A Grace You Can “Grow Into”


“…But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.”  Romans 5:20b


               There are some phrases that are less appreciated with age; “you’ll grow into it” is one of them.  When I was young, it wasn’t a bad thing to receive something that, though not a perfect fit at the time, would eventually become something that I would grow into.  From bicycles whose pedals were a stretch to reach, to outfits whose sleeves and legs would require a stretch to fill, growing into something simply meant I had something to look forward to.  But, as an adult, I can’t say that I embrace the concept of growing into something the way I did as a child.  Receiving items I can’t use now…but will have to grow into…is not only unappealing, it’s downright unflattering.  Think about it.  What is there, for a person who’s on the far side of middle-age, that would be exciting to wait for…to grow into?  Cookware?  Well, that would just mean I don’t yet have the culinary skills required to use what I’ve just received.  Books?   Again, if I have to grow into them, I must not have the aptitude to understand them as yet.  And, while this is truly the case with many a text, telling me so will not bring accolades of delight from my lips!  There’s furniture, that can be a nice gift, but the only furniture one grows into at my age is the lift chair and the Hover-round.  And, what about clothing?  While I used to like the idea of growing into an outfit, now…um…need I even answer this?  Nope, there’s not one gift I can think of that I’d like to receive if it meant I’d have to grow into it.

Continue reading “A Grace You Can “Grow Into””

Things That Are Stretched

Things That Are Stretched

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or imagine…”        
  –Ephesians 3:20a

I’m not a big game show fan, but there are a few that have piqued my interest over the years.  One of them was the $25,000 Pyramid.  Actually, it began as the $10,000 Pyramid but later increased its prize money…and its hosting talent (sorry Bill Cullen)…when Dick Clark took the helm.  If you are unfamiliar with this oldie but goodie, then here is a brief description.  Contestants had to take turns giving and receiving clues from their “star” partner in order to name seven items that were somehow related in a given category.  The team with the most correct guesses would go on to the “big” pyramid.  At this level, the rules reversed and now the contestant had to identify the category from a list of descriptive clues.

I haven’t thought of this game show in a long time…until the other day.  I was thinking about the irony (or so it seemed to me) of God stretching our faith.  I thought about how stretching things usually made them weaker, not stronger.  I started to think of things that not only get stretched, but get stretched out.  First, I remembered my grade school knee socks; one always seemed drawn to my ankle more than to my knee, which resulted in my using a rubber band to hold it up.  (If you fold the sock down over the rubber band it goes unnoticed…unless the rubber band is too tight in which case the purple thigh gives it away.)  This memory led me to add both rubber bands and socks to my list of stretched out things; then I thought of elastic.  Next, I started to think a little more broadly and came up with imaginations, the truth, and a pregnant woman’s stomach!  By now, I felt like a contestant on the $25,000 Pyramid, giving clues for the category “Things that are Stretched”.  And there you have it.  Stretched faith led to stretched knee socks which eventually led to an old game show.  What’s not to understand?

When the reverie was over, I returned to my original thought:  God stretches our faith.  In doing this, our faith is made stronger; it never needs a rubber band to hold it up as with each tug and pull its elasticity actually increases.  Every time God allows us to be in a situation in which we not only need faith to stand but we literally have nothing left to stand on without it, our faith grows.  Every time we are made to go outside of our comfort area, God stretches our faith to cover this expanded territory, and our faith grows.  And, every time we find ourselves at the end of ourselves, God holds out a rope of faith…just beyond where we can grasp without leaning way, way out to lay hold of it…and our faith grows.

I thought about the other dispositions God stretches for the purpose of strengthening:  there’s knowledge, self-control, perseverance, patience, obedience, and love.  Every one of these is bound to be placed upon God’s stretching rack at some point, and repeatedly, with the express purpose of increasing its durability and usability.  When I think about what is required in order for these attributes to mature, I realize I shouldn’t have such an adverse reaction to those things that are used for my own good…and growth.  When circumstances arise that tug on my patience, yank on my perseverance, or wrench on my obedience, I want to wriggle out of them and avoid the discomfort.  But, if I would just remember that it is during these spiritual bouts of tug-of-war that God is strengthening me, then I think (I hope) I would have a whole new attitude…and even an appreciation…for what is taking place.

If I could remember this, I would realize I am in good company.  I could even become a member of the ‘Stretchy Club’.  In this select group, we find Moses, Joshua, Esther, Elijah, Rahab, John, and Peter.  Every one of these individuals found themselves in situations in which their faith was stretched beyond their comfort zone, beyond their former belief zone, and way, way past their own ability zone.  Moses informed Pharaoh each plague would come; Joshua told his army the walls would fall down, Ester told the king she needed to speak with him, Elijah told the prophets of Baal his offering would burn, Rahab told her family they would be spared, John and Peter told the lame man he could walk.  Each of these acts required more faith than each person initially had, but when they reached out for more…when they put not only their neck but God’s name on the line…they found their faith was stretched, strengthened, and stationed.  There was no recoiling or rebounding once their faith was extended; it didn’t snap back like a rubber band but kept its new shape while also keeping its elasticity.  It would be stretched again, and it would expand again, and stretched again, and expand again, and…well, you get the picture.  How God-like to do something so contrary to what we expect.  Only He could pull on something again and again and receive a positive result; only He could stretch something out and make it better than it was to start with.  When God does the stretching, it isn’t to make something less effective but more expansive.  In His hands, things that are stretched don’t lose their vitality, they attain it.

So, with this new understanding of stretchy things, with this categorical mind-set of “things that need stretching”, and with this uncanny desire to watch the $25,000 Pyramid (while wearing knee socks and snapping rubber bands), I submit myself to God’s stretching table.  I empty my pockets of wrapped up obedience and unwrapped patience.  I retrieve my locked box and dump out the contents of knowledge, self-control, perseverance, and love.  I take all the things I wanted to keep in their original containers and I allow them to be handled, and tugged, and stretched; I place them in God’s hands so He can continually reshape them and reshape me.  I wait for the pull…and know with every tug and tweak, my faith isn’t being worn out, it’s being stretched out.  And that’s a good thing; that’s a God thing.

things that crumble

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”

Definition Defined

Definition Defined

“The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways.”   Deuteronomy  28:9

 To mow or not to mow, that is the question, and it’s not answered by the length of the grass.  That is too obvious.  Who would even consider mowing a lawn whose blades weren’t in need of shortening?  No, the answer lies in the amount of time one has to do the job.  For me, if I don’t have enough time to mow and weed-eat, then I don’t have enough time to mow.  If I can’t complete the entirety of what is needed, then I don’t even begin.  The only thing worse (in my opinion) than a lawn in need of mowing is a mowed lawn in need of weed-eating.  Somehow the contrast between the tended and untended causes me to notice only the untended.  And that is an affront to my optic nerves!

At my house, when it comes to yard work, I can enlist helpers to mow the grass.  It’s not too difficult to find a volunteer to drive the riding lawn mower.  But, when it comes to doing the weed-eating (or, heaven forbid, the push mower), there isn’t a volunteer in sight and, while I have tried to reinstate the “yard draft”, that too has proven futile.  Turns out no one else has heard of this civil service act.  Go figure.  At any rate, I, by decree, default, and defeat, am the leader of the weed-eating army of…one.

So, as I was weed-eating the other day, I thought about why this portion of the yard work was so important to me.  Truly, no one else in my home values this procedure as much as I do, so I asked myself why it meant so much to me.  And the answer came in one word:  definition.  Weed-eating gives definition to a yard, clearly defining its boundaries.  Without it, there is no distinction between the areas that are being maintained and those that are not intended to be upheld.  I began to think about the word definition.  Later, because I thought it was ironic…and funny…, I looked up the definition for the word definition.  Here is what I found:  the degree of distinctness in outline of an object, image, or sound; synonyms – clarity, sharpness, crispness, acuteness.  As I thought about this word, I realized it encompassed far more than I had originally speculated.  Far beyond depicting my value of weed-eating, this four syllable word held a much deeper meaning; by its very definition, it identified itself as a word that stresses the importance of boundaries, of clarity and distinctness.

As I allowed this thought to expand, it quickly jumped the borders of yard work and crossed into the boundaries of life.  Once in this terrain, it began stamping its name upon those areas that also have, or are in need of, definition.  It tattooed its name on that which is written and spoken; communication relies on definition to be effective.  It seared its name upon art and music; even our senses need precision in order for appreciation to emerge.  It imprinted its name on policies and principles, contracts and covenants, government and the governed; all these rely upon clear definitions in order to function properly.  And then, with one fell swoop, it personally wrote its name upon the Church; not the building, but the body of believers.  There too, there especially, there more than anywhere else, definition was necessary.

But how does one apply this word to one’s life?  How, as Christians who are the Church, do we become defined?  How do we develop a “distinct outline” and increase our clarity and crispness?  The answer is found in the book of Deuteronomy.  Here, as Moses reiterates the laws God has given to His people as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, we read of how the Israelites were to be defined.  They were not to look like the people who lived in the land God was giving them; they were not to follow their customs or to practice foreign religions.  The Israelites were to be distinct…acutely different from those around them.  In Deuteronomy 4:1, Moses gives these reminders to the Israelites:

“Surely I have taught you statues and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess.  Therefore, be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”  

Then, in chapter 28:9-10, Moses records,

“The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways.  Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you.”  (Bold font mine.)

In these cited verses, as well as in the entire book of Deuteronomy, God defines His people.  He addresses every aspect of living so that, by definition, the Israelites will be known as His children, with a clarity that is easily recognizable and a sharpness that is in stark contrast with those around them.  Throughout this book, warnings are given to those who don’t want to weed-eat; to those who are reluctant to keep their boundaries clearly marked.  For them, God warns that, once the perimeters are no longer clearly edged, their distinction will be lost and they will soon look more like their godless neighbors than like God’s chosen people.  When this occurs, they will exchange the blessings of godly obedience for the curses of ungodly obstinacy.

While the book of Deuteronomy records what the Israelites were to do in order to be a clearly defined people, its truths apply to all believers today who make up Christ’s bride, the Church.  We too are called to live in such a way that there is a distinctness about us; we are to have our boundaries clearly marked, and trimmed, so that others know what we believe and Who we belong to.  If we only tend to our general yards through church attendance, church events, Sunday School, etc. (group activities) and neglect the detail of weed-eating through daily Bible time, prayer, Scripture memorization, etc. (personal disciplines), then we will soon lose our definition and, as was true for the Israelites, begin to resemble the people around us more than the God we have been called to represent.  We will be yards whose borders are not clearly seen and, therefore, are easily trespassed.

So, whether or not you share my philosophy for literal weed-eating, I hope you will share my newly uncovered philosophy for spiritual weed-eating!  Truly we are to be distinctly Christian; people who, by definition, are to have a “degree of distinctness in outline and form”.  May we, as believers, be a people whose clarity, crispness, and acuity may be evident so that others might first see our faith and then see our Savior.  Now that’s weed-eating at its best!