Stockpiled grace to rescue us

Leave a comment

For we walk by faith, not by sight – 2 Cor 5:7

The Martian

Mike and I just finished watching Matt Damon in the movie The Martian.  We both thoroughly enjoyed the humor and the human drama that unified world wide all human beings for a few moments.

One of the God-moments that I spotted in the film involved the Matt Damon character finding a vehicle sent up by NASA years before. I don’t know if the scene was planned to point to God or just that ‘the eyes of my heart’ have been opened to see ALL truth as God’s truth.

The stranded astronaut, unable to contact anyone with equipment at his base station, sets out to explore on foot.  When his space boot scrapes something hard in the sand, he digs like crazy and discovers the Pathfinder, a device sent up by NASA in 1997.  With it, he begins the time-intensive and convoluted process of establishing a way to communicate with those back home.

What struck me immediately was how very God-like this discovery was – a perfect example of what I call, God’s stockpiled grace, planned since before the creation of the universe and pre-positioned for just the right moment in the midst of a TRIAL.

What a blessing that Pathfinder turned out to be!  That fictional provision is akin to the grace we Christians receive from God when we walk by faith.  God commands us to FEAR NOT in tough and desperate situations, but to count on His promised future grace. He has already planned and positioned what we need.  All the resources for life and godliness await us for WHEN we need them.  We usually don’t see them ahead of time, which is WHY God calls us to walk by faith and not by sight.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godly living through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:3

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:19

We ordinary mortals who belong to Jesus are not the only ones who have to trust in God’s promised provision for the future (next minute, next hour or next year).  Jesus Himself exercised this kind of dependence.  I was struck by this fact the other day in Sunday school.  We were reading the Luke passage where Jesus is praying to His Father as He wrestled with the lonely path that lay before Him.

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.               Luke 22:41-44

An angel appeared and strengthened Him!  Isn’t that amazing? God sent just the right help at the right moment WHEN His Son needed it.  Jesus received grace JUST as He entered into anguish.

So here’s some Gospel logic – if the Father provided perfectly for Jesus to accomplish the atoning sacrifice that would later be applied to us, His chosen children, don’t you think we can trust this SAME Father to provide what WE need in the moment of our need?  Just like Jesus didn’t see the angel and feel the empowerment until he showed up, neither will we SEE or FEEL the future provision.

Jesus has demonstrated living by faith in God’s future grace.  That encourages me to trust God to venture out and do the same, through the Holy Spirit’s enabling.


The twin evils of smugness and envy

1 Comment

I was feeling smug. Admiring my ability to juggle this and that. Compared to others.  Evaluating myself next to another sister. He pulled me up short. As realization of sin spread, so did horror.

Juggling life

“I repent, Lord! Forgive me! I see! Truly! I humble myself. You don’t need to do anything else to get my attention. Seriously!”


For what had flashed across my consciousness about God was this:

“You, the all-wise and infinitely good God, have perfectly arranged this fellow Christian’s plate with the appropriate palate of weaknesses, strengths, characteristics, bents, abilities, talents, habits (good and bad), circumstances, and experiences all intended for her to grow in the knowledge and love of your Son. Every piece on that plate of hers is necessary to her sanctification and growth in holiness. You planned each one, the good and the ugly!”

And You have done the same for me. Who am I to boast about this or that as though they were due to my efforts and smarts? All along You are the one who has traced out our paths? And more pointedly, who am I to complain about the potholes in the road if they are according to Your will?

“Father, I see that this constant comparing of me with others produce either envy or pride and both are evil! Deliver me from these sins, please! Pride says: Look at me!  Envy says: You are a bad God not to give me what I want/deserve!

Since that day a week ago, He has continued to show me that He does indeed ordain and govern all circumstances. Because He is in charge of every molecule in the universe I can trust what He commands me to do:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6-8

Not evaluating, not judging the circumstances of others is wise. That’s God’s business. Do you remember Peter’s comment to Jesus as told by John after Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples post resurrection?

“So Peter seeing him (John) said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man? Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’” John 21:21-22

Several times a day as my smug-o-meter rises, (that is – when I awake to this sin), I put myself back in my place. I say to myself:

“Maria, you have died! And the life you now live, you live by faith in Jesus. (Gal 2:20) That is to say – you move and live and have your being attached to Him. If there be any good in your life, it is only good because of Him. So give it up, this thinking that there is something good in or about you alone!”

That truth not only humbles me, but it liberates me. Since all that is good in me through faith is a gift, I don’t have to worry about earning it. And since Jesus has given me the most costly gift, Himself, I can trust Him to give me any and all such that He deems good for me for godliness and life (2 Peter 1:3)

PS:  When I caught myself later on in the week doing my ‘I’m-so-good dance’, I realized that God was showing me a specific way to PRAY for this fellow Christian.  Again, I repented.  We are all different, intentionally.  He has arranged each of us in the Body of Christ as He sees fit.  Therefore, we are to encourage and pray for one another. It’s in our best interests, after all.  Another gentle smack-down!

Tents, grime and life – all are temporary


I think a lot about sin each time I get into the shower.

The original whiteness of the grout between the tiles has turned yellow or gray.

Grimy tiles

Our house is 3 years old and already shows wear.  I take a scrubby sponge and rub hard, leaving the narrow 2 inches of grout a bit brighter.  But it doesn’t last. And that’s only ONE spot.  Other pencil lines mock me.  There’s no way to clean it all up and make it last.

Just like the sin in my life.  There’s more sin than I can possibly eliminate. Not that I was ever sinless.  I know that this parallel, comparing my life to household dirt, breaks down in the very fact that NEVER are humans pristine, even as newborns. Especially not as a newborn, as any set of young parents affirm.

So do you know what I conclude, every morning in the shower?  That there’s no point getting worked up over how the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics affects my house. (Think: entropy, running down, getting dirtier, wearing out…….)

And if my mountain cabin which once LOOKED perfect isn’t going to last, then neither is my body. We are born to die.  It’s pure illusionary to think as a baby grows and develops that he is getting better and that his upward trajectory will continue.  But try convincing a teen or young adult of THAT truth!

As ‘wiser adults’ we should apply some of these life lessons to ourselves.  Instead of fighting the inevitable by combing our hair to mask baldness or spending money on face lifts or indulging in any of the fountain-of-youth-like gimmicks, let’s accept the reality of the average life span ordained by God.

Cosmetic Surgery

Here’s how embracing this time limit can actually liberate us.  Take Peter, for example, that bold and outspoken disciple and later church leader. In his second letter, he announces to the church that he is not going to be around much longer.

I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 2 Peter 1:13-14

What struck me when I read his words was how much stupid energy I invest in ANGSTing over my body, my tent.  Tents are not meant to last long; no one views them as permanent structures.

Have you ever witnessed someone decorating their tent? or worrying because it was stretched a bit too much here, or missing a grommet there or ripped on the edges on this side? That would be silly!

Peter’s acknowledgement that his very real flesh and blood would soon cease to function, his declaration that HE, PETER, was living IN a tent, that is a temporary shelter, struck a chord with me. In which way? First….

  • that he was separate from his body

And second….

  • that his body was not going to last

Too often I think:  “I am my body!”  which means, if my body is lean (per the scales), I feel good and all is right with the world.

Scales in bathroom

But when I step on the scales and see that the number shows a gain of even  .2 or .8 lbs, I LET a symbol kill my joy.



So it was a gift, when a glimmer of light pierced my prison cell on Saturday.  I was reading Peter’s encouragement to his people when I came across his description of the ‘tent’ that he was using temporarily.  A freeing question scattered the gloom, “Why spend so much emotional energy and time beating myself up over something that is soon to be replaced?”

So yesterday, I did not step on to that ‘daily determiner of my mood’.  Nor did I today, although it was a real fight.  I craved confirmation that I was good/okay, that I was “…..’better’ than the average bear!”

Yogi Bear

This is not NEWS to me – my attempt to save, prove or justify myself.  In fact I have been praying for over a year, that I would step OFF of the ‘measurement’ treadmill and step INTO the light of grace.  I obviously still struggle with that perverse streak in me.  That’s the one that is in all of us – causing us to want to earn our ‘okayness’.



But given this insight about tents and the folly of investing much energy in one’s temporary shelter, I am hopeful that I may soon be free of this way of thinking. After all, God himself declares that NOTHING is impossible with God.

So pray with me, dear sisters and brothers in Christ – May we find our safety and REST in God’s delight and purpose for us.  May we not get deceived into pursuing our own ‘okayness’, when we already have been gifted with God’s approval and love.

Tent with a hole

Question: in what way are you a prisoner to measuring yourself?



Why can’t I feel any peace?


Why is peace so illusive, so fleeting?


My husband was asking these questions the other night.  He faces weekly writing deadlines, a new vocation for him here in the mountains of Western North Carolina.  As soon as he hits ‘send’ on his computer, dispatching one assignment to an editor, another one looms.  Writing does not come easily to him, although he writes well.  He rightly throws himself on the mercy of God each time, counting on our Father’s very nature as provider to make it possible to complete each article and radio piece.

He KNOWS that only empowered by Christ, can he do what God has called him to do.  And even though God ALWAYS comes through, that doesn’t seem to provide the sense of security that he associates with a feeling of deep peace.

It was at the tail end of dinner last week, on one of those still evenings when we were savoring supper ‘en plein air’.  The sun had already set in the autumn sky, but the rich crimson and golden colors lingered, dazzled our senses.  He sighed as he posed his existential question about holding on to peace.  Would he never be able to relax?

When I mentioned that life was hard and that I didn’t know ANYone who lived with continual peace, he retorted: “So basically, life sucks, is that what you’re telling me?”

I didn’t do a good job with THAT question and stood up to clear the table.  I knew he wasn’t really asking for an answer, but struggling with anxiety. Worded in that kind of confrontational way, no answer I could have provided would have satisfied him.  But it did cause me to think through peace since Thursday.

Video Game level

I’m reminded of catching past snippets of gaming boys’ conversations when young men still gathered at our house to spend hours sitting cross-legged in front of the TV, controller in hand.  As soon as they had mastered one level, they ‘graduated’ to another one of greater difficulty and danger.  I think life in the School of Faith is like that.  We pass one test and move on to the next class or grade level, all guaranteed to be more challenging than previous ones!  No time to just hang out, coast and enjoy one’s new skills and feel like THIS IS EASY!

When I questioned a more rational Mike later, when he wasn’t feeling so pressured and angst-filled, he acknowledged that he knows there are Christians who have managed to achieve a level of peace.  And he is correct.  But that is ‘in spite of circumstances’ not because of life’s details and arrangements.

Just looking at how the concept of peace is taught in the Bible, it’s obvious that the only lasting peace is that which is a gift from God.  When we KNOW that God is no longer angry with us, but that we actually belong to Him for ever, that we are loved, adopted kids, then we can FEEL peace.

But here’s the trick, at least for me.  That authentic peace is tangible as long as I’m meditating on my relationship and status with God.  As soon as I shift away from God and look at my circumstances, I plunge into SUB-peace, to put it mildly.

So what’s the answer? Are we doomed to this see-saw existence?  A ‘sucky’ life punctuated by moments of stumbling onto a pocket of peace and then the acknowledgement (aka re-remembering) that God alone provides true peace?


Here’s where I draw comfort – if Paul can LEARN to be content, then we can LEARN to remember that we already ARE in a state of peace and can run back to it anytime.  Remembering is based on knowledge and it is up to us to direct our thoughts to what we know for a fact.

You ask: “Where does it say THAT in the Bible?”

The mercurial Peter passes on that truth from God:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

If you’re like me, I forget easily.  This is why we have to talk to ourselves and to each other, with plentiful reminders of truth we already know.  No shame in that.

I WAS ashamed, however, at how unwilling I was to engage with my precious husband that night of his flailing around looking for firm ground.  What convicted me (and entertained and inspired me) was the teaching of a pastor I heard via a podcast.  THIS IS THE VERY BEST SERMON ON AUTHENTIC CHRISTIANITY THAT I’VE HEARD IN A LONG TIME. If you know someone who has been turned off by the Church or Christians, then listen to this and consider sharing it with them. Link here

Question: So what helps YOU hold onto God’s peace? 




Do versus Know

Leave a comment

Did you know that Christianity is different from every other faith ‘expression’ in the universe?  When I was in Toronto, I dialogued a bit with the assistant wedding photographer who was a Muslim.  He echoed the same assertion as my young Muslim pharmacist at Kroger:  “Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all basically the same.”

(That’s an easy assertion to counter – just ask them who Jesus is.  Jews admit Jesus was a teacher of the law.  Muslims claim that he was a prophet.  But divine Son of God?  No way!)

But for the purposes of this blog post, I want to share what gets at the heart of the main difference.

Here’s a general statement that I believe holds true.  Most religions teach you what you have to DO in order to obtain X, Y, or Z.  Christianity is NOT focused on what we do, but what we must KNOW.  Out of correct knowledge of reality, we can then do the right things.  But these ‘right actions’ are not directed at getting anything, earning anything, manipulating anyone.

Here’s what I mean.  Both the Greek and Hebrew words for the verb ‘to know’ are pivotal.  Look at some of these texts.

Paul:  Philippians 3:8 “ ….I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of KNOWING Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Paul:  1 Cor 2:14  “For I determined to KNOW nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

Paul: 2 Cor 2:14 “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the KNOWLEDGE of Him in every place

Paul: 2 Cor 4: 6b-7 “ For God….has shone in our hearts to give the light of the KNOWLEDGE of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  For we have THIS TREASURE (what else, but the preceding KNOWLEDGE) in earthen vessels (remember? our original dad, Adam, was made of clay dustJ)

Peter: 2 Peter 3: 3-4  “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our KNOWLEDGE of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises (we have to KNOW them to derive power), so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (what we know changes our desires!)

Habbakuk 2:14 “For the earth will be filled with the KNOWLEDGE of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea”

We are all wired to want to DO and to EARN the goodies of life.  Jesus teaches that having the correct information and then resting on, banking on, savoring and  loving that information, that good news (‘gospel’) above all else is the key.  When his Jewish followers tried to pin him down (what do we have to do to get the ‘A’?) he answered in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you BELIEVE in Him whom He has sent”

He didn’t say, “This is the work of God, that you DO”.

Listening to Brad Evangelista (Crosspointe Church, Columbus, GA) and reading a John Piper essay (Desiring God ministries) today left me with the same message.  What we DO, the works we perform, our behavior all come out of WHO we are.  Brad was talking about coaching youth football and challenging the youngsters to play like who they are, Broncos!  John Piper was doing the same.  Since we are recipients (undeserving) of God’s glorious mercy, live like an amazed child of God who has untold treasures awaiting her.

To close, I want to share with you an anecdote expressing the same point that first we have to KNOW who we are, before we can ACT correctly or DO the right thing as fragrant ambassadors of Christ.  I was listening to the story of a woman who had escaped the lies of Mormonism.  When asked what was attractive about the Mormon life, she said it was the knowledge that she would one day be a goddess on her own planet.  She wore a necklace or bracelet with a pendant that was a promise of that, given to her when she was baptized as a Mormon convert. That knowledge made her feel special every day.  (Then came the day when she learned how false the teachings of Mormonism were and she left.)

Shouldn’t knowing the truth make the difference in our day-to-day life?  The best antidote to blah-ness is to feast on Christ. Then we can sincerely exclaim with Paul (Romans 11:33) – “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and KNOWLEDGE of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

How to hold firmly to our faith

Leave a comment

Now brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 1 Cor 15: 1-2

How do we hold firmly to the Word?  Before we get there, let’s look at what happens when we don’t hold on. If we don’t actively retain a grip on truths in the Bible, it’s as though we never heard any of them.  They don’t do us any good!  How can that be?  Doesn’t everything we hear/read/learn affect us?

Realistically, we retain very little of what we hear. Think about your years at university, or sermons you have listened to.  What do you recall?  Hardly anything.  So if we want to retain some information, some truth, we have to do something with it.  This is what Paul means by holding on firmly.

I teach French and know that my students will truly only acquire a phrase if 3 things happen 1) they understand what I am saying  2) they are interested and 3) they hear it at least 75 times.

What is true about learning a foreign language is true for any content.  So how do we truly digest and ‘own’ what we hear? – By repeating it to ourselves over and over again in a meaningful way to us.  Teaching others and using the content in different but related contexts are also helpful.  In short, plain ‘ole’ messing around with the material is what is required.  I think of kneading bread.  How do you get bread to rise?  You put your hands in the goopy flour, salt, yeast and water mixture and work the 4 ingredients well – for about 10 minutes.  We have to do the same thing with meaningful input – work with the material.

Here is an example.  My license plate says ‘SOLA FID’. (In Virginia, we can use up to 7 letters/digits for a personalized plate.)  Those seven letters refer to one of the doctrines of reformed theology – sola fide.  Someone once asked me what my license plate meant and I stumbled all over myself.  I knew inside, sort of, but couldn’t articulate it.  You can bet that I have practiced my explanation many times now, so that I am ready:

Sola Fide means that we are justified by God and made right with him only through our faith in what Jesus has done on the cross. What did Jesus do?  He took on himself God’s entire wrath that was due us AND gave us all the benefits and credit of his perfectly-lived life.  His sinless life and righteous deeds count for us.  These two transactions come to us by a faith that we don’t produce – the faith is even a gift from God.  So God gets all the credit and glory and we get all the benefits!

So when Paul says that we are saved by the Gospel and that we have to hold on firmly to what we heard and received for it to be effective, I take that to mean that I have to remind myself daily, hourly of the truths of the Bible, the gospel promises.  Else I forget and they have no effect on me.  Peter warns his readers that if we don’t make every effort to develop qualities based on the promises God gives us, we will be like a man who looks in the mirror and then forgets what he looks like.

2  Peter 1: beginning with verse 2 – “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.  10Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  12So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

This then is what Paul means by holding firm to the Word, to the truth.  We don’t work at this in order to be justified, but we certainly work at it to continue to possess our inheritance, yet…..God’s grace is such that he won’t let us go.  Nonetheless, if I don’t remind myself continually, then my joy drains away and the world becomes more real.  And that is depressing.  So let us be active in rehearsing our faith.

%d bloggers like this: