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Bring Your Nothing

Posted on November 10, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I have a pretty basic https://twitter.com/jeffblock" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">digital bio: husband, father, friend, pastor, and self proclaimed nerd. But, I often wonder how well I know myself and tend to think that I don’t. Maybe it’s a mid-30’s-life-crisis. Or perhaps it’s a result of living inadvertently under a digital screen where I’m thinking only 140 characters at a time. I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that who I really am is not the tightly worded or perfectly angled person I tend to “display” to the world. If I’m honest, who I think I am--my identity--is usually a victim of the ebbing and flowing, rising and diving, twisting and dodging of the obstacles in my daily path; this makes me usually at war with myself. Who am I really? Most the time I don’t know; who usually wins is the puffed up version of myself: tooting my own horn for others to hear.


Maybe you’ve been here with me or maybe not; if so, it’s because we’ve forgotten who we are.


Do You Know Yourself?


What if I told you that I think Madonna has a better sense knowing who she is than we most likely do?


In her 1991 interview with Vanity Fair, Madonna admitted,


“My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.”


Like Madonna, we have a horrible fear of being mediocre, too. Madonna knows herself well and she’s not afraid to admit this. The question is, do we?


It’s Not Our Feelings, It’s Our Ego


We don’t want to be mediocre parents, mediocre teachers, mediocre pastors, or mediocre friends. So, if you’re like me, we tend to say and do things that will cause us to gain the credibility we want. We want to feed our ego. Often, it’s our egos that are hurt more than our feelings when we fail to measure up in public or in private. Tim Keller explains this reality in his book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfullness:


“The ego often hurts. That’s because it has something incredibly wrong with it. Something unbelievably wrong with it. It is always drawing attention to itself – it does so every single day. It is always making us think about how we look and how we are treated…It is the ego that hurts – my sense of self, my identity. Our feelings are fine! It is my ego that hurts” (16).


I often hear pastors say, “I’ve been doing ministry for a long time.” Or, I hear parents say, “I’ve got four kids.” What I hear when I hear these statements is the ego validating and justifying itself ("trust me, I know what I'm doing!"), trying to cover up what is misplaced: our identity. We’re all prone to puff ourselves up or even toot our own horn for the sake of keeping our ego intact and our sense of self feeling good. It’s our reputation or our credibility that’s at stake, right? That’s how we feel. But, really, it’s our pride.


Keller says pride “is the pleasure of being more than the next person.” And that is exactly our problem.


Transformed and Redefined


In 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, Paul describes a transformed view of self.


From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.


He sees self-worth and self-regard and identity wrapped in the gospel. It’s the gospel that redefines, recreates, and revalidates ones identity in the work of Another. We have a new transformed self, forever changed. But we tend to forget this, and we get caught up in the battle waging between our normal view of self and our transformed view of self. Thus, we need to continually hear the gospel: “You’ve got nothing. You’ve earned nothing. All you have and all you are is because you are loved beyond measure.


We Brought Nothing, God Brings Everything!


In a song by Shane & Shane, Bring Your Nothing, they sing:


“I’ll bring nothing

You bring everything

How could it be?”


In God’s everything is the love he has for his Son, in whom your life is now hidden (Col. 3:3). The Son whom has been “appointed the heir of all things” (Heb 1:2), and “has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3), has already given you everything when you have nothing to offer. God’s everything is God’s love and we have it. In her book, Exploring Grace Together, Jessica Thompson writes,


“You can smile in your heart, knowing that the most important thing about you isn’t how you play baseball or any sport. The most important thing about you is God’s love for you. You can smile because that will always be yours” (112).


And we smile because His love is forever (Ps. 136). We are given everything when we have nothing. Because of His Love we are free from having to chase credibility or from tooting our horns. What we are and who we are has nothing to do with us any longer. Our “pat-on-the-back-achievements” or our “hide-in-the-closet-failures” don’t define us. Instead, we are now anchored in the One who claimed us, died for us, loved us, hid us within Himself, and freed us from ourselves.


“See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).



This post was written by Jeff Block.

Dance of the Dirty, Rotten Sinners

Posted on October 20, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

We hear about sinners sinning and we shake our heads and cluck our tongues. The fires await them, we think. Then we bury our heads in our bibles and smile at how very holy we are. We attack people who practice homosexual behavior and all those people more “liberal” than we are as if they had erupted from a crack traveling up from hell itself. And we feel satisfied with ourselves, and sing our songs and thank our God we’re not like them.


At times, God will show me something that I’m wrong about. I find myself humbled and thankful that he would be so kind to love me amidst such ignorance. Then, I encounter someone who is still wrong about that thing, and I immediately judge them for not being as spiritual as me. There’s something about us that habitually turns the best of gifts from undeserved grace into deserved veneration in our minds. So we start to believe that God’s love is something which began as grace, but soon enough began to sprout from God’s admiration of our goodness.


The love of God should leave us breathless. Hit us square in the gut, silencing our doubts and fears of never being fully accepted. It should be the water which nourishes our faith. But the awe has worn off and we’ve patted God on the shoulder, telling him that we’ll take it from here. And, now, it is pride which feeds us, fertilizing our hate. The one so deep in debt no amount of work could pay it back, freshly forgiven, is running the streets, pointing fingers at all the other debtors.


We were all born ugly and we’ve found our beauty. Should we then use it to shame others? Because God’s goodness has been superimposed over our evil, is our evil now acceptable?


Because we can’t be the things God desires of us, we don’t then humble ourselves before God as logic dictates, we raise up superficial works that can be easily accomplished as that which God desires. We baptize our opinions as law and wedge them into legitimate Scripture. These clownish replacements for God’s righteous demands make us feel superior, and so we stand judge over anyone who dares oppose us. But, until the church rejoices with the weak, shouting, “You too?” instead of scowling behind pious masks, we say Jesus’ death was a band-aid.


If it were ever about us, and our goodness, God would have sent a holy scoreboard for each believer. Instead, it is about what Jesus did. Because we’ve accepted his love, we’re not then better than others. We are humble receivers of a great gift.


We are the hungry, and having found food, we arrogantly judge other beggars for still being so hungry.


What could be more beautiful than the undeservedly-loved shouting, singing and whispering that the loveless are loved too? Instead of berating them for their lack, we should nourish them with the happy news. But first we have to remember who we are and who God is. We are Sinful. And our sin runs deeper than too much drinking or marital unfaithfulness. Those are just symptoms of who we are. Our entire nature is evil. That’s what we’ve been saved fromourselves. So, there is no room for pride.


“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)


God forgave us so that our sin is no longer the issue. We no longer have the demand of impossible rules to earn the favor of God, it was given to us freely by Christ. So what makes us so prideful? Is it because we can’t accept that it’s all free? Is it because we feel better thinking we’ve contributed? Believing spirituality is as easy as wearing nice things to a church service.


But spirituality isn’t wearing a tie to church, that’s a cop-out for the real deal of loving so much it may break you in two, knowing that only God can put you back together. Our well-manicured Sunday go-to-meeting clothes are ridiculous replacements for a clean heart that only the death of God can provide. We bite our tongues to keep from saying four-letter words when our tongues are swelled with evil expressions for those not like us. But all any of us has is grace.


All you have is grace.


You are naked and think you’ve succeeded in covering yourself with the abundance of air around you. All you have is grace. We smell of death and the bones inside rattle when we angrily shake our bible at others, but we think the whitewash is good enough. We need a resurrection, not a paint job. We need to lose ourselves in the truth that we are loved not because of what we do, but wholly in spite of it. All we have is grace.


We are thieves and vandals, adopted by a good man who cancelled our debt and announced to the entire kingdom to put anything more to come on his account. Murderers and whores for whom God danced so violently when we came home that we couldn’t help but laugh and dance along.


The dance of the free.

The dance of the filthy, rotten sinners.

The dance of the forgiven.



This post was written by Chad West. You can find him on Twitter here: @MisterPreacher

I Don't "Got This"

Posted on October 13, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (1)

Pressure had been building like steam in a tea kettle all morning long. Piles of dishes from the night before, missing shoes, children who won’t get out of bed, who won’t eat breakfast, who don’t answer when I call to them. Steam. Building. And then….Where’s Ezra? I open the back door. A once clean, blonde haired, blue eyed boy standing in the middle of his sandbox covered in mud.


That’s all it took. The absolute last straw of the morning. Boom.


“Why?! Why can’t you people just do what I ask you to do? Why do you have to make everything so stinking difficult?!” Wide eyes staring blankly back at me, while I continued on my rant. “Why do you guys refuse to clean up after yourselves? Why do you have to make such messes in the first place? This is just insane. I can’t find anything. Just know when you guys get home, everyone is cleaning this house. I can’t possibly be expected to keep up with all of this by myself. If you guys can’t stop making mornings so difficult, I’ll just start waking you up at 6am.” And then the big kahuna finisher, “You guys just have to get your act together. Seriously. Or I’m just going to go crazy.”


Oh yeah. I went there.


By the time we loaded into the car, we were crying. Then my son announces that he put the hide-a-key in the sandbox. I run out there to check. I can’t find it. Perfect. I head back to the car. *Car door slams!*


In the midst of feeling completely helpless and completely out of control at this point, I realize that my daughter who is already having a hard time at school, will go to school crushed because her mom flipped a lid this morning. And I feel like a complete jerk. I begin to make amends with my children. Thankfully, by the time we got to her school, I was able to make it right. She hopped out of the car smiling, and I drove away.


I began recounting all the events of the morning and felt so guilty for yelling at my kids. No, they hadn’t picked up after themselves, but there’s also a giant pile of laundry in my bedroom floor that’s been looking at me for two days waiting for me to fold it. And yes, they left a mess in the living room but I didn’t bother to do the dishes from dinner last night. Ugh, hypocrite.


But there’s something else. Something deeper.


I feel guilty because I acted like a jerk and I crushed my kids with my words; I should feel bad about that. My failure to love my kids should break my heart. But the reason that I feel bad about it and am embarrassed about it--if I am being honest--is because I really do believe that I should have my act together. It’s the self-righteous part of my heart that believes: “I got this.” And if I don’t “got this” it’s because they don’t have their act together. And the reason that none of us have our act together today is because our house is messy. And the proof that this is the problem at hand is in the way I apologized to my kids. “I’m sorry, I should not have gotten so angry and yelled at you. We will all clean the house tonight and have a better morning tomorrow.” Oh, me and my fig-leaf-solutions.


The truth is that I don’t have my act together. I never will. I’m always a mess but sometimes I’m more than that. I’m a disaster. I’m the kid in the sandbox with mud slung from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet. What does the gospel say to a disaster like me? Well, for starters, Jesus is not at all surprised in my outbursts. He knew before I even opened my eyes this morning that I was going to flip a lid. Not only that, He’s praying for me always. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). That truth slays me. Yes, I failed to love my children when they disobeyed me, but God never fails to love his children when they disobey him. Ever.


When I don’t “got this”, Jesus does. When I’m ranting and acting like a fool, Jesus is advocating for me. “She’s a disaster right now, but she is my disaster. Paid in full.” That thought breaks past the “I didn’t obey the law” and gets to the thing under the thing: the thought that I actually could love my kids perfectly this morning and not just be about my own inconveniences. The love of Christ breaks in down to our self-righteousness. It reaches down to our fig-leaf DIY solutions and lovingly says, “You don’t got this, Sarah, and it’s that constant belief that you do or that you should that makes you need me in the first place. I perfectly loved for you. You’re not going to get it right. Boast in your weakness. Just need me.” It is bathing in that unconditional, radical love to me--while I’m knee deep in my sin--that makes me skip off happy and free toward my children, ready to love them in the midst of their mess. They, like me, are giant disasters, little broken people who desperately need to be loved, who will never get it right or have their act together, ever; they—like me--need Jesus. And the good news is: we can run to Jesus, with our mud from head to toe, and he will welcome us with loving arms.


This post was written by Sarah Taras.

When We've Gone Rogue

Posted on October 6, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I was sitting on the edge of Sunset Cliffs, peering into the vast blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean, when I came to grips that I wasn’t a very good Christian; it was probably the seventeenth time that year. I was a “super-senior” at a Christian college, and had given much of my time to various ministries – lead a couple of them – and I felt lost at that moment. The path I was on was shadowed by sin and regret and uncertainty. I felt alone on that unstable cliff while my eyes gazed at the endless majestic ocean. I thought about quitting.


I thought about going rogue. No one would know.


The heaviness of life was taking its toll on my mind. My Adversary loves to lie (John 8:44). He takes what is good and twists it. He takes what is bad and makes it pleasant. The light things get weightier. The heavy gets light.


Not praying feels good.


Autonomy appears to be freedom.


Going rogue feels good.


For a season.


The problem is we’re so vulnerable at times like these. When we’ve strayed off the path and we’ve squandered what’s been given, we sit on a cliff of uncertainty in a straightjacket, imprisoned with guilt, our conscience betraying us. We’ve lived our whole lives trying to be strong: doing the right things, plotting the course and remaining faithful to the cause. Eventually, the cause is no longer trusted.


So, we go rogue.


Undercover.


Hidden.


We begin thinking in contradictions. Why do I do what I do? But I love what I do. But I’ve failed over and over (Romans 7).


It’s interesting though. “None of my failures in faithfulness have proved terminal,” the late Brennan Manning once wrote. “Again and again radical grace has gripped me in the depths of my being, [and has] brought me back to accept the ownership of my infidelities.”


When we’ve gone rogue, the Light uncovers us in our darkness. Grace has a way of bringing us back to Him when we are at our end. Grace is a magnet; it draws to itself the one it seeks—the prisoner. Grace does what all my works can’t: it releases straightjacketed prisoners.


Grace Forgives


“The forgiveness of God is gratuitous liberation from guilt” (Brennan Manning).


Only in the gospel of grace – and nowhere else in this world – does forgiveness precede repentance.


You mean, me, the train wreck rebel, doesn’t have to clean up the debris and wreckage I’ve done?


Nope. You need not clean up one piece.


Rogues Come Home With A Limp


The self-absorbed, reckless, needy, promiscuous, younger brother eventually came to the end of himself in Luke 15 and walked sheepishly home only to be seen from far off and embraced by his father.


In his chapter “The Victorious Limp” from The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning describes this prodigal son:


“When the prodigal son limped home from his lengthy binge of waste and wandering, boozing and womanizing, his motives were mixed … He stumbled home simply to survive. His sojourn in a far country left him bankrupt. The days of wine and roses had left him dazed and disillusioned … Disenchanted with life, the wastrel weaved his way home, not from a burning desire to see his father, but just to stay alive” (182).


When we’re lost, when we’re not on the path, when we’ve gone rogue, we don’t have to do anything to come home; we’re just done with ourselves, with our own weak solutions and fixes. There doesn’t have to be a good motive for coming home.


And the first step is already taken by a loving Father who eagerly scanning the horizon searching for your face.


“Even if we come back because we couldn’t make it on our own, God will welcome us. He will seek no explanations about our sudden appearance. He is glad we are there” (183).


The father in Luke 15 doesn’t cross-examine his wayward son, doesn’t pester him with questions, or lecture him with “I told you so.” Instead he’s overjoyed. He took him back just as he was.


Our Heavenly Father does the same for us.


God Just Shows Up


It is becoming clearer to me each and every day that Jesus is relentless in pursuing those who have lost their path. Those who have looked up and asked, “What the heck, God?!” are the ones who are granted a pillow to lay their fears, frustrations, anxieties on.


In His merciful love, God just shows up. “We don’t have to tarry at the tavern until purity of heart arrives. We don’t have to be shredded with sorrow or crushed with contrition. We don’t have to be perfect or even very good before God will accept us. We don’t have to wallow in guilt, shame, remorse, and self-condemnation” (183).


We’re kissed,


held,


clothed,


celebrated.



This post was written by Jeffery A. Block

Grief Changed My Prayer Life

Posted on September 22, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

2009 was the year grief began to hit our family. That is the year the miscarriages began (back to back to back) that brought everything I thought I knew crashing down. Before 2009, I had answers for everything. I had eloquent prayers for every situation anyone could ever face. In fact, I often received praise for my ability to pray so eloquently. I was eager to offer counsel and prayers for others in their grief. Mostly because of compassion....but also because I thought I knew.


Grief is an efficient way to learn that you really don't know jack. Because of grief, my prayer life dramatically changed. I stopped offering eloquent prayers that I thought God wanted (needed?) to hear. I started offering raw prayers. Raw became all I knew. It was all I had. The truth just came pouring out of me. I didn't understand why I had to go through this pain over and over again. The "God" I believed in used trials like a car wash. "She's not clean yet...send her through again!" Was I not content enough with my life? Was I not faithful enough to the church? Whatever “it” was, was God going to "beat it out of me"? With that "God" in view, these were the only conclusions left to draw. So, I just started boldly asking Him those questions.


By God's sweet grace and perfect timing, I had studied the book of John right before the trials began...and I saw Jesus altogether different than I ever had before. He wasn't angry with sinners. In fact, he was compassionate and gentle. (Especially with women who were grieving!!!) More importantly, Jesus repeatedly stated that he was a reflection of his heavenly Father, which could only mean one thing: the way the son interacted with people around him is the way the Father interacts with us. That truth alone began to reshape my prayers in the midst of my grief: God the Father wasn't angry with me.


Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. John 5:19


“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” John 14:7


“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. John 14:10


I decided to get out of my house daily for a while to help battle the depression that was always looming. Somehow a change of scenery was always helpful. One day in particular, I took my daughter to a "splash pad." I found a shady tree and sat under it. I had been reading "Hinds Feet on High Places" but I was so numb that I might as well have been reading an auto parts catalog. Nothing was getting through. As I sat there that particular day, these words hit me like a tidal wave:


"Fear not, Much Afraid, only believe. I promise that you shall not be put to shame. Go with Sorrow and Suffering, and if you cannot welcome them now, when you come to the difficult places where you cannot manage alone, put your hands in theirs confidently and they will take you exactly where I want you to go. Much afraid stood quite still, looking up into His face, which now had such a happy, exultant look, the look of one who above all things else delights in saving and delivering."


I sat there, under that tree, in the middle of a park and "ugly cried" my eyes out. I finally understood that he wasn't driving me repeatedly through a car wash until I was clean. He was gently leading me through the difficult places. It was okay that this was hard. It was okay that I was afraid of the unknown. His purpose for all of my pain wasn't punitive at all, he was delivering me. From what, I had no idea at the time but at least I understood that he looked upon me with delight as a loving Father. His love for me gave me the freedom to believe. Terrified still, my prayers started sounding more like, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!!" Five years later I see what the Lord was doing. He was on a rescue mission. I was drowning in self-assurance and self-righteousness. He lovingly rescued me from it and laid me on the beautiful shores of his grace. He began teaching me about the gospel, to stop relying on what I'm doing and all of my "safety hedges" and to rely on what he has done for me. My prayers are still not eloquent in a worldly sense. I am pretty sure that when I pray I resemble closely a baby giraffe that's just been born as I stumble through requests and praises, tripping over the right word. The truth is: I am like a baby giraffe when it comes to the gospel. I'm re-learning how to "walk." Every bible passage that I read jumps out at me, and I realize I've heard it wrong or I've read it wrong for the past 15 years. I can no longer offer "brilliant, pretty words of wisdom" to others; the only thing I have to offer is: rest in what Jesus has done, pray honestly, and lean on Him.


This post was written by Sarah Taras.

What Makes You Feel "Godly"?

Posted on August 25, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’?” Galatians 3:3-6


Paul was so protective of the gospel, and the young believers in his care, that he penned the explosive letter to the Galatians. Why was he so upset? It’s actually quite simple. False teachers had visited Galatia and began teaching the believers there that in order to be more pleasing to God, they had to do a few things—things God did not require. We learn in Acts 15:5 that this form of false teaching originated even among early church believers. They were so convincing that even the apostle Peter fell prey to their peer pressure (Gal 2:11-16). When you add requirements to the gospel (i.e. “you have to do x to be saved…”) the gospel of grace is killed. People are placed back in bondage to their own efforts, to other people, to the law. Eventually, what is required to save becomes blurred: are we saved by God’s righteousness and His activity toward us or our own righteousness and “doing.”


One evening after Bible study a woman pulled me aside to discuss some things she was confused about regarding my teaching that night on Galatians. She said: “I just feel more godly when I wear a dress to church. Are you saying it is wrong for me to wear dresses to church?” After listening to her, I asked: “Does it actually make you godlier to wear a dress to church? Does Scripture teach that? And who does it make you godlier than?” Her answers were clear: no; no; and, nobody.


I have had this exact conversation many times with many different women, discussing the various things women do to compete for the title of “godly.” Is it godly to wear dresses? Clean our house spotless? Have various industrious hobbies? No. We have got to stop calling certain things “godly.” It is never what we do that makes us godly but only the declaration of “Justified, Sinner” by God to us received by faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we are free to wear dresses to church, free to clean our house, free to knit and crochet miles of scarves and blankets, but they are, at the end of the day, just works; I am as justified and righteous at the end of the day packed full of good works as I was at the beginning of the day, the moment before my feet hit the floor.


Here is an excerpt from my book, Grace is Free, on this subject:


The lie that etiquette and self-discipline equal godliness has crept into many churches that are otherwise biblically solid. When I teach this concept to groups of women, I get the same objection all the time: “But Marci, we have to obey!” They think I am teaching that we don’t have to obey God, that we should just feel love for Jesus and do whatever we want.


Obedience is not the debate—we all agree that we must obey the Lord. But what exactly should we obey? This has become confusing because people have added their own rules—things God does not require—to the gospel.


At the heart of the gospel is a recognition of weakness. The Lord saves both the disciplined and the undisciplined alike—the disciplined from trusting in their capabilities and the undisciplined from their sloth. Older Christians somehow forget their own sinfulness. Younger Christians feel like they will never attain the level of spirituality they see in others. Everyone wants a formula for godly living, but a formula too easily becomes calcified into something that looks like law. To both the disciplined and the undisciplined the Lord says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . .For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28, 30)


This simple gospel is a gift given to those who believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection—not our own righteousness. Abiding in Christ is not only the secret to being used by God it is knowing his joy more fully. It sets us free to focus on one purifying ambition rather than on a list of rules. That one purifying ambition is to draw near to the Savior. It is basking in the freedom of what he has already accomplished for us. Abiding in Christ is the key to our purpose in life, to lasting joy and godly relationships. It’s the good news for believers.


My desire is to show Christian women (one at a time if I have to) that we have done the same thing as those false teachers in Galatia. We have added countless rules to the gospel that our God does not require. Many of these things are universally accepted as “godly.” Some are insinuated and communicated through guilt and pressure. All of them have blurred our vision for what a godly woman really is—someone whose “righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22).



This post was written by Marci Preheim.

God's Grace for a Strip Club Manager

Posted on July 28, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

One of the fun things about being a cop’s wife is that you know when your husband comes home from work, there will be plenty of interesting things to talk about. Especially when they work in a big city like my husband does. It’s interesting though, as fun as the stories are about his actual arrests, high speed chases, and drug bust, the majority of the truly fascinating stories that he shares are his everyday conversations with people on the streets. Recently, He was telling me about a relationship he formed with a strip club manager whom he sees each day on his way to the bus stop.


On one particular day, the man asked my husband about his weekend. My husband replied, “It was great! I spent Saturday at home with the family. And Sunday we had a church picnic.” Just that simple answer prompted the man to ask my husband about church, which gave way to an interesting discussion on religion.


The man shared that when he was in the Air Force, he used to hang out in the chapel as a place of reprieve from the drill sergeants. He said that while he was there, he would think about God. So he started investigating the different world religions. He said he eventually came to the conclusion that they were basically all saying the same thing. My husband replied kindly to him,


“Well, actually, they’re not.”


My husband went on to explain to him that the difference between Christianity and all of the other religions in the world is that every other religion is a “do” religion. You must DO something to be made right with God. Christianity is a “done” religion. Christianity says: you haven’t done enough. But it doesn’t stop there. Christianity goes further, explaining that there’s nothing you can do that will be good enough to make you right with God, which is why Jesus had to come. He explained to the strip-club manager that Jesus lived the perfect life for us, and bore our sin on the cross, taking the punishment we deserved for our rebellion against God. And right before Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished.” It was a victorious statement! Telling us he did it all for us. It’s “done.” We are now free to love and enjoy him forever.


The only thing required of us is that we see our need for him.


As the conversation ended the man said to my husband very thoughtfully, “Hmmm… ‘do’ religions….verses a ‘done’ religion….that is really interesting. I think I am leaning towards ‘done.’”


My husband then said to him, “I tell you what, let me take you out for lunch. We can talk more about it then.” And the man smiled and said, “I think this could be the start of something great.”


When my husband shared this story with me, I was reminded how dangerous grace is. It lives on the edge. It’s not comfortable for some people. It can make some of us squirm. How do I know? Well, I started thinking…am I really okay with my husband taking this strip club manager out to lunch? What could possibly come from this? Will I have to start inviting strippers over to my house for dinner soon? And I must admit…a part of me squirmed a little at the thought of those things happening. But then, a part of me got really excited, too.


Because this is Jesus’ territory. These are HIS people. These are the people he came for. He came for those who need to be rescued.


Just like me.


And there’s something very exciting, yet sobering…about knowing you are entering into God’s realm. It’s holy. It’s a battle ground. There’s spiritual warfare going on where God is at work. And you get to be a part of it, getting to see people as Jesus sees them despite their works, their professions.


It’s so easy to get all ‘churchy’ after we become Christians. We avoid associating with certain types of people…not realizing we are those kinds of people. We spend our energy and time keeping ourselves and our kids away from things, places, and people that what we look upon as ”bad,” forgetting that the people and places we are hiding from, are the very places Jesus would go.


I want to be so caught up in my heavenly Father’s love for me, that his people, become my people. That the people I am the most attracted to are the ones the world looks right past; the ones whom the world looks upon as too far gone.


Lord, get my eyes off of me. Let grace so saturate my being, that I become a magnet for the messiest kinds of sinners.



This post was written by Kimberley Suchta.

The Gift of Repentance

Posted on July 21, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

One of my favorite verses in the bible is Isaiah 30:15 because it tells me the truth about myself.


“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”


It’s those last seven words that describe me to a tee. I like the idea of repentance. I just don’t like doing it.


The word repentance literally means “to turn around.” In his book, The Wounded Heart, Dan Allender describes repentance as a “profound internal shift in the perceived source of life.” To repent means I lean into grace while turning away from the things that have distracted my heart from the source of grace: Jesus Christ. It means truly resting in His finished work on the cross.


Easier said than done.


As I write this I am really struggling.


How can I write about something I am not any good at? How can I describe something I am not really familiar with? How can I explain something I am just beginning to understand? My day to day life exposes that I don’t know much about repentance.


But I do know that repentance looks different from what we think it looks like. Sometimes repentance is loud and messy, and sometimes it is just a quiet letting go. I remember one night in particular when God got my attention. David (my husband) was out of town, and I was at the end of a long week of caring for our three kids by myself. We were muddling through the bedtime routine. At the time our youngest son, Kyle, who was three years old, asked for a cup of water; when I brought it to him he complained that the cup was the wrong color…


Let the games begin!


Too weary to fight, I dumped the water into a different cup and returned to his room. He took one look in the cup and asked for more ice. I begrudgingly left and returned with more ice. He then--sweetly--informed me that there was too much ice and now the drink was too cold. Time to start over. This interaction continued for quite awhile. When he was finally satisfied and he was tucked into bed, I collapsed on my bed, exhausted, and murmured, “I quit.”


Immediately in my heart I heard a response: “You quit too late.” At that moment I knew God was talking about more than that bedtime fiasco. He was showing me how independent and stubborn I am. How I cling to my plan until it absolutely doesn’t work and then I cry out to Him. It was clear. My problem is that I quit too late. Always.


After that I felt like God nudging me to begin each day with a new phrase running through my head. “I quit, Lord; I can’t do this without you.” This was a huge turning point and a baby step in the direction of learning to live a life of dependence on Him.


That was years ago. That three year old is now about to graduate from high school. Time flies, but the issues in my heart are still the same. For me, my “perceived source of life” will always be that which puts me in control and keeps me from leaning on God. I cling to control and, consequently, my repentance is typically going to involve letting go and leaning on Him.


When all is said and done, repentance is a work of the Spirit. It’s a gift He gives to us to restore our relationship with Him and bring healing. It’s not something we produce as a way to manage our sin or a tool we wield to fix ourselves. It’s a radical internal shift, caused by the Holy Spirit, which sets us on a different path.


Repentance is impossible without surrender, without the “I quit.” Getting to that place of complete dependence and need will make you feel like you are dying. It will smell like death. Because it is. Repentance is a dying to self. The uncurling of your fingers from trying to squeeze one more drop out of what you thought would bring you life will feel like it will undo you.


But it won’t.


Repentance reminds me who God is and how much He loves me. It takes me to the Cross, straight into the arms of Jesus, and that is where the party begins; this is what the prodigal son experienced when he returned home, and it’s the same thing He invites us to experience daily. I am forgiven, restored, and loved! His kindness leads us to repentance and it is a sweet gift indeed!



Taken from Ruth’s book: Craving Grace-Experience the Richness of the Gospel and the website is: http://www.cravinggrace.org/

Engraved on His Hands

Posted on July 7, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so. I can sing it, I can say it. But, if I am honest, I would have to say that I don’t really believe it. Oh, I would eagerly tell you that I believe that He loves me, but how I live my life might reveal otherwise.


In order to help me wrap my heart and mind around how my unbelief shows up in my life, a few years ago I began making a list entitled: You know you don’t believe God loves you when…


It looks something like this:


• You assume others think the worst about you.

• You beat yourself up over your sin.

• You hesitate to come to Him with your problems or pain.

• You are afraid of Him.

• The thought of Him rejoicing over you makes you laugh or scream or cry.

• You feel like you have to get your act together before you are useful to Him.

• Everybody in your life has to be ‘perfect’ in order for you to love them.

• You feel like your good works make Him love you more.

• You feel like your failures make Him love you less.

• You assume that tragedy and suffering are punishment and rejection.

• You have to say “Yes” to every request – “they need you.”

• You assume He really doesn’t want what is best for you.

• You feel like He tolerates you.

• You constantly compare yourself to others.

• You make great demands on family and friends to meet your emotional needs.

• Your insecurities paralyze you from taking risks.

• The last thought before you go to bed is, “I’m a failure. I didn’t ______.”

• The thought of letting Him love you makes you squirm.

• You’re jealous when God blesses others with something you long for.

• You’re anxious about the way your kids make you look.

• You’re embarrassed by their failures and take credit for their successes.


I don’t know how this list hits you, but it is a lethal blow to my heart. It reveals so much about what I really believe about God. And most of the time, my interpretation leads me to conclude that He doesn’t love me. It’s hard for me to believe God loves me.


It’s hard for me to trust Him to be good and loving toward me. It’s hard for me to believe that He loves me unconditionally and that I don’t have to earn it. It’s hard for me to let Him love me.


Most days I relate to God like a middle school girl with her first crush, pulling petals off of a daisy: He loves me, He loves me not. My perception of God’s ability to love me is directly tied to my performance, or, worse, some sort of luck of the draw. I know this thought is crazy; there is so much proof of His unconditional love: the thorns on His head, the gaping holes in His hands and feet; His pierced side, His blood.


God’s ability to love me does not rest on whether or not I love Him well or at all. God’s loving me rests solely on the fact that Jesus died and rose again and endured the death and punishment I deserved.


After the resurrection Jesus paid an unlikely visit to the disciples, who were in hiding. Thomas is there; I think we would’ve been friends. Thomas wants proof that this man really is his resurrected Lord. Jesus is okay with that. He tenderly invites Thomas to touch, to see, to feel.


And Jesus knows I need to do the same. The proof of His love is in His hands, where I can trace the letters of my name. I just need to be reminded.


Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.


I believe Lord, help me in my unbelief.


Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;

your walls are continually before me. (Isaiah 49:16)



This post was written by Ruth Delk. You can follow her on Twitter: @ruthiedelk.

Grace and the Candy Cabinet

Posted on June 16, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (2)

“Finally, it’s getting a little lighter,” I think as I take the first sip from my beloved coffee and stare out the kitchen window that faces today’s pink-hued glowing mountains. I love daylight savings time – and the hope that the longer days bring – but the darker mornings make time management a challenge when I only have a few hours to run before the kids wake up and our busy day begins. On the fridge next to my marathon training program – the one that’s almost entirely highlighted pink now as I start on my 15th week of an 18 week program – is a circa-1977 picture of my Nana and Grampy. Although I glance at this picture dozens of times every day, this morning the picture somehow looks different.


As I step out the front door, the sky is about a dozen hues of pink as the sun yawns awake and shoos the clouds away. It’s only 28 degrees, but there is no wind and I am grateful that I can finally take a run outside where I can take part in the day’s glorious new beginning. My mind returns to the picture of my Nana on the fridge when it occurs to me that for some reason I am seeing her in a new light – through different lenses. Everyone that knows me knows that my grandmother was the most influential and unconditionally loving person in my life. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her, or recount some wonderful memory of her to my children, or share something of her spirit with my friends.


It was almost impossible to pinpoint what made her so special – from the time I could actually remember her as a very young child to the time she passed away when I was only 22. But, as I try not to trip over myself as I’m being hypnotized by the transformation of the sky into the dawning day, it’s all becoming very clear. In the words of Tullian Tchividjian via Twitter, she was the “human embodiment of the way God loves.” She was grace. Her love was one-way love – unconditional, always abundant, and incredibly pure. She shared a kind of love that made you always want to love her back. Hers was a love that never pressured me to be better, or do more, or to hide my failures, or to try to be perfect.


As I’m heading up my first hill on the long and narrow Titan Road, I think about why I run. I used to tell my friends that running gives me the ability to think and compartmentalize my life and start each day with a clear head and a lighter heart. But, it was on my Thanksgiving run less than five months ago that I learned the most profound thing about myself. On that run, as the sun was shyly waking up in the east and the moon was bidding adieu in the west, I was embraced by God’s presence. The scene was surreal, but my mind was completely clear. How was it that I never realized that on every run, I pray? But, how could it be? Who was I praying to? I had never really had a relationship with God. What I knew of God was only what I learned from my Nana and a distant understanding of Him in Catholic High School where the ritual and the works clouded and confused my understanding of His amazing grace and unconditional love.


I may have never known who I was talking to on these runs, but God did. He never let me out of his sight – and every run was our time. I sigh as I notice the busyness of the day starting as cars rush past me on the way to school and work, and my mind returns to Nana and the story I recently shared with a friend about the Candy Cabinet. From the time I can remember, my Nana had a beautiful, antique buffet as part of her dining room set. In the right side of the cabinet, she kept two kinds of candies – York Peppermint Paddies and Hershey’s Miniature Chocolate bars. In my parents’ home, a cabinet like that would have been off limits – the law would ring in our heads that we could never take from the Candy Cabinet without asking. And we knew, honestly, that asking would reap no reward anyway. But at Nana’s, this Candy Cabinet was always open. We were free to take from the Candy Cabinet at any time. No reason. No questions.


Having free access to the Candy Cabinet, however, produced some very interesting behavior. Because “the law” was not in play with Nana, I was never even tempted to steal from the Candy Cabinet, nor did I ever take more than I really needed or wanted. I knew she was not obligated to give me any candy and I never felt like I had to do anything to earn the candy. The Candy Cabinet represented my Nana’s love and how she manifested the grace of God. Hers, like His, was one-way love – the unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver. And that was the kind of love I had longed to receive ever since her passing over 23 years ago.


I’m almost back home when I glance at my watch. This run took me a little farther than I actually had time for, which means I will probably be late for work today. I look up, smile slyly, and think, “I got this.” With the understanding of grace, I am now free to continue being the person I am with the comfort that it’s only human to be imperfect and I will be loved no matter what. When I fall, I will have a safe place to land. I now run, not to set myself free, but rather because I’ve been set free—set free by a God who loves us in our weaknesses and failures, who doesn’t require strength or success prior to loving us. A God who loves me like my Nana did: a love with no strings attached.


I open my front door and hear the kids chattering, but before I do anything else, I walk straight into my dining room and open the right hand cabinet of my Nana’s buffet. I inhale deeply – something I’ve done hundreds of times since I inherited this beautiful piece that no one else wanted. It may be just a vivid memory or my imagination or hope, but I’m certain I can still smell peppermint and chocolate and my Nana. Kneeling down with my head in the Candy Cabinet, I feel the grace of the most loving woman ever to put her hands on my face, kiss the tip of my nose and tell me that she loves me just because I’m hers – something I now hear on every run, with every prayer, watching every sunrise.



This post was written by Callie Skokos.