Jesus stands at the door. He knocks. I answer and let him in.
He takes up residence in my home, and I willingly grant him freedom to access the front rooms – those I’ve already cleaned out. But I’m a bad hostess. I don’t interact with Jesus because I’m too busy guarding the back room.
The back room is locked and barred. It’s where my darkest secrets lie. I’m trapped in that room, stuck in a mess of my own making. My shame and guilt are stacked high like moving boxes. There’s barely room for me in there, but still I sit. Surrounded by my failures, I spend my time categorizing and alphabetizing so I can easily rewind and remind myself of what a dismal disappointment I must be to my most prestigious house guest.
So Jesus finds himself knocking again – this time he’s at the door of the room where I hoard and cling to my garbage. He’s gently trying to coax me to just open up. He’s telling me that it’s not as bad as I think. That my boxed sins aren’t scaring him at all. That he’s better company than the depression I’ve found in that cramped space.
And I hear him. I want to open the door, but I’m paralyzed with fear. What if he takes one step in and the depth of my darkness is fully revealed? Will he change his mind? Will he consider me too far gone and run away? Will he look at me with disappointment and condemn me to a lifetime lived in isolated despair? Will he force me to get rid of the sin I’ve worked so hard to store away and hide? Will he make me bring it all out in the open and show the neighbors just how filthy my living situation has become?
What if I allow Him to enter that room and cleanse it? What if I give each box over to him and release the hold it’s had on me for so long? What then? What do I do with all that free space? Will I fill it with new sins the first chance I get? Will I run out to the dumpster and salvage whatever remains of those soiled boxes?
I decide I have to know.
In tears, I slowly unbolt the locks and ease the door open a crack. I see Jesus smiling and reaching his hand out towards me. I’m shaking all over as I step aside and he enters that black room. I can’t meet his eyes, but if I could I would see love overflowing and overwhelming me. I can feel it, even though I can’t rip my gaze from the stained floorboards.
He begins to unstack each box, one by one. He takes them as far away as the east is from the west, working steadily and carefully. He sweeps the cobwebs aside, opens the shutters, and light floods in. He fills the emptiness left behind with peace and mercy.
In the far corner I notice new boxes I’d never seen before. Hidden behind my hoard I now glimpse beautifully wrapped packages, gleaming bright and begging to be opened.
So I tear the paper and open each box expectantly. Inside I find the house warming presents Christ delivered on that first day I allowed him into my heart-home. These talents and passions that make me who I am have quietly been sitting in that corner, unable to be fully accessed. Not until I allowed Christ to come in and clean up the mess that overwhelmed me could I begin to put these gifts to use.
I’m clean. I’m forgiven. I’m healed. There’s no place for guilt and shame to take up residence in my heart anymore. That once-barred door is wide open. I’m finally allowing Jesus Christ to have full admittance and free reign in my home. I’m inviting him in. I’m admitting that there’s nothing I can do to improve my darkest places without his help.
My friend, Jesus is a master restorer and maker of new things. He’s at work in my heart, demolishing my past and recovering each surface with new grace. Are you living in that grace? Do you have a back room? Open the door!
Fall is here. Lately, many of my friends have expressed how tired they are. Some of them feel overwhelmed with how busy they are. And it seems like the pressure is growing. Certainly the start of school brings an element of “busy” that is not present in the summertime, but after we settle into a routine, that rushed feeling usually passes.
This year, the pace seems faster and more frantic. Have you been feeling it too? Do you feel overwhelmed? Part of it is our accessibility. There is never a time where we’re completely able to “shut down” or shut it all off. Between email notifications, texts and videos and pictures being messaged to us, Twitter and Facebook and Instagram updates, we’re constantly being fed without a break.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary.” In the Message translation, Matthew 11:28-30 reads as follows: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Some of our weariness comes from saying “yes” to very good things that aren’t a very good fit for right now. Or, too many good things. Instead of worrying that it won’t get done if we don’t do it all, we need to rely on God to take care of things and ask Him where we fit into that picture. Where does God want me to put my time and energy right now?
That can be a difficult question to ask, because we don’t always want to hear the answer. We like what we’re doing, but it’s leaving us tired and frantic and empty, and it’s not really bringing the fulfillment we are searching for.
“The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”
Psalm 90:14-16 (NIV)
I’m going to challenge us to see if this makes a difference: for the next few days, if we find a verse on our Social Media or in our email that feeds us, we are going to write it down. Not print it out on a laserjet. Write. It. Down.
Or, write the reference down and then look it up in a paper Bible. (Have you noticed the difference between reading a paper book and scrolling on a tablet? There’s something different about the experience of paper and ink.)
I’m encouraging us to have a tangible connection to God instead of a digital one. This doesn’t mean that the digital isn’t feeding us. I start my day with BibleGateway.com and a chapter of Psalms, and I copy and paste into a Facebook group. It’s feeding me. But, I think we’re longing for our senses to really be stimulated. We want to touch God, to take in His Word. And by writing it down or physically opening our Bibles, we are going to be making a tangible connection to that promise. Something we can “hold on to” to strengthen us. Ultimately, I hope that Word commits itself to our memories and that we can call it to mind when we’re in a crisis.
Sisters, this is meant to strengthen and encourage, not guilt or burden us further. I believe God wants us to no longer be running on empty, but running on a full tank, with joy and fervor! That we’d be able to use our passions for His glory and really find energy and strength in what we are doing. I’ll be committing to this challenge too, and if you would like, find a verse that really gives you strength. I know these two passages are rich. Find a translation you enjoy, or search a few and see how they differ. (The internet is a great resource for this, but please remember to write it down instead of just clicking “print”!)
Photo credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e7/Phodopus_sungorus_-_Hamsterkraftwerk.jpg/1280px-Phodopus_sungorus_-_Hamsterkraftwerk.jpg “King James Bible 1772 – Psalm 90” by Oxford University, Oxford, England – http://dohistory.org/archive/doc155/155_title_img.html / Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:King_James_Bible_1772_-_Psalm_90.jpg#/media/File:King_James_Bible_1772_-_Psalm_90.jpg
When you at first do not succeed, what do you do? “Try, try again?” Or, do you slip into a self-loathing monologue?
Early in my marriage, I made a financial decision that was unwise. And, it affected us both. My husband and I worked through it, but I did not speak to him immediately when the problem arose. I wanted to solve the problem by myself. This led to lies of omission—which break down trust. Recently I was reconciling our account and discovered a missed transaction. Since it had been a month, we’d thought there was a surplus in our budget and the money had already been spent. When I caught my error, I made like Eve and grabbed my leaves. The fear and shame of making mistakes crippled me—I want to be dependable and never let people down. (but, I’m not capable of perfection. Only God is.) I was internally upset for a few days before telling my husband. When I mustered the courage to tell him (shame from the last time), he was gentle in his response.
I was sobbing and he soothingly said, “We’re on the same team.” “I’m “for” you, Tammy.” “I just want you to tell me right away.” “I love you.” “When you wait to tell me, it separates us.”
As he said these things, I had a revelation that God is also speaking this to me—and to you. He is “for” us. When we avoid Him, it separates us. Not because He is stern or upset, but because we are trying to hide something from Him. It eats us up and robs our peace and steals our joy. We don’t trust Him, and fear an unloving response. 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (NKJV)
God knew us in our mother’s womb. He knew what we would need help with, and He’s cheering us on as we try to take steps, even if we totter and tumble. We’re trying and He’s cheering. Confession frees us from the burden of our sin. We are not free from consequence, but the weight of shame and guilt will not be there. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Jesus told the woman, “neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Grace is not a license to keep doing wrong, but a key to the locks on our chains. We do not have to be locked in to the cycle of sin any longer! Take heart, friends, we are being perfected and transformed to look more like our Maker every day. As long as He is our strength and perfection, then we can rest in the fact that He created us to do His good works. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)
Recently, I failed to run the entire5k portion of my “try”athlon, but I was not a failure. I still finished. You and I are here to glorify God’s name. We may be failers, but we’re not failures, and we’re not going to give up.
Some things in life bear repeating. For over a month, I have been under the downspout of grace. So, this week I’m sharing what God has shown me. I’m not done with grace, and hope you can handle another dose!
“Justice is getting the bad we deserve.
Mercy is NOT getting the bad we deserve.
Grace is getting the good we don’t deserve.”
~Dr. Helen Fagan
I’ve been learning about grace. Grace is offered to everybody. You may know about it your entire life, or perhaps you don’t. Maybe you live a heavy life of imperfection—knowing you don’t measure up. Then, one day, you hear about grace and you are set free!
Matthew 20 begins with a parable about the kingdom of God. I’d always thought it was speaking about salvation, but am glad to know it is talking about GRACE!
In this parable, a vineyard owner hires workers for a denarius (a day’s wages). As the day wears on, he hires more workers at three or four different times. “In the eleventh hour, he went out and found still others standing around…’You also go and work in my vineyard.’ ”
When it comes to the end of the day, he pays all the workers the same wage, regardless of when they began to work in the day. The all-day workers are upset that the eleventh-hour workers also received a denarius, and that there was no extra pay for themselves.
“He answered one of them, Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first and the first will be last.”
This doesn’t seem fair, but the truth is? Salvation is not fair. We sinned. Jesus never sinned. He died to pay for our sins. That’s the epitome of “not fair”. And? He did it because He loves us. He knew we could never be sinless, so He spent His own life-blood to pay our ransom.
An excellent example of eleventh-hour grace is given in Luke, chapter 23. Jesus is on the cross, between two criminals. One is taunting and mocking him, but the other defends Jesus. “But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:40-43)
Grace is given to all people, regardless of our stories. Maybe you’ve been a vineyard worker your entire life. You’re serving God with passion and purpose. Maybe you came to him in your childhood. Or maybe in your teens, twenties, fifties, eighties—the amount of grace offered is the same. We can’t earn grace. Our good deeds don’t outweigh our bad ones. Jesus is the one who gives us all that righteousness that we long for.
When you accept grace, it frees you to extend grace to others. We forgive others because all our sins are forgiven. I encourage you to start living in grace. Strive to do your best, but allow a do-over, a fresh start, for the days that are less than your best.
And remember, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
You will find that the more you live in forgiveness, the more peace you find within. You look behind the offense to the hurt that caused a lashing-out. You begin to look on others with love and compassion, and you transform into a vessel full of grace. It begins with one small act of forgiveness and grace at a time, but it becomes a habit and then a lifestyle.
We’re walking this road together, you and I. And don’t forget that grace is extended to you, so forgive yourself as well.
I’ll leave you with a song about Grace. It’s called “Broken Vessels” by Hillsong. It speaks so beautifully about how Jesus sees us. (If you read my posts through our email subscription, you don’t see the video links. The videos are embedded on the web page)
So, here’s the youtube link.
How about you? Are you longing for grace but unsure how to start? Leave a prayer request in the comments. We’d love to pray for you!
I remember the feeling all too well. That gnawing, churning pit of trepidation began in my gut and worked its way to my chest. I remember feeling hazy and weightless, as if my spirit was trying to escape what my body was exposing it to. I was on the edge of a sharp precipice, and my next decision would determine my fate. The boy? Well, I don’t remember too much about him in that moment. I do remember the unspoken challenge in his eyes. The “I dare you” message he was sending me. To this day, I can’t explain what made me push away except that maybe in the midst of the silent roaring between my ears I picked up on a whisper – a still, quiet voice that said, “This is not who you are. You are not his. You are Mine.” And it was enough. I didn’t free-fall into darkness that day; instead, I backed away to safety. He stopped calling. I swore off guys. Ironically, a month later I met the man I would one day marry.
Sounds like an after-school special, doesn’t it? Girl faces temptation but makes the honorable choice. Girl is rewarded with a husband. Yeah…except there was slightly more to it than that. My story cannot begin to be summed up in this one event, but that night almost fifteen years ago was a defining moment in my young life. At nineteen years old, I did make a choice. I said no. Part of me wanted to say yes, but mostly so I wouldn’t disappoint a boy who clearly wasn’t giving me the same consideration. And while I still managed to blow it big time in many ways over the following months, that decision unveiled an inner strength that could only have come from God. So why even mention that night? Because of the redemptive power of Jesus – you see, this story, my story, is really all about Him…
My favorite book of the Bible is Romans, and Chapter 12 holds a special place in my heart. Each of its’ twenty-one verses have helped shape me as a woman and continually challenge me to look at others through the eyes of Jesus. The first verse specifically speaks to Christians who struggle with temptation:
This verse…wow. It’s not one of the more popular, make-you-feel-good verses we love to quote on Facebook and Pinterest. This verse is a command to every saved man, woman, boy, and girl. It’s a verse that unapologetically declares we are to treat our bodies as if they are not really ours to lay claim to. It’s hard to hear and even harder to adhere to.
So what do you do with this verse if you feel a sharp sting of shame when you read it? What if, like me and thousands of other women around the world, you’re guilty of offering bits and pieces of your body up on that relentless altar of lust? Maybe you’re dealing with consequences of your past choices: disease, ruined relationships, emotional turmoil, or separation from God. As you read these words, you may even be thinking to yourself that your life is over. It’s hopeless. You’ve made so many wrong turns that the way back to Jesus seems impossible to find.
This is quite an uplifting letter, am I right? (insert sarcastic emoji) Hang with me, if you will, because Good News is on the way! The One who created you knows all about your sin, and His opinion of you might just sweep you off your feet. Shake off the Enemy’s lies that you are worthless, alone, or beyond the reaches of Christ’s love. My darling daughter, take a moment to consider Scripture. Remember who you belong to. Start fresh today.
Remember Who You Belong To
This beautiful truth from Isaiah says it all. You are His. He knows you, and He calls you by your name. He has redeemed you. That word – redeem – is one of my favorites. If you are a child of God, you have been redeemed. It’s eternal. Nothing you do could ever separate you from His love (Romans 8:35-39). That fact alone should make your soul leap!
He hasn’t condemned you, even if you struggle to forgive yourself. Romans 8:1 says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” If you are a daughter of the Risen King, He will never cast you aside. What’s more, His abounding grace is strong enough to break the chains of sin that paralyze you.
Read Psalm 139:1-6 and 17-18. Trust me on this. Even if you’re familiar with the passage, read it again. When my spirit needs to be refreshed, when I’m longing for a love that surpasses human capacity, or when I’m doubting my qualifications as a representative of Christ, I find the most comfort out of these verses. I marvel at a Savior who reaches out to cradle me even as I’ve wronged Him.
Take a moment to absorb the magnitude of His all-consuming love for you. You don’t deserve it. Neither do I. But it’s ours for the taking if we’ll only receive it!!
Start Fresh Today
By now, I imagine you’re feeling at least a glimmer of hope that your messy and marred life-offering can be salvaged. With a renewed confidence in His love for you, you can boldly make your next move. If you really desire to present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, you’ve got to do some turning.
There’s a well-known story found in John 8 that describes Jesus’ reaction to the woman caught in the act of adultery. Her accusers were eager to carry out a death sentence. She must have felt panic and terror, but not a lot of hope for rescue. As Jesus silently wrote in the dirt, her denouncers began to leave, one by one. I wonder what went through her mind as she faced the Son of God. He could have justifiably handed down a myriad of punishments. Instead, He tells her she is not condemned. He says, “Go, and sin no more.”
Can’t you just picture the shock and relief that must have registered on the woman’s face as she felt the weight of her sin replaced with the freedom of forgiveness? What an amazing testament to the character of Jesus! Notice, though, His parting words: “sin no more.” He didn’t say, “Eh, it’s not that big of a deal to commit adultery.” He didn’t give her a free pass to keep on living her life the way she had been. He gave her a second chance to turn things around. An opportunity to change her ways. He expected that out of her and He also expects the same from us.
So how do we go about this turning away from sin business? It can be a daunting process, but it’s infinitely worth it! It might even look different in your life than it has in mine. In my experience, I have found five things that work:
1. Pray often. Daily. Come clean before your Heavenly Father. Praise Him. Ask for His forgiveness. Pour out your heart. Bare your soul. He knows it all anyway, but there’s something about having an honest conversation with God that brings healing and clarity. (1 Thess. 5:17)
2. Read the Word. Allow inspired truth to break down your defenses. Pursue Jesus. Let Him speak to you. Believe what He says. Hide His words in your heart. (Psalm 119:11)
3. Seek Counseling. Confide in a family member or trusted friend. Talk to a pastor. Find a professional if necessary. Turning requires healing.
4. Find Supportive Friends. Distance yourself from negative influences. Get to know someone new. Be brave. Don’t walk through this alone. Be accountable to someone you trust.
5. Serve Someone. Stop thinking about yourself all the time. Get your hands dirty. Be God’s hands and feet. Meet a need. Sacrifice your time. Do it with love.
None of us can change our past. We all face temptations daily on every level. We are weak. But God understands our limitations. He knows you and He meets you where you are. He will walk with you and give you strength that’s made perfect in your weakness. If you’re reading this and you don’t know what it is to succumb to sexual temptation, I say to you: keep doing your thing, girlfriend! God’s will for all of His children is that each of us choose a path of purity. It’s no small thing to accomplish, but with the Father’s help you can persevere. And daughter, I pray that as you walk your path you will not allow your past to define who you are. Give your future to the Redeemer, and turn towards Him with every fiber of your being. He IS faithful. He’s cheering you on, and so am I!
Though these words usually conjure up a picture in our mind of a scolding, matronly figure wagging her finger, I want to focus on a different voicing. A wistful, broken, incredulous person, hoping for freedom-asking as they see our joy.
Sunday during the worship time at church, several songs had phrases regarding shame. “I’ve tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves, where my heart becomes free and my shame is undone, in Your Presence, Lord.” Another song spoke again to my heart, “You stood before my failure and carried the cross for my shame. My sin weighed upon your shoulders, my soul now to stand.”
In Heaven, there will be no shame. No shaming. No “rubbing your face in it” tactics. On Earth, we can experience that freedom in Christ. Guilt and shame are one of the enemy’s favorite pairs. If you have remorse and regret over a choice or action, you can be sure he’s there trying to rob you of the peace and forgiveness and freedom that have already been purchased for all sin!
Genesis 2:25 describes our original state, how God intended for us to experience all the fullness of His creation! “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (NIV)
Will we stumble and fall and sin, though we try our best not to do so? Yes. Psalm 19:12-13 “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin.” (NLT)
In my own life, there are plenty of moments I would like to amend, correct, re-do, erase, etc. The majority are parenting errors that I have not let go of. Times where I did not understand my young child and was too stern. Tears were produced in both my daughters and myself in each circumstance. My sweet youngest, thankfully, has benefited from the mistakes we’ve made with her older two sisters.
God wants to wipe the chalkboard clean. To restore our childlike wonder!
God was gently tugging at my heart this weekend, whispering His truth and compassionate love into my very soul. “Tammy, remember my Spirit is in you.” 2 Corinthians 3:17 “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (NLT)
He specifically impressed on my heart His desire for me to be free! Free from guilt and shame over mistakes. Things I cannot change should not be ruling over me right now. They are gone, behind me. Like a bad dream that I may be able to recall, they are moments far behind me.
Philippians 3:13-14 “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not yet achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (NLT)
You see, in our world, there are scaled judgments, punishments, to fit our “crimes”. In God’s eyes, however, all sin is sin. Either you are holy or you are a sinner. Only God is holy, hence the need for Jesus’ saving grace. One of the self-declared worst sinners wrote a letter of encouragement to a young man named Timothy, describing it best. That everything is for the Glory of God, not for us or about us!
“Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:14-17 (NLT)
No one of us is better than another. Each of our weaknesses allow God to show His strength and cause others to marvel at what HE can do in a life. That will draw others to Him, not to us! Hallelujah!
How about you? Have you been burdened under guilt? Shame? Condemnation? Do you long to be free? Are you holding on to that past decision, hoping someday you’ll be able to make it right?
Will you allow God to take it from your hands, mind, heart and soul and whisper His love and freedom to you?
Grab onto and enjoy your freedom, sisters, and if you like, click this link to a song He shared with me at our women’s retreat this past fall. “I Set You Free”.