Rivers of Grace

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I have a picture, of a river.  So there’s this river of promises, and the water that’s flowing to me with such power is the grace of God.  It’s coming from the future, flowing in my life.  It falls over the waterfall of the present into a reservoir called past grace.  Therefore, the past grace reservoir is getting bigger each day.  It’s getting bigger every minute which means you’ve got more to thank God for every minute of your life than you did the minute before because the right response of the heart toward past grace is thankfulness and the right response toward future grace is faith.  This is really fundamental and so simple; I mean this is not complicated.  As grace is coming to you by promises from the future, what should you do with that?

Trust them!  Trust it!  It’s gonna come!  He’s gonna help you.  Believe me, he’s saying, “Believe me! Trust me every hour of your life!”  He’s saying, “Trust me; I will help you! I will strengthen you! I’ll hold you up. I’ve got an avalanche of promises for you! Trust me!”… and as those promises turn resolves into work and flow into the history of your life and the history of the church, you look back with an ever-increasing sense of ‘You are amazing!  I’m so thankful for 33 years of faithfulness at this church!’  Amazing if you knew how many sins are in my life.  I mean how many people I can offend in a moment?  How did I survive 33 years?  GRACE.  Total grace.

So the reservoir keeps getting bigger, and bigger and bigger.  This is inexhaustible, this fountain.  This spring where the river of grace flows to us from the future will never ever run dry because Jesus bought infinite grace for us.”- John Piper, Living By Faith In Future Grace

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Sinking in the best way possible

Dear precious friends,

Despite my apparent neglect and lack of communication, you are so loved. It has been a while since my last post, but there hasn’t been any stories that top the last blog. Come on, you know that one was totally hilarious.

Albeit, I’ve decided to go ahead and blog about something God’s been teaching me lately.

Grace. It’s a short and sweet word that takes over a lifetime to unpack. My heart is constantly reminded that although I know this wonderful God of grace, I never outgrow the depths of His gospel. I’m always sinking in His beautiful mercy and grace.

This is Michelle.

I’m constantly being refined by literally everything around me. Yep, it is really annoying sometimes and painfully humbling. I am seeing my ugly, heavy sin. I’m seeing where I need growth, repentance, and grace upon grace. I was talking to Michelle last month about some of my struggles with receiving grace from God. She said one of the most truthful and insightful things, “Mary, when you bring your sin to the cross and you repent, you don’t have to walk around with it attached to your foot. It’s dragging you down. You’ve been forgiven. It’s at the cross.” [Insert facepalm]. Le duh! As Michelle would say, “Erps.” I know these things, but my heart and actions sure don’t show that to be true. Again, “Erps.”

I’m seeing God show up in amazing ways through friendships here, ministry, family. etc. It’s also that season of seeing truly how faithful God is in His plans for me. Today I was able to talk to a friend from when I was “living” in STL years ago. I am, in the most powerful way possible, reminded of what He saved me from and what my life could look like right now. Gosh, I’m so humbled by His grace and His love for me. It’s amazing.

So, here is one of the worship songs I’m currently obsessed with. I know this post wasn’t really about anything specific, so sorry about that. I just love these nights when my heart is overflowing with thankfulness and wanted to share that with all of you. God is faithful and He is great!

Jeremy Camp:ReWind

Well, there are so many things to say that I can’t quite think rightly of any which thing to speak of first.  That’s the kind of mood I’m in. Enjoy. I have been singing a little ditty in my head for a little over a week now. The song: There Will Be A Day, by Jeremy Camp and Mary Smith. Allow me to divulge…

Senegal is dirty. I don’t mean disgusting and filthy, I really do mean there is a lot of dirt. We’re located right around the same area as the Sahara belt and the ever present drought continues to worsen our crusty condition. Our apartment, no matter how many times a day I sweep, always has a wonderful film covering our white-tile floors (don’t even ask me why anyone would put white tile across an entire apartment here…). Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, my feet have become permanently stained, and no this is not from my meticulously scribed tattoo.

As a part of attempting to keep my bedsheets clean, I either wash my feet before bed (this doesn’t always work that well because the walk from the bathroom to bed re-dirties my feet) or use baby wipes to remove the numerous impurities from my delicate pieds. One night a few weeks ago, I decided to go the baby wipes route. After seven, I repeat SEVEN, baby wipes my feet were still dirty. And what’s worse was those seven wipes were my last.

I defeatedly swiveled into bed and longingly stared at my feet as if they would magically transform into professionally pampered and polished feet.  It was then that the lyrics just came to me: “there will be a day with no more dirt, grody feet, dirty sheets, but until that dayyyyy…. la la la. etc.” I know, I know. How did I come up with such brilliant lyrics? Like I said, it just came to me.

So, this blog actually has no pupose except to inform you that for the past week and a half my sheets have been trampled upon by my very own contaminated feet, but there is hope that one day (this week?) I will have clean sheets. And that there will be a day when I will look back and actually miss sweeping our apartment multiple times a day (ha, trust me.. that day has not yet arrived). I’m going to miss looking down at my dirt lines on my feet and thinking, “Man I got so tan today,” only to be reminded that I’m still so white after a good scrubbing (you think I’d learn this one after 3 months…). I’m going to miss the constant reminder that beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.  I’m going to miss seeing the leftover journeys from the day on the roughened bottom of my feet.

I know we aren’t even half-way through with our internship here, but I really have come to love the little common inconveniences. Not that I delight in them or anything, but I love the feelings of uncomfortability they produce. I love knowing that this world cannot satisfy and that I am a sinner. I love seeing how easily common inconveniences can cause me to fall short because it automatically shows me the vastness of the grace and mercy of our holy and righteous God. I love the growth that comes from being frustrated, feeling defeated and unsure. Don’t get me wrong, I do not love my sin, sinful flesh, and sinful reactions. In fact, I hate those things. But, when I’m weak I am able to see that He is strong. When I’m defeated, I can rest in the truth that He is victorious and has made me victorious. These times of inconveniences are bitter sweet, but when I have an eternal perspective they are just sweet.

They are just sweet.

“I, the preacher of this hour, beg to bear my little witness that the worst days I have ever had have turned out to be my best days, and when God has seemed most cruel to me he has then been most kind. If there is anything in this world for which I would bless him more than for anything else it is for pain and affliction. I am sure that in these things the richest, tenderest love has been manifested towards me. I pray you, dear friends, if you are at this time very low, and greatly distressed, encourage yourselves in the abundant faithfulness of the God who hides himself. Our Father’s wagons rumble most heavily when they are bringing us the richest freight of the bullion of his grace. Love letters from heaven are often sent in black-edged envelopes. The cloud that is black with horror is big with mercy. We may not ask for trouble, but if we were wise we should look upon it as the shadow of an unusually great blessing.

-Charles Spurgeon”

All the Poor and Powerless

Today was our monthly day with the Lord. Basically we’re given a full-mandatory day with the Lord to seek Him and dig deeper into Him. The girls on our team went into the city to a fancy café/bakery. We walked down about 2 blocks to hail a cab, and took the longest car ride into downtown. Generally speaking, it takes about 10-15 minutes to get downtown. It took over an hour to get to our destination. On our way there we were stopped numerous times on the expressway and beach-strip due to what the Senegalese call “Monday traffic.”

There are some days that I forget I’m in Africa. Today was not one of those days. All alongside the roads to downtown were children begging for money and food, women in wheelchairs begging with their babies in their laps, and people who were sleeping on the streets. I hate that my initial response was to look away. I didn’t want to see their need and their hurt. To be honest, I felt really helpless, like I didn’t have anything to offer them. I didn’t have any money or food on me and there still remains the ever lingering language barrier. What on earth could I offer them? After walking into one of the nicest coffee, sandwich, and pastry shops in Dakar, I instantly realized the poverty gap and which side I was standing on.

As we sat inside to study God’s word, listen to podcasts, and learn more about God, I realized my plan to learn more about God’s grace was going to be righteously usurped by God. He wanted to sweetly remind me that Christ is worth losing everything to gain Him alone. Philipians 3:8-12 were a sweet reminder that righteousness (a right standing before God) does not come from the law and my own efforts. It comes through faith in Christ and is dependent only upon that faith. One of the key phrases that stuck out was, “that I may know Him.” Gosh, what a passion for Christ that I often lack! I want to lose all, count all as rubbish for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my lord!

As I meditated on that scripture, the events and sightings of the day hit me in the face. Christ is worth giving up everything because when we put our faith and trust into what He did for us on the cross, we become righteous before God. I might not have had any money or food on me, but I am able to tell all the poor and powerless that there is a God who loves them so much that He gave His only son to bring us back to Him.

I love that God is constantly making the gospel more and more precious to me. It is for everyone, especially all the poor and powerless.

Col. 1:21-22 When the Gospel Comes Alive

For the past month, God has kept me in Colossians Chapter 1. There are a number of things in this chapter that I believe, but I had a hard time understanding. God’s situated this time for me to specifically dwell on the diety of Christ and what that means in relation to the gospel.

The other night I was doing my devotional study over a segment of Colossians. Here’s what I took away from Colossians 1:12-23 with special emphasis on verses 21 and 22.

Verses 15-20: Paul is explaining the preeminence and diety of Christ. He is:

  • the image of the invisible God
  • the firstborn of all creation
  • the head of the body (church)
  • the beginning
  • the firstborn of the dead
  • preeminent
  • through Him all things were made
  • everything was made for Him
  • All things hold together in Him
  • reconciliation comes through Him
  • peace is made by the blood of the cross AND
  • all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Him.
Now that we have that out of the way… Starting in verse 21:
“So you, Mary, you who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds…”
V21 This verse represents my spiritual condition before Christ. I was alienated from God. Hostile in mind which is opposite to the mind of Christ. And I was doing evil deeds. So often my heart can become calloused to the gospel. This verse is so personal and truthful to where I was at. I know all three of these attributes to be true of me.
One cool thing I noticed about this verse was the order of our condition. First, we are alienated/separated from God. That’s our inherant spiritual condition, thank you Adam. Next is that we are hostile in mind. I picture Adam and Eve before the fall being so blissfully, ignorant of the possibility of evil existing because it didn’t in their world. Then I look at CNN today. There’s so much manipulation, abuse, and crime that we are almost absolutely numb to it’s effects. Because we’re sinful and separated from God, we are hostile in our thinking. I know, even now being a daughter of the Most High, I still entertain thoughts that do not honor God. Lastly, evil deeds. Romans talks about surrendering your thoughts so that they aren’t given the opportunity to become your actions. Again, super cool.
Vs. 22 “…He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him…”
There is so much to say about this verse.
  1. Before–> alienated. Christ reconciles us to Himself through His death on the cross as payment for our sins. After–> restored! My friend and I were talking earlier this week about how God is so merciful to have given us a way to know Him. Oftentimes the argument comes up that there can’t possibly be only one way. My friend, Joel, said something that was so simple yet so profound, “Praise God there is even one way.” The wages of sin is death; we earn death from our sins. But God has reconciled us to Himself through the atonement of Christ’s death on the cross.
  2. The second part of this verse talks about us being presented as holy and blameless and above reproach before Him. So, let’s rewind. Before we were separated from God, hostile in mind, and doing evil deeds. After Christ reconciles us, we are holy, blameless, and above reproach in the eyes of God. Can I just remind myself that God is holy? I mean, shoot, He created holy!  Okay, just making that clear… for myself of course!
I love that these verses don’t deny how broken, sinful, and in need of a savior we were/are. V. 21 starts out with who you once were. These verses aren’t like, “Aw, Mary you’ve just been doing such a great job being good… (rabbit trail, who defines good?).” Paul writes (this is Mary’s interpretation similar to the Message: Remix but on RedBull), “Girl, let me tell you where you were at. Alienated. Sinful. Corrupt.”
Only God could have scripted such a beautiful and perfect redemption story. In spite of our hostile minds and evil deeds, God sent His son to die on the cross so that we could be reconciled to Him, called holy and blameless by the Most Righteous Judge. Is this not good news?
We who were once hostile in mind now are able to have the mind of Christ. We were enslaved to sin and indebted to God because our evil deeds earned us death. We are now blameless before Him. We are above reproach. Is this not amazing grace? We can stand with full confidence before the Holy of holies and be called forgiven, holy, blameless and His beloved all because of Christ’s submission to His father’s will. Praise God there is a way!
I don’t know of any other area of scripture that has more clearly given me an understanding of God’s mercy and grace. This hit me in the face and it is truly amazing.

Chipping Away At The Polished Exterior

One thing I’m learning is how much I fall short. I’m not sure if this lesson is actually coming from ministry work or if it’s just coming as I’m getting a deeper and more full understanding of grace.

This whole week I’ve been putting all of my responsibilities on hold. I really can’t tell you the reasoning behind this. I know I need to continue support raising, finish my Doctrinal studies, and finish 4 books, but there has been a heavy exhaustion over me. I am learning that I ran the race well in some parts, but I’ve not finished well. I got caught up in what I thought I was capable of doing (not relying on God) and what I expected from others. When others weren’t meeting that expectation, I was getting bitter. Tonight there was a sin that God revealed to me, and I’d been fighting it for a few days. Without going into too much detail, it really was a heart issue that stemmed from a lack of trust in God and my own self-seeking pride.

I sat down tonight and picked up my Chris Tiegreen The One Year: At His Feet devotional and got hit in the face with some biblical truth. And as God is sovereign, it applied directly to my heart and my situation. It was over Mark 7:14-23:

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable.  “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them?  For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them.  For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

“They (Pharisees and religion) all attempt to reform the visible result of sin without treating the internal condition. Jesus is the only remedy that cleans a person from the inside out, if we will let Him.”- Tiegreen

My heart is the issue here. I’m pretty capable of living within the “American-Evangelical Christian boundaries.” The polished exterior isn’t the issue. It’s truly what’s on the inside that counts. I have this circular effect/flow model going on in my mind. What I do, or my will, affects my heart, but my heart determines my will. What I mean by that is if I choose to deliberately go against God’s will or promptings through the Holy Spirit, my heart begins to become calloused, hard, and cold. Before this act of disobedience, my heart was probably not in the right place and it was not aligned with God’s. My heart was more than likely focused on self gratification, praise, and satisfaction and self-worth in other things other than the Lord Himself which resulted in my actions of going against God. Therefore, then, my actions of sin pulls me further away form Jesus which affects my heart which snowballs into a big mess.

How much smaller and less devastating would it be for us (preaching to myself) for us to catch the snowball before it starts taking off of the top of the hill? Humbling myself before God in repentance and asking Him to not only forgive me but to continue to change me to be more like Christ is the answer.

“The problem many of us have faced (or continue to face) is that we can restrain our outward behavior while retaining all of the evil thoughts within us. What we’ve changed is our appearance, not our hearts… (The solution is) the habitation of Christ Himself in our hearts by faith, and our constant, conscious reliance on Him (and cooperation with Him) to change us from within.”- Tiegreen

I can’t imagine what we would all look like if we didn’t restrain what we were entertaining in our minds and hearts. I can’t even begin to tell you what a mess I’d be, let alone how many times I’d be married. (You girls know what I’m talking about!) If God looks at our hearts, what does it say about my heart that I am entertaining these resentful attitudes towards fellow believers and not repenting of it? How can I just not “act out” my attitude and claim to be well? I am still struggling with the flesh, therefore, I am not well and am in a constant state of needing God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness (Luke 5:31).

I’m learning more and more that when I see something critical/harsh come out of my mouth it is an overflow of what’s going on in my heart (Luke 6:45). That is a sign that I need to check my heart and see what’s going on in there. Also realizing that my desires are to reflect God and honor Him and if they aren’t, again, heart issue.

So, I’ll leave you readers with this song. It’s super sweet because it was the first worship song I ever learned, and it carries so many precious memories alongside of it. And here’s the last bit from Tiegreen. Sorry this is so long and messy. Again, I am human and in need of grace just as much as the next guy. I appreciate the grace you’re giving as you read this. Please be praying for my heart and my attitude.

“If this is your struggle-and you are not alone- resist the way of the flesh. Do not be content with covering the outward manifestation of an unclean heart. Invite Jesus to do an inward work, conforming your heart into His pure image-not just once, but constantly. Believe that He will, and see what happens.”- Tiegreen