A Grace That Overwhelms Me

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”

― Brennan Manning

Perhaps there are a few things we need to more fully grasp. There is a real and definite, ‘life of grace.’ And it’s a whole lot more than a polished niceness or an agreeable congeniality.  It is Grace, and when you do connect with it, it’s like touching a bare wire. The first time— don’t be surprised if it throws across the room– figuratively speaking.

There is a special perception of grace.  We must locate it and then live off its fatness. One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott wrote,

“I do not understand the mystery of grace –” only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

After just several sentences of writing this post, I simply come to this same place.  I know precisely what grace is (but I can’t tell you.) I would like to, very very much. It simply is beyond a definition, and yet, I can tell you it is real. When you reach out and grab it, you suddenly realize that you have been ‘taken apart,’ and then reassembled in a changed way.

Manning talks about “acknowledging my whole life story.” There are very dark times, times when we promoted and revelled in our personal evil. I can tell you of many things in my own behavior that would curl your hair, or demand justice be done.

But the ‘light-part’ needs to be recognized.  It does exist. But unquestionably I have done much more evil than good. On my knees recently, I’ve realized I have committed more sin as a believer— than I ever did in my darkness, before Christ. I was completely overwhelmed.

As I get familiar with my evil, it really schools me. It drops me into God’s classroom of grace. He tutors me, over and over. I learn of mercy, and grace, love and kindness. All which can only be decrypted by one simple word, “undeserved.” If you know that single word, heaven itself will open up like a golden sardine can.

But all of it pivots on grace.  Grace was the total reason it all happened like it did.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV

“You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.”  The Message

One more thing: Sometimes we need a dramatic change in our perception of the truth. What I mean is this. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we’re often drawn to more systematic and theological specifics. We want to read all about—

  • End Times,
  • the Trinity,
  • the doctrine of healing/tongues,
  • the proper formula to speak at baptism,
  • women in ministry, and the like.

This is all well and good. We need to understand the fundamentals. Doctrine is important.

But just maybe what we really should do is think about—

  • forgiveness,
  • kindness,
  • servanthood,
  • faithfulness,
  • evangelism,
  • prayer

We often make small things big, and big things small.  We really should understand the ‘density’ of things spiritual. Let’s put our discipleship into perspective. To study something out isn’t the same as seeking God’s face, and grace.

Grace is one of those things for us; it is quite “amazing.” In it is such beauty and perfection— men could never, ever dream it up. It’s like an ocean where a child can splash, and yet it’s depths are still unfathomed and unexplored. God’s grace, in its truest sense, is eternally profound.

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Dangerous Thinking

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Anne Lamott is a writer and a person who understands mental illness and ‘recovery’ issues.

She is also a ‘brokenbeliever’. I have read several of her books; she writes elegantly on faith and discipleship. She is a rare jewel. She writes carefully and creatively.

Coming across this quote was fortuitous for me, to say the least. This quotation effectively captures a somewhat dangerous mind that prevails among mentally ill people. We should come to the realization that our thinking needs to be ‘supervised.’ I must concur.

I can be patently ‘unsafe’. My thinking will often get distorted. I can get pretty strange at times. The ‘nice people’ who know me first-hand call me ‘eccentric.’ The ‘mean people’ outright ostracize me. Delusions blow through me periodically, with the occasional flare up episode of paranoia. The doctors call this Bipolar disorder.

Like Anne Lamott, I am a Christian believer. But my mind twists things up so much, I must regard it as an enemy. It can be capable of good; but dark things grow there as well. I have given up hope of ever navigating it alone safely. I simply cannot trust it. Mine can be capricious, untrustworthy, and unreliable. I know what it is like to be afraid of your own mind.

“Who is this coming up from the wilderness
    leaning on her beloved?”

Song of Solomon 8:5, NIV

However, if I venture into this steaming fetid jungle, with the Holy Spirit firmly in charge, we can navigate through safely. (But I dare not venture in alone, as things can get ‘scary.’) The Spirit is completely trustworthy and He is always faithful. No matter what I discover, I really try to let Him tell me if the ‘coast is clear.’ Together, we have seen some crazy crap, but He never ever ‘freaks out’ and leaves me alone.

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”

John 16:13

Dear afflicted one, don’t venture in alone. Look only to Him. He is ready (up on tip-toes!) to be your guide. You don’t have to muscle through the ‘jungle’ all by yourself. Remember that there are others who can help: a spouse, a pastor, or anyone who understands what you’re up against. Only you can know what your mind is doing, but others can help you.

When you find yourself lost in your wilderness, “lean on your beloved.”

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P.S. Anne Lamott has some very readable books out there. Check her out.

 

Animated Dust

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18 “I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

Luke 15:18-19, NLT

“In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’”

Luke 17:10

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I admit it. I am flawed. I am a contradiction inside of an enigma– at times more a devil than an angel. And today I fancy no pretenses to righteousness. But I can tell you all about sin, I’m thinking that maybe I’ll sell tickets. I’m the spiritual version of “the elephant man.” But yet, I still know that I’m completely loved and secure through faith.

I’m convinced that God’s ability to hold me outweighs all of my sin. His mercy is continually refreshed and continues to exceed my iniquity by a massive margin. I can try to blame my erratic behavior on my mental illness, as I’m reasonably certain that it has something to do with things.

“At best we are but clay, animated dust; but viewed as sinners, we are monsters indeed. Let it be published in heaven as a miracle that the Lord Jesus should set His heart’s love upon people like us.”

Alistair Begg

I will never have it together. At best I can only keep coming back to this Grace that has decided “to never let me go.” I only stand, only because He makes it so.  I’ve given up trying to be worthy enough. I seem to chase a ‘laser pointer’ like a over-caffeinated cat, and it is starting to get a little old. (But maybe this time I’ll finally catch it.) Writer Anne Lamott wryly explained her own issues:

“I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.” 

Anne Lamott

The Holy Scriptures never put human beings on a pedestal. We are never seen as noble or excellent specimens of righteousness. We sin in deed and in thought continually. The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector tells us that a consciousness of sin and a holy God is the only way to be declared just. Both men were rascals, but only one admitted it.

We sin sins of commission and also of omission daily. In fact, I have determined that I have sinned more as a believer than I ever did as a non-believer. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is. I’ve been pretty busy the last 32 years. I have been ‘ungodly,’ on more than one occasion.

I want to encourage you today in Him. Life can be such a grind, and your hope anemic. But consider Him who has come for you. Let Jesus take your heaviness, ask Him for His peace. A fair exchange, don”t you think?

Pastor Bryan Lowe
Pastor Bryan Lowe

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