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!

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”

Heart Piles

Heart Piles

“But the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders…How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?”       Joshua 17:18; 18:2

             Borders.  We tend to think of them as restrictive, as confining, as limiting.  We give them a negative connotation instead of a positive demarcation.  Borders mark our territory; they delineate our acreage; they stretch out our inheritance!  While we may see them as fence lines we aren’t supposed to cross, in reality, we rarely walk our fence lines, much less camp beside them.  Truth be told, most of us live in a small portion of our land and all too often fail to stretch to the edge of our “restrictive” borders; we fail to clear our “forest country”.

That’s what the Israelites did…or didn’t…do.  After entering the Promised Land and driving out its inhabitants, the twelve tribes were to settle their land, to inhabit not just a portion of the land, but all the way to its borders.  For most, this was a daunting task.  Yes, God had given them the land He’d promised; yes, He’d allowed them to overthrow kings; yes, He’d dried up riverbeds and knocked down walls, but no land was completely established…no territory was cleared all the way to its borders! 

The tribes of Joseph did what many of us tend to do.  They looked at their inheritance and said, “Is that all we get?  It’ll never be enough.”  To which Joshua replied, “But you own all the way to the far borders…beyond the hills and through the forest country.  Can’t you see it?”  But apparently they could only see to the forest and not through the forest; what they couldn’t see was the border beyond the brush-line.

I think about these instructions of Joshua whenever I see land that has been cleared and brush that has been piled.  Sometimes, the scene is one of land being made ready for use, of a territory claimed, conquered, and cleared.  But sometimes, the scene is one of devastation, of land that has been hacked, hauled, and heaped.  Work has been done, but not completed; piles have been made but not burned; territory has been exposed, but not expanded.  It’s frustrating to see such starts…without the follow through of a finish.  All the work that went into cutting and piling, but without the burning, has left the land no more inhabitable than when the timber stood vertically rather than lying horizontally.  Why so close…why the almost instead of the Amen?  And so my thoughts wander…and rise…and land at God’s feet…where He collects them, and addresses them.

“You do this, too.”

“What? Me? I always burn my piles!”

“Yes, the ones in the woods you do, but what about the ones in your heart?”

“Lord, what piles are in my heart?  What have You cut down that I have left stacked up?”

“Well, there’s the pile of doubt, uncertainties, and fear along your northern border.  That should go.  Then, there’s the prickly pile of pride with its thorns of ‘what will others think’ and ‘what if I mess up’ that’s hampering access to the western border.  On the south end, there’s – ”

“Um, excuse me, but just how many more piles are there?”

“As I was saying, to the south there’s the pile of impatience…to which you may add that branch you just picked up…and to the east, there’s that brush pile of selfishness.  All piles of fallen timbers that I have cut and you have stacked…but not burned.”

(Gulp.)  “Lord, I don’t know what to say except…may I have a Light?”

Heart piles.  Who knew?  Areas that need to be cut down, mounded up, and burned through.  Areas that block our borders and limit our latitude.  Areas that increase our flammability but decrease our fruit-ability because they prevent us from inhabiting all of our inheritance.  In the book of Joshua, the tribes have been given the promised land; now, they have to land on the promise.  God delivered them, He promised to help them develop; God conquered for them, He promised to help them claim; God exhumed for them, He promised to help them expand.  At every turn, God was there before, beside, behind, and below.  River in the way?  God piled it up.  Walls in the way?  God pulled them down.  Kings in the way?  God plucked them out.  Trees in the way?  God handed them an ax.

Sometimes I wait on God and sometimes He waits on me.  I think I’m being patient while He’s being purposeful when in actuality He’s being patient while I’m being impudent.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the border for the trees; sometimes it’s hard to see the perimeter for the piles.  It’s true of physical inheritances and it’s true of spiritual inheritances; it’s true of land borders and of heart borders.  How often, if we think about it, has God brought us to our promised area just to see us dwell in a portion of our acreage?  How often have we asked God for more without even inhabiting all that we have?  How often has God cleared our forests only to watch us stack up the fallen timbers as if to memorialize that which has been cut down?  Oh, that we would trust in…and inhabit…His promises.  If we did, we’d have larger territories, wider borders, and no fire hazards; we’d not only have all the room we need, but we’d have enough for everyone whom we’d invite…for generations to come! And, we’d have said of us what the Israelites had said of them.

“Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And    they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:43-45 ESV)

God made good on His promise to the Israelites more than 3,500 years ago.  Why?  Because they were His chosen people.  God makes good on His promises to us right here, right now.  Why?  Because we are His adopted children.  God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so we don’t have to be.  He’s cleared our sins, so we can reach our borders; He’s stacked our fears, so we can clear our territory; and He’s given us a burn permit, so we can increase our inheritance.

So, won’t you join me in “Project Burn”?  It’s time for the piles to go.  It’s time for the land to be inhabited…fully and far-ly (it’s a new word…feel free to use it as it’s now in print), to the fence and back.  Ready?   I’ve got my Lighter…do you have yours?

burning wood pile

A Walk on the Beach, or…The Sandy Psalm


A Walk on the Beach, or…The Sandy Psalm

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!”  Psalm 32:1

It’s summertime, which means it’s beach time.  Actually, anytime can be beach time since it’s as much a state of mind as it is a state of destination.  As is true for dehydrated foods, so it is true for dehydrated souls; if you need to be refreshed…just add water!  I love to go to the beach, but for me it is far more of a spiritual retreat than a “fun in the sun” vacation.  There’s something about the vastness of the ocean that reminds me, again, of the enormity of God.  There’s something about the depth of the waters that causes me to contemplate the unfathomable nature of God.  There’s something about the realization that many things lie under the surface of the water, things unseen but definitely present, that reminds me there are aspects of God that I accept by faith and not by sight.  And then there is the shoreline; the sand…and the waves…and their feel….and their sound.  Yes, a walk on the beach is like a walk through God’s closet; it’s personal, it’s crammed with His belongings, it contains things that reveal His personality and taste, it contains items that are custom made, and everything bears His scent.

Sometimes my get-a-ways aren’t physically possible, but thankfully the mental train is always accessible and ready for boarding.  So today, as I read through Psalm 32, I took a walk on the beach.  The first two verses are the ones that led me to the water’s edge as I read the following:

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!  How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.”

As I read these verses, I thought I’d do a quick word study on the three seemingly synonymous words of transgression, sin, and iniquity.  Then, while the shovel was out, I dug up the Hebrew meanings of forgiven, covered, and impute.  That’s when the footprints emerged and, just as quickly, were filled.  I was at the beach and the waves were washing over my feet.

In the verses written above, transgressions are forgiven, sins are covered, and iniquities are not imputed.  As I sought out the original Hebrew meaning for these words, I learned that transgressions are rebellions, sins are offenses, and iniquities are deliberate acts of evil.  With each word, the intensity of the deed increased.  Then, when looking up the “filling” for each of these wrongdoings, I discovered forgiven means to take away, covered means to fill up the hollows, and impute means to devise.  Just as footprints in the sand are quickly covered by the incoming waves, so too are each of these wrongs completely filled by the waters of God’s love.  Where the imprints of rebellion are evident, God’s mercy carries them away; where the hollows of offenses are revealed, God’s grace fills them in; and where the tracks of evil are etched, God’s redemption does not allow them to remain.

How wonderful it is to know that our lives can become as smooth as the shoreline when we allow God’s waves to wash over us.  While we can move away from the water’s edge and leave behind all kinds of evidence of our time at the beach, it is absolutely impossible to walk along the water’s edge and override the gentle push/pull power of the waves.  Even the mechanics of waves reflect their Engineer.  The crest of the wave gradually overtakes the trough of the wave and, when the bottom of the wave hits the bottom of the shore, it “crashes” upon the sand.  This process not only deposits things onto the shore (fish, shells, seaweed, boogie boards…with and without riders), but it also pulls things from the shore (crabs, sandcastles, footprints…with and without the feet that left them).  Within each wave we see a reflection of the God who designed it:  grace, like the crest, brings abundance from God’s hand and mercy, like the trough, pulls back that which needs to be submerged…perhaps even buried on the ocean’s floor…and we are left with a smooth shoreline.

The one necessary element, however, is that one must walk where the water meets the sand.  If we want to keep our sandy surface smooth but don’t want to live close to the ocean, then we’ll find that those imprints of transgression, the hollows of sin, and the tracks of iniquity are never washed away.  The individual footprints may become undetectable as more and more are placed over them, but they are never smoothed over, never washed away, never filled in.  Only one’s proximity to the ocean can bring the desired effect of a smooth shoreline.  And, when the waters have washed over the sand, not only is the surface renewed, but it also strengthened.  Dry sand is difficult to walk in; wet sand is much more traversable.  Not only do the waves fill in our gaps and carry away our clutter, but they also make our lives more navigable, and not just for us but for others as well.  With whom would you rather journey, one whose life has been washed over by the waves of mercy and grace or one whose life knows no watering except that which comes from his own hose?

Today, I went to the beach.  Today, I allowed God’s waves of grace and mercy to wash over my feet.  Today, I sank my toes in the sands of His forgiveness as I let the waters of His truth carry away my transgressions, fill up the hollows of my sins, and discard the shells of my iniquities.  The trip was not nearly as long as I would have liked, nor was there any fresh seafood, but the packing and unpacking process was easy and there isn’t a mountainous pile of laundry to do…well, at least not as the result of a lengthy vacation!  Maybe if I sprinkle sand over my pile of dirty clothes I will get the feel of having been to the beach…

flip flops

Clean Floors; Confessed Hearts

Clean Floors, Confessed Hearts

“Do not come any closer,” God said.  “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  Exodus 3:5 and [similarly] Joshua 5:15

     Funny thing, this housework that I do.  Correction:   funny thing this weekly housework that I do.  I approach it so differently than I do so many other things.  Each week I go through the necessary tasks that make my home distinguishable from, say, a barn.  I vacuum the carpets, dust the furniture, scrub sinks, tubs, and toilets, and mop the floors (okay…in reality that’s an every other week thing, but it is still done more frequent than any barn can boast).  And, with each movement of the vacuum, mop, or sponge, I am well aware of the fact that I will be revisiting these areas, with these same tools, in a matter of days.  I could just say it’s not worth it, since it has to be redone again and again, but I know full well that it is worth the effort.  When I come home, I want to be able to see the countertops and not just assume they are there because, obviously, something is holding up all those dishes!  And, I want to sit down on the couch without having to remove a slip cover made of last week’s (or yesterday’s) laundry.  Don’t even get me started on bathtubs with rings or showers with homemade (or homegrown?) non-skid floors!  Oh, if only the things that keep us clean would likewise keep themselves clean!  I guess what the shower does for me I in turn must do for the shower; fair enough, and so I do…again, and again.

So I have been wondering Continue reading “Clean Floors; Confessed Hearts”