The Astounding Beauty of God’s Grace

 

Photographing the magnitude and astounding beauty of Big Sur, California is no small task. It is not a “one picture does it justice” kind of place. Even if you take a hundred photographs, you still feel like you need to get one more — from a different angle, height, distance, or light. Because every time you look, it feels new. A desire to capture and immortalize the awe you feel simply floods your heart.

Comprehending God’s grace brings many of the same overwhelming feelings. As we mature in faith, God deepens our knowledge of Christ and his sacrifice. Using this knowledge, he then increasingly brings more and more details of his grace (his favor) into focus for us (2 Peter 1:2).

Awestruck, our hearts clamor for new and bigger pictures of his grace. Yet, like Big Sur, the more pictures of grace we capture, the more our hearts will long to see. Some pictures of God’s grace: 

Grace Saves

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2: 8-9 NIV

Grace delivers the gift of eternal life for those who are willing to receive it through faith in Christ. Jesus wrote the invitation for our salvation when he chose to die for our sins on the cross (John 3:16). We cannot earn nor do we deserve this offer; it is free and unmerited. God expects our questions and doubts, and he never wavers in his pursuit of us.

Through prayer and God’s Word, we develop a relationship with Jesus and learn how meaningful his sacrifice is. Our faith in his promise of salvation grows. Pictures of grace bring understanding that is bittersweet.

Grace Forgives

Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebrews 10:17 NIV

The sacrifice Christ made secured forgiveness for our sins with God. Once we confess and turn away from sin, Scripture tells us God no longer remembers it. Stories in the Bible, like Paul’s (1 Timothy 1:12-17), teach us about God’s patience. He waits for us to recognize and change what we need to because he wants to save every last one of us (2 Peter 3:15).

No matter how much shame we feel, he accepts us unconditionally as we are. He is eager to guide us in new directions for his good purposes here on earth, often using our own brokenness to spread his message of hope to others.

The transparency of our own sin also leads us to forgive others — to give them what God has so generously given to us. Asking God for forgiveness offers us an honest and humbling, yet loving look at ourselves. Pictures of grace can be so amazing.

Grace Mends

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 NIV

No matter what suffering we face in life, God is aware and ready for it. He plans to lead us through it, ultimately using it for our good. Because he knows us better than we even know ourselves, he sees places where we need mending.

He may use our trouble to help us grow, to reach others who need hope, or even to protect us from something else. Although we are not promised to see the end results of his work while here on earth, we can be certain his plans are far greater than any we could imagine.

Persevering through trials with God, strengthens our character and lays a reliable foundation of hope for now and the future (Romans 5:3-4). Resting in the knowledge that God is always working for our good helps us endure hard times, seek his help, and remain confident in hope. More often than not, pictures of grace surprise us.

Grace Abounds

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 NIV

In this promise, Jesus proclaims his believers can enjoy an abundant life. The abundant life he offers is eternal, but it begins while here on earth through the Holy Spirit. Dwelling within us, the Holy Spirit brings forgiveness, guidance, and love. He teaches us about worship, and he reminds us everything we have comes from God.

Taking time to be still, mindful, and grateful provides opportunities to listen and understand God better in the here and now. As we take note of his blessings, our hearts overflow with peace and joy. Looking at life in a new light, pictures of grace delight us.

Grace Loves

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord. 2 Peter 1:2 NLT 

Everyone is blessed with the same infinite amount of God’s grace. However, we appreciate it at different levels as our faith matures. Learning more about Christ’s love for us causes our love for him to grow, which in turn makes it easier to perceive the goodness of grace.

Loving him deep within our hearts motivates us to be more like him. We strive to love others in the ways we know he loves us. Ultimately, as we grow in grace we realize we have an opportunity to be part of God’s picture of grace to others. Pictures of grace are never ending and are meant for sharing.

Grace Reveals

Patiently, God waits to show us the jaw-dropping landscape of his grace. He revels in our joy as we catch that first glimpse of it along life’s winding road. When we make the effort to stop and take it in, especially on blustery days, it astounds us.

Through God’s grace, we see pictures of salvation, forgiveness, mending, abundance, and love. Our hearts beat a little faster as we look and move to capture as many pictures as we have time for. We cannot seem to get enough.

One day, someone will tap us on the shoulder to share an incredible image of grace. In his picture, he will point to something he wants us to see…something possibly overlooked in all our striving. Humbly, we realize it is us. You see, for God, the best pictures of his grace — the ones he longs to show us — will always include us.

 

A version of this post first appeared on City on a Hill Studio’s website, where I was honored to serve as a guest blogger. Check out their site for inspiring books, videos, movies, blogs, and more. CityonaHillStudio.com

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Forgiving Others: the rise above resentment

Three Ways Gratitude Boosts Faith

This is the Day the Lord Made

Forgiving Others: the rise above resentment

I count three pairs of little feet. Encased in muddy rain boots, they are stomping in a creek next to the path where I walk. Their mother, notably unconcerned about the clean up to come, smiles and cheers them on from the sidewalk.

Later heading home on my walk, I see them again swinging at a park playground. This quartet of chipper voices is clearly seizing the day and enjoying each other’s company. Listen in:

The older brother says, “Take off your boots, Madeline, then you can go higher! That’s how mom helped me. She took one off and it felt much more comfortable. So, I kicked the other off, and I could go so high! Then, you just start pumping, like this, Madeline. See?!”

This sweet brother’s instruction about how to swing unencumbered made me chuckle. Then, it got me thinking about how much higher we might swing in life if we removed our mud laden boots.

Like these three children burdened by their boots, we find ourselves weighed down by hurts, resentments, anger, and even hate. Grudges are difficult to budge. Hurts accumulate and stick to our souls (or soles) like thick mud, pulling us down. What toes don’t love feeling the freedom found swinging high in fresh air? What hearts don’t long to soar peacefully? But, how, oh how, do we get there? How do we forgive and rise above resentments?

1. Recognize Our Hurt

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 New Living Translation (NLT)

Forgiving others first requires us to recognize the emotions that are harming us. Anger, resentment, hurt and hate bubble up inside of us, often unexpectedly, jeopardizing our peace, harming our health, and pushing away those who try to love us. Experiencing our feelings without judging or berating ourselves helps bring acceptance to whatever situation caused them.

When we are hurt by others, we often feel isolated like no one understands our side of things. But, God knows and cares about everything we endure. He is a confidant, a ready and willing listener for any topic, especially our struggle to forgive. He can handle raw honesty and painful feelings; he wants us to give it all to him. Allowing painful feelings to surface in our time with God moves us closer to forgiveness because it helps us feel heard and understood.

2. Redirect Bitterness to Goodness

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 New International Version (NIV)

When we feel the sting of someone hurting us, it’s easy to get wrapped up in understanding why or seeking revenge. But, Scripture tells us to remember that God has our back. He reworks the harm done by others for our good.

Consider the story of Joseph (Genesis 37:1-50). Over his lifetime, Joseph suffered through many acts of injustice. He was discarded by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of attempted rape, and spent years prison. He could have easily given up and viewed the situation as hopeless. Instead, he viewed every situation as an opportunity to be a positive example for others and shine light on God. Time and time again, the people in Joseph’s life witnessed God working through his trials. His gift of interpreting dreams allowed him to assist a king and eventually placed him as Egypt’s second-in-command. Through that position, he was able to reunite with his broken family and find emotional healing.

Interestingly, throughout Joseph’s trials he did not dwell on asking God “why” when hard things happened. Instead, he accepted what was. Then, he redirected his attention towards looking and listening for the next opportunity God presented. In doing this, Joseph was always seeking the good he felt God had in store for him.

Following Joseph’s example, if we refuse to rehash our hurt repeatedly, then we free ourselves to discover the good God has planned. We try to see our pain from God’s perspective. For example, we may discover God using our hurt to bring us closer to him, to teach us how to help someone else, to prepare us for something ahead, or to reveal a new purpose in life. Redirecting thoughts away from bitterness and putting them towards looking for God’s goodness prepares our hearts to forgive. 

3. Respond with Love and Prayer

But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! Matthew 5:44 NIV

When our emotions are redirected towards God’s good works, our hearts become prepared to respond with forgiveness. The Bible teaches us not to retaliate and punish those who treat us poorly. Rather, we are to love and pray for those who hurt us.

Undoubtedly, showing concern for people who inflict pain upon us can seem difficult. However, if we keep our hearts full of bitterness, it is truly impossible to love others as we love ourselves, which is the second greatest commandment. By not working at forgiving others, we essentially distance ourselves from God.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the price for our sins so we could live eternally with him. Even on the cross, he forgave those who crucified him and those who stood by watching him die. (“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 NLT) Considering this great sacrifice for a world full of sin (including our own), how can we withhold forgiveness from others? Isn’t it hypocritical to ask forgiveness for ourselves and not offer it to others, especially since we are called to model our lives after Jesus?

Praying for the people who we are trying to forgive helps us release our anger and resentment to God. Surrendering control and trusting the situation to him, takes the focus off of them, and helps us learn more about ourselves. We can ask God to teach us something through the process of forgiveness and to work on strengthening us in the fruits of his Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Offering love and prayer to forgive others helps us model our lives after Jesus, ultimately bringing a closer relationship with God.  

4. Make it “Right” in our Hearts

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37 NLT

When we are angry and hurting, our human nature eagerly jumps in, ready to deliver justice. We feel the need to retaliate, prove someone wrong, or explain our side of things. Scripture, however, warns us against playing judge. Only God truly knows a person’s heart, and he is the only one with the authority to judge (1 Corinthians 4:3). Forgiveness cannot be based on whether someone deserves it. Forgiveness is given solely because we, ourselves, have received it.

We make things right through forgiveness by placing trust in God’s judgement of the person and the situation. Obviously, reconciling with those who hurt us would be ideal, but that may not always occur. We can hope for reconciliation, but there are circumstances and people in the equation that we cannot control. We have to trust God with those unknowns. What matters is that we continue expressing a sincere desire to forgive, then God will help our hearts get to where things feel right.

5. Release Pain

Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. Psalm 34:14 NLT 

Forgiveness is hard work. It takes time and patience and strength. It requires us to recognize what has happened to us and accept it. We redirect our thoughts to the opportunities God presents which bring goodness from our pain. By focusing on God, we can respond to our hurts positively through love and prayer. Continuing to express our desire to make things right through forgiveness opens the door for God to heal our hearts. As we seek and work to maintain our peace, he helps us release pain with forgiveness.

God is always ready to help us rise above our resentments. He knows our boots get muddy in this world. If we were at the swings, I bet he’d ask us to have a seat and stick out our feet – to count on him to pull off those heavy boots. He would give us a push that is “good”.

As we rise high above resentment, we, too, would shout out to our brothers and sisters in Christ, “It is much more comfortable. See?!”

Prayer for the Week

Dear God,

Thank you for the blessings and opportunities to model your love this week. Help me flow through my days free of judgement and full of kindness. Guide me to accept the people and situations that are hard for me to understand. Keep my attention focused on the ways you are working good through these struggles. Lead my heart in love and prayer for those who hurt me, and work with me to make these relationships feel “right” in my heart and in your eyes. As I move towards forgiving others, help me rest easy in your peace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

 

Resources

  •  Idleman, Kyle. Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story. Baker Books, a Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017. Find Grace is Greater on Amazon.

Other Related Posts

Note: Photos courtesy of Pixabay.com and Fotor.com

Do We Disappoint God?

Perfection is a tall order on this broken planet. This becomes very clear in the middle of January when goals for improvement start veering off the course we charted for 2017. We cheat on diets, take a break from the gym, skip a weekend at church, spend money when we shouldn’t, drink too much caffeine, stop trying to meditate…(um, feel free to contribute at any time so I don’t feel so alone).

We are an odd species. One day we are full of optimism and vigor, and the next we are easily derailed by unexpected challenges or our own behavior. Letting ourselves down by breaking resolutions can easily lead to some disappointment. Often, we even grow accustomed to this feeling and shrug it off.

But, what about deeper flaws in our character that persist over the years? What if we make some big mistakes that change the course of our life and maybe even the lives of those around us? What if our mistakes are considered sins? How do we cope with those levels of disappointment? Does God feel disappointed in us too? Will he give up on us if we make a really big mistake?

God understands how hard this life is.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15 New Living Translation (NLT)

When God chose to reveal himself as Jesus he took on the hardships of human life. He sympathizes with our feelings and temptations because he endured them as well. He knows firsthand how difficult this life is to maneuver. He provides us hope because he faced the things we face, and he got through them without sin. We can look to his life for encouragement and strive to follow the example he set.

God chose to forgive us.   

Christianity believes that God wipes away sin and reconciles his relationship with us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Certainly, not every setback or mistake is a sin. Sin is an ugly, tough word. I don’t like the way it feels when I write it. But, the fact is we all sin. Jesus was the only perfect person to walk on Earth. It was his sacrifice that brings us forgiveness when we acknowledge, confess, and repent our sin to God.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT

Jesus took God’s wrath on the cross and called it done, finished, paid in full. Sin no longer separates believers from God. Trusting in his care provides a fresh start and secures our future with him.

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30 New International Version (NIV)

God loves us. He has plans for us.

What remains for us as a result of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for sin is God’s unconditional love. We can’t earn it. We can’t change it. We can’t lose it. We don’t deserve it, but we have it. Forever.

We cannot surprise, frustrate, or let God down. Because he already knows what is ahead.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

God may be disappointed for us, but not in us.

 

Of course, we have free will and therefore, we will probably make choices that lead us off course from time to time. In those instances, God may be disappointed for us, but not in us. He wanted something better for us because he loves us. But, in those moments when all we see is failure, God still sees opportunity. He uses our trouble to bring about good and to draw us closer to him. He extends grace.

And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 NIV

We are flawed, but not forgotten.

God never forgets or dismisses us in times of trouble. It is never too late to seek his help and reassurance in our lives. We can start viewing problems as alerts for prayer and build a stronger relationship with him. An insightful look at our past experiences will show us how his good works pulled us through. We can reference Scripture for wisdom in any circumstance, temptation, and emotion we face. Lastly, we can obediently act when we sense his guidance encouraging us along a certain path.

This year, like every year, difficulties will come our way. We need willpower, forgiveness, and stamina among many other things to make it through. Sin, mistakes, and unwanted flaws will persist. We will make choices. What a blessing it is to be able to make choices!

One choice we have is whether or not we will work on our relationship with God. We can choose if we allow our trouble to lead us further away from him or draw us closer to him. He has a preference in that choice, but he loves us either way.

God will always pursue you. You are not forgotten.

 

A Prayer for Your Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for seeing me as I am and loving me unconditionally. I sin, make mistakes, and I am full of flaws, but you never forget about me. When I feel disappointed you stand beside me and encourage my heart to constantly seek more of you. Help me find the reassurance I need through past experiences, prayer, Scripture, and the opportunities you send my way. I trust you and patiently wait as you work in and through me, ultimately bringing all things together for my good. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

 A Few Scriptures of Hope to Battle Messages of Defeat:

  • When we say: “I really messed up today.”

Scripture tells us to try again tomorrow: Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:23 NLT

  • When we say: “Everybody is doing more or better than me.”

Scripture reminds us of our unique abilities: Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. Galatians 6:4 NLT

  • When we say: “I’ll never get it right. I can’t do it. It’s too hard.”

Scripture offers a lighter load: Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29 NLT

  • When we say: “I’m confused, lost, broken, and giving up.”

Scripture provides hope: Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Matthew 10:27 NIV

Inspiring Resources:

Defining Grace

double rainbows at my backyard

I stumble over grace. It’s a pretty word. I like how it rolls off my tongue in a sweet, feather-light way. But, defining grace – well, that’s complicated. It trips me up, so this week I went searching for answers.

Grace means so many things it makes my head spin. A ballet dancer, for instance, moves with grace. There is a grace period for paying bills. People say grace before meals. Someone behaving politely or with goodwill is said to show grace. You may honor or grace someone with your presence. People of royal descent are sometimes addressed as “His Grace, the Duke of XYZ”.

So no wonder, when it comes to understanding God’s grace we might need a little clarity. According to Christian belief, grace means the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). Yeah, did you catch all that?! What a mouthful. Let’s break it down…

Free and unmerited means that grace is not something we earn or deserve; it is offered unconditionally. We do not have to meet a “good deed quota” to receive grace. Donating things to goodwill, baking someone cookies, or reading extra bedtime stories will not buy us more grace.

Favor of God refers to his acceptance of us offered regardless of our daily rights and wrongs. God’s favor is doled out in the same amount to you, me, addicts, crooks, beggars, and the person who drives you crazy.

Manifested in the salvation of sinners means God shows his favor through an invitation for eternal life. The Bible teaches that this invitation was written by Jesus when he willingly died on the cross for our sins.

The bestowal of blessings is another way God shows his favor. He bestows or presents us with loving and merciful gifts. Blessings may come through family, friends, talents, healing, or forgiveness to name a few.

In researching grace’s definition, I found many authors and pastors use an acronym to provide understanding: GRACE = God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That simplifies the definition, but it does not make receiving this enormous gift any easier.

Truth is, although God offers grace to every person, many of us do not readily accept it. We tell ourselves:

  • Grace is not meant for me. (False)

Our inner critics, and critics in the outside world harp on us with messages like: “you’re undeserving”, “you’re not good enough”, “you’re a real mess”, or “you’re just too far gone”. We start to see God’s favor as something meant for other people who have not made as many mistakes as we have.

But, that’s simply not Biblically true. Time and time again, Jesus makes this clear in the Bible by befriending people others say are unworthy – those who have committed murder, adultery, robbery, prostitution, and deception. He blesses them with forgiveness and healing. He leads and inspires them to turn their lives around (to repent). And, he reminds those who think they are righteous not to rank their sins against those of others. God’s grace gives every person another chance to be used for his good purposes. 

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Mark 2:17 New Living Translation (NLT)

  • Grace is free, so I already have it. (False)

We do not have to earn grace, but we must willingly receive it through faith and obedience. A good description of receiving grace is found in the story of Noah (Genesis 6:8, the first mention of “grace” in the Bible).

In this story, Noah found favor from God because he was actively looking for it. He faithfully asked God for direction and sought a response. God blessed him with knowledge about the coming judgement and instructions for beginning anew. Noah then served as a steward of God’s grace by obediently carrying out his instructions. Grace will bless us and save us when we seek God out and have faith in his plans, not our own.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16 New International Version (NIV)

  • Grace is my ticket to heaven; I don’t need to think about it right now. (False)

Life is distracting and it can keep us from recognizing the source of our blessings. Because our society is so driven by recognition, we seamlessly shift from praising God to praising ourselves. Then, we start to see grace as something off in the distance–set aside as a gift from God to be received when we die.

God’s grace is in the here and now. Evidence of God’s favor surrounds us every day in the lives of our family and friends, and in the midst of our own busy schedules. Grace calls us to slow down, appreciate what we have, and remember how far we’ve come. Getting to know God now, eases our worry about the future.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 2 Peter 1:2 (NIV)

Picture God standing on a street corner trying to hand out brochures about grace. “It’s free,” he gently speaks, “because I love you so much. Please receive it.” Over and over, he repeats this request.

Can you see all the people passing him by? Their heads are down. They have problems, destinations. They think it’s strange this man is professing his love for them. They didn’t do anything to deserve it. They don’t know him…well, maybe… there is something familiar about him.

What if after passing, someone hesitates and turns around? What if she jogs nonchalantly back and takes that brochure? She reads it and ponders it, as she continues on. Her walk changes, notably full of hope and joy. Stores of love and mercy line her path. A wind whispers promises of an everlasting life. She feels something has changed; it’s subtle, but big. With certain wonder, her gaze travels from the brochure to the sky. She will no longer stumble over grace. She knows right where to find it.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for helping me understand the meaning of grace. The magnitude of this gift is overwhelming – all the goodness in this world and the promise of eternal life, offered unconditionally because of Christ’s sacrifice. Help me learn to readily accept and embrace this gift. Teach me to recognize my value through your eyes. Lead me in faith and obedience to follow your instruction for my life. And, open my eyes to your grace that surrounds me each day. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

My Favorite Irish Blessing for You:

May flowers always line your path and sunshine light your day.
May songbirds serenade you every step along the way.
May a rainbow run beside you in a sky that’s always blue.
And may happiness fill your heart each day your whole life through.

-Author Unknown

Listen To:

Matt Redman’s beautiful song “Your Grace Finds Me” right here.