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Sunday Scrutinizations: Change and Growth

Are people seeing the gospel lived out in your life more than they saw it six months ago? This may be a difficult question for you if you live your life under condemnation. I wrote a couple of weeks ago regarding how we should view Christ and our salvation as nothing we can or have done, but it is all done by grace, and when we allow the failure of our sin bring us down or condemn/depress us, it is like we are putting ourselves under the law again. We look at our outward appearance and see how we failed compared to the law, and how our whole attitude surrounding our freedom is what is key. I later made the connection that living with that attitude of freedom makes the future brighter and we are eager to see, it gives us joy we never understood before. Condemnation gives us a dread when facing the future.

We have come to the point in our church life where we need to measure each other and how are we doing in our growth in living out the gospel. That measurement is based in Galatians 5:16-26, and more specifically the fruit of the Spirit laid out in verse 22; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Notice that it says fruit (singular) and not fruits. All these things must be displayed in your life more than 6 months or a year ago. Now, that is not to say that we have times of dormancy or reflection after a period of growth, so we must always display patience with our brother or sister when measuring the growth in their lives. So, we cannot truly measure each others growth without being completely honest and open in each others lives. To most people we reveal about 10% of who we really are which is just the tip of who we are in the proverbial iceberg. It is time for us to ask ourselves the question, “Do we want to keep up the act?” the act of hiding the stresses we have about money and relationships and work. We need to examine if we are handling the stress of our day-to-day lives the same as the world. Are we yelling or eating or overworking or smoking our way out of stress, or are we trusting in the sovereignty of God to fulfill us and be everything we ever need in this world and all we have is because of Him and reminds us that we are where we are no matter the circumstances because of Him?

How do we grow? We grow through change, or sometimes what we might like to call it: stress. My wife is a bit worried about our middle daughter because she never expresses any worry in her life. She is under the impression that everyone has something to worry about. She handles an obstacle to her desire with a glaring look, but is eventually over it. The pain doesn’t linger long in her. My wife worries that when she grows up and out of the home that she won’t understand how to handle her stress and trust in God. I think that maybe she is just that way, that things don’t really bother her, but the glaring tells me otherwise. Is she just going to glare at God and get over it, not really seeing anything as any big deal and never really grow? I believe my wife is right, that she really needs to learn how to express herself so that we can take those opportunities to show her that God wants to see her grow because she trusts in Him and not that things don’t really matter anyway. When things change, mostly for the worse, how do you handle it? Change is inevitable. Your favorite pair of shoes wear out, the job you have wants you to move, a close family member dies. It is all change God wants you to take and reflect His grace to the world. If we are not handling change any better than we did however much time ago, we need to question what is going on in our lives that we are not as close to God, or, if we ever really knew Him in the first place.

Ask someone close to you some questions about yourself compared to what you were like a year ago:

  • Am I more trustworthy?
  • Am I more loving?
  • Am I more generous?
  • Do I show more joy?
  • Do I rest in God’s sovereignty?
  • Am I more patient?
  • More kind?
  • More gentle?
  • Do I reveal more self-control?

These are all tests God uses to measure your growth in the gospel, and if others can’t see it in you, look at the gospel more closely. Are you following the law or following God’s grace? We like to think that if we are comfortable than everything is okay. Are we comfortable to the point because God is not leading us or we not following God’s lead? Maybe we should look at something more convincing.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” Ephesians 1:18-20

We look at these verses and see that the power of Him who raised Christ from the dead, is the same power that is in us. Meditate on that for a minute. The SAME power that raised Christ, that made the change in all of human history 2,000 years ago, the made the fearful have courage to go, to heal, to change lives, to become someone they were not, that God equipped because He called them; that same power is in you. Now do you think because you are comfortable that, that is where this God want you!? Are you settling for what YOU think you can do?

So, I ask again, what are you turning to when you are faced with stress? Because if it not the God who created the whole universe and set about this awesome plan of salvation and is soon to come to set all things right, then you need to examine yourself, turn to Him to grow into the measurement that He has set as standard.

“that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” Phillipians 3:10-16

Paul’s ultimate goal was to grow in the understanding of this God, he presses on in that not fully comprehending it yet, forgets what has been and looks to what is, knowing that his freedom is because of Him and he is eager to see that in us as well. We can’t go back and dwell on our failures or think because we are comfortable that it is all, but to press on in our understanding of His unlimited grace. Meditate and these things.

~Stranger

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Freedom vs. Condemnation

In all my constant thoughts about freedom recently, I’ve come to a great realization. In the past I have constantly dreaded what this earthly future holds for me. I can’t find a well-fitting job, be it paying enough nor enjoyable enough nor fulfilling enough. My head fills with sorrow at the failures of the past. Failing in school, in relationships, in determination, has made me look forward with dread. I consider what is going on with the world and am sure that Christ will come back in a blaze of glory and set all things right. That future is bright and has been my only hope. Yet when I don’t consider that He has me in His grip and I am His, and He has everything in the future just the way He plans it, and I only hope in His second coming, my attitude sells Him short. He is too small in my mind.

So then I see that, I mean really see, that nothing I do can gain the grace and mercy and salvation, that what I have is all because of Him, it humbles me, cheers me, gives me a sense of joy, of relief that I have never felt before. Here we are, the Church, focusing on all the wrong things. He has prepared me for this moment. It is not like I’ve never heard of these things before, for I have, but they have never truly resonated with me before. I have absorbed this teaching.

Galatians 5:1-2 says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” For freedom has He set us free. As I see it as opposed to condemnation. I am constantly condemning myself; looking at my failures of the past, my sins of the present, and the weariness I’ve built for the future. It is done. As I said a couple of days ago, this is a new and special time for me, in seeing all this and knowing that there is now no condemnation for me. That is what Paul was saying. Of course we believe that God doesn’t condemn us, but do we ever consider that we no longer have need of condemning ourselves. Sure we sin, but get over it. Get the unlimited grace He gives and move my brother.

On a walk today I considered these things and saw in my mind that it is freedom that creates a sense of eagerness when considering the future, and condemnation that creates dread. I am praising Him in my freedom. Come my brothers and wash yourselves in the purity of His grace and walk away from all the self-condemnation that makes us dread the future. Be eager in seeing what He has planned for you knowing that it all has been won, because of Him, because of our freedom!

~Stranger

Strange Confessions: The Lost Files, a Mother’s Day Confession

Strange Confessions: I once sacrificed a Fisher-Price music clock to my Mom, when she asked my little sister and me to give up something we cared about because we ruined a bunch of her expensive make up.

(Author’s note: This Strange Confession was originally written on that one site as part of the original Strange Confessions series. I posted the picture on the right and wrote the story as a link to it. Periodically I go through the pictures and delete old ones, in which I did for this particular one, not realizing I was deleting the story as well. I received some comments about what a tribute it was for my Mother, and I believe they thought she was… ahem… deceased. I had to go back and tell them it was just a story I remembered and that my Mom is alive and well, as she still is. She took good care of us kid’s during a hard time of a mostly absent Father that eventually ended in divorce. I love her so much and this story truly defined how much she really knew who I was and the fear of who I might become. Since this is a rewrite, I doubt it’ll be as good as the original, but want to make as fine a tribute my Mom deserves. I love you Mom!)

My little sister and I used to pretend to make magic potions in the sink. We’d find soaps and shampoos and toothpaste and mouthwash, and mix it all up in the bathroom sink, stirring it up until it dissolved into a greenish, brown goop. Then we’d always hit the drain lever and down it would go; mess all cleaned up in a hurry. One time we were in my parent’s bathroom and found all sorts of interesting bottles and baubles and tinctures to mix up into a new creation. Gleefully pouring all the stuff and stirring it up, my Mom caught us in the act. She was very angry with us and you could tell, but she didn’t yell at us. In fact, I never remember her yelling at me unless I was in danger or about to break something. This time though, you could tell how just below the surface her anger was. She sat us down on our bed and explained to us how expensive it all cost. I can’t really remember my reaction then, but I imagine it was a lot like one of my kids: you think you might be getting through to them, but when you pause to take a breath they ask to use the computer or for an ice cream or to go outside. You know they are getting it. Which is what I imagine my Mom was feeling at the moment. She told us that it was something valuable to us and it is hard to lose something valuable. Of course this make up wasn’t more important to her than us, but I believe she saw this as an important teaching moment. She explained that she wanted to go and get something of ours to give to her, something that meant a lot, something that was valuable, something that was hard for us to part with.

I would guess I was at least 12 years-old at the time, and supposed I had grown beyond any real connection to toys such as a wind up clock. I had a Bugs Bunny stuffed toy when I was much younger, but lost it somewhere along the way. If I had still had that Bugs toy, it would probably be sitting on my bed in a place of honor, owing to the innocence of youth. I had a friend in high school who had one of those Bugs’ he kept in his room… with a noose around its neck that I was horrified to find. How could he do that to something that meant so much to me… I mean to him. Now that Bugs Bunny toy was something I might have given up at that time. I’m not a very sentimental guy when it comes to that sort of stuff, but that is one thing I wish I still had. With the task of finding something that mattered to me, I looked around the room. I didn’t see anything off-hand, but at the same time I didn’t really understand the scope of teaching my Mom wanted us to understand. I went to my closet and dug to the very bottom and all the way back in the corner, and found good old Fisher-Price clock. I went in to my Mom and with eyes properly downcast and sorrowful, I presented my sacrifice to her.

She takes it away from me, limply clutching it in her hand and asks, “This is something that is really valuable to you?” I look up sadly and tell her that yes, it is valuable to me. She stops, looks at it, looks at me and slowly asks again, “This is something that really means a lot to you? Something that has worth or value?” “Yes,” I tell her, “It is valuable to me.” She looks deep into my eyes. This is the thing I can remember the most. I remember the place I found the clock, I remember sitting on my bed looking around for something, but I can still see her eyes boring into mine. It was like she caught a glimpse of the future in my eyes. A boy who could outright pretend sorrow and regret had some hard troubles in his future, and I honestly did. She might have seen the things in store for me and beat it out of me, perhaps she saw it as inevitable and thought it better for me to face it on my own. Maybe she was just too tired to deal with it that day… but what ever her idea in mind for that long look, it made a long-lasting impression on me.

I imagine that is the way God looked at Adam and Eve in the garden on that fateful day that changed history forever. This has been something that came back to me when I became a Christian. The idea that we can look one in the eye who raised us, provided for us, defended us, and just lie to their face, makes me a little sick to my stomach. She was and is a good Mother who had lots of difficult times and trials in her life, no fewer ones that came directly from me, and she handled it with grace and patience. I know in my heart that I can never match up to that character, Lord though do I try, but the anger just comes out in yelling, and that is where a lot of my grace is demonstrated: in having to ask for forgiveness. God looks on us when we fall short with sorrow, but also with patience and grace. He knows we have a choice to do the right thing and mostly rarely do. It is the grace and patience I remember when I think about God’s dealings with me, and especially when I think of Him in the Old Testament. People have told me how they appreciate the God of the New rather than the Old Testament. They say it is because of His love in the New, and the wrath in the Old. I see a God of infinite love demonstrated through patience in the Old, much like my Mom was. Holding our eyes, waiting for us to make the right choice, knowing that when we do not, the consequences we will face because of our actions, and it makes Him sorrowful. He gives us the choice and never forces us. Thank you Mom for demonstrating His grace, love and patience in the way you raised me, in the way you raised us. I made a lot of wrong decisions along the way, but you are utmost in my mind the way I want/need to be with my own kids. May I make the right decisions with them.

~Stranger

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