Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year’s Adventure

Well, friends, I hope you all are as excited as I am about the new year ahead of us!! 2016 was a year fraught with change in my personal life, and I’ve seen extensive changes in my friends’ lives and in our country as a whole, as well. From where I stand, it appears that 2017 is bound to continue that trend.

Like many people, I’ve considered starting the New Year with a resolution to achieve one or more of my personal goals. Read more, eat healthier, exercise…the list of possible resolutions is endless. But the funny thing I’ve discovered – and I know that many of you have, as well – is that resolutions don’t tend to work very well. We set these lofty goals at the beginning of the year, get all excited about how great we’re going to look or feel once we achieve those goals - and then promptly burn out. Within a few days or weeks, those resolutions are tossed into an ever-growing heap of failed attempts to secure contentment in our lives.

Looking back on all the changes in my life in the last year, I realized that none of those changes came about as the result of some grand feat of willpower conquering a resolution. They just…happened. Not accidentally, but naturally as the result of exploring, trying different things, and taking steps outside of my comfort zone.

You see, a strange thing happens when I try to achieve things in life based on sheer willpower. I wind up losing interest and motivation, bombing out, and then feeling disappointment and guilt over yet another failure. But there’s a different force inside that naturally drives me – curiosity. When engaged, it’s a powerfully addictive force that can draw me to things that are either good for me or bad for me, and can inspire either positive or negative behaviors. But at its core, curiosity is simply something that drives me to explore, taste, touch, attempt, and discover. It calls me to live freely in the moment, enjoying the present and experiencing life to the fullest now rather than spending my time looking ahead to the ever-elusive day when I will look better, feel better, do better and be better.

So this year, instead of attempting yet another New Year’s Resolution, I am embarking on a New Year’s Adventure. I still have a list, but instead of listing black-and-white goals to achieve, I have written down things that I would like to try in 2017. There’s no guilt for not completing the list. There’s no sense of failure if I try something and discover that I don’t like it or have no aptitude for it. And there’s no shame from yet another disappointing attempt at self-improvement. It’s simply an experience, a ride, an adventure.

Stay tuned to hear about my adventures! And while you’re at it – go make some of your own. ;)

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Random Conversation

This afternoon I had a conversation with a man who, after a great deal of life experience, has come to the intellectual conclusion that people are fundamentally savage. While some individuals can rise above their base instincts through creative thought, society itself will always be fundamentally flawed - filled with wars, aggression, and evil. It is simply the nature of man, and cannot be changed.

My immediate response was to state my belief that we can change. Almost as soon as the words left my mouth, however, I realized that he was absolutely right – we can’t change. Selfish, fear-driven, self-preserving and aggressive instincts are indeed hardwired into each and every person. It isn’t something that can be bred out of us, like an unwanted genetic trait. It’s just human nature. Our sinful human nature.

My conversation with this gentleman ended before I had a chance to fully collect my thoughts together. However, as I reflected upon this exchange, a new wave of appreciation swept over me for the amazing gift that Jesus died to give us – a new nature. A nature based in love, generosity, and self-sacrifice. A nature that abhors violence and evil, and works to bring peace.

But along with this freshly kindled gratitude came a prick in my conscience. Every day, people question how there can be a loving God if there is so much evil and violence in the world. Why would He allow wars, kidnappings, murders, rapes, and a host of other horrors to occur? For those who follow Christ, we have an answer – He doesn’t. Jesus paid the ultimate price to free us from bondage to our sinful nature and give us the choice to embrace His nature instead (Eph. 4:24, Col. 3:10, Gal. 5:22-23). But that’s just it. It’s a choice. One that many people have rejected and others are unaware that they have at all.

What am I, as a follower of Christ, doing to advertise this hope that I have? This hope of a better world, filled with people who have chosen to surrender their lives to Christ and embrace His nature? (Some might call this better world Heaven). Am I living intentionally as a lighthouse, displaying the love of Christ through my every word and action? How much of this new nature am I displaying in my daily life, around my family, friends, coworkers, and random strangers that I converse with?

Today, I find myself challenged afresh to not simply dream of a world without evil, violence, and suffering, but to create it. As an ambassador of Christ, I have the privilege, the authority, and indeed the duty to work for the advancement of the Kingdom and to pray for God’s will to be accomplished “on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, NLT). To spread the good news that we no longer have to live as slaves to an evil nature and the death it brings. I have been set free, and it is my privilege to declare freedom to those who still walk in chains.

Friend, I hope that today you feel a stirring in your heart, as I have, to walk more intentionally than ever as an ambassador of Christ in this world. If you have been set free, I hope that you find renewed desire to see others step into freedom. It is a task that carries a great deal of responsibility, but it also comes with high honor and incredible joy. I choose today to embrace this calling, and my prayer today is that your heart would stir with desire to embrace it as well.

Until next time,

From Gray to Grace

Sunday, October 30, 2016

His Delight

Dear Friend,

You may have noticed that I've been silent for a little while. I've been working through a lot of major changes in my life lately - new job, getting ready to move, etc. So I certainly have had good excuse for playing hooky for the last few weeks. Truth be told, though, that isn't the reason I haven't been writing.

For the last few weeks, I've been struggling a lot in my relationship with God. The usual guilt. But boredom has been setting in strongly, too. I have little interest in prayer or reading my Bible at the moment, and it's really difficult to write about a spiritual journey when you're not feeling very spiritual.

As I've been processing these swirling thoughts and emotions, I've been feeling a need to approach my relationship with God differently. Most of my life, I've looked at Him primarily as a rather harsh, distant Father. One who is constantly disappointed in me because I'm not perfect. As I've been walking this journey of grace, I've begun to see Him instead as someone who sees my sin, but overlooks it in His mercy and gives me freedom to fail.

What I've been feeling lately, however, is a need to move past focusing on God's mercy. His mercy is amazing, but keeping that as my primary focus causes me to still be very conscious of my sin. And to see that as God's focus too. However, that is not what the Bible teaches. Scripture teaches that God's primary concern is relationship with us - not our sin. He hates sin simply because it involves things that hinder healthy relationship. You can easily see this aspect of Father God's heart illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. In this story, the father did not even acknowledge his wayward son's apology when he returned home. Instead, he immediately embraced his child and threw a party to celebrate his return (Lk. 15:11-32). He didn't care how far his son had strayed or what he had done; all that mattered was that he was home.

So now, as I move forward in my walk with God, my challenge is to shift my gaze from God's goodness in overlooking my sin, and to focus on His delight in seeing me walk into His presence. God loves me. He's happy to see me. And He can't wait to embrace me even when I mess up. Because that's the kind of Father that I have.

Yours truly,

From Gray to Grace

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Secret Place

"He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" (Ps. 91:1, NKJV).

"But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matt. 6:6, ESV).

Prayer should be one of the most natural activities for believers, right? It's a time of communicating with the one who has redeemed us and cleansed us of every sin. Praising God, petitioning on behalf of ourselves and those we love, and meditating on and declaring His promises. What believer wouldn't want to spend every minute of their day on their knees before the Lord?

Well, apparently I wouldn't. For many years, I've struggled with prayer. Found it boring, got distracted easily. Felt guilty for not wanting to pray more. And worst of all, I felt like I was talking to a wall. God felt so far away, no matter how much I tried to pray, ask Him to come and meet with me. Something wasn't working, and I honestly disliked and avoided prayer time.

Recently, I've been challenged to reevaluate my approach to prayer. I've always felt that prayer is something that I "should" do. It's the Christian thing to do. And I really do want a closer relationship with God. But somehow, I still didn't want to pray. I could never obtain the sense that I'd prayed "enough" or that I would ever be sufficiently good enough for God to want to meet with me and talk with me about things I cared about.

But lately, I've been feeling this yearning to get away from everything. To get away somewhere, completely alone, away from other people, to-do lists, and electronic devices. And when I do follow that urge, be it to a scenic park or even my own car, I find something. There in the solitude, the distractions fade away and I find a peaceful quietness that allows me to better focus upon my Creator.

Then, the other day, a friend of mine posed a question to me: what would my ideal time with God be like? Ideal time. Wow. What a beautiful way to look at prayer. Not as something I have to do or should do, but as something I actually can't wait to do. As a person that's prone to fantasy, I've long been someone who would daydream about things like the perfect day, the perfect job, the perfect husband. And the more I would do so, the more I would naturally want that thing I was dreaming about. But it had never occurred to me to take that approach to my relationship with God. To think of spending time with Him in the way that I might dream about what a perfect date would be with my future husband.

That approach has started making a huge difference to the way that I look at prayer time. It's taken the rules off - what I should talk with God about, how much time I should spend in prayer, how many chapters I should read in my Bible, etc. It's made it feel more natural - like talking with a friend. A friend that I need no incentive to hang out with - I just want to.

If you've struggled at all in your prayer life, I would urge you today to take a moment to reevaluate like I've been doing. What I'm talking about isn't a magic pill or an instant fix to your prayer life. I'm still struggling with old patterns of thinking about God that make prayer time difficult. But the more I choose to say no to those old ways of thinking and choose the new patterns, the better my relationship with God is getting. It's so freeing.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Beautiful

Today, I would like to share a secret with you, one that those of you who know me may or may not be aware of: I don't wear makeup. Save for a little eyeshadow or lipstick from time to time for an extra splash of color.

While I realize that I'm not the only woman who doesn't wear makeup regularly, I nonetheless am very much aware that I'm in the minority for young women in America today. It's not only common, but also expected of women to wear makeup when leaving the house - except, perhaps, for a trip to the gym or grocery store.

So why don't I wear makeup? Truthfully, I used to. But one day about 3 or 4 years ago, in an attempt to combat a persistent acne problem, I decided to use only natural products on my face. That meant cutting out cosmetics. While I've now mostly abandoned that approach to skincare, I did learn something from that experiment: makeup wasn't doing anything for me. It didn't make me any prettier. And most importantly, it didn't cause people to like me any more or any less. So, I pretty much quit wearing makeup.

What I've finally begun to grasp since that time is that there is something incredibly shallow about the world's idea of beauty. The world says that beauty is about physical perfection. But for all our striving for flawless skin and smaller waistlines, our idolization of supermodels and our judgment of those who dare to show their flaws, there is something about the world's definition of beauty that will leave its subscribers hollow on the inside.


Most people logically realize, of course, the shallowness of such a mindset. The truth that real beauty is on the inside has become fairly cliché nowadays. But that doesn't stop people from trying to attract others with their looks, trying to make themselves more beautiful. It certainly didn't stop me.

A few months ago, a missionary speaking at my church mentioned that an area the church needs to focus on is spreading beauty in the world, because that will attract them to God. That got me thinking about the value of beauty - something I've always intuitively recognized as good but never really thought about why. And here's what I've learned about beauty since then.

First, a definition. To say that something is beautiful is to say that it is "possessing qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about, etc.; delighting the senses or mind" ("Beautiful," 2016). According to Scripture, God is beautiful (Ps. 27:4), far more than anything we have ever seen with our natural eyes or could imagine. What does that mean to us? It means that He is pleasing to look at. His beauty is what causes us to turn our focus to Him. It is why the grandeur of a mountain or the glow of a sunset often causes us to pause for a moment, marvel, and reflect upon things of an otherworldly nature. As human beings, we are created in God's image (Gen. 1:27). When aligned with our original design, we reflect His nature. To me, then, this means that I am beautiful by design.

If that is true, then, why do I not always appear beautiful? Why do I sometimes seem ugly - physically, emotionally, etc.? It's because I'm not perfectly aligned yet with my identity in Christ. God cleansed my heart and restored my identity as His child through Jesus' death on the cross. But it required action on my part to receive it. And it still requires action on my part to continue to walk in that restored identity, day by day, as I learn how to see myself and act authentically as a child of God.

God created mankind as beautiful creatures, and restored that lost beauty through Christ. So He already sees me as beautiful. He sees the beautiful things in me that other people can't see through all the filth of sin and lies I've believed about myself that have covered me. It's His desire to exchange the ashes I've covered myself in for a radiant crown, to wash off every bit of filth and adorn me with fine clothes and jewels, so that all can see the beauty He placed within me (Is. 61:3, Ez. 16).

So what is this beauty? In short, everything about me that reflects God is beautiful. Our physical bodies visibly showcase His amazing design, of course. But it's the intangible aspects of ourselves that most reflect God's beauty. Our unique personalities. Our deep capacity for love, forgiveness, joy, generosity, sacrifice, selflessness, compassion, integrity - these are the things that display God's character (1 Pet. 3:3-4). When we act authentically, as He wired us to, we reflect God's glory on earth.

So in short, I can dress nice, wear makeup, etc. - there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But I don't have to do so to make myself beautiful. True beauty is beauty of the heart. That is what God looks at (1 Sam. 16:7). And He is the only one who can unveil the beauty within, that His grace restored through the cross.





Reference:

Beautiful. 2016. In Dictionary.com. Retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/beautiful