This summer, I have been reading The Discipline of Grace with several of the young women I have been meeting with. I finally finished it this week, and I HIGHLY recommend it. It is written by Jerry Bridges…yes, the author in which I quote all the time talking about Respectable Sins. The poor girls I meet with are getting beaten down with me bringing it up in every conversation:).
The book goes into reminding us of the truth of the gospel and the need for God’s grace daily. For many, we struggle with trying to earn God’s favor after being justified by his grace…or we live in such guilt that we are imprisoned or live in self-righteousness as we compare ourselves to others. This book teaches and reminds how to apply the gospel to one’s life daily. Theologically, it is very sound and steeped in the word. It addresses the nature of sin and atonement. It also calls us to live and walk forward in holiness always stressing God’s grace in the gospel. The spiritual disciplines are addressed as the path for spiritual growth in grace. He touches on things such as prayer, Bible study, scripture memory and meditation, commitment, etc. all in the reminder that we must be reminded of the gospel and it’s power in the pursuit instead of simply our own willpower. He uses the phrase “dependant discipline” or also “dependant responsibility.” In our growth, there are two wings–dependence on the Spirit and discipline in growth. Just like an airplane, we cannot fly with merely one wing.
I think so much of this book, that I have decided to use it with all girls that I meet with and the women’s group I am going to lead to equip women to disciple other women. Again, do not pick this book up if you do not want to be challenged! It will challenge your habits and your thinking patterns. It will also hold a mirror up to your heart and the secret sins and habits that are there. Once that truth is revealed, there is a response that has to come. This book is great for a new Christian and a seasoned one.
Growth is never easy…Comfort is easy, unawareness is easy. Spiritually, living is hard and dying is easy. I was talking to a friend yesterday about a book we are reading together. It is a book that deals with the heart–the reality of who God is and the reality of who we are. She remarked to me that it is hard to grapple with all of the things it brings up in her heart. I told her it causes us to look truth in the face and make a paradigm shift.
Most of the time our lives are so busy and full with distractions like eating, drinking, entertainment, work, responsibilities, dreams of being out of our responsibilities 🙂 that we miss the real heart work. We can go through life completely ignoring the hard questions and not even knowing what is really going on inside ourselves and in relationship to God and others. We live as shells of who we are to be. Even as Christians, we may live in self-righteousness thinking we have got it together instead of seeing and fighting the sin that so easily entangles us.
It is hard work to grow and depend on Christ. Hard work in that it involves self-examination in the light of Christ, his word and his work on the cross for us daily. Our hearts are deceitful above all, so we tend to ignore the realities of them in order to numb ourselves. We think we cannot deal with all the work that needs to be done forgetting that the reality of the power of the cross is as true today as it was at conversion. There is freedom in being in his truth daily…in knowing that apart from Him, we can do nothing. We are reminded that He will bring about fruit in our lives, growth, when we remain in Him daily. (John 15:1-5)
Most of the books I recommend deal with His hard truths in the light of our hard hearts. Truth matters in practice and that practice comes from the anchor of who we are–our hearts. I challenge each of us to take a good long look in the mirror and hold His truth up to our hearts. It may be scary at first…and it is easier to run at first. But, the fruit and the freedom and the joy of knowing our Eternal Father and seeing Him as He is is infinitely better than the piddly things that we tend to treasure on this earth (Yes, better than material things and husbands, wives, children, dogs, status, ministry etc). He does not leave us to do the work alone. In fact, He tells us we cannot do it alone. It is by the power of Christ’s work on the cross that we have the privilege of knowing God in the first place, and He promises to complete the work in us. The Spirit is walking with us every step of the way giving grace and discipline…not condemnation (Romans 8:1).
So, read a hard book, listen to a hard sermon (by that I mean something that is not just comforting but challenging to your heart and life), have a real conversation with a friend, examine your heart. Truly living is hard and dying is easy. But, I would rather be truly living than trying to numb myself to forget the life we are called to.
These days it seems that there are as many different “flavors” of who God is as people. Even people who go to the same church have worldviews that shape one’s foundation so differently.
If the foundation of a house is bad, the whole house is bad. A worldview built on faulty premises of the true God is faulty on all counts.
To digress, I will give an example. Last week, I was halfway watching a TV show where one of the main characters that week had lost his dad. He spoke of his dad looking down on him and being proud of him, etc. Basically, the guy had a set of beliefs that made him feel better and close to his dad. The other main character disagreed with him but said it was okay if it made him feel better. When my dad died, it was very important to me to look at things as they are…realistically and Biblically. My dad is not all-knowing or omnipresent like my Heavenly Father. And, to look with the premise that my dad is looking down on me, I am saying that I am the center of his universe. The reality is, my dad had a relationship with Jesus Christ and, in turn, God the Father. When he entered the Father’s presence at His death, he experienced the fullness of God. I do not think he has thought of anything since that moment besides the beauty and glory of God. I believe He has been praising Him exceedingly without a thought of me, and I rejoice that He is experiencing Him.
Throughout God’s word, one can see that God is perfect in all ways, holy, and He will not share His glory with another. Whatever we “think” or “believe” about God, He is who He is. We may shape “who He is to us” by the way we explain Him or the way we treat others or how we define situations, but He does not bend to our whim. There are some who put emphasis on getting God to perform for them in faith, and there are some who think we need or can perform for God to please Him. There are some who believe that we are the center of God’s universe (which from time to time would include all of us–just look at the way we complain and demand) and believe He is there to make our lives easier or happy or fulfilled on our terms. In our postmodern world, we do not like others to point out the cracks in our foundation that point to faulty premises of who God is because we say we can experience and define Him in the way that fits us. How do you like it when people experience and define you in their own way? Do they really know you or just their perception?
The truth is, we all make an idol of God in some way in our lives…meaning we make Him to be something that He is not. The only thing that takes that idol down is finding out who He really is in His word. We see all the facets of His character there…the love and the justice…the perfect. We are faced with our sin of who we have crafted Him to be, and, through His grace, we can repent and know Him more truely and deeply. Whether we take the time now to see who He really is, we will see who He really is in the end. I guarantee who He really is is better than anything we have crafted Him to be. My prayer this morning is to not get swept up in a fairy tale to make me feel better or justified or safe for the moment but to know the One, True, Living Almighty God.
Are you consciously, everyday valuing God as the source of life and not demanding that anything or anyone else fill you up?
Where are the places in your heart where you are treasuring your satisfaction and the satisfaction of others in secondary things (material blessings, job, status of relationships, children, health) above knowing and treasuring Christ? And are you measuring the faithfulness of God by your circumstances or by his character?
These are questions I am pondering and praying over. How dark my heart is when I really look into the depths…and I am reminded by his word that he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. For those who are in Christ, he has cast all our sins behind his back. May I confess and cling to the Faithful One today.
This week/weekend we have had Greg’s parents in town. We are thrilled that they came because it is a rare occurence. We usually travel there, so most of our lives here are foreign concepts to them. They came to church yesterday to hear Greg speak–and this was a really big deal. We also got to celebrate Mother’s Day with his mom. Most of all, we ate…and I still feel sick. It was like we were storing up to hibernate for the summer. The visit has been fun and exhausting all at the same time.
What I have seen most of all is my propensity for sin deep within my heart. I was worried about my house and cooking and making sure they were not miserable. My prayer beforehand was that I be me no matter what…trusting God and loving Him and loving them. When I am nervous or feel I have something to prove, I revert to people pleasing and trying to be self-righteous, and that is a real laugh. I hate seeing this part of me. The very moment I want to be a beacon for Christ of love and grace I try to “be good” instead of relying on Him. I forget the very truth of the gospel. It is not good–I see in it my total depravity–TOTAL.
On Saturday, I stole away to my favorite place…the hammock. Under a canopy of trees, I prayed and was reminded of God’s deep grace and truth. I was made more aware of some areas of sin, and I was encouraged in the truth of the forgiveness in Him. In reflection, I remembered the chapters of “Respectable Sins” that I had read earlier in the week. The chapters were on impatience, irritability, anger and the weeds of anger. These all tied together because in each of them we can easily place the blame on others…”that driver made me lose my temper,” “you don’t understand my mom/husband/child/boss, they treat me wretchedly,” “I was treated this way as a child..it is not fair”, etc. Bridges so truthfully points out that no matter what is done to us, our reaction of impatience, irritability, anger, etc has to do with the sin within us. We are not justified to be sinful because another has been sinful. This is the hardest vice grip to be in. I am so quick to blame and justify and try to look the good part, but that is my sin exploding out. In the chapters, he pointed out that even in holding our tongue in certain situations we sin inwardly. What I liked and hated all at the same time about these chapters was the teaching and reminder that it is not as easy as placing blame on someone for my reaction. It takes me back to remembering the log in my own eye.
Growing in Christlikeness is a total transformation. We will never arrive here on this earth, but in surrender and trust, there will be growth. One of my favorite passages is John 15 about the Vine and the branches. I am reminded time and time and time again that apart from Him I can do nothing. I need to be connected to the Vine (Christ) for strength and relationship and sustenance and transformation. I am fulfilled in HIm. I am whole in Him. That time with Him brings praise and peace in my heart as I come to know Him. The good thing about seeing the total depth of my sin is that I get to praise the total height and breadth of who He is. He is good, and I desperately want Him and need Him.