Tuesday, May 22, 2012

To a Bride at her Shower: The Amazing Grace and the Amazing Purpose

Leesa Patow (Anna's mother) and Joyce King
Two Thursdays ago I “happened” to spend time with two different people who both “happened” to bring up the same subject—one of those people was Anna’s mother. She was reflecting on some of those special motherhood moments of Anna’s past. Apparently she spent a healthy number of nights when Anna was a little girl reading her books and singing songs…. And I don’t know if it was Anna’s favorite song, but one that she requested frequently was “Amazing Grace.” Not some sweet sappy lullaby, but the symbol of our day and life of salvation.

The other person I spent time with that same day… I listened to her tell of some serious struggles she experienced, and of over an hour of conversation one truth really hit me:  even when at times her faith is low, she knows that it is the grace of God that keeps her going on through it all. 

Grace.  I’m afraid I take it for granted.  

And what does grace have to do with marriage—everything….

In marriage, we need to learn and live grace (and like in most things, we tend to have to learn the hard ways).

Kathy Durham and hostess Luann Ragle
Obviously, depending upon the context and syntax, many definitions of the word "Grace" exist:  
“Disposition to be generous or helpful; a favor rendered by one who need not do so.” (Merriam-Webster) a. Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people. b. The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God. c. An excellence or power granted by God”
The qualities of God’s character by which he shows himself compassionate, accepting, and generous to sinful human beings, shielding them from his wrath, forgiving them, and bestowing on them his righteousness so that they can live and grow in faith and obedience. Grace and mercy are particularly expressed through God’s covenant with his chosen people and through Jesus Christ’s atoning death on the cross.” (BibleGateway)

I am confident that--and I pray for the same for all of your friends here-- you first met God’s grace through that last crucial point: “Jesus Christ’s atoning death on the cross.”

Romans 5:15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man,how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

Now to all of us who have any relationships with anyone in this world—which should be all of us—this is where we take the image of God that He created us with and the New Creature image that His spirit instills with us to take His grace into our Kingdom walk….We put to work that original image of God and that restored image of God (through Christ) placed in our eternal souls.

So how do we do that?

2 Cor.8:7  But since you excel in everything —in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I remember years ago listening to Elizabeth Elliot speak about the marriage relationship, and we go into marriage with such ideals and expectations that our husband is going to fulfill us in every way.  And in our minds, we know we have been told that no one can completely fill us except our Lord God, but STILL, we go into marriage with the expectation that our husband will complete our souls and lives with all those wonderful things he will do for us.  And yes, we have fought and argued during our dating and engagement, but after we get married, everything is going to be “happily ever after.” 

And then your Prince Charming leaves clothes on the floor, or the toothpaste cap off the tube, or the toilet seat up….

However, as Elisabeth Elliot taught me so many years ago, you are married to a sinner.”  (Not to mention that you are one, too, and it is definitely a two-way grace in this relationship, but we’ll have to deal with that in a different devotional.)  How do we put God’s command to share grace of giving in these situations?

II Corinthians 9:13-14  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.  And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.

 A practical reading from Elisabeth Elliot (Secure in the Everlasting Arms, "What Love Does"):

Everything is an affair of the spirit. If eating and drinking can be done “the the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31, KJV) so can everything else. For those who long to follow Christ, “the performance of smaller duties, yes even of the smallest, will do more to give us temporary repose…than the greatest joys that can come to us from any other quarter” (George MacDonald).
At a conference where I was speaking about the little sacrifices of love I suggested that if, for example, your husband drops his clothes on the floor and leaves them there, you might instead of nagging (your views on the subject have been well-known to him for a long time!) simply pick them up. This sort of suggestion does not go over well these days—we’re terrified of being “walked on,” or becoming “co-dependent” or “enablers.”
…Of course [the husband] should change, but you can’t make him! God knows you’ve tried. It’s time to leave him to God….
…The resentment—my heart, my attitude toward the man—reveals my attitude toward Jesus Himself, for what I do to one of His brothers, I do to Him….Has a husband’s careless habit anything to do with my relationship to Jesus? Yes, everything to do with it.
As I reminded my daughter Valerie (in the book I wrote as a wedding present to her, Let Me Be A Woman), you marry a sinner. There simply isn’t anything else to marry. So the husband sins against the wife and—let us wives not forget—he, too married a sinner. If he sins in being thoughtless and my reaction is sinful, two wrongs don’t make a right.
Most questions about relationships can be answered quite simply if we ask ourselves this question: What does love do?
Let me start with my love for God. Loving Him means the thankful acceptance of all things that His love has appointed…This, if not accepted as soon as we find that we are not in a position to change it, becomes an irritation, which then becomes resentment, which becomes real anger and, eventually, along with all the irritation not accepted for the love of God, becomes full-dressed hatred….marriages break up when “small” things accumulate and resentments build.  Love is the intention of unity. Resentment is the destroyer of unity.

Your reactions to your husband’s humanness reflect the grace and love of God put into you as He develops you that restored image of Himself.  (For another devotional: my reflections on nagging.)

Hebrews 12:15  See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Colossians 4:6  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

You will discover, too, that just as your husband doesn't always meet up with expectations, neither will life!   Just as we erroneously dream of Prince Charming, we tend to aim for “happily ever after” as well.  However, even at your age now, you understand the hardships that real life brings.

The excellent news:   the grace that God offers will reach you in those places, too. 

II Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me

Ephesians 2:6  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God

Like everyone else, my husband and I had plans when we married, and they were all dashed a month and a half later when he suffered a motorcycle accident while on army duty.  It changed our lives in a matter of moments—and not that that life has been a waste or bad or anything like that—but it was definitely not my plan for our future. (Proverbs 16:9  In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.—to be discussed later, the Sovereign will of God.)

The blessings of Grace:

 “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). 

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (II Corinthians 4:17)

These are the forward-looking blessings, but when you suffer through a situation, you will also experience His immediate care – the family that comes around you, the unexpected courage to deal with blood dripping from a bag into your husband’s veins or with metal wires going straight through his leg and out the other side, and then to have to pack wounds the size of your fist, and having to give daily injections when all of your life you have never even watched you or your kids get a shot.

From Elisabeth Elliot, Secure I the Everlasting Arms, “Not Mad at God,” p. 79-80:

Jim O’Donell was a very ambitious and successful businessman who described himself as self-centered and indifferent to spiritual things until he met Christ through a man who rode the same commuter train to Boston.

With a desire to be a servant Jim gave up his work in Boston and moved with his wife Lizzie to Huntington, Indiana, to teach in a small Christian college. Not many months later they learned that Lizzie had breast cancer, “dangerous, virulent, and advanced.” He gave me permission to quote from his letter, a very unusual one, I think:

How could something so serious trike so rapidly? And selfishly I ask, “Why sweet Lizzie?” … We believe strongly in the power of prayer. We are not made at God. (It is God who has given me Lizzie for the past twenty-eight years.) Our faith has not been shaken, though this is a time of severe testing…We must learn how to be faithful people in this new assignment, one we certainly never would have asked for but one which can still serve us, bless us, our Creator, and others.

Yes, there is fear; there is sadness, there is a whole new vocabulary we are coming to know, one we never would have wanted to know anything about. There are lots of tears. But there have been extraordinary blessings amid the darkness…

We don’t believe this is an accident, and we don’t believe this is not “of God.” We live in a fallen world, where all of us—and creation in general—fall short, because of sin, of what God intended for us; and illness and crime and cruelty are just reminders of that “fallenness.” We trust in God’s sovereignty over this world and for our lives amid this sickness. God can heal. But we also trust that even serious illness can serve God’s good and holy purposes to arouse love and care in others, to turn our trust from ourselves to Him, and maybe spur some to reflect on what truly is important in life.

Nothing is an accident with God.

The Amazing Purpose
That amazing grace that you accepted at a certain point in your life brought you into a special purposefulness--living in the kingdom

We are told that our new kingdom is not of this temporal world and that we are to focus on it:

Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit

Matthew 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his right­eous­ness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

So how does this play out for a couple – living on this earth, while at the same time living in that eternal kingdom.  This balance can at time put us as individuals, and as families, puts us in awkward (sometimes unbalanced) life styles. 

We quickly fall into the trap of having life happen to us – there is work and school and keeping the house free of the curse of entropy (that’s the second law of thermodynamics, but practically-speaking, it’s dust and clutter).  We fill our time with groceries, lawns, commuting, and eventually kids (but that’s a whole different devotional).
All of these life urgencies hold important purposes in our life on this planet.  They are not to be discarded as unimportant or incorrect direction.  However, neither are they are not to distract us from the purposes that the Lord has for our walk in His Kingdom.

Toser shares in a devotional the following:  “We who follow Christ are aware of the fact that we inhabit at once two worlds, the spiritual and the natural.  As children of Adam we do live our lives on earth subject to the limitations of the flesh and the weaknesses and ills to which human nature is heir.  …. In sharp contrast to this is our life in the Spirit.  There we enjoy a higher kind of life; we are children of God. We possess heavenly status and enjoy intimate fellowship with Christ…” 

Toser reminds us of how so many struggle between the urgency and demands of the tangible kingdom, yet at the same time they speak highly of and even desire life of the spiritual kingdom.
Toser:  “Walking the tightrope between two kingdoms they find no peace in either….The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is our perfect example and He lived no divided life. 

(Toser:) In the Presence of His Father He lived on earth without strain from babyhood to His death on the cross. God accepted the offering of His total life, and made no distinction between act and act. "I do always the things that please him," was His brief sum­mary of His own life as it related to the Father.  (John 10:16-18)

Pleasing the Father and doing the will of the Father is crucial to living in the kingdom.

 Matthew 21:28-31  “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. W hich of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”  

(From the blog How to Live in the Kingdom of God“The Kingdom of God is the realm in which God’s will is actualized. …. People come to inhabit the Kingdom of God when their wills become aligned with God’s. Thus, the Kingdom of God is available to any who are willing to surrender their will to God’s.”

We must line up our will with His – and this an intentional and purposed practiced—something to pay as much attention to and be mindful of as those demands of my work and play day.

God’s will can be seen in three aspects:
·         His sovereign, decretive or hidden will (Ephesians 1:11, Job 42:2)
·         His perceptive or declared will, revealed in His word and in our hearts (Romans 1
·         His permissive or perfect will, the will that describes God’s attitude and identifies what pleases Him (I Tim. 2:4)

Lining up my will with His—living in the Kingdom, as it were—involves  lining up my will and submitting to all three of those aspects.

We need to be mindful to line ourselves with God’s
·         Sovereignty—Proverbs 16:9; Isaiah 48:17
o    Jeremiah 29:11-13  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
o    Proverbs 3:5-6   Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
o   Philippians 2:13  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose

·         Perceptive or declared will—obeying God’s instructions to becoming more like Christ and relying on His Spirit for what we don’t have in our natural character—Joshua 1:7-9
o   I Peter 1:15-16  15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

·         Permissive/perfect will—Romans 12:1-2; Psalm 37:4; Jeremiah 29:13—spending time with Him so that we develop a heart for what He has a heart for. 

Romans 12:1-3 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

2 Corinthians 6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.    


            --Share HIS grace

            --Live purposefully

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