Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What Does Faith Look Like - Experiencing Grace

In this second installment of this series, I'm going to share a humbling example of how grace works in my life.  Not because I want to air my dirty laundry, but because this lesson in grace was so R.E.A.L.  I have to share it - with the hope it will encourage someone to receive the grace that awaits them in Christ. 

Trust me, if I can get His grace, so can you.

The Apostle Paul is famous for talking about grace and I think it was because he knew it so intimately.  I mean, here is a guy who used to, literally, be the Chief Prosecutor of Christians.  It was his duty (maybe even joy) to send Christians to their deaths for calling Jesus the Messiah.  He is a fascinating and often misunderstood Apostle, especially when you read him out of context.  But after meeting the Risen Lord on the road and spending 3 days in the dark, he got what grace is about.  He liked grace so much, he started many of his letters with "Grace and Peace to you."  I imagine that would have been his modern greeting during that *possibly awkward* time in the service when you are supposed to fellowship with your neighbor.

Grace was so prevalent in the life of Paul that he mentions it over 50 times in his letters, 21 times in Romans alone! The Greek word he used is charis.  Strong's definition highlights the importance of what Jesus came to give us:
goodwill, loving-kindness, favour of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.
Grace is an important benchmark in the life of a Christian - we need to be reminded of what we've been given through no effort of our own.  If we can't show grace to others, we don't really understand what Christ died for.  And if pride has seeped into your heart and you haven't been very gracious, God will confront you with it to get you back on track.  Case in point, this past Sunday.

I was fine until I walked out, ready for church, and neither one of my children had moved off the couch to change their shoes.  That was all I asked, a change from the sneakers they had on to more "church-appropriate" shoes.  Then Sophia started whining, saying she didn't want to go to church.  That's when it got ugly:  I went ballistic.

Straight-out, full-of-rage, fire-breathing crazy.  Here is an accurate depiction of what happened Sunday morning:

For good measure, I told the girls I didn't want to look or talk to them, they were in time-out the entire worship service.  I was even a little rude to the sweet old lady who offered them donuts.  I didn't stand up to sing at the beginning of worship because I knew how hypocritical that would be.  Screaming one minute and praising God the next was not the example I wanted to show.  I knew that much even in my red haze.  I felt like I didn't deserve to worship God when I had treated these sweet girls so badly.  I really wanted to hang onto that anger, I thought I was justified for their miniscule insurrection.  I fought God hard to keep it.

But He always wins.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw both girls tapping their feet to the songs and mouthing the words.  I turned to Natalie to tell her she could stand and sing if she wanted, but Mommy wasn't going to.  She said "Ok.  I'm sorry Mommy and it's ok.  I love you."

Sophia responded in almost the exact same way.  So, I sat there as they sang, trying to control my tears, thinking:

How does someone I have treated so badly forgive that quickly?  
I sat there, in the back of the darkened worship hall and cried.  When it came time to pray, Natalie wrote out a prayer to leave on our "Wailing Wall" that said: 
Dear Lord, Please forgive me, Sophia and Mommy.  Especially Mommy because she feels really bad for yelling at us.  And forgive Sophia for her disobedience.
Her words made me think God was staring me in the face, saying "You see how much these children love you and they are imperfect!  Do not turn your back on Me.  I know you have sinned and I forgive you.  Live in my favor because you are My beloved.  You are still my child, now and forever."

The grace my children showed me was ridiculous.  I did not deserve it, but yet, here it was, on a silver-love lined platter, no questions asked.  They didn't ask me to never be like that again, they made no demands.  They loved me anyways and forgave my terrible behavior.  And that is just a drop in the bucket compared to how much grace God gives us.

During the sermon, based on John 2:25, our pastor said this:  Jesus already knows who you are and He loves you anyways. 

Jesus loves us and came to die for us despite being the awful people we were (and sometimes still are).  James 4:6 says "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."  

People!  The Lord had every right to strike me dead Sunday morning, and give Dave a chance to find a better mother for these girls.  Instead, God chose to remind me the kind of grace that covers me and lives in my children.  He didn't leave me mad, He wanted me to I start again being the mother He wants me to be.

There is no man on Earth or God in Heaven, who will show us that level of grace, over and over again.  I need more of that grace, every day.  I need to live in the truth because the grace I find there makes it possible to be free from that kind of awful behavior.  God's grace gives me the permission to live abundantly and find coverage when I don't.

Grace - the favor only God gives - makes real life possible, just ask my kids.

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