Tag Archives: faith

Gift or Loan? Repost from Oct. 2006

I wrote this back in October of 2006.  I think it bears repeating. 

On Sunday, I heard a pastor say that because Christ has died for us and saved us from Hell, we owe Him a huge debt and all He asks or requires of us now is that we live holy lives. I don’t know that he intended to, but he strongly implied that we have to live holy lives to sort of repay that debt to Christ.

I became physically uncomfortable listening to that. That didn’t sound right to me. Now that I’ve thought about it more, I still disagree — probably even more strongly.

The huge debt we owed God was because of our sin. God is holy and our sin separated us from Him. The Bible says the wages of that sin, the debt for that sin, is death. Complete separation from God. Christ died. He paid the wages of sin for us. Now we don’t have to be separated from God. That was our debt to God, and it has been paid already. We just have to authorize that payment, in a sense — declare that we were sinners and deserved to be separated from God, deserved to die, and accept that the debt has been paid on our behalf by Jesus.

Now that my debt has been paid, what do I owe God? Nothing. Quite simply — nothing. If I say that I owe Him something now, then I am saying that Christ’s payment wasn’t enough.

Do I really think I should spend the rest of my life trying to pay Jesus back? As if His payment for my sins was a loan.

No. No. No. The GIFT of God is eternal life! It’s a gift, and I cannot pay Him back for it. Nor does He expect me to. That’s Grace.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be living holy lives and all that, but I’m saying that we shouldn’t see that as our obligation to Jesus in order to pay Him back for saving us. And I do think a lot of us live our lives that way. We try to exercise self-discipline and make ourselves live righteous lives because we’re saved now and this is what God expects of us and because we owe it to Him.

I’ve been thinking for a while now that this isn’t how it works. Are we really capable of making ourselves be good and holy? Well, I don’t know about you, but I sure can’t. I’ve tried. Every time, I mess up. Some days I barely make it past breakfast. And those are my good days!

Chapter 7 in _Blue Like Jazz_ is called “Grace.” I was reading it over my cup of coffee this morning, and Donald Miller put a lot of my thoughts into words. He writes about how difficult, even foreign, it is for us to wrap our minds around the concept that we cannot pay God back. That we truly are charity cases. That we are not above receiving charity from God. It’s humbling. Our attempts to pay God back for saving us are really evidence of our PRIDE.

Donald Miller writes about how frustrating this whole approach to Christianity can be. We think we have to pay God back for saving us by living holy lives. But we can’t. We mess up. Then we feel horrible. We feel like God’s going to stop loving us because we can’t live up to our end of the bargain. Donald Miller calls it “something like torture.” And I think he’s right.

Finally, he writes that our “role in the relationship with God [is] to humbly receive God’s unconditional love.” Tha’ts it! Just receive God’s love. Donald Miller goes on to explain exactly what God has been teaching me in the past year or two. When we receive God’s love, we will love Him back.

Miller writes, “[I]f I cannot accept God’s love, I cannot love Him in return, and I cannot obey Him. Self-discipline will never make us feel righteous or clean; accepting God’s love will. The ability to accept God’s unconditional grace and ferocious love is all the fuel we need to obey Him in return. . . . In exchange for our humility and willingness to accept the charity of God, we are given a kingdom. And a beggar’s kingdom is better than a proud man’s delusion.”

I like that. Can you imagine what a revival there would be in the Church if every believer would simply stop and receive God’s unconditional, passionate love? If we basked in that love? If we truly received this love that is unlike any love we’ve ever known? We would be transformed! And it would be so much better than what most of us are doing now — trying to make ourselves act the way we think good Christians ought to act, trying to pay God back for all He’s done for us.

Now, imagine God — all He wants is for us to receive His love. All He wants is for us to be still and let Him love on us. Instead, we’re racing around trying to be good, trying to please God with our self-discipline and our good choices. I imagine Him, the lover of my soul, shaking His head in sadness and pleading with me to just sit still and be with Him and let Him love me, knowing that if I receive His love, I will begin to truly love Him back, and then His goodness will rub off on me — sort of the same way couples who have been married for years start to look like each other. I think He wants me to stop treating Him like a loan officer or a strict master and start treating Him like the Ultimate Husband.



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Waiting in Expectation

A sweet friend recently gave me the book Jesus Calling. This morning’s reading was exactly what my heart needed.

“In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” -Psalm 5:3

Wait quietly in My presence while My thoughts form silently in the depths of your being. Do not try to rush this process, because hurry keeps your heart earthbound.

Waiting quietly in His presence. Waiting in expectation, knowing He is going to hear my requests and answer.

Quiet expectation.  That is my prayer for myself.

Is there anything in your life for which you need to lay your requests before your God and wait in quiet expectation?

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Often, when people find out that I’m the mother of six children, they will say, “Oh, you must be much more patient than I am!” And I laugh. Sure, I’m more patient than I used to be, but I still don’t consider myself a patient person. And if I had begun to believe those comments about how patient I must be, this waiting season of life is certainly clearing that right up for me!

I’m not wrought with anxiety. I’m not terribly fearful about the future. But I do feel this recurring sense of antsy-ness.

As my husband emails resume after resume and sends one job application after another, I am sharply aware of how unsettled we are. My brain knows that God knows the future and has a good plan already in place for us. My emotions struggle to absorb that truth.

You’d think I’d have this trusting God thing down by now, after all we’ve been through. I suppose I am indeed a slow learner. And that’s frustrating. In the midst of this time of transition and uncertainty, I want to feel a stress-free peace. Instead, I feel on-edge.

I don’t like that I still have to work hard to remember Truth. I don’t like that taking stressful, worrisome thoughts captive is still such a deliberate, difficult discipline. I don’t like that my gut response is, “Yes, Lord, I’ll trust You; just please show me the whole plan now.”  I so want for my first response to be, “Yes, Lord, I’ll trust You.” Period.

I want to wrap this up with some sweet spiritual lesson, maybe a verse from a song or a cute little poem. But we’re still waiting. While we wait, we’re doing the next thing that’s in front of us – the next homeschooling lesson, the next job for the communications department, the next meal, the next load of laundry, the next meeting or phone call, the next night of wrestling boys into bed. All the while, my brain reminds my emotions that God is in charge, that He is good and I can trust Him, that it’s all going to work out for our good.

And as I wait, I hope that, baby-step by baby-step, I am becoming more patient. I believe that, once again, I am learning how to trust. My brain keeps repeating to my stubborn, control-freak emotions that God is using this time for our good and His glory; and bit by bit, that truth is beginning to seep into my soul.


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Genealogy of Redemption

Do you ever feel used, abused, mistreated?  Have you ever been the outcast, the loner, the foreigner?  Have you ever gotten carried away with your own scheming, ever dug a hole of trouble so deep you didn’t know how you’d climb out?  Have you been gossiped about even though you haven’t done anything wrong?  Or maybe you have.  Maybe you’ve broken promises, broken commandments, broken hearts.

If that’s you, if that’s me, then I have good news for us.

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I have fallen in love with the book of Isaiah!  Grace and mercy are woven throughout this whole book of the Bible.  Yes, God is pretty stern & pronouncing judgment in here; but in the midst of that shines His grace and kindness.

This morning I read from chapter 46 “Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are far from righteousness.  I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed.”

As I read that verse, it struck me.  This is the difference between the God I know and the gods of so many other religions!  Other religions require people to be good enough to earn their righteousness.  Other religions require people to do enough good things to earn their way to God.  My God knows that I am stubborn and stupid and far from righteousness, and so He brings His righteousness to me!

My heart is bursting with thankfulness.  My God knows how rebellious I am; He knows how stubborn I am; He knows how awful I am.  My God knows that if I had to get to righteousness on my own, I’d be in deep trouble.  Cause there’s no way I could figure out how to work my way to His righteousness.  And even if I figured out how, I’m not self-disciplined enough and good enough to actually do it!  My God knows this about me.

He knows all about me.  And yet He loves me.  So He brings His righteousness to me.

There it is — God’s grace and kindness smack in the middle of Isaiah in the Old Testament.

And today my heart is full.  My God is so good.  There is no other like Him.  He did for me what I could never do for myself.

And He did it for you too.


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What am I learning?

This morning we stayed home from church.  We needed a morning of going nowhere, wearing pajamas, sipping hot cocoa, making pancakes, snuggling together.  We needed a morning to just be together as a family.  And so we stayed home from church.

And we did something we haven’t done in a long time — my husband pulled out his guitar and the old notebook full of praise choruses and we sang together.  We were off-key and had trouble remembering the tunes to some of the songs, but it was a good time.  It was a total flashback to our college days and the early years of our marriage when we hung out with college Young Life leaders.  And it was cool to teach the kids “Sweet Adoration” and “Oh, Heavenly Father” and “My All in All.”

After we finished singing, I asked the children to share what they are learning in Bible class at school or at church.  Some of them thought I wanted a laundry list of facts, so they offered a list of detailed information they have learned.  You know, cerebral stuff — what they call, “head knowledge.”  I heard a chronology of King David’s life and a list of battles the Israelites fought before they entered The Promised Land.  But, of course, that’s not what I meant.

However, it made me think.  Do I do that?  Instead of learning the nuggets of truth about God’s character, instead of seeing myself in the story and thinking about how God might want to change me, I learn a list of facts, a bunch of names, a chronology of events.  I approach the Bible the way I approached history class.  I memorize details as if God’s going to give me a final exam, grading me on how well I can recite back the names and dates and events.

Pretty silly, huh?  But it’s easier sometimes to have all this knowledge of the Bible than it is to allow the Living Word to transform me.  It’s easy to think I’m super-spiritual, a Wonder-Christian-Woman because I am good at sword drills or Bible trivia.

But that’s not the point, is it?  There isn’t going to be a massive Old and New Testament Survey final exam at the end of life.  God’s not going to be hosting a giant Bible Quiz Bowl game at the Pearly Gates, and He won’t be giving out crowns with lots of bling-bling or mega-sized mansions to the winners, a` la some divine game show host.

No, the point is not the amount of information I’m storing up in my head.

Is my mind being renewed by the information I’m learning?  Am I being transformed?  Am I doing the Word instead of merely hearing it?  That’s the point.  Right?

Finally, this morning, one child said he has been learning about Noah and that when God asked Noah to start building the ark, it didn’t make sense.  And he said, “So I’m learning that we should obey God and do what He asks us to do, even if it doesn’t make any sense to us.”

Yes! That’s the sort of answer I was looking for.  And that’s the sort of thing my Heavenly Father is hoping for me — that I’m learning to apply His Word instead of merely memorizing facts.

I’m glad we stayed home this morning.  I loved staying in pajamas, snuggling, eating pancakes, singing old praise songs, and talking about God with my kids.  And I love when He uses them to teach me or remind me of what I need to learn — and He does that a lot.

How about you?  What are you learning?


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Baby Steps

My son has had a difficult time adjusting to third grade.  Maintaining focus and staying on-task are challenging for him.  When the work seems difficult, his tendency is to shut down.  He is intimidated by hard work.

Not long after school began, my son, his teacher, my husband, and I sat down to talk goals and strategies.  Guided by our questions, my son stated his goal — “I want to work hard and get my work done quickly at school so I won’t have homework.”

With that goal in mind, we worked together to develop some simple strategies to help him accomplish it.  As we left the meeting, my son felt that his goal was possible — quite the opposite of his feelings earlier that day.

Since then, he has had good days and bad days.  Some days, he meets his goal; others, he does not.  We celebrate his successes.  On the bad days, we either gently remind him or firmly remind him or hug him while he cries — whatever is needed most.

In addition to staying on-task and working hard, I would also like to see my son work more neatly, keep his desk clean, do his corrections quickly, etc., etc., etc.  But his teacher recently reminded me — Baby Steps.  One thing at a time.

What a good reminder!  One thing at a time.

You see, like my son, I also tend to get overwhelmed.  Sometimes I think of all the many things I want to improve about myself.  And it seems like such a long list.  Too long.  Too much.  So I do nothing.

I’ve been trying to take a deep breath and remind myself — one thing at a time.  Just one thing.

I’ve also been reminding myself of that with my other children.  I can’t expect them to mature immediately.  They will grow in baby steps.  I can prayerfully choose one heart-issue at a time to focus on with my children.  That means, I will intentionally overlook other things that aren’t as important, trusting God will deal with those later (if they need to be dealt with at all).

This approach works with my third grade son, but I think God brought it to my attention especially for my 12-year-old daughter.  She’s a ball of pubertal hormones!  She is testing limits and does not always make wise decisions.  She is a sweet, responsible daughter and big sister one minute, and the next, — well, the opposite of that.

I can easily feel overwhelmed and frustrated when I think of what I’d like to change about her.  But that’s not the right focus.  And it’s not my job to change her anyway.  That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.  So I am trying to wisely choose what heart issues to focus on and correct or encourage.  Baby steps.

And for the rest, there is grace.

Isn’t that how the Lord works with us?  He doesn’t bombard us with conviction about every sin all at once.  Little by little, He grows us.  And He gives us lots of grace.

I’m learning to give that kind of grace to my children.  And to myself.

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