no matter how often I've heard it.
"Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts." - Jeremiah 15:16, NASB (emphasis mine)
May this be the genuine prayer of my heart and desire of my soul.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Don't Just Hear. Hear and Do.

I'm not gonna lie: my husband and I have a pretty cute kid. (What parent doesn't say that about their kid?) Unfortunately, though, like all cute kids, our little man doesn't always do as he's told. (What kid doesn't do that to their parents?) But it brings my heart joy when he listens. When he hears me say, "No Zeke; please don't throw your fork on the floor," and he doesn't throw his fork onto the floor's collection of dropped cheerios and cheese. When he hears me say, "Zeke, can you put your toy in the basket for Mommy?" and he adds that toy to the mound of trucks already in the basket. I can honestly say that such simple things make me smile.

And ya know, I can't help but think it's the same way for the Lord. After all, we are His children and He has given us His Word. But He doesn't want us to just listen. To just underline the parts in our Bibles that sound good, to nod our head in agreement at the things we like, or simply feel inspired, encouraged, or hopeful. He wants us to do.
"But prove yourselves to be doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves." - James 1:22, NASB (emphasis mine) 
So when the Lord, through His Word, tells me to "open [my] mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate" (Proverbs 31:8), then I need to not be silent in a culture that kills more than 3000 children every day. And "doing" involves more than bringing such a sad fact to light on a blog.

When then Lord, through His Word, tells me to "let no unwholesome word proceed from [my] mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment" (Ephesians 4:29), then I better clamp my mouth shut when gossip wants to spew forth. Even if it is gossip in the form of a "prayer request".

When the Lord, through His Word, tells me to "'Love one another, just as [Jesus] has loved [me]" (John 15:12), then I better start showing love to my husband and son by sacrificing what I want. I better get out of my comfortable daily routine and reach out to that new mom, or to that one who's lived down the street for well over a year.

There's no end to the list. Practicing hospitality (Romans 12:13). Not worrying about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Making disciples (Matthew 28:28).

But here's something important - so don't bypass this or stop reading now: 

I don't do to earn His love. I don't do to earn a ticket to heaven. I don't do to be "good enough" or "better than".

I do because I love Him. Because doing brings Him joy. Doing points others to Him. 

 "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." - Ephesians 2:8-10, NASB (emphasis mine)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Talking to Walls

I have to apologize. I have not posted in far too long. Living in Africa is not an excuse! Please forgive me.

I spend the majority of my time here at the Crisis Pregnancy Center -- a program to help young (between the ages of 15-18 mainly) women that are pregnant or have just produced. We teach them how to care for themselves and the baby. We also want to show them Jesus.

Yesterday I was teaching my favorite group of women (each group comes once a week) and they just didn't seem to be getting what I was talking about. We shifted gears after the confusion was evident and spoke of the 10 Commandments, heavy Law, and sweet Gospel. I spoke and asked questions for a long time. They answered my questions and sat quietly listening, but at the end of two hours of pouring into these women, there was just more silence. I felt like I had been talking to a wall.

Something I have been learning lately is that God is the One who does the work. It's so easy to think that I need to say the right things, do the right things, etc so that others will come to Christ. But it's God that does that. All I do is point to Him.

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

He knows not how. I plant the seed (by the grace of God even) with the Word and the Holy Spirit in me. God makes it grow.

Friends, I hope that is an encouragement to you today. Wherever you are in life, in ministry, know that it is God's work. It's not up to you to save the world. Jesus already did that! Just point to Him.