Amazing, Uncontainable, Irrefutable Grace Part 2 Remove the Mask

Some weeks I really stink at parenting. I mean really I totally miss the mark. I yell. I am overly critical. I don’t pay attention when I should. There are likewise times when I really stink at being a wife. I miss opportunities to encourage my husband. I am not there for him at critical moments. I am overly concerned with being “right,” and stomp on his feelings in the process. I have to work on this daily. I must daily hand my spiritual and emotional struggles over to God, my creator, my Father, the one, who through a supreme sacrifice has extended me far more grace than I deserve. But when I do, oh the joy that God’s love affords me. 

What I have done in these first few lines is essentially removed my “mask” for you. Not in a way that is offensive or tells you more than you need to know, but in a way that is real and authentic. Sometimes people just need to hear this from Christians. That is to say, we need to be willing, when it is appropriate, to self-disclose. In their book, True Faced, Trust God and Others with who You Really Are, the authors (Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch) offer a beautiful metaphor of our walk with Christ. This wonderful book illustrates two paths for Christians. One is the path of pleasing God. The other is the Path of trusting God. When we take the path of Pleasing God, our walk with Christ becomes all about Self-Effort. “The path of pleasing God becomes, what must I do to keep God pleased with me?” In short, this path hinders us from being vulnerable, and it precludes sharing with others our struggles, heartaches, and our sins. This path calls for us to maintain a façade of “I have it all together because if I don’t, I can’t please God.” The focus is on trying our best not to sin in an effort to make ourselves presentable to God. The other path of Trusting God leads us to “The Room of Grace.” Outside the room hangs a sign, which says, “Living out Who God says I am.” The difference between the two lies in the chasm between our own personal effort and God’s work in us. When we journey down the path of trusting God, we embrace who we already are in God. Genesis tells us that God created man in His own image. We are fashioned after our Creator. This completely agrees with John 1 that tell us we are children of God, “children born not of natural descent nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God!” We were born into a divine family of unconditional love and acceptance to begin with. We don’t have to earn that position any more than we should have to earn such a position in our earthly families. Yet, we pour our efforts into trying to make ourselves perfect so that we can be accepted by our Father. Yet Hebrews 12 is very clear that Jesus is “the author and perfecter of our faith.” Apart from Him, we cannot perfect anything. We can’t get it right on our own. This doesn’t mean that sin is suddenly of no consequence. It doesn’t mean that God is “soft” on sin. Just the opposite. Remember it means that we are “living out who God says I am.” God is the one who says we are His, that we are Holy, that we are set apart. It is for us to live these truths out in our lives-how? With exercising humility and trusting God that indeed we are who He says we are. 

Okay, so what is the harm of going down the path of “pleasing God?” Just this: First of all, it will always leave us discontented and disillusioned. Our own efforts will simply NEVER be good enough. The attempt will leave us empty and void of the joy that God intended for us. It only follows that our relationships with family and friends and neighbors will suffer in kind. Secondly, we lose people along the way. We lose others who need Christ. People who might come to know a God who is forgiving and merciful. (Psalm 103:1-17) People who might come to know a Father who believes that they are the “apple of His eye.” (Psalm 17:8 and Zechariah 2:8) But why would anyone want a Savior who is only interested in his or her performance? When unbelievers see us working so hard and so painfully to please our Father in heaven, it is far more likely that they will pity us than envy us. In the postmodern culture wherein we live, the art of self-deception and superficial living is in no short supply. Both unbelievers and new Christians need to see Believers who are mature in Christ. That is to say, believers who are the “real deal,” open and authentic. Believers who are “living out who God says they are.” So that “others being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3)

Remember my struggles I mentioned at the beginning of this devo? I will never ever forget years ago, I had been married for less than 5 years, and I had a big argument with my husband that morning (a Sunday.) I was really struggling emotionally. At church that morning, I spoke with a very matriarchal woman who I admired and trusted. I explained to her how I felt and the frustration in the discourse that morning between my husband and I. She immediately said to me, “Oh my husband and I have never argued. Over the years I have learned to…..” And I tuned her out after that. I vaguely remember my response to her being “congratulations.” And I walked away. She had a unique opportunity to mentor a younger woman in her marriage, to hold her accountable, yet also share personally with her in a way that might make that young woman (me) a better wife and mother. On the contrary, she chose to maintain the façade of the perfect wife. I didn’t believe it that day, and I don’t believe it today. Truly, rather than helping me through my trial, that encounter left me empty. When we are unwilling to be vulnerable as Christians, we foster the attitude in others, “I must be the only one who……” And certainly, this encounter did nothing to point me toward Christ. 

Well, there are a lot of things wrong with me (how long do you really have?) But God doesn’t make junk. He wants us to live out who we already are in HIM. And when we do this, we are compelled to remove the mask and show people who we really are. That is to say, we are not sinners trying on our own to stop sinning. Rather, we are sinners, “standing with God, with our sin in front of us, working on it together.” (True Faced). 

The author says, “We will never please God in our efforts to become Godly. Rather we will only please God-and become Godly-when we TRUST God.” And to this can I here a BIG AMEN? 

Misleading Theology?

Recently, an acquaintance made an innocent post on FB that said, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will.” I think this could be misleading. Okay, I think in some cases it could even be bad theology-depending on what the writer is referring to-our preferred outcomes OR God’s power. I think faith IS indeed believing that God can– even when He does NOT. Faith is believing in the power of God even when the outcome is not to my liking. If your life doesn’t turn out the way you planned, does that render your God powerless? The short answer to that is “No.” But how often do you unconsciously act this out in your life, “My faith will be strong when_________” “I will believe in the power of God when I see this happen:_____________” Well, let’s see, When I meet the perfect man or woman and get married. When I have a baby. When I get that great job. When I see my children to adulthood. “ OR I will believe in the power of God as long as ____________ (fill in your own blank) Really? Is God’s power contingent upon our preferred outcomes? The bible says that God’s plans will not be thwarted. (Job 42:2, Isaiah 14:27) It doesn’t say the same thing about our plans. In fact, it says just the opposite. (Psalm 33:10; Isaiah 8:10 and Proverbs 19:21) Many Christians are missing great opportunities to serve God and cheating themselves of the abundant life promised us in John 10:10- because they are still waiting on that perfect marriage, that perfect church, perfect children, perfect job and ministry, and well-a perfect life by a standard that perhaps for years has been propagated by false theology, “Faith is not believing that God can but that God will…” (Fill in the blank) make my marriage perfect; Save my children from disastrous outcomes; give me the perfect job with the perfect boss with the perfect salary.

Another way this might manifest itself: Well, maybe, rather than talk about problems in our marriage with a close and trusted Godly friend (of the same gender,) we keep it to ourselves. After all, if my marriage is in trouble, it must mean I don’t have enough faith, or the faith I have isn’t strong enough to ignite God’s power. It couldn’t be that sharing the daily issues of anxiety and strain and seeking out Godly counsel might put my marriage on a different path. Or, maybe rather than join a small group, I would avoid investing in deep intimate relationships, and not expect a small group experience to help me grow into spiritual maturity. If I need the help of a small group for that, then my faith must not be strong enough. Remember, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will…” I think this theology possibly leads us to thinking that as a “Christian,” we must have it together at all times and always have the answer to our problems. If this were true, then Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, David, Esther, Ruth, Paul the Apostle, Peter, and a host of other Godly biblical men and women were the wrong people for the task at hand. Christianity would most certainly have died in the 1st century. It wasn’t perfect marriages, or perfect ministries, perfect leadership or perfect children that caused the glory of God to shine forth through these men and women. Rather it was their imperfect lives and God’s perfect Son that made all the difference.

I love love love the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Look at Daniel 3 with me. Okay, are you there yet? (Humming my favorite song.) Giving you time to go to Daniel 3 in your bibles, you version, or Bible; Okay got it? Now read verses 13-18. What do you see there? Some of the most powerful words in scripture you will ever read about 3 of the most faith filled God followers you will ever know. The Pagan king Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw the three youths into a hot fiery furnace if they did not bow down to him. This was there reply. And no matter how often I read it, it always gives me goose bumps. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is ABLE to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

They knew and believed that God was way more powerful than that fiery furnace. They trusted 100% in the power of God to rescue them from that furnace, but they also knew that God’s plans would not be thwarted even if their desired outcome was different. “But even if he does not choose to rescue us from death, we still believe in Him.” (paraphrase)

Okay, we know the end to that story. God did indeed save them from the fiery pit that day. If He had not, then the three faithful followers would surely have joined him in heaven. But similar accounts did not always end this way. During Nero’s reign as Roman emperor from 54-68 AD, he arrested and tortured all the Christians in Rome, before executing them with lavish publicity. Some were crucified, some were thrown to wild animals and others were burned alive as living torches. This included men, women, and children. We also know from scripture and history that all the disciples of Jesus (not including Judas Iscariot) met with violent martyred deaths, with the exception of John. One might ask, “Was their faith not strong enough for God to show His power?”

God is always faithful. God is always good. God will always prevail. How do we know this? The lesson was borne out on the cross. The empty tomb reminds us that the One to whom we raise our hands and voices is King over all. The Creator of this Universe is more powerful than anything we could hope or imagine 1st and foremost. This power PRECLUDES our existence! Grappling with this truth will render us hopeless and “fruitless,” as we expend our energy waiting and hoping for someone or something to fill in all the missing blanks of our lives so that our faith can “prove itself.” On the other hand, grasping this truth will free us from a stronghold of futility and hopelessness and position us to grow in the knowledge and joy of Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8) Are you grappling or grasping this truth?