The Secret Service, Scandal, and Grace

I read several articles this week that caused my heart to break. The news has been full of articles about the Secret Service scandal in Columbia and being the political nerd that I am, I’ve read quite a few. None of them affected me as much as these two:

Wife of Secret Service Agent Stands By Her Man

Name of the Secret Service’s Infamously Cheap Agent Revealed

It’s easy to be shocked and disgusted by the news that men visit prostitutes. It’s easy for us to be aghast at the news that government officials engage in these acts while representing the United States of America abroad. It’s not a difficult task to condemn them for their indiscretions, the shame they’ve brought on their esteemed agency, and the potential endangerment of our President.

In our judgment, it’s also easy to forget that these men have wives and families and lives. They’re husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends. It’s easy to forget that some of them (and according to media reports, at least one) are likely fellow followers of Christ. It’s easy to forget that in many ways we are just like them. It’s easy to forget that we are just as capable of such sin. It’s easy to throw the first stone. It’s easy to forget the way that life breaks down when we sin against one another. It’s easy to forget how much our sin affects the people that we have promised to cherish.

Continue reading

the meaning of life

I discovered the meaning of life on February 12, 1999.

I’ve resolved to remember and reflect on the Gospel constantly and some of the best ways I’ve found to do that is to remember who and what I was before I clearly understood the Gospel and to remember what it was like for the Gospel to come alive in my heart. I was only thirteen years old the day that the Gospel came alive to me and changed the entire direction of my life for over a decade.

I’ll never forget the weekend of February 12. I went to an Acquire the Fire youth conference in Houston, Texas, and I returned home that first night a totally different girl. It was then that I first understood that Christ’s purpose in coming to earth, living a sinless life, dying on the cross, and then being raised from the dead was not just to save me from hell, but to reconcile me to Himself.

The Gospel took on an entirely new light. Church wasn’t just something to do. God wasn’t just someone to worship. The Church was something I was part of… and God was someone to worship and to love.

I realized I was saved from an existence without Him… I was no longer a sinner in need of salvation; my new identity was that I am saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9), adopted into His family (Eph. 1:4-6), transformed (2 Cor. 5:17), redeemed (Gal. 3:12-13, reconciled into right standing with God (2 Cor. 5:18-19) and a coheir with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17). And there was more! I was called to be a part of His mission (Mark 16:15).

That’s something that changes you forever.

What a beginning. I spent the weekend on my knees, so totally humbled by this revelation that I didn’t even desire to stand. It was an all-encompassing feeling, one that I’ll never forget but that if I’m not careful I can quickly relegate to the back of my mind. In just a single moment, the Holy Spirit illuminated my own heart and gave me a glimpse of the darkness abiding there –  and the knowledge that I was not in love with Christ, despite the fact that I was a “good kid,” in church and serving daily, obedient to my parents, and a memorizer of Scripture. I realized that even though I had served Christ and recognized my need for a Savior all of my life, I had never really known His heart or that He desired a relationship with me. I had never connected the “why” with the “what” and “how.” I knew we were saved by grace through Christ’s death, but I had never known why He wanted to save me.

That weekend transformed my life to from being Whitney-centered, to being focused on a pursuit of God and the people He loves. I desperately desired that my heart become His heart. I wanted to share His love with anyone and everyone that I met. I saved every penny to head to South Africa that summer to share the Gospel with people who had never heard. I was transformed from the inside out. I had finally figured out that life wasn’t meant to revolve around me. Life is all meant to be all about Christ – showcasing His love and the Gospel to everyone I come in contact with.

Beautiful Things

Gungor’s “Beautiful Things” is one of my favorite songs now. It’s such an incredible expression of God’s overwhelming grace and of salvation and sanctification.

Love these lyrics:

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

Wow. A God who promises to find what is lost and make beautiful things out of dust is One who should receive all our adoration and all our lives.

Preview – Character Close Up: Abraham

I’m falling behind on posting daily, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking! Up first thing tomorrow morning will be a look at Abraham.

Cool thing about this guy? He’s the one we can look to for confirmation of the idea that salvation is for the world (not just the Jews) and is by grace alone, not by works lest men should boast (Eph. 2:8-9)!

Until tomorrow I’ll leave you with this thought – if it’s the law that saves us, then all of God’s promises are void (Romans 4).

beautiful rescues

We were rescued a long time ago. It’s a story we tell, but not often enough.

Tonight in small group the last few of the girls shared their stories of how they came to know Christ. I’m always totally and completely amazed at how unique each story and journey is, even though the ultimate theme is SALVATION. Pain, grace, forgiveness, and redemption are woven into each story, whether the storyteller was raised in church, in a broken, hurting family, or in a broken, hurting family that was also in church. We’re saved from so much, and yet… we forget all too often. I think we tend to lose sight of what such a rescue really means… what we were really saved from. When we focus on today and its problems and troubles, we fail to look at the big picture… and we forget how important these stories really are.

A rescue story, one in which we become “free or delivered from confinement, violence, danger, or evil,” is a story that is generally told over and over… and each time with just as much enthusiasm… because one who was lost is now found… recovered and brought back from the brink of death. When we hear of a lost child being recovered, or of a trapped miner being freed, those stories spread like wildfire online, are picked up by all the news outlets, and usually remain in the news for several days. The more dramatic stories, like long-lost kidnapping victims being returned, remain in the news for months or years, even.  Generally PEOPLE Magazine runs a several page spread of photos and a human interest story and then they check in with the individual several months or a year down the road to see how they’re doing. Rescues are really big deals.

At the beginning of the fall semester, John shared again with the Gathering  the story of how he was found by Christ. I’ve heard the story many times, but I’m always totally amazed all over again at the lengths God will go to, just to get our attention. I grabbed a CD (quite appropriately entitled “Rescue”) and listened again this week… I feel like we need to remember these stories of rescue more often. The grace wrapped up in John’s story amazes me and every time I hear him describe the relief and the feelings that came with his salvation, I’m totally reminded of my own story… and of the grace I myself have been given.

Colossians 1:13-14, 21-22 paints such a beautiful picture of this grace:

13:-14: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

21-22: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him…”

Wow. How can we fail to be amazed perpetually, much less daily?

 

“Finding Myself Extra Amazed by God Today”

(from November 3, 2009)

This past week has been one of intense revelations. The contentment theme continues…

Today my gchat status said this: “finding myself extra amazed by God today.”

I don’t know why, but I really didn’t expect to be asked why. It stands to reason that people might want to know just what it was that prompted such a statement in the midst of an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. I got SO many questions about it – “just what did God do for you?” and “why is God amazing?” and “PLEASE tell me the story behind your gchat status.” People were so curious and I think I learned two things from said curiosity – a.) it really matters what I say there (even in that tiny little box) because people really do pay attention, and b.) I really need to be giving God glory more often, and not just because people pay attention, though that’s a good reason as well.

So, what did happen? I’m sure you, like everyone else, are dying to know. It wasn’t that something really good happened at work, or that a huge prayer had been answered, or that a desire of my heart had been met… or was it?

I think it was the latter. The desire of my heart is increasingly God Himself… just to know Him better and to find Him… it’s a constant life of seeking and finding. Recognizing all that I am not and all that He is. Pushing myself to decrease and to allow Him to increase in me (John 3:30).

That gchat status gave me multiple opportunities to share with coworkers, friends, and acquaintances about my faith… and about the overwhelming feeling I get when I think about the cross and grace, and just how… close I get to be to God. It’s an honor, a privilege, humbling, and totally undeserved. It’s truly amazing… an answer to prayer and the desire of my heart granted.

I’m realizing more and more that it doesn’t matter what I think or want, unless I first want Him and His kingdom and that it’s incredibly prideful to think that I can be effective in the kingdom of heaven or bring glory to Him outside of His plan and my preordained role in it. Each day, He increases my desire to make Him great. It’s almost like I can feel my heart expand inside my chest and I want His will for my life more each day, whatever that may be… and I want to fill my proper role within the kingdom.

so, I hope that each day I find myself extra amazed by His friendship and increasingly grateful for His grace.

sometimes pride hides well

I haven’t blogged in several days now and there are a couple of reasons – I was too busy relaxing, spending time with God, and just learning to be alone over the weekend to take the time to sit down at my computer. And the other reason is that sometimes when something really hard, really transforming, really revolutionary, or really hard is going on in my heart, I just can’t bring myself to process it all on paper for a little while. Now, obviously a blog isn’t the proper venue to do a lot of serious and in-depth soul searching, but it’s definitely helping me to catalog a lot of the transformation that’s going on in my heart.

I’m learning what humility really is. This summer has been the summer in which I’ve realized that I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on a true and proper understanding of humility, my sin nature, and what it means to totally rely on Christ and love Him more than anything. And at the risk of sounding dramatic, I have to confess that I am learning that in many ways I’ve never even known Him.

I’m learning that pride has many, many forms and that it can hide, especially within my own heart. I can be, and have been, prideful without considering myself better than others, without treating them poorly, and without even realizing my error.

I’m learning that confession isn’t easy and that sometimes you hurt the people that you care about the most. But with that I’m learning that confession is priceless… that the freedom that comes with such vulnerability is worth any amount of pain that it takes to take the step. Humility brings a lot of beauty with it, if you accept it and allow it to change your heart.

I’m definitely not as transparent as I thought I was. I’ve cared a lot more about perception than reality, and I’ve denied people who love me the opportunity to teach me, train me, and guide me. And with that lesson has come the incredible understanding that people don’t stop loving you when your humanity is made so blatantly obvious. Instead, they hold you closer, support you, and love you through it (or at least that’s the kind of love I’m being shown). Disappointment is one of the things I fear the most, but I’ve learned I cannot allow such fear to inhibit me or my relationships, because at the point that I’m disingenuous about one thing, I become disingenuous in all.

And maybe the most important lesson of all – I’ve learned that sometimes God calls sin what others wouldn’t ever categorize as sin, or that we don’t realize is an issue until the Holy Spirit reveals it to us.

The hard part, even harder than all of these realizations, is walking it out. Asking the Father for forgiveness for such large blind spots, begging the Holy Spirit to make me more aware of my own failings… and then drastically turning and walking the other direction… it seems that the mistakes that don’t even look like moral failings might be the ones that are the ones that have the greatest ability to trip me up.

My commitment to Christ is displayed in how I spend my time and my treasure and the Holy Spirit has shown me that the direction I have poured a lot of resources into has been excessive and wasteful. So now I get to redeem the time, so to speak, and learn from Him how to love Him better. I love the point in life situations like this where I’m able to clearly see where the lesson is going and how I’m growing and benefiting from it.

God is truly so graceful.

Expectations

Today was a really rough day. Seems like a lot of life situations all came together and broke me not once, but multiple times throughout the day. I tend to store up stress, anxiety, concern, hurt, and pain all together until I just can’t hold any more… and then it all comes pouring out, accompanied by tears, as a few not-so-fortunate individuals found this evening. It’s not that I don’t pray about things – most days this summer I’ve felt almost like I pray without ceasing about some situation or another – I think I’m finding instead that it’s my perspective that predisposes me to this type of response.

Tonight’s Gathering service was like finding water after a long time in the desert. And I know that sounds dramatic, and very well might be, but it definitely helped to put today, and in fact, my entire summer into perspective.

John talked about expectations and how our expectations affect the outcomes of our lives. His message was mostly geared toward those who underestimate God and His love and what kind of expectations we should really have when it comes to our relationship with Him. And that aspect of it was great, but it opened up my eyes to a lot of the real sources of the discomfort, pain, and even anger that I’ve encountered and walked through over the past several months.

The real source is me. It’s all about my expectations. The expectations I place on other individuals and their ability to perform and to love me well, the expectations I place on myself to always do what should be done and in the manner it should be done in (to achieve perfection or as near to it as is humanly possible), and the expectations I’ve placed on God – asking and expecting Him to fit into the box I’ve created for Him without even knowing I’ve done so.

expectations placed on others

Somewhere in the midst of all the craziness I’ve forgotten an important lesson that God began teaching me last fall regarding expectations and loving people.  The two don’t go together. God’s showing me again what it means to love completely – as He loves. And that means loving with no expectations, no demands, no agenda, etc. I am to love people for who they are and for what they will be, not for who I expect them to be.

This was my conclusion last fall: if I have any agenda, any requirements, or any expectations, I merely barter my affection. For my love to be complete, I have to love without conditions.

This is my conclusion this fall/end of summer: there’s also a real difference between expectations and anticipation. And it’s okay to be disappointed when things fall through, when people let me down, and when situations beyond anyone’s control just simply don’t happen as planned. And I shouldn’t be upset with myself for anticipating. Anticipation, after all, is a very nice thing when its dream is fulfilled.

expectations placed on myself

I’m a perfectionist extraordinaire. I absolutely can’t stand it when I don’t perform to the best of my ability, or when I make stupid mistakes, or find that my laziness or lack of wisdom has created a large problem that I must face.

Days like today are actually such a blessing, because I am forced to remember how truly human I am and that there’s absolutely nothing in my life that I can handle on my own – I am forever going to need Christ and His mercy, love, and grace. The truth is that I’m not really capable of living up to anyone’s expectations – even my own – without a solid relationship with Christ and the companionship and help of the Holy Spirit. His wisdom is absolutely essential to my life and I need to be so much more sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

expectations placed on God

This one’s a bit more difficult and spans my entire lifetime. John (McGowan, not the apostle) is completely correct in his statement that the expectations we place on God really do determine what our experience with Him is like. And I think that if our perception of Him is distorted that our expectations will be as well. The difference between how we should see God and how we should see people is that we absolutely must see them for what they are. God is God… He is I AM and can be no other. All throughout His Word, He invites our expectations:

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” Eph. 3:20-21

I think the difficulty here lies in determining which expectations are Biblically-sound and which are the result of misunderstandings of Scripture, false teaching, and our desire that God conform to our image of Him, rather than allowing ourselves to be molded and shaped into the likeness of Christ. And that is a much longer post for a later date…

all of that to say that I need to change. I need to be more like Christ. I need to stop expecting people to behave in certain ways and simply appreciate them; I need to take a step back from all of the things I’m doing and with some sort of objectivity determine if the expectations I’ve placed on myself are realistic, and even more importantly, evaluate their worth in the kingdom of heaven… and lastly, I need to continue to take a closer look at Scripture and continue to deeply pursue the truth of who God is and what that means in terms of what I expect Him to do in my life.