Category Archives: Grace

“The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard”

It’s a question that has shipwrecked many on their way to faith. If God is good, it always starts, why is there suffering? Why do people hurt? Why do babies die and families fall apart and senseless things happen? Why is there so much sadness?

The question begs for an answer, but needs something deeper than a logical response. It needs hope. From someone who has weathered pain and hard and suffering, but still has hope.

Unexpected

Kara Tippetts’ story in The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard opens with a less-than-perfect childhood, with parents who loved her but didn’t always act with love. Jesus found her in high school, and forgiving her parents was an early step in her new life. Fumbling through her young Christianity, she met and married Jason, and they had plans for the future—their future—but it never went the way they expected. In her 30s, Kara was diagnosed with cancer. Their dreams of church-planting and ministry and doing life together changed with doctor visits and chemo and pain and weakness.

Kara Tippetts died of cancer on March 22, 2015. Her words are still here, though she isn’t, and her story of suffering and seeking God in the midst of it spurs us on to find Him in our own hard things—in our own whys.

We Don’t Write Our Stories

No one ever has time for cancer. Just when things seem to finally be falling into place or life has found that elusive equilibrium, the disease announces its presence and all those other things stop in their tracks. Jason and Kara had just moved with their four children to Colorado Springs to plant a church, and they were full of big dreams and plans—good dreams and plans—to drive a stake in the ground of their corner of the world and claim it for Jesus. They were going to do good things, big things.

“Before cancer, I would have said I was on the journey of seeking grace, but in truth I was manufacturing my own faith. If I found a need, I did my best to meet it. My going, doing, loving was my faith, not my nearness to Jesus. In my mind I knew my efforts weren’t the substance of my faith, but my practice betrayed me. Stripped of my ability, I saw Jesus in a new and profound way.” – Kara Tippetts

Jason and Kara would still do good things. Even some big things. Things like write a blog that eventually had 10,000-20,000 daily visits. Write books. Care for their children. Share their story—even when it wasn’t what they had planned. And it was through never-expected, never-chosen cancer that they stood toe-to-toe with the fact that they were not writing their story. The good things God had for them were not what they had picked, but they were still good.

“I come to you in these pages as a broken woman, realizing that my brokenness may be my greatest strength—that it may be the greatest strength of us all…My season of weakness has taught me the joy of receiving, the strength of brokenness, and the importance of looking for God in each moment.” – Kara Tippetts

Life. Is. Hard.

Some may blame Disney, and others Tootsie Pop Lollipops, but the desire to seek and find satisfying conclusions and happy endings is wired deeper in our humanity than inventions of the last few generations. We want things to turn out right. We want God’s presence to mean the hard things go away, like a child who knows their nighttime fear will evaporate if they could only be with Mommy or Daddy.

That’s what so many of us look for, even though that usually isn’t what happens.

And it’s there in that disappointment that we usually slip up, choose a Christianese answer, and flippantly explain away heartwrenching tragedy. We say “God has a plan” or “everything happens for a reason,” and go back to normal life if we can. We’re not wrong. But we’re far from completely right.

Life is hard, sometimes breathtakingly so. To baptize it with one-liners without feeling the depths of that pain is not only naïve, it’s—wrong.

“What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good? How does our story of love change when we look head-on at my absence from this life? How do you live realistically when you feel like your moments are fading, fleeting, too momentary? How do you fight for normal in the midst of the crushing daily news of more hard? How do you seek hope without forgetting reality?” – Kara Tippetts

We don’t have to deny that life hurts in order to have hope. Our hope in Jesus is firm because even when life hurts, Jesus is still there, still in control, and still good.

As Christians, we know that even if we still face our scariest scary—God is good.

“My hope is not in the absence of suffering and comfort returned. My hope is in the presence of the One who promises never to leave or forsake, the One who declares nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:39). Nothing.” – Kara Tippetts

No Easy Answers

In this world we will have trouble. All of us. Just like everyone else who has ever lived. The whys are hard, and there is no easy answer. No complete understanding.

But we do know what God has faithfully shown us before: He is good—now and through eternity, in each and every story He has written. We can bank our hope on this, that Jesus who suffered horrific pain on that cross all those years ago will never give us a trite answer or leave us in the midst of our pain.

What we see as brokenness or tragedy will one day be reintroduced to us as His glorious redemption of our pain. Kara Tippets lives that reality in its fullest glory now, and one day we will, too. Until then, we remember how she shared her life and story with the world, inviting us to follow Jesus through all the whys and pain and hard questions to a marvelous eternity we can’t begin to imagine.

“Grace; it’s all grace. Jesus will be there; He will be wooing, loving, meeting my love, my babies, my community, my family, and you long past the day my words run out that beg you to look for grace—that long for you to know Jesus. Really know His love. It’s His story, not mine. It’s His grace extended, not mine. I have only been a steward of that grace, a simple namer of His unbelievably reckless love that shows up for one broken woman every single day.” – Kara Tippetts

Why Are We So Afraid?

“Hey, Erica! I was hoping to see you today.”

Erica turned to see Chloe coming up behind her in the church foyer. “Oh, hi, Chloe.”

“I wanted to show you something,” Chloe handed Erica a piece of paper.

Erica looked it over. “A piano contest?”

“It’s more than a recital; it’s a songwriting contest. You come up with a song and some lyrics and then play it and sing it at the contest. I showed it to Ashley and she thought you’d be perfect for it!”

“So there’d be people judging me?”

“I know it can be a little nerve-racking at first, but you’ll do great. I can help you practice, if you want.”

“I don’t know, Chloe. That sounds…” Erica hesitated.

Chloe smiled. “Think about it. You can let me know next Sunday if you want. I really think you’d be great at it, Erica!”

Erica re-read the paper as Chloe walked away. Singing one of my songs. In front of judges. And an audience.

She folded the paper and stuck it in her pocket. Not likely.

Good Enough?

We live in constant fear that others will see us for the frauds we feel we are. We’re afraid they’ll think we don’t measure up. That we’re not good enough.

News flash, friends. We don’t measure up. And we’ll never be good enough.

All the self-help books and feel-good motivational posters we can read will never bury this inescapable truth: You and I are not good enough. Whether the people around us tell us so or not, it’s true. We fail, make mistakes, and look ridiculous. Sometimes all in the same day. Even in our best moments we’re mired down by memories of past mistakes and fear of future ones.

It’s time to face the music. We’re scared of being found out.

But what if we already have been?

The Bible Says…

We spend so much time worrying about the thoughts going through other people’s minds. Other people. People just like us. What about the thoughts and plans of the God who made us?

Our mind-reading attempts on other people rarely land us anywhere productive (or even accurate), and it is even more ridiculous to think we could ever guess the thoughts of God. In an extraordinary gesture of kindness, God wrote His thoughts down, and gave them to us.

We don’t have to wonder.

God knows us and everything we try to hide.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

“And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts’” (Luke 16:15).

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:7-10).

“For he knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:21).

We have nothing good in us.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4).

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Can’t Get the Medicine Without the Diagnosis

The Bible seems to agree with our self-assessment on our bad days. We have so much we want to hide, but we can’t—God sees it all. Ironically, though, it is only through acknowledging these hard truths about ourselves that we begin to find a way out.

The secret to our fears of insufficiency is knowing they are true: We are messed up.

BUT.

It is one of the most hope-filled words in the Bible. But. Here those three letters remind us that our future isn’t determined by our past or even our present, but by the all-powerful God who is writing our stories.

“…[W]ash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:8-9).

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:4-8).

Like a doctor who knows his patient’s only hope is through radical medical intervention, God tells us the truth about our hearts. And then He provides the antidote. Because of the free gift of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can be whole and clean and perfect and complete.

God has seen our deepest, darkest secrets – even things no one else knows about – and knows just how dark and twisted and bad we are.

But He didn’t leave.

All of these fears we have that people will decide we aren’t worth their time and walk away?

We are not worth God’s time. But He isn’t leaving.

He paid the debt for our darkness by giving His own Son, and freely offers to accept us as His own. His adopted children.

All of those fears and insecurities have no basis anymore. We have been made alive! We have been given the perfect righteousness of Christ! We are loved by God!

And when God is for us, “who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

The thoughts and opinions of man hold no weight when we have been uber-generously given the acceptance of God. We have every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 13-4). We are children of God (1 John 3:1).

We are free. Free from trying to measure up or resting on our own abilities to be enough. Free from bondage to others’ expectations or our own goals. Free to live for the God who rescued us—and for Him alone.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Just Put It on My Card

People are tricky. Hurtful, even. We all have deep and painful memories of hurts caused by people.

And sometimes the sharpest arrows shot in our direction come from those we least expect: fellow Christians.

Christian Disagreement

Christian discord and disagreement can be hard to put a finger on. If we are all one family, adopted by God and redeemed by Him, how is it that we even have relationship difficulties with each other?

Sometimes we forget that we are still humans. Sinners. And so are they.

There will be friction between any people, whether or not they believe in Jesus Christ. Sometimes it can even be harder to forgive a fellow Christian because our expectations for them are higher and the relationship is—or should be—deeper.

So what do we do when hurt happens?

Charge It to My Account

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13).

After reading this passage, late theologian Jerry Bridges wrote in The Blessing of Humility: “In effect, Paul is saying that we don’t have a choice: Because we have been forgiven so much, we have an obligation to forgive those who sin against us. Yet our motive for forgiving should not be our obligation but the realization of how much we have been forgiven.”

Bridges goes on to share the story of Philemon, a friend of Paul’s. Philemon owned a slave. (That can be so hard for our 21st-century minds to wrap around, and there is no question that slavery is a dehumanizing practice. That being said, first-century slavery was not always as horrendous as the racist and genocidal slavery our American history is more familiar with. The Bible does not condone slavery, but does acknowledge its existence.)

Onesimus had run away from Philemon and likely stolen from him in the process, but then spent time with Paul and became a Christian—like Philemon. Now, Paul wrote, Philemon and Onesimus have more in common than they have different. He asked Philemon to accept Onesimus back as a brother. What’s more, Paul assured him, if he owes you anything, I will pay it.

“These are touching words,” Bridges wrote. “Paul, in prison, says, ‘charge that to my account.’ This is what Jesus says to the Father: ‘Charge Jerry’s sin to my account’—and He paid for it all through His death on the cross.”

It’s Paid

In full. In this world, we will sometimes have bones to pick with our fellow Christians—people “for whom Christ died” (see Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11). This doesn’t mean those hurts aren’t valid. But they’re already covered.

It’s as if, instead of meting out punishment and arbitrarily declaring winners and losers, He hands us His card with that pierced hand and says, “Charge it to My account.”

If someone is a Christian, all of their sins are paid for by the blood of Christ. All of them. Sins they already committed. Sins they will commit tomorrow. Sins they committed in secret. Sins they committed against us. There is no question those wrongs hurt—but they are already paid for. By the same God who paid for ours.

How can we argue with that?

For When It’s Hard…

Which is always, by the way. Forgiveness is hard. Sometimes the situations seems complicated and tricky to work through, and sometimes they actually are very complicated.

When we are in those hard situations, it will help us to remember that our God is the One who “sees in secret” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18) and He knows how much that forgiveness costs us. It cost him, too.

Yes, it is hard, but we still push through it to reach out to our fellow believers. We still forgive.

As we have been forgiven.

Paul’s Catchphrase

I say it all the time. Every conversation, with friends and strangers, I start out, “How are you?” They always say “Good” or “Fine, how are you?” I assure them that I, too, am fine, and we go our separate ways.

It has started to bother me, though—even as I say it. “How are you?” It feels like a robotic courtesy without the genuine concern the phrase itself seems to hold. Too many times, the words have automatically tumbled out while I whiz by someone. Neither one of us stops to truly honor the question.

Eight Different Letters, One Phrase

It was in Ephesians that I first noticed it, but I would soon find it in other New Testament books, too. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:2).

In all, Paul began eight of his letters with this same phrase. Word-for-word.

Why would he include identical greetings in so many of his letters? “Grace to you.” Wouldn’t his readers start to tune that part out?

Grace, Grace, Grace

The most powerfully evident display of God’s grace was at the cross, where, as John Wenham said, “evil did its worst and met its match.” That grace—the undeserved favor of God—fills our every moment, before and after our eyes are opened to Christ’s great gift and we join the family of God. We are saved by grace, absolutely. But grace doesn’t stop flowing into our souls after conversion.

Grace tells us that when we fall short, He provides the difference. When we fail, He comes through. When we are tired, He provides strength. Grace shows us that no matter how deficient we are, He is enough. Always.

We are saved by grace. And we live by the grace He gives us every day.

Pay It Forward

We are enriched by grace (2 Corinthians 8:9), we are strengthened by grace (2 Timothy 2:1), and Peter encourages us to “grow in…grace” (2 Peter 3:18a). For the believer, all of life is grace. But the grace God gives us is not for us alone.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Grace enriches us—so we can give. Grace strengthens us—so we can serve. Grace equips us to do those things God planned before the ages for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). And when—through grace—we speak and serve, write and sing, work and create, listen and love, grace is passed on again.

Paul poured himself out for his beloved brothers and sisters. He labored in prayer for them. He wrote theologically-rich, heartfelt letters to them. He lived among them when possible, often at his own inconvenience.

Paul wished more grace for his brothers and sisters. The goal of his relationship with them was to bless them, to strengthen them, to encourage them—to be a channel from the Father to them, bringing them more grace.

No Robots Here

So Paul desires more grace for us. Thanks, Paul. But you say that to all the churches, right? It’s starting to sound like a robotic courtesy again.

Why would Paul wrap up such deep truths in a canned little catch phrase?

Paul wrote several books in the New Testament, fully understanding the weight of his words to the early church and all who would come after them. He would not flippantly include any words without meaning what he wrote.

When he wrote to the Ephesians, the Romans, the Corinthians, to the Philippians and the Thessalonians, he desired grace for them. More grace. Deeper grace. Grace for them to grow in, grace to strengthen them, grace to enrich them in ways they may not have even realized they were lacking.

But why would Paul just say that? “Grace to you”?

He didn’t just say it.

Paul opened most of his letters by saying “Grace to you” and then diving right into his teaching, expounding on the works and ways—the grace—of God. This was Paul’s stewardship of God’s varied grace. This was his work, his love offering, his sweat and tears spent for his brothers and sisters.

This was grace.

As Paul poured out his heart, laboring to encourage and strengthen them, he was passing on the grace he had received. And that’s what he told them: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We may have varied ways of saying it. It may be, “I’ve been thinking of you all week,” or “I’m so glad to see you today!” It may be a hug, a card, or a phone call that seems out of the blue. It may be an act of service, a gift, a listening ear, or hard words in a very needed conversation.

In other words: “Here. Let me share with you the grace that I have been given.”

You may still ask, “How are you?” I know I do sometimes. And that’s okay. Whatever we say, whatever we do, however we reach out, it can all be sharing the grace we live and breathe everyday, as long as we build our words and our actions on what we were given first.

Grace to you.

Thou Mine Inheritance

The Israelites pressed forward, spurred on in their quest to obtain their inheritance by conquering the enemies around them and claiming enemy land as their own. They were following the charge God gave to Joshua, courageously taking hold of the inheritance they had been promised. They faced enemies and danger and exhaustion.

They fought.

What is Our Inheritance?

The New Testament also has this idea of inheritance. Peter tells us that, as Christians, our inheritance is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4). He compares this incredibly perfect inheritance with the pointless customs handed down to us as our earthly inheritance.

But just what do we inherit? What is it we are promised as children of God? Continue reading Thou Mine Inheritance