The Accentuation of Grace

The Accentuation of Grace

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.”  Titus 2:11

Snow in the south is like rain in the desert.  It’s prayed for, rejoiced over, and trampled through.  Its occurrences are rare, so when it does arrive, it is welcomed with squeals of delight and thunderous rounds of applause.  This past Friday, it received a standing…and sliding…ovation!

There’s something magnetic about snow.  Somewhere, in its molecular makeup, there’s a very powerful, people-pulling electron that makes one grab coats, boots, and gloves and run out into the midst of it.  No matter how old I get, when snow starts to fall, so too does my attraction to the indoors.  With each falling flake, I’m magnetized and hypnotized.  The next thing I know, I’ve been pulled outside and the polarized snowflakes are wreaking havoc on my molecular composition!

That’s what happened to me this past Friday.  The snow was falling so beautifully that I just had to go outside.  I walked to the creek, enjoying the snow as it fell within the woods.  As I looked about, I couldn’t help but notice the way the snow outlined the trees…each tree…every tree.  My eyes moved from one to another until I realized I was no longer looking at the woods, but through the woods!  And, my visibility didn’t stop there.  As far as my eyes could see, not only were shapes outlined, but so too were their details, bringing clarity and closeness to that which otherwise would have seemed far away.  Then I wondered…if this is true for snow, is it also true for grace?

If you’ve read a couple of my earlier posts, namely Snowflakes of Grace and Dirty Grace?, you know that I like to compare snow and grace  There’s just such an apparent correlation between the two that it’s hard for me to see the one without thinking of the other.  So on this day, when I was looking at the snow, I was thinking about its counterpart, grace.  And so I wondered, is there a connection between the visibility snow brings to trees and the visibility grace brings to lives?  Does grace etch a person’s life the way snow etches a tree’s branches?  Does grace impact a group the way snow impacts a woods, reducing the assemblage of many to an assortment of individuals?  Does grace, like snow, draw our vision out further and further until we see that which was once unnoticed?  And as I asked, the answers fell with the snow…and within the snow.  And that’s when I saw it:  the accentuation of grace.

I must say, I was not expecting to receive such a lesson.  Snow-lined trees had never appeared before as tutors of God’s word, but on this day that’s just what they were.  And because of God’s grace, I had ears to hear…or, more precisely, eyes to hear.  And through my eyes, God spoke gracefully, glisteningly, and gloriously.  Once again, He showed me truths through His snowflakes of grace.  As I attempt to share these truths with you, please have your visualization glasses handy…they may enhance your hearing!

Remember how I said the snow on the trees caused them to stand out so that I was able to see further?  That simple tracing of white caused each tree to stand apart from the others so that my eye traveled from one to another.   Those that, in their natural coloring, would have blended in with their wooded surroundings, now stood out as if highlighted by nature’s pen. Well, in much the same way, that’s what grace does to us.  Just as snow defines a tree, grace defines us.  Grace has a way of collecting in our crevices, of smoothing over our rough surfaces, and of highlighting our structures.  The presence of grace also causes us to stand out from others as our individuality is illuminated so that we’re no longer seen as a part of the whole, but now we’re seen apart from the whole.

So just how does this grace fall upon us?  How do we become people whose lives are etched with its snow-like purity?  It begins when we are drawn to God; this pulling is nothing short of God giving us that which we do not deserve (the definition of grace).  Paul records this snowfall in Ephesians 2:8.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  The first dusting of grace fell upon us when God called us to become His children through faith in Him.  The second sprinkling came when we received “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” (Eph. 1:7).  The third flurry fell when we were justified freely by His grace.”  (Romans 3:24).  Then, because we have a Heavenly Father who loves to shower us with grace, He allows us to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Hebrews 4:16).

With such an outpouring of grace, how can we not be demarked and defined?  How can we not stand out among and within the forest of humanity?  What snow does for trees, grace does for people.  The trouble, however, lies in the eyes; in the way that we look with them…and the way that we hear with them.  It’s one thing to notice snow on a tree…it’s quite another to notice grace on a person. Wouldn’t it be nice if, as our eyes scanned across the people we encounter every day, we saw them bedecked in grace?  What if we saw all that God covered rather than all that nature creased?  What if we saw the person instead of the party, the kid instead of the crowd?  What…if…we…saw…grace?  Would it change the way we greeted others, or treated others?  Would it change the distance of our vision…and the distinctness of our vision?  Would we see beyond what lies before and before what lies beyond?  And, if we saw such grace, how much more would we hear?  Instead of letting our eyes give voice to the world, would our eyes now give voice to the Creator?  Would we hear Him every time we saw them?  Here’s what I think:  what’s true in the woods is also true in the woulds.

Oh, that we would allow God’s grace to fall upon us, and to cover us, and to defines us.  Oh, that we would look upon others the way God looks upon us, as recipients of His robes of righteousness.  Oh, that we would see the accentuation of grace on mankind as clearly as we see the delineation of snow on maples.  Oh, that we would see every individual conspicuously outlined by God’s snowfall of grace.  And oh, that we would hear God’s gentle reminder…“for by grace you have been saved…and that not of yourselves…it is a gift from Me.”

A quiet snowfall, a quick walk, a quaint woods, a quaking lesson.  I hope you were able to see it with me…and to hear it with me.  Now, with God’s grace, I hope you will try to walk it with me.  We’ll need grace upon grace…but we have access to a never ending supply at the throne of grace.  Let’s plan on meeting there!

And now…a word from our Sponsor!

And Now, a Word from our Sponsor

Well, as the title suggests, this is a commercial break.  While my goal has been to post something that will stir, gel, or solidify your thoughts, such efforts will have to wait for another week or two.  In the morning, I will be heading to San Salvador with a group from my church.  We will be sharing the gospel in several schools and participating in nightly evangelism gatherings in surrounding communities.  As I have been preparing for this trip, I have not been able to write a new post, nor will I be able to in the coming week.  Fortunately, if you enjoy leftovers, there are several old selections you can pull out and reheat.  You might want to go back to the posts from last October as they fit this time of year quite nicely.

If you are visiting this site for the first time, then I hope you’ll have a look around and stay for a spell.  Dig through the archived posts and see if there is anything to suit your fancy.

If you are a returning reader, then I ask that you either pull up something old or simply offer up a prayer for our group’s time in El Salvador. We truly covet your prayers!

Thank you for coming to The Scarlet Cord; I hope you make yourself at home.  Just remember to put the key back where you found it so others may enter as well!

And now…back to your regularly scheduled reading…back-to-your-program


Wooded Lands, Wooded Hearts

Wooded Lands, Wooded Hearts

“You enlarged my path under me [because You gathered sticks in the woods] and my feet did not slip.”  Psalm 18:36

 I just came from the woods.  That can only mean one of two things…I went there to relax or I went there to reclaim.  Today, it was a mission of reclaiming that which I’ve claimed over and over again.  Ah, but the trees are relentless in their desire to rid themselves of unwanted kindling.  They seem completely at ease with dropping branches, both large and small, pretty much every time the wind blows.  And, since the wind recently put forth a great huff and a great puff, the trees acted accordingly and let go of a great bounty of branches!

Continue reading “Wooded Lands, Wooded Hearts”

True Colors

True Colors

“He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”  -Psalm 1:3

         “Those trees, those trees, those Truffula trees!  All my life I’d been searching for trees such as these!” (from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax).  And then I found them…in my backyard.  The other morning I looked out the window and there they were; golden, crimson, russet, and, because there are always a few late-unbloomers, greenish.  Fall had arrived and I, for one, was eager to see it!  It is my favorite time of year, next to spring, and summer, and winter…when it snows.  But, while there are aspects of each season that I admire, none can compare with the eruption of colors that emerge in the fall.  There’s something about the radiance of the trees that makes even the dreariest day glow with color.  It really is a sight to behold.

And, while the external beauty on its own is enough to delight the senses, there is also an internal message that surfaces with the uncoloring of each leaf.  That’s right…“I said what I meant and I meant what I said” (from Horton Hears a Who)…the uncoloring of the leaves.  (Apparently I am suffering from a literary anemia commonly referred to as Seuss-orexia which results in intermittent spouts of Seuss quotes…so sorry.  I’ll down a dose of The Sneetches and be back to normal soon, or my name’s not Sylvester McMonkey McBean!)  You see, while we say the trees are “turning” colors, the truth is that they are actually unturning colors; in reality, the leaves are revealing their true colors.  Once the temperature drops enough to halt food production for the season, the leaves stop producing chlorophyll and the green pigmentation, well, pardon the pun, but it “leaves”, thus allowing the leaves to show their true colors.  Pretty amazing; pretty revealing, in more ways than one.

And so I wonder…if leaves have two colors, do people have two colors also?  Do we, do I, allow “food production” to color us (me) and cover up the true color that lies just under the surface?  As I think about this, I realize that what is depicted in the leaves of the oaks, elms, and maples is also portrayed in the lives of the Oaks, Elms, and Maples.  We all were created with a glorious color that is too often masked by our productivity.  We move in and out of each day with a “to do” list that keeps our chlorophyll pumping, our cholesterol rising, and our true radiance hidden.  We are far more like trees than we might like to admit, much less bark about. (I know…I went out on a limb with this one…and yet I couldn’t resist!)

As I reflect on what makes leaves green, I can’t help but think the same function causes us to be greenish as well.  Leaves are virtual mini factories, working diligently from sun-up until sun-down.  We too often move throughout our days as if we’re working within a factory.  We clock-in each morning and continue to have our time-cards punched as we move from one task to another.  Too often we fall behind schedule and try to catch-up by working through lunch, overlapping activities, and throwing whatever isn’t tied down off the wagon.  Then, when our feet hit the mattress and our head hits the pillow, we clock-out.  Sound familiar?  Feel familiar? Look familiar?  When you look around, what color do you see in yourself and in those around you?  Is your world lit up with the splendor of gold and crimson and orange?  Or, is it greenish?

Now, before I make it sound as if green is an undesirable color, let me reiterate that the purpose of leaves is to make food for the plant, and that is necessary.  We don’t get to the seasonal colors of fall without the seasonal greenery of summer.  The trouble is that trees are not able to choose their season; they respond to the cycles of nature and rhythmically move in and out of season.  We, however, tend to reset our seasonal cycles so that we stay in one season longer than we were meant to.  We long for productivity, so we ignore the changing temperatures around us and try to pack even more into our ever shortening hours of daylight.  Instead of entering into a season of rest, we press on and look for new sources of light to provide our fuel.  Eventually, even though we’re still functioning as if we are productive, our output becomes a trickle and our color is still that of, well…of a pickle!  And, we’re in a pickle, too!  If only we could learn to allow our working to cease, for a season, so that our true colors could emerge.  If only we could learn to be content with doing less in one area so that we would have the energy needed to do more in another area.  Trees rest so that the food produced during a growing season can be stored and available for use the following season.  If we only produce but never store, from whence will our new growth come?  How will our roots deepen, our trunks widen (no comment here…though it’s killing me not to), and our branches broaden if we don’t allow that which was manufactured to be stored?

In Psalm 78:6, we read, “That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children.”   I love this verse.  It speaks of longevity, of production followed by productivity; of making and then storing…that future seasons will be even more prolific than preceding seasons.  It speaks of leaves that are golden, and crimson, and russet.

So how do we move out of one season and into another?  How do we allow production to decrease so that productivity may increase?  We start by realizing that we were created to do more than simply produce.  We are wired to work, and that is good.  But, as Satan is the distorter of all that is good, we have in our flesh the drive to overwork.  We bite into the lie that busyness builds and swiftness succeeds so we diligently dig deeper holes and build higher piles, and all at an alarmingly increased speed!  To move from busyness to bounty, we must allow God to rewire our thinking so that we rightly see the productivity that abounds when production ceases.  We must realize that we are more than what we do; our true color lies just below our surface…just beneath our activities.  When we stop doing and start resting, we begin storing…and then our green gives way to golden.

Golden leaves, they emerge when we invest in kingdom work like sharing the gospel and teaching God’s truths.  Russet leaves, they unfold when we make ourselves available, when we slow down long enough to listen and to hear.  Crimson leaves, they appear when we sacrifice for the sake of others, when we allow our production to give way to productivity for the sake of our posterity…for the generations present and those yet to come.  This is how we invest, this is how we store, this is how we grow, and this is how we glow.  May we all enjoy the beauty of fall, both outwardly and inwardly…that we may be like the tree in Psalm 1:3…“firmly planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in its season; whose leaf does not wither, and in whatever he does, he prospers.”

trees by water 2 tree by water

Further Up and Further In

Further Up and Further In

“But I press on that I might lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has already laid hold of me.”  Philippians 3:12b

               I have had fall break this week and with it came a longing to “go to the creek”.  It is my happy place, my quiet place, my “real” place.  As I stood at the edge of the yard, hearing the trees call out to me, I couldn’t help but think how much I like trees; I like their strength, their stability, their ruggedness.  I was tempted to hug one, but decided against it; I didn’t want to embarrass the tree.  But, as I stood there, I thought about how different it is to look at trees from afar or through a window as opposed to sitting among them in their natural habitat.  There are some things that just cannot be appreciated unless you sit right down beside them; unless you go further up and further in.  I know this is true in nature, and I have come to realize it is true in life as well.

For some reason, thinking about my desire to be “up close and personal” with the trees led me to reflect on the times I have looked forward to being close to other aspects of nature.  I remember my anticipation and excitement about seeing the ocean for the first time.  I was in my early twenties and I’d never been to the ocean (or, to be geographically correct, the Gulf).  I couldn’t wait to see the endless expanse of blue waters, the boundless shorelines, and the incredible sunsets.  But, when I arrived, what I saw was the endless expanse of souvenir shops, the boundless rows of water-front shanties, and the unimpressive displays of beach paraphernalia.  The water…well, I did see it…after I waded through the commercialized sea of beach trafficking, but by then I was so disappointed that the beauty of the water didn’t wash away my disillusionment of the pre-ocean scenery.  I had expected God’s nature unfurled; I received man’s nature unchecked.

The same experience happened when I went to Gatlinburg and, years later, to Alaska.  Each time, I envisioned nature in it rawest, most prolific form but what I observed was nature in its gaudiest, most profitable form.  Now, to be fair, I did see beautiful aspects of nature, but they were tucked behind the souvenir t-shirts, ball caps, and shot glasses.  That’s when I decided, if I was ever going to truly see the beauty of an area, I would not go to its perimeter but would set my sights on the interior instead; to see nature at its best, I would need to go further up and further in.  And, as it turns out, this approach is true for experiencing the richness of life as well as the reality of nature.  The best part, the truest part, is only found when you move beyond the outlying areas and into the inner arena.

Paul knew this.  I know because he wrote, “But I press on, that I might lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has already laid hold of me.”  (Phil 3:12)  He wasn’t content with life on the perimeter; he too wanted more; he too preferred the unadulterated interior to the unguarded exterior.  Paul knew the importance, the necessity, of going further up and further in; he didn’t settle for a replica, he went after the real thing.  Somehow, standing on the edge of the woods and longing to be in the woods brought this realization to life.  I understand the disparity between the longing and the living, between the anticipated and the actual.  I can relate to the chasm that often separates the two.  But now, I see that it’s not a discernment that is meant to be migratory but rather a disillusionment that is intended to be motivational.  Just as the true beauty of nature is most visible when looking from the inside out, so too is the true essence of man most notable when looking from the heart-side out.  “Or do you not know…”

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price.  Therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s.”  (I Cor. 6:19-20)  Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians but they are for our benefit as well.  From these verses, we are reminded that both our outer body and our inner soul belong to God; His Spirit dwells within us.  And, if the Holy Spirit resides within us, then surely our inner being is unquestionably more important…more authentic…than our outer being.  Surely what lies on my perimeter (my flesh) is as juxtaposed with my spirit as the souvenir shops are with the ocean.  Further up and further in…that’s where the true beauty lies; further up and further in…that’s where the true purpose resides; further up and further in…that’s where the Spirit abides.

But how often do we realize we’re caught up in perimeter living?  How often do we fail to see that we’ve stopped looking at the ocean and instead are gazing upon Uncle Charlie’s Crab Shack?  How often do we don the “I Saw Alaska” t-shirt that was purchased one hundred feet from the cruise ship’s dock?  Or, how often do we hang-out at the church house rather than hiking up the mountain for a real encounter with our Creator?  It’s all perimeter living; it’s all pausing at the edge rather than pressing on, and in, to the interior.  Past experience tells me that the out-lying areas are not the best representation of a territory’s true beauty.  To see the heart of something, you have to travel to its core.  Not only is this true in the realm of physical nature, but it’s also true in realm of human nature.  Our most authentic, unadulterated self lies not in our flesh but in our spirit.  If someone wants an accurate view of who we are, then they’ll have to go further up and further in; they cannot look from a distance nor can they tippy-toe around our perimeters.  They will have to press in until they can see the intentions of our heart.  And, lest we think this is one-sided, we too will need to do the same.

How blessed we are to have a Father who already does this!  No one knows us better than God; no one sees us more clearly than God; no one loves us more completely than God.  He is the Discerner or our thoughts (Heb. 4:12), the Defender of our minds (Phil. 4:6-7), and the Deliverer of our souls (Ps. 56:13).  God was not content to walk along the perimeters of Heaven but scaled time and space to place His Son in the midst of our world…in the center of our need.  And with that one act, He bids us to follow Him.  He places within us the desire to know that which is real, to not be content with perimeter living, and to continually move further up and further in.  For when we do, not only do we move past those things which are cheap imitations but we also press in to the One through whom all things are seen more clearly.

Perimeter living; I don’t want to do it.  Not as it applies to my physical walk and not as it applies to my spiritual walk.  I am thankful God has reminded me to press on, to go beyond the exterior and to seek that which lies further in.  My prayer is that I will continue to see the disparity between outer-edge living and inner-expanse living that I may never settle for a souvenir when the real thing lies just further up and further in!  I hope this is your prayer as well!

Alaska shop