The Hope of Change
When we add up all our failings; when we see how frequently we fall, it seems we’ll never find the exit to this sad amusement ride. Our angers still routinely flare; our pride leaps higher day by day; our self-absorption is a carousel of serving just ourselves. The happiness we thought we’d find—in being kinder, wiser, gentler, free—feels always, always out of reach. We circle ‘round and ‘round: there is no merry to this ride. We need an end to what we’ve been. With the apostle Paul we cry, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Rom 7:24). To all who hope for better things, the gospel speaks with clarity: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in His grace, freely makes us right in His sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins” (Rom 3:23-24). Our past need not predict our future: grace abounds at every turn. “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Heb 4:15-16) Your life can change. Your hope will grow. So stay in grace.
At the heart of why we struggle to understand the “otherness” of God is our assumption that He must be, in some sense, just a grander and more powerful version of us. If we’re preoccupied with tomorrow, God must think of nothing else, for He controls tomorrow. If we’re sorrowful or angry when people disappoint us, God’s indignation must be multiples of ours. Because we find it hard to forgive, we think that He forgives reluctantly, and only when petitioned. But God loves differently. “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isa 55:8). In the heart of God there’s an unquenchable affection for us, even when we’re anxious, even when we’re angry, even when we stumble at forgiving—or believing we’ve been forgiven. “Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:4-5). We know no one who loves like God—who will not be distracted and cannot be dissuaded from loving us, embracing us. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). We’ll never comprehend such grace. But we can welcome it; rejoice in it; be warmed by it. And stay in it.
Aganst the Tide
My faith is but a sandy castle Trembling on the beach of time. Many of us could write that line, or whisper it at least. We are awash in our mistakes—the hot words said; the things consumed; the foolish deeds that damaged health or wounded those we love. On good days, we remember grace, and for some hours, the tide recedes. But then a wave of surging guilt erases faith’s small towers on our beach. Will nothing change this ebb and flow? So speak aloud the grace you know. Rehearse to someone good things God has done for you—the reconciliations made; the habits changed from bad to better; the kindness that you practiced until caring seemed like second nature. Through grace, your life is different than it was. And every difference that you voice will be a brick against the tide. Faith grows by hearing, even when you listen to yourself. “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart —that is, the word of faith that we are proclaiming” (Rom 10:8). Your faith is built upon a rock, and Jesus never fails. So stay in grace.
Grace and Truth
It’s just a subtle shading of the truth, a slight deflection from the facts, that tempts us to dishonesty, especially with ourselves. “I’m not so bad,” we say with evident relief when we remember tyrants, madmen, and the vicious from our history books. “My sins are nothing in comparison to theirs.” There are no obvious casualties from our mistakes, no line of grieving people who point to us as causing all their woe. And so we wrap our consciences with layers of white gauze, muffling what dissonance the Spirit stirs within us. But God is moving in us for a reason: “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4). Those qualms we feel when we adjust the truth or tell a lie or leave the wrong impression are actually sweet signs of hope. God cares enough about the truth that He will stir us till we let Him realign our reasoning. “You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). In grace, God teaches us to speak the truth—to others, yes, but firstly to ourselves. Discover joy as honesty increases. And stay in grace.
Walking With the Gracious
Some wit has cracked that there are just two kinds of people in the world: those you would go walking with, and those with whom you never would. Simple as it seems, it helps us choose companions for the journey. There are so many angry souls, exuding ego, spitting spite, who make an office hallway walk a journey of deep angst and fear. They have no patience for us fools; they scorn forgiving others’ sins; they call for justice, not for love. And yes, they always walk alone. But there are others, touched by grace, who breathe the cleaner air of peace. With them, we’d walk around the world, or at least five times around the block. They listen better than they speak. They’re quick to heal, slow to challenge, offering the safety broken, wounded people crave. And no, they never walk alone. Grace teaches us with whom to walk, remembering that we were once alone, undone, and far from God. But now “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). We were meant to walk with others. Choose the ones who bring you joy. And stay in grace.
The Day Of The Rabbit: A parable of freedom and bondage by Lynn Buzzard
Gypsy, a furry wheat-colored collie, found herself mistress of several hundred acres of hill and wood full of good things like rabbit trails and streams and intriguing burrows, and she delighted in it all. She was given a comfortable bed and good meals, so much so that perhaps she often took them for granted. Obligations there were few, and they were not heavy. She was, to be sure, supposed to worship her Master and be right joyous to be with him. She also knew that she must not chase the chickens. While she must obey commands – to follow, to come, to lie down – there were no unreasonable demands, and no tricks. After all, to obey and to worship were natural to her dog nature. There came a day when, as Gypsy was prowling on the far hill past the springhouse and pasture, two things simultaneously happened. The Master called her and a rabbit fled across the hill. Gypsy wheeled and raced toward the Master; then she stopped. It entered her mind that she didn’t have to obey. Perhaps the Master didn’t realize about that rabbit. Anyway, these were her acres. The rabbit was hers, really. Very probably, it was all nonsense, that story about everything belonging to the Master. How did she know that the food that appeared in the pan was put there by him, probably there was some natural explanation. She was a free dog and that was the end of it. These thoughts went through her mind swiftly as she stood irresolute. Again came the Master’s command; the rabbit crossed the top of the hill. Gypsy whirled and raced after the rabbit. She had made a choice; there was nothing to stop her. Hours later she came home. She saw the Master waiting quietly for her, but she did not rush gladly, leaping and frisking, to him as she had always done. Something new came in to her demeanor: guilt. She crawled up to him like a snake on her belly. Undoubtedly she was penitent at that moment. But she had a new knowledge – the knowledge of possibility of sin, and it was a thrill in her heart and a salt-taste in her mouth. Nevertheless, she was very obedient the next day and the day after. Eventually though, there was another rabbit – and she didn’t even hesitate. Soon it was the mere possibility of a rabbit. And then she dropped the rabbit thing altogether and went her own way. The Master loved her still, but trusted her no more. In time she lived in a pen, and went for walks with a rope around her neck. All her real freedom was gone. But the Master gave her, from time to time, opportunities to obey again of her own free will. Had she chosen to obey she would once again have had the perfect freedom to wander her hundreds of acres. But she always chose, if she were out of reach, to run away. The Master, knowing hunger would bring her back to her pen, let her run. He could have stopped her; the rifle that would have ended her rebellion with the crack of doom stood in the corner, but while she lived she might choose freedom and obedience. One day during a journey by car Gypsy was taken to the edge of the woods. Always Gypsy had limited her disobedience to the hills she knew. But now, coming back to the car, she suddenly felt the old thrill; she turned and fled. The Master called with a note of sharp urgency. Gypsy, her ears dulled to the meanings of the Master, continued her rush into the dark forest. After hours of searching and calling, the Master called once more, and then sadly abandoned the lost one and drove home. Gypsy, if she still lived, wandered the woods and roads an outcast. She became dirty and matted with burrs. No doubt stones were thrown at her and she was often hungry; she had lost the way home. This was the way she chose on the Day of the Rabbit, and continued to choose until there was no more choosing.