Tag Archives: Grace

concurrent.

This seems like as good a time as any to officially let you know what I’m up to next:  I’m headed back into the crazy world of telling college students about how much Jesus wants to radically transform their lives.  Yes, yes, I’ve done this before.  And I loved it and missed it so much that I’m doing it again.  This next year I’ll be based at a community college, so I hope you’re prepared for some really really fun stories.

To give you a better idea of the kind of things I’ll be doing, I’m going to give you a bit of a visual…stay with me, it might be rough at first. When solving systems of linear equations using a graph, there are three potential outcomes:  one solution, no solution, or infinite solutions.

When the system has no solution, it looks like this on a graph:

parallel

 

Note that the lines don’t overlap; those in the know (that group does not include me, I asked my math teacher dad) call that parallelism.  I often meet people whose lives are marked by this phenomenon.  This happens when they’re living dual lives:  trying to keep their relationship with or thoughts about Jesus separate from every other thing that they do.  A few years ago, I mentored a college student who was a perfect example of this.  She would come to Bible study every week, praying fervently for her fellow classmates, and then she would leave and conveniently forget about everything we had just talked about.  Her life in the ‘real world’ showed no evidence that Jesus played any part in her actions or decision making.  I’ve also met students who don’t think that faith has anything to do with their lives at all, so they just choose not to think about the effect it may have on them.

When the system has one solution, it looks like this:

intersecting

You’ll notice here that the lines overlap once, but only once.  This solution does a pretty good job of representing the way of living that you or I probably see most often.  When we live believing that Jesus is important, but only when we want or need him to be, we create an independent system (coincidentally, also the name for the graph pictured above).    We tell Jesus we want him to be in control of our lives, but only so long as he’s letting us do what we want.  The intersection occurs when we’re faced with a difficult situation, when we realize that actually we can’t do this life on our own.  The unfortunate thing about this is that there’s very little lasting impact; you’ll notice in the graph that the lines diverge again.  I’ve met with many students whose lives are characterized by independent systems–they seek guidance from the Lord only when it is convenient for them.  And then they wonder why things fall apart.

There has to be a better way.

Don’t worry, there is.  Here’s what a system with an infinite number of solutions looks like:

infinite

Check this out.  Matthew 4:18-21 is one of the accounts of Jesus calling his first disciples.  It says,

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.  Going on from there…”  

I’m only quoting the verse up to that point because I want you to take note of the fact that Jesus doesn’t wait around for the disciples to follow him; he says, “Let’s go!” and then keeps moving.  The disciples could have kept living in their small independent system, intersecting once with Jesus, but not letting him fully impact their lives.  But instead they followed him into a system of dependence, of relying on him to take care of them no matter what was ahead.  And yeah, they definitely lost sight of this at times, but most of the time they found their way back.  

So that right there is the simplest thing I want my students to internalize:  that we are a part of a system that functions when we are fully dependent on Jesus, when we are following him without looking back, when we let him change our trajectory so that our lives begin to line up with what he has for us.

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less than.

I’ve realized that I need to think less and write more.

I haven’t written anything for a time because, for a good while there, I had seemingly run out of things to say.  There’s a lot of noise in this world, and I wasn’t sure that my contributions to it were altogether necessary.

I think, too, my last post got me thinking way too much about injustice and the fact that things just aren’t ever going to be fair but no one ever said they would be so how did I ever come to the conclusion that someday I would wake up and feel good about the state of things?

Phew.  Let me just catch my breath after that.

To put it more succinctly:  there are a lot of things I don’t understand, and I’ve always accepted that.  There are people who wander through life not knowing where their next meal is coming from, or where they’re going to try to sleep for the night.  I have just assumed that that’s always going to be the case, that it is an awful but accepted truth.

But now that I’ve been on the front lines, so to speak, it’s become so much more of a reality.  These people that I’ve always known about now have names and faces and personalities.

And who am I to decide that some things should be kept for only me to know about?  By staying silent about the injustices that I see, I give them power. By not sharing them and being open and honest about the fact that they’ve been slowly taking over and consuming who I am, I allow them to do that very thing.

This is what our culture teaches us, though.  I have believed that if I am open about my feelings, if I share that being surrounded by poverty and loneliness and real hurt has changed me and shaken me to the core of who I am, then you will see me as broken and weak and less than.

But I am those things.  We are all those things.

I tell you this so you know that it’s perfectly acceptable to not be perfectly acceptable. It’s okay to fall short, to let the stories of others affect you in such a way that you become a little less of who you were.  Because when we realize we aren’t as strong as we thought, we open ourselves up to the possibility that we can’t fix everything ourselves.

I’m reading through 2 Corinthians right now, and in chapter 12, verse 9, it shows Jesus telling Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  And Paul says that makes him want to boast even more about his weaknesses, so that Christ’s power will rest on him.

That sounds crazy to me, but hey, if it means Jesus is glorified, then I’ll keep talking about those things that mess me up.


transformed.

During chapel last week, the speaker told the story of Paul–how he lived his life one way until the Lord grabbed him and turned him completely around.  If you’ve never read about him, check out the book of Acts.  His life is a prime example of the transforming power of the love of Jesus.

On this particular night, I sat in the back of the room with our kids and gave them some coloring pages in the hopes of keeping them relatively quiet.  In an attempt to get them learning about what their parents were hearing about, the pictures were all various scenes involving Paul in some way or another.  About halfway through the service, I looked over to see that several of the boys had used green markers to color in Paul’s face and hands.  I was confused…until I realized that they had crossed out the title of the picture and written in “The Incredible Hulk”.

I had to laugh, knowing that they didn’t really understand what they were coloring.  They had no idea who Paul was or why he’s important, so they turned him into a fictional superhero with some serious anger issues.

It is so interesting to me that that’s something that we begin to do at an early age.  I mean, isn’t it just like us to change something confusing into something we can more easily comprehend?

I find myself doing this often.  If I come across something that I am unfamiliar with, I try to fit it into what I already know.   One thing that is particularly difficult for me to grasp right now is grace.  Because I can’t quite wrap my mind around it, I find myself painting an inaccurate picture of what it means to be forgiven, of what it means to have the mercy of the Lord extended to me.

That’s a misconception that I run into a lot; I talk with women regularly who think that they are beyond redemption.  The concept of being given a clean slate is unfathomable to them.  They can’t understand how that could ever be possible, so they twist Jesus’ words and come to believe that those promises are for someone else more deserving, that there is certainly no way forgiveness would ever be offered to them.

They–rather, we–cheapen his grace and make it into something easier to understand.  Instead of viewing it as a complete restoration, we make grace out to be a quick fix, akin to throwing a fancy sheet over a ripped piece of furniture because company’s coming over.

That’s not what it is at all, though!  As broken as we are, we have to be made completely new. I love to think about how Jesus must delight in knowing that he gets to piece us back together and cover us with his sticky, messy grace.  It makes me think of glue, how it covers and holds together but usually makes it pretty evident to everyone looking on that something was once in need of fixing.

I’ve heard stories from women who have been rescued from years of drug abuse and prostitution, shame and self-loathing, destructive behaviors and thought patterns, and I am always amazed at how open they are about their pasts.  They spare no detail when talking about the things they were once involved in because they want it to be so obvious that they were able to overcome them solely by the grace of God.

Without Him, they would still be trapped.  Really, without Him, we are ALL bound up and enslaved to something.

It is only by His grace that we are freed, and we need to embrace that and continue to learn about what it means to truly be forgiven so we don’t keep living in such a way so as to suggest that we don’t know what the implications of that are.  And then, when we begin to recognize what it truly means to be forgiven, we need to share it with everyone we know.  Because why would we ever want to keep something like that to ourselves?


a future hope.

Last week, I walked out of my apartment to the sound of children yelling.  As I made my way down the stairs, they saw me coming and instantly ran over to where I was.  They flooded the stairway, making it nearly impossible for me to finish my descent.  All of them wanted to get as close to me as they could, and I finally had to sit down on a step so I didn’t fall the rest of the way (I’m really easy to knock over, as it turns out…poor balance and all that).

At dinner that same day, I sat across the table from Hope.  She looked up at me with her giant brown eyes and chocolate-smeared cheeks (There is always an abundance of cake.  At every meal, it seems like) and asked if I would pick her up.  She doesn’t speak very much English, so her version of asking was more of a gesture than anything else.  At 3 years old, she already knows exactly how to get what she wants.  It’s also helpful that she’s adorable.  I had carried her to dinner the night before, and she became instantly obsessed with seeing how high I could lift her into the air.  Let’s just say that my arms are going to be incredibly toned by the time she and her family move out.

And then Matthew, also 3, came hobbling over to me in the parking lot later that night, crying because his tiny toes were bleeding.  The boy walks barefoot everywhere, so I was more surprised that it hadn’t happened earlier than anything else.  I sat him in a chair and cleaned his foot carefully while he told me I was the best doctor.  I let him choose a band-aid (We only have one kind, so this was kind of a trick) and he watched me intently as I wrapped it around his injury.

If only I could do more than that.

He will get hurt again, his brave plans will be thwarted, he will fall and be disappointed.

She will want to be picked up and someone will tell her that they don’t have time to stop for her, she will face a crisis through which she’ll need to be carried and she won’t know what to do.

These children–my beautiful, crazy, extraordinary survivors–will run out of steam and energy; they will be told by the world that they won’t reach their dreams, that they won’t accomplish anything, and so they will give up.  They will stop yelling and running and instead live subdued ordinary lives.

So today I’m thankful that the responsibility doesn’t fall on my shoulders alone.

Sure, I get them for a little bit, and in that time I will do what is needed to let them know that they’re important and valuable and worth fighting for.

But they will leave.  Their families will find a place to call home, and they will be gone.  They will move on and move out, and a new group of tiny adventurers will flood the Mission.  For the ones that leave, it is crucial to remember that they are in God’s hands.  He does a way better job of caring for them than anyone else will ever be able to; His love doesn’t run out.  He has incredible plans, and while I wish that I could walk alongside each and every one of them to see what He has in store for their lives, I know that’s not going to happen.

Instead, I’ll continue to pray that they recognize that the small amount of patience and grace that I show them pales in comparison to how loved they are by their Father, and I’ll hold onto the hope that maybe I’ll get to see them again one day.

*names were changed


one year later.

As of late, it’s rare for me to write two posts in a month, let alone in a single week.  But as of yesterday, I’ve been working at the Mission for exactly a year, so I thought it might be fun (maybe not the right word, but the one I’m going to stick with) to look back at how I got where I am now.

Last year, I was a campus missionary in training, trying to figure out what in the world I was supposed to do with my life.  I knew that I wanted to be in a place where I could love people and tell them about Jesus, but I wasn’t sure which people I was supposed to love.  The obvious answer, of course, is “everyone”, but that seemed too broad…

So I prayed for a more focused answer.   Then I talked to my parents, my friends, my roommates, the girls in my Bible study, co-workers, other campus pastors, random people I met on campus, etc.  And then, I prayed some more.

After a few agonizing months of indecision, I realized that it didn’t really matter where I landed.  As long as I was following the Lord and earnestly seeking His will for my life, I was probably going to end up in a good place.  Once I realized that, things became way less stressful.

Around that same time, one of my best friends told me that there was a job opening at a Mission in my hometown.  I laughed at her, because I knew there was NO WAY I was moving back.  I was headed for bigger and better things.

But those bigger and better things kept falling by the wayside, as I was quietly reminded that it wasn’t about what I wanted at all.  The adventures that I wanted to take were, in a strange way, safer and more comfortable than going back home.

Because for me, heading home meant that I would have to fight against people’s perceptions.  I would have to prove to those who knew me that my years away had changed me, that Jesus really had done a good work in me, and that was something that I didn’t feel up to doing.  I wanted to go somewhere new where I could reinvent myself, where I wouldn’t have to deal with silent judgement and the constant questioning about whether or not I was really any different.

I was reminded, though, of 1 Timothy 1:15-17.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners —of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

I was shown mercy so that people would see the change in me.  My life is meant to be an example, as are the lives of everyone who is following Jesus.  I was forgiven and changed so that people would look at me and realize that He really does work miracles.  I’m not saying that I’m done being changed, because really, I’m reminded daily (sometimes even hourly!) of how far I have yet to go, of how many things in me still need to be refined.

And so, I came back.  I started spending time with people who’ve found themselves in a tough spot.  And I began to realize just how much Jesus wanted me back here, wanted me to see for myself how much I have changed, wanted me to see how much being here would change me even further.

Because I’ve realized how much I am able to love these people unconditionally.   Even when things are crazy and the shelter is completely full like it has been lately, and so I feel like I can’t give everyone the time and energy they deserve from me, I love them.  Even when they ask me about something that I just spent 20 minutes explaining, or they get gum all over the sidewalks that I then have to scrape, or they for some reason find it impossible to follow even the simplest of rules, I love them.  That is definitely not something I would have been able to say a year ago.

And so, as I head into Year 2 (of many, hopefully), I’m excited for the things that God is going to keep teaching me, and I’m really excited about getting to keep hanging out with and loving on the people here.


generosity.

Homelessness isn’t something that can be scheduled.  Because of that, we get people checking in at all hours of the day.  Sometimes it’s because their bus didn’t get in until late, and other times it’s because they got into a fight with the people they were staying with or the cops found them wandering on the road and couldn’t just leave them there.

Whatever the case, they come to us.

It is not an easy task to be welcoming within minutes of being woken up by a phone call.  I found myself sick a lot this winter and I always felt like the people I was checking in were a little bit terrified of my raspy voice.

But I digress.

A few weeks ago, a woman checked in around 1 in the morning.  She had gone to another city to try to find her son, but was unable to for some reason or another.  In the process, she spent most of her money, gave up the lease on her apartment, and lost most of her possessions.

Despite all of this, she still found things to be joyful about.  There were definitely times when she got frustrated with the people around her, and she told us a few slightly unsavory stories…but for the most part, she plowed through her days with an “I can do anything” attitude.  I spent most of my interactions with her trying to get her to smile, because man.  Her toothless grin (she’s 70.  also her false teeth hurt her mouth.) took over her entire face, and it was, without a doubt, the highlight of my days.

And this woman was one of the most generous people I have ever met.  On Valentine’s Day, she came into the Family Shelter office with bags of things for us.  Among these things were two boxes of valentines, at least four blocks of cheese, and some cans of soup.  She had found a good sale and thought that we could use them to start an “office pantry”.

This was not an isolated incident, and she is not the only one who has done that.  I am often offered cups of coffee, candy bars, weird toys (I usually say no to those…), and various other items.  It seems like nobody goes to a store without first asking if I want them to bring something back for me.

Despite the fact that most of the people here have very few resources, they are still willing to share.  And their generosity goes far beyond material possessions.

They are generous with their time–I rarely have to look very hard to find someone when I need help with something.

They are generous with their advice–though, to be honest, I don’t follow it very often…a lot of it doesn’t actually relate to my daily life…

They are generous with their concern–I am asked multiple times a day why I’m not wearing socks or a coat (I tell them I’m trying to get spring to come faster).

Working here means that I am constantly challenged to be more giving in all of these areas.  I am reminded regularly that the things I’ve been given (tangible or not) aren’t really mine, God has just made me a steward of them for the time being.  For more on that, check out Matthew 25:14-30 (the parable of the talents. or, oddly enough, bags of gold. depends on your translation.).

As of today, I have worked at the Mission for 8 months and I am just now beginning to fully understand how much of God’s character is reflected in the people here, regardless of whether or not they always recognize it or even believe it to be true.

Because, really, God is the epitome of generosity.  He invites us into a relationship with Him, He consistently gives us things we don’t deserve, He forgives us, He runs after us, He forgives us again, He loves us without hesitancy, and so much more.

Friends, we’re blessed.


grace vs. truth.

I just finished reading a tiny little book called “The Grace and Truth Paradox” by Randy Alcorn.  I highly recommend it, and…it only took me about a half hour to read.  Granted, I do read kind of fast, but still.  Check it out.  Anyway, here’s one of the parts that stuck out to me the most:
_______________________________________________________________________
In the first century, Christ’s followers were recognized immediately.  What gave them away?
It wasn’t their buildings.  They had none.
It wasn’t their programs.  They had none.
It wasn’t their political power.  They had none.
It wasn’t their slick publications, TV networks, bumper stickers, or celebrities.  They had none.
What was it?

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.  Acts 4:33

They testified to the truth about Christ and lived by His grace.  Truth was the food they ate and the message they spoke.
Grace was the air they breathed and the life they lived.
The world around them had never seen anything like it.  It still hasn’t.
_______________________________________________________________________

And…conviction.  For me, I mean.  Working at the Mission has reminded me yet again of how important it is that I represent Christ.  All.  The.  Time.  That means when things are going great and when everything’s crazy, when people are telling me that they appreciate what we do for them and when they’re yelling in my face, when I see the love of Jesus shine through people and when somebody walks out of chapel because they can’t handle what’s being said.  Regardless of the situation, I represent the God who cares about every person involved, and I’m learning what it means to care about them, too.