Those Things You Can’t Control

I read a story about a couple who wound up in their parish’s counseling office. The husband complained that his wife was forcing him to go to church. When the counselor asked the wife why she was doing that, she complained that her husband preferred to stay at home to watch cartoons. “But,” the counselor said, “you’re forcing him to go. It’s making him miserable.”

She said, “He has to come with me! What am I supposed to tell people when they ask me where he is?” And the counselor said, “You tell them he’s home watching cartoons.”

She protested. “How am I supposed to tell people that? What will people think of him?” And the counselor said, “They’ll think he’d rather watch cartoons than go to church. Big deal!”*

This floored her. She had been trying to control what other people thought of her and her husband and it hadn’t occurred to her that she didn’t need to. It was making them both miserable and the thing is, it was unnecessary. You can’t control the thoughts and opinions of other people. Trying to do so is an incredibly tough way to live. How many times do you walk into church, worrying in the back of your mind about what everyone thinks of you? It’s so draining, and in the end, you feel like a failure. You think, “Man, I’m failing as a Christian. I’m just not happy. The fruit of the Spirit is joy, and I’m miserable.”

The answer is grace, God’s wonderful gift that frees us! Grace frees us from fear-driven control and the shame of feeling like you failed. In grace, you don’t have to worry about other people’s opinions. You don’t have to be miserable. You don’t have to feel like a failure. You know you can’t control the thoughts and perceptions of others, and it doesn’t trouble you. You’re relying on Jesus! You can ask Jesus for wisdom and He’ll come through. That’s what He said He would do.

Legalism comes with long lists of things you can and can’t do, and even longer lists of things you should and shouldn’t do. It’s a constant struggle to try and meet all of those expectations. And it’s so unnecessary! You can’t control everything and everyone, and you shouldn’t try. There’s no need for it. You don’t have to worry about what people think of you. Not when you’re in the care of the One who loves you most of all.

Don’t live in shame. Don’t live in fear. Never mind about that person over there who is frowning on you. You don’t live for him. You live for Jesus! That’s all that matters. God is smiling on you, you know. He loves you so much. That’s where you will find your joy.

*Jeff VanVonderen, Families Where Grace Is in Place

A Gift. Freely Given, Never Earned

It can be difficult for us to trust God the King. We already have a lot of trust issues. We have trust issues with government. We see our representatives making deals without regard to morality. They will actually sacrifice their own morals to make sure their agenda gets done! We see that, and we get disillusioned. No wonder we don’t understand what it means to trust God’s Kingdom!

We can learn a lot about trusting God by exploring kingdom imagery. Imagine living in the 17th century and the King says to you, “Come and be my son.” What do you think someone back then would have said? Obviously, they would have said, “Really? You’re asking me? I am in! Yes!”

Now God says, “Come and be my child,” and we actually hesitate. Now we say, “I don’t know, I kind of like living out here, outside the gates of the kingdom.” Why? Because when we look at government, we don’t see trust. We don’t see a reason to trust.

So we don’t understand that we can trust God the King.

We’ve lost so much trust that we love Jesus and thank Him for saving us, but we still struggle to trust God. We don’t trust that He accepts us as His sons and daughters. We go out into the world, but we don’t really believe that we’ll be allowed back into the kingdom. We think God will shut the gate behind us.

So we get into a works mentality. We’re not perfect, so we sin. Then we feel like we have to cover for how we acted. We believe we have to earn our way back in, not understanding that we have never stopped being God’s precious children. We say, “I judged somebody, so I have to read five psalms today.” Or, “I had a lustful thought, so I have to put in two extra hours at the food pantry.” Or, “I thought I was a better Christian than my neighbor, so now I have to go to Nicaragua and help build a new school.” With this mentality, fulfilling the royal law becomes work. Honestly, it becomes an ordeal.

When you start doing stuff to make yourself feel better because you sinned, then you have a works mentality. You’re missing the point. We live in grace now, because of the sacrifice Jesus made, and then His resurrection. Now we live in God’s life. We walk in His Spirit and love with His love. When we sin, we can work it out on the spot with Him. He works all day every day for us. He loves us!

If you do something in order to show people what you’ve done, you’ll be dissatisfied. You won’t feel very good when you’re done. But if you do something to help a struggling neighbor simply because you love her, you’ll feel so good and fulfilled. Your heart will be right where it needs to be.

So trust the King! And when you struggle, send word to Him. Tell Him, “I need some help here.” Trust Him. He will come.

Everyone Will Thrive

And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God:
“Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.
“Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.
“Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
“Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
“The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.
“The LORD will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 28:2-8

If you live in legalism, you eliminate God. Maybe you don’t tell lies, and that is consistent with a righteous life, but what if the only reason you don’t lie is because the Bible says, “Don’t tell lies”? Then you aren’t depending on God, You’re depending on rules. Things fall apart when you depend on rules.

What if you were able to just rest in God and understand that His grace will show you the way? When you do that, when you believe that God gives you His favor even though you didn’t earn it, then whatever you say, whatever you do, wherever you walk, wherever you go, you will be blessed. Your basket will be full. You will be at the head and not the tail of everything you do. You will be on top and never at the bottom. And everything your hand touches will prosper.

In grace, you will find success.

You may not find success in exactly the way that you want. It might not happen exactly as you want it to happen. But God will show you exactly what you need to do. He will show you exactly the decisions you need to make so that your spouse will thrive. He will show you exactly how to talk to your children so that your children will thrive. You’re on a journey, and you can believe that your entire journey will be a success because you are God’s precious child.

What happens when you walk and talk with the people you meet on your journey? They feel good around you. They feel good because you depend on Jesus to tell you what to say to them. You don’t have to be super-spiritual. You don’t have to quote Bible verses at them. Life’s journey is not about soapbox Christianity. It’s not about telling people to accept Christ or else rot in hell. Don’t tell people that they’re bad. Just ask God to tell you how to love them. He will tell you!

When you do that, what do you think will happen? Man, the people you meet on your journey will just love on you! They will want to live a righteous life because of you. Listen to Jesus, because He will tell you exactly what people need to hear. Then they will respond to His love! They will want to be around you! Maybe they won’t believe in God. Maybe they won’t do all the same things that Christians do. But you’re the one they’ll hang out with, because you won’t judge them. You’ll be too busy living in grace with them.

Allow Jesus to guide your steps, and everyone will thrive.

Rely on Each Other

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

Why do we ask God for forgiveness? We don’t do it for God. We don’t need to ask for forgiveness to be right with God because we are already righteous and holy. We do it for our own growth. When we ask God for forgiveness, we are recognizing and accepting what we have done. It’s a way of admitting, “Okay, that was not the best way to behave.” And it’s a way to tell God, “You know what? That was stupid. I get that.”

It’s a way of saying, “Thank you for forgiving me for that.” For example, we might say, “Hey God, you know what? I lived in the flesh right there when that guy cut me off. I yelled at him and I cussed him out. Thank you for forgiving me! And thank you for giving me the grace to move on. Help me to use more wisdom next time so that I won’t act like that. I acted from my flesh, and I would rather act in your Spirit, because that’s what I’m destined to do.” That’s what we say to God.

The Bible also tells us to confess our sins to one another. Why does God want us to do that? He wants it because it’s a liberating thing to do. What if you could sit among fellow believers in grace? What if you could be forgiven, instead of trying to cover up your sin? Try to imagine it. You could sit with people and say, “I’m going to confess my sin to you. I can do this because none of you will look at me with shame.” That would free you.

The Bible says that this is what believers should do. We should confess our sins to one another because it’s the confession that lets the sin out. But we need grace to do it. We have to give each other grace. Our job, as followers of Jesus Christ, is to look at the person making his confession and say, “I just want to let you know that I love you. I’ve been in your situation. I’ve messed up like that. Or maybe I haven’t messed up like that, but here’s how I messed up the other day. Here’s my confession.”

This is how we come to know and love each other as human beings. In an encounter of grace, you are looking at each other and accepting that we all live in the flesh. Yet you are showing that you understand that we live in the Spirit as well.

Relying on each other this way, we are holy. We are free!

To Replace Control With Trust

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10

When we try to avoid sin, we will be frustrated. It can’t be done. Nobody can avoid sinning no matter how hard they try.

What’s worse, when we try to live without sin we frustrate others as well as ourselves. Especially our loved ones. When you make your life about avoiding sin, you live with unrealistic expectations about yourself and others. “I can live without sinning, and so can you.” How unrealistic is that? You’re not perfect. Nobody is perfect. Inevitably, your expectations don’t pan about. Inevitably you or somebody else sins, and you react. You’re frustrated, or maybe even angry. Those reactions come from the flesh. By trying to avoid sin, you’ve set yourself up to sin!

That’s why grace is so freeing! Grace gives you the freedom to trust yourself and others. When you live in grace, you don’t have to work day and night to contain your behavior or control the behavior of others. When you understand that you can be honest and confess, and trust that you will be forgiven, you don’t have to make your life about avoiding sin. You can make your life about grace.

Grace transforms your relationships. When that happens, your life will change. You’ll lose your former life of unrealistic expectations and the divisive, painful reactions they provoked. You’ll experience something so much better. You’ll experience trust.

1 John talks a lot about this, but people misinterpret it. 1 John is read as if it says, “Do not sin, and if you do any of the things on this list, you’re going to hell.” But that’s not what it says! It says that if you live a life of sin, with an attitude of sin and a habit of sin, and if you live with hatred towards people and God, then hell is definitely a destination. But it is not telling you that must avoid sin. It says, “Listen, you’re going to sin. But you have to realize that when you live in Jesus you are made righteous and holy. Live in that. Confess and God will purify you.”

You can still have all kinds of issues when you live in grace. And think about it. If you could never sin, then the death of Jesus wouldn’t make sense. If His death didn’t save you from your sin, then it was pointless for Him to die. Jesus’s death was not pointless! Living in grace does not mean that you don’t sin. It means that you replace control with trust. Now you trust that you are forgiven. And that is freedom!

An Easter Message of Grace

We want control. We’re only human!

We want control over what we do and what happens to us. We want control over the future. In our flesh, we experience hunger, so we have to provide for ourselves and our families. We have to eat, so it’s natural to want control.

But we also want control over other people. We try to control how they react to us. Some of us try to control how they behave in our presence! This isn’t about the hunger our bodies experience or the food we need to stay alive. This is about something else. It’s about avoiding shame.

The thought process is something like this: “I want people to act a certain way when I’m around because that will make me feel better.”

For some of us, our greatest need for control involves the people closest to us, like our families. How many of us have said, “If my spouse and my kids look or act in a certain way, then people will think that our family is good.” Does that sound familiar?

There’s no shame in wanting control. It’s just being human.

As a baseball player, I was very control-oriented. When I went out on that field, I didn’t control where a hitter hit the ball. I didn’t control when a hitter took a swing. So I had to control everything before that. I controlled my environment at the field. I controlled my workouts and the development of my technique. I controlled the delivery of the pitch. All of this helped me succeed.

But when it comes to family and relationships, control won’t work. You cannot control other people.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “grace”? How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, I’ll give them grace this time.” It’s like saying, “I’ll just let it slide.” In some ways, grace has acquired a casual quality.

Maybe we hear grace and think mercy. We say, “Grace? That is the crucifixion. That is Jesus dying for us. Grace is salvation through faith. Grace is allowing us into His kingdom. It’s allowing us into His family.” Grace is mercy and all these things, yet there’s even more to grace than this.

I finally started to truly understand grace when I heard the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED defines grace as “the free and unmerited favor of God.” Think about that. How do we get God’s grace? We don’t! Grace is free. It is unmerited. We can’t earn it. God just gives it to us.

In some ways that is such a foreign concept! God just gives us His grace, even though we don’t deserve it! We don’t usually expect to receive good things that we don’t deserve, especially something as awesome as an unbreakable relationship with God. But truly, that’s what God does. He simply gives us His favor, no strings attached, and when God gives us grace He allows us to live in it.

When we are ready, God takes us on a journey into grace. This is a big part of the Christian life. Going on this journey, and understanding what grace means, has been a very big deal for me. It has allowed me to see scripture in a new way. God has led me to work with Biblical principles in new ways and gain fresh insight.

I’ve been learning what the Bible really means when it says, “Don’t live by the law,” and this is leading me to freedom. I can see now that surrendering control and living by grace frees us. It frees the people around us. Giving and receiving grace is the purest and most satisfying thing. It is living free in Christ.

Happy Easter!

 

 

The Blog Post You Need Right Now

Someone asked me the other day, “What is grace?” That one is really hard to define for me because it’s so big! I think grace is a lot of things. Grace is an action. It’s a way of being in relationship. It’s the opposite of shame. It’s the power to transform. Grace is a really big idea because grace is Jesus.

People will often say, “Grace is that Jesus died for you.” But actually, that’s not grace. That’s mercy.

Grace is the essence of our relationship with God. It’s the gift of understanding that you’re a human being so you’re going to mess up. Through His grace, God says, “You’re going to mess up and it’s okay.” Grace is our second chance with Him. And since God is infinite, He gives us infinite second chances.

When we allow grace into our relationships, we give each other the same gift that God gives us. It comes from our hearts. We look at each other and we say, “I know you’re going to mess up. I’m going to mess up, too. It’s okay. Let’s talk about it. Let’s try to understand how we affect each other. And then let’s work through it.”

Suppose a friend or someone in your family says something to you that you don’t like. Maybe they say something mean to you, or maybe you just take it the wrong way. Either way, you react. You get angry, or you get hurt. Or both!

Grace moves in and says, “Hold on! That person needs grace from you.” Grace shows you what your relationship needs. It shows you that sometimes your family and friends need you to step aside and say, “You affected me deeply by that comment. It’s okay. Let’s take a timeout. Let’s talk about it. Can you explain what you meant by that? I don’t want to get wounded or react to you in anger.”

Grace also moves in when you don’t take that timeout. Sometimes a friend or someone in your family says something to you and you react immediately. We all react out of our wounds sometimes. You know what? It’s okay. Grace shows your friends and family how to look at you and say, “Hold on. You reacted very quickly to what I said. What did you hear me say? Let’s talk about it.”

If what they said is truly what you heard, and it still hurts you, then grace shows them how to say, “I’m sorry. How could I have said it differently?”

If you misunderstood what they said, then grace says, “Let’s take time and open up to each other. I would like to be able to explain what I said because what you heard is not what I meant.”

So you see, grace to me is such a very big thing. It’s so rewarding to live in it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very hard to do. I mean, most things are not black and white.

Sometimes we need grace in order to say, “Hold on, I love you, and I’m going to let that one go.” Other times we need grace in order to say, “I love you, and I’m willing to let that go. But we need to talk about it because I want to tell you how it affected me.”

I need grace when my children are acting out and making mistakes or getting in trouble. I look at them and say, “Look, I don’t want you to do that again. I’m going to extend grace to you right here and now. I’m going to tell you why I don’t want you to do that again. Then if you do it again, I’m going to give you a discipline. But right now, I want to talk through why it’s not okay to do that. That way, if you do it again and you are disciplined, you’ll understand why.”

I don’t want to just say to my boys, “You did something wrong so go to your room.” I want them to understand that their words and actions affect me and other people. I don’t want them to go to their room with no idea why they’re being sent there.

This is grace in action. It’s being in relationship with an understanding that there are always going to be second chances. Grace is liberating. Grace is without judgment. Grace is without condemnation. When the Bible says there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, it is saying that there is grace.

Saying there is no condemnation is not the same as saying, “Do whatever you want.” No. Saying there is no condemnation is saying, “Now there is grace. You are going to mess up, but it’s okay. You get grace.”