Wednesday, February 19, 2014

But He Gives Us More Grace

I have been in a really "weird" season the past several weeks.  I don't really even know how to describe it, except to say it's not been fun ... for me or those around me.  It's been a huge struggle.  I have been in the process of sorting through my heart, and trying to figure out if I'm doing what God really wants me to be doing right now.

Last week I sat down with my friend Ann and had very long heart to heart.  I just laid it all out, and it was a complete mess.  Tears, snot and hyperventilating from crying so hard.  It was not a pretty picture.  I needed to talk it all through, and I knew I needed to talk to someone who was going to be honest with me.  Someone I know who will not just tell me what I want to hear, coddle me and feel so sorry for me.

Listen, I've got that covered.  I don't need any help in "feeling sorry for myself" department.  I can throw some stellar pity parties.

I also knew I needed to talk to someone who knows my heart, and loves me ... flaws, complete mess and all.  Someone who would be non-judgmental, and who I knew I could trust my heart to.  I chose Ann for all those reason, and also because Ann's isn't emotionally tied to what I needed to share, so I knew she could be objective.

After I spent several minutes pouring out my heart, Ann's first words to me were, "You are going to have to toughen up."

Seriously, those were her first words.  I was sitting there in front of her a broken, sobbing mess.  Clearly there was no danger there would be any coddling happening.

Maybe I should explain.

A year and half ago I agreed to take over as WIC (Women in the Church) President in my church.  I knew it wasn't going to be all daisies and butterflies, but I wasn't expecting the all the things God would dig out of my heart.

Like discovering what a "people pleaser" I really am.  I know, some of you that know me are surprised, but I assure you, you aren't nearly as surprised as I am.  I've come to the realization that I am such a "people pleaser" that I've made it an idol.  So much so, I've literally made myself sick over it.

I want to please others, and I want their approval more than I want to please God.

Ugh!  NOT exactly a pretty thing to realize about yourself.

God's has given me a heart for women's ministry.  I love seeing other women, young and old, growing in their love for Jesus.  I love seeing friendships form, and watching those relationships grow in their knowledge and love for our Saviour.  I love watching women be the hands and feet of Jesus ... serving, loving and growing in grace together.  It's such a beautiful picture.

But it's not always so pretty getting there.  Not everyone has the same ideas and goals.  Visions often differ, and opinions are not in short supply.

There isn't anything wrong with differing opinions and goals, until you forget to ask the Lord what He wants.  I've learned it's so easy to try and fulfill my own agenda without asking the Lord if this is what He would want.  So often I leave Him out of the equation.  Which is really odd since my goal really is for women to grow in their love for Him.  You would think He would be the first person I would consult, but often He's not.  It is such a ugly reminder of how much I need Jesus.  I am just a huge mess, and without Him I am hopeless.

Ann said to me, "You are going to have to toughen up.  Ministry is hard, and you have to get a thicker skin."

Everyone needs a Ann in their life.  I completely trust her.  I know without a doubt she loves me, and her ultimate goal for me is that I love and trust Jesus more today than I did yesterday.  She is one of the wisest women I've ever met in my entire life.  She loves Jesus passionately, and recognizes her desperate need for Him.  She is hilarious, and never minces words.  She speaks truth in love ... even when that truth hurts.  She reminds me so much of an older version of my friend Connie.  Just like Connie, I could sit and listen to Ann for hours upon hours, and I always walk away knowing so much more about Jesus and my total dependence on Him.

My conversation with Ann was even more helpful than I had hoped.  It may sound like she was harsh, but really she was just being honest with me.  She helped me see things clearly, and reminded me I have to do what I know the Lord wants me to do, even if it's not the popular choice or someone gets their feathers ruffled.

Before leaving church that day, I was asking Ann if she had decided what date she was going to start her bible study, and I said, "Mary and I will finish up James the first week in March, Lord willing."

"That's what's wrong with you!  I have figured it out!", she exclaimed.

"You have figured out what's wrong with me?"  I was a bit perplexed.  How could studying James be what's wrong with me?

"You've been studying James the past several months, and that is why you are seeing things differently than everyone else."

Last Fall Mary and I began co-leading a bible study on James.

Before I go any further, let me just say, this was not our first choice ... nor was it the second or third.  We spent the Summer sorting through different studies, and it was the beginning of August and we, or really it was just me, were in a panic.  Mary just normally doesn't panic.  She knows I've got that covered, so she chooses not to waste her energy.  She has to save it to calm me down.  I'm so not even kidding.  We were already in August, and bible study was supposed to start back the first Tuesday in September.  Our pastor suggested we do a study on a book of the bible since we were running out of time, and were not finding the "right" bible study.  He told us to choose one, and he'd help us find a study to go with it.

Mary suggested James.  Caleb had just finished reading through the book of James in Sunday morning worship, and it seemed like a good time to dig in and sort through what James had to say.  I was so exhausted from searching ... and panicking ... that I was totally fine with studying James.  When I told Caleb the book we had "settled on", he told me about a study he had seen written by Tim Keller.

I say "settled on" because this was our fourth choice.  We had other ideas when we first talked about what do for a bible study in the Fall.

But little did we know all along it was God's first choice for us.  We really had no idea what God had in store for us.

The past six months we have spent every Thursday, sometimes we've had to meet on another day, studying for the following Tuesday morning's lesson.  Prior to meeting we have read commentaries, listened to sermons online, read through the week's questions and prayed ... a lot.  We meet all day on Thursday, and we dig.  We talk through what we've read in the bible commentaries, we discuss sermons we've listened to online, search for verses all throughout the bible that go with our lesson and work through the questions of the week.

When you do a bible study with Mary, it's an adventure.  A blessed adventure for sure.  It has been one of the sweetest times of my life, and to be able to do this with one of my very best friends has been the icing on the cake.  We have learned so much, and grown in knowledge of the bible and our love for Jesus and the love He has for us.  Our friendship has also grown.  I am a strong believer that the friendships, or any relationship, you have that is based on a foundation of the love of Jesus are the sweetest, strongest, most precious friendships you will ever have.  Digging into James together has made our friendship stronger and deeper.

Studying James has also been surprisingly hard.

I love the book of James.  He lays it all out ... this is how you should be living ... these are things you should and should not be doing.  As a pastor we've listened to online put it, it's a book about how to be a disciple for Jesus.  Sounds great, right?

Well, yes and no.

Studying James has exposed the ugliness of my heart.  It has caused me to really look within, and let me tell you, it's a complete, dark mess in there.  I don't like what I've seen.  Every single week ... without fail ... each lesson has applied to something big going on in our lives.  It's been really amazing to see how God knew exactly what we needed to be studying at this exact time.

I don't know why I'm surprised.  After all, if I truly believe God is sovereign, which I do, I should expect that to happen and not be surprised by it.

Looking within my heart I have discovered I am a selfish, judgmental, unloving mess, and one of my many idols is pleasing others.

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” ~ James 4:6

But he gives us more grace ...

I have clung to that lately.

I'm about to confess something else about myself.

I like to watch Dr. Phil.  Shameful, I know.  It's one of those guilty pleasures I have.  Dr. Phil says when you use the word "but" it totally dismisses what you just previously said.

But he gives us more grace.

I am sinful.  I am a complete utter mess.  I am selfish, judgmental and unloving.  There are things in my life I want more than I want Jesus.

But he gives us more grace.

Thank you, Jesus, for grace upon grace.

When I agreed to take on being WIC President I had a vision for the women's ministry in my my church.  I wanted us to continue to grow.  Grow closer to our Saviour, and in the process grow closer to each other.  I want us to love each other unconditionally, and when asked to make a meal for someone say, "I'd love to" instead of grumbling.

Listen, we all do it.  We all grumble about something.  If it's not because we are asked to take a meal, maybe it's because you've been asked to serve in the nursery, teach a Sunday school class, be a greeter, serve on a committee, etc.  There is something at some time you've grumbled about not wanting to do.  I could give you a long list of things I've not done with a joyful heart.

I belong to a church that loves well.  I have never been a part of a church that loves the way they do.  It's not perfect, and we have lots of room for improvement.  However, (notice I didn't say "but" because we really aren't perfect) over the years I watched them love sick, brokenhearted, hurting people.  I have been on the receiving end of that love many times.  I, and my family, have been loved well.  I could give you thousands of examples of how my little family of four has experienced being loved by our covenant family, and I've seen it time and time again with others.

I think being loved by my church is one of the ways God has grown my love for women's ministry.  I know what it feels like to receive that love, and I want everyone to know it also.

And by God's grace and mercy, I'm at a point in my life where I can be on the giving end of loving on others.  I want everyone to know what it's like to genuinely serve someone else also.

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” ~ Acts 20:35

It really is more blessed to give than to receive.  Studying James has caused me to realize how unloving, lacking compassion, judgmental, self-serving I really am.  I don't want to be any of that.

I want to be who God created me to be.  I want to love Him more than anyone or anything else, and out of that love I want to love others.  I have come to realize the past several days not everyone has the same gifts, and visions and opinions often differ because we aren't all in the same place in our sanctification.  And that's okay.  I just need to remember that I need to give the grace I've been given when someone else doesn't see my vision.

I still have the same vision I've always had for women's ministry, but the process of achieving that vision has changed.

I hate the word "process".  Anything that has to go through a process is never easy.

So, I've been struggling trying to figure out how and where does the Lord want to use me.

Mary said something to me years ago that often rings in my head.  "If you would stop kicking against God's sovereignty, this process might be a little easier."

Mary's not really into coddling either.

I do a lot of kicking, and make things a whole lot more difficult than they really have to be.  Control, it's another idol I have.  I am a control freak.  I am also a perfectionist, and those two together are often a disaster in the making.

Control freak, perfectionist and a people pleaser that sees clearly what a huge, unloving, self-serving, judgmental mess she is ... it's no wonder why I've been in "weird" season.

But he gives us more grace.

Today I am grateful for God's unending, undeserving grace.  I am grateful He has allowed me to see how black my heart truly is, and the forgiveness He gives me for all those nasty sins I have.  I am grateful for friends who speak truth, and love me in spite of myself.  I am grateful for a Saviour who hung on a cross and died for those sins so that I could be forgiven ... given a new beginning.

I am a wicked, sinful mess, and I desperately need a sovereign Saviour who loves me perfectly, even though my love for Him is imperfect.

But he gives us more grace ...

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