Spiritual life … it has to start somewhere. Most often, nowadays and through the work of the enemy, a person who is not a believer in Christ views becoming spiritual as some sort of personal achievement or soul ascension commonly referred to as, “enlightenment.” The problem with the idea of new age enlightenment is that it rarely recognizes one’s brokenness, but rather it places a Band Aid on a bullet wound. I’ll admit, the enlightenment Band Aid is more productive than the alcohol Band Aid, or the social media Band Aid, or the success Band Aid, or the addiction Band Aid. The problem is that there’s no recognition of the severity of the pain and without recognition, the proper healing will be ignored. We live in a world that chooses to ignore pain and treat the symptoms of it rather than search out the cause.
This, I would argue, is one of the core differences in one’s willingness to look in the direction of Christ as a possible solution. If I don’t admit that I’m broken, then I don’t need a healer. If I don’t need a healer then I don’t need a savior, and if I don’t need a savior then I don’t have to submit to anyone as Lord. “I’ve got this. I don’t need any help. I certainly don’t need help from someone who is going to point out what I’m doing wrong and then command me to do something else. I’m the boss of me. Self help, that’s my doctrine.” It’s a root sin of pride that settles into the hearts of so many because they’re so afraid of ever being told that they’re doing something wrong. An avoidance of shame, perhaps. “I’d rather keep buying Band Aids for my bullet wounds and then keep walking back into battle than to be told I’m fighting the wrong way. What, you’re going to add insult to injury? No thanks. I can fight on my own. I’ll read my own books that don’t tell me I’m wrong, they only tell me how to overcome. I can draw my own battle plans. … Band Aid, please!”
The recognition of brokenness without the presence of a savior is the blueprint for a prison of shame, but the kindness of a savior that leads us to recognize our brokenness transports us to a place of sin recognition and moves us into a new house in a new country. Romans 6:1-3 says, “So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!” It’s a house governed by grace … a grace that empowers us to follow rules that avoid continued brokenness. It’s a house built by the hands of love and it’s that love that gives reason for the following of commands. Without grace, daily and unique grace, we would be tempted to speak in the old tongues of defeat, shame, and guilt. Shame clogs up our arteries where grace cleanses them. Shame puts on the emergency break and then revs the engine in an attempt to prove itself, where grace recognizes its wrongdoing and pulls over for a moment to pull itself together only to return to the same path and correct it’s mistakes.
Its grace in the life of the Christian that creates space for submission and surrender, otherwise submission and surrender are done as a means to prove one’s self and one’s dedication to performance. Grace doesn’t ask us to perform anything without first empowering us to do so, and creating space for failure. Without grace, failure is a finality. With grace, failure is an invitation to try again and try differently. Brokenness in the absence of a savior writes on its name tag, “Hello, my name is INCAPABLE, UNDESIRABLE, UNWANTED, MISFIT, PEASANT, UNLOVABLE, UNWORTHY, PURPOSELESS, UNABLE, UNCHOSEN, ACCIDENTAL, UNINTELLIGENT, DEAD, ALONE, UNEQUIPPED, INADEQUATE, FAILURE.” It introduces itself as absolute, rather than inviting us and our savior into its house so that wemight recognize pain and allow our savior to heal the cause. Its grace that changes how we operate. Grace invites us to walk forth bravely into the midst of our brokenness because it has plans to touch every hurt place with it’s healing power. I once excused my actions with what I thought was grace, but it was really just an excuse masquerading as grace. Grace recognizes and draws our attention to where we fall short but it reaches down to pick us back up and it hoists us up like a medic on the field of battle, carrying us on his shoulders out of the line of fire so that it might heal our wounds. And sometimes grace stays on the battle field with us when we don’t think we can ever stand upright again and it heals our wounds as it acts as a shield from the bullets that whiz by. Psalm 41:10 says, “God, give grace, get me up on my feet. I’ll show them a thing or two.”
Grace speaks the language of forgiveness and the dialect of grace is love. Could we rearrange all three of those terms? Absolutely, but that’s not the point we’re making. Why does grace keep coming back to pick us up when we fail? It doesn’t make sense to those who’ve never known perfect love before. I’d easily dare to bet that there have been people in your life who have manipulated you in the name of love, required reciprocation for love extended, or maybe even required a perfect record of action and called back every wrong move you’ve ever made in an effort to manipulate the situation. The trinity of grace, forgiveness, and love points directly to the nature of God being steadfast, confident, perfect, patient, and loving. In fact, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” Its insecurity that leads human love astray. God doesn’t treat us with contempt and His power doesn’t compensate for insecurity. He’s kind. And “His kindness leads us to repentance.” The Message version of the Bible states Romans2:3-4 this way: “You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.”
Radical life change, but how? This might be my favorite thing about our God. If grace is the thing that makes room for surrender and submission, the one responsible for extending that grace can only be the Lord. It’s His perfect love that creates an environment void of an insecurity that points a finger that says, “You’re worthless. You better try harder.” No. Holy Spirit doesn’t point a gnarly finger at anyone. He extends a kind hand and says, “Here, I know the way. Will you come with me? I know the way everlasting and I’d love to invite you. Stay with me. I know the lay of the land so its best that you make every step I do. And there will be times that you may need to know how to navigate a situation, and when you call me I will always answer. You’ll think you know the way and you’ll be tempted to take the road you’re used to because you’ve lived a lot of life prior to this journey, but if you’ll trust me I won’t fail you.” Holy Spirit doesn’t ask us to allow Him to direct us away from the good things, He asks us to allow Him to direct us toward the “God things.”
Quite often one of the initial reactions to salvation and coming into relationship with the Lord is a feeling of shame and guilt. It’s the shame and guilt from a past laden with regret that keeps souls parked in their jail cell when grace has unlocked the prison door and unshackled our hands and feet. Gratitude is such a foreign language for those who’ve never before walked in light. “What if I don’t know what to do? My past has shaped who I am and I’m disfigured. Won’t the people in the light look at me and scoff like the other prisoners did? … Oh, and the prisoners. The same grace that unlocked my doors offered to unlock theirs but the convenience and familiarity of the prison walls seemed more hospitable to them somehow. Won’t they laugh at me as I learn how to walk again without the help of the jailers that never helped me except for the tiny little rations they offered that I accepted because I thought that was all I deserved?” Our Jesus is making all things new. Our God is a redeeming God and His process is counter culture to society. He unlocks the bondage that has held us in chains for so long and in His kindness, He immediately gives us clothes of righteousness and a place at the table in the kingdom that He validates with the titles He gives us. Chosen. Holy. Righteous. Delighted in. Child. Clean. Adopted. Co-Heir. Saint. Ambassador. Co-Laborer. A sweet aroma. A Masterpiece. Wonderfully made. Bold. A victor. He doesn’t call us to anything He doesn’t plan on equipping us for. I love the story that Jeremiah writes about King Jehoiachin in the 52nd chapter of the book of Jeremiah. It’s about a king who was taken away and imprisoned for 37 years in Babylon. It’s about a king who did evil in the sight of the Lord in the short three months and ten days that He was allowed to reign. Jeremiah 52:31-34 puts it this way, “In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Awel-Marduk became king of Babylon, on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah and freed him from prison. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. Day by day the king of Babylon gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived, till the day of his death.” Interestingly, the name Jehoiachin means “Yahweh will establish.” How worthy do you think he felt of the position he was given? I’d be willing to bet that he initially wondered why he had been extended such a hand of grace. That he probably figured that he was a pawn in someone else’s game and that the prison walls would someday be his dwelling place once again. He wasn’t just released, he was clothed immediately with righteous and noble clothing and was given a beauty treatment that made him feel worthy and accepted among the nobility of Babylon … which he desperately needed now that his seat was above theirs in rank. He wasn’t forced out of his cell, he was spoken to kindly by the king in charge. The KING had dealings with a PRISONER. The most noble of all went down to the jailhouse and pardoned a stinky, sweaty, unbathed, shackled man and placed a crown on his head and invited him to dinner … and then gave him money to live on. It’s unfathomable. Its grace. It’s the exact thing that the Lord does for those who accept His offer.
Freedom is an ugly birth. It’s bloody and hungry and it cries a lot. Sometimes it requires cleanup when it’s developing motor skills make a mess. It requires a hand hold and a hug, a cheerleader and coach, someone to feed it until it learns to hold its own spoon and a place to lay it’s weary little head. Those who have grown in freedom are given the charge and opportunity of being as patient with infants in Christ as The Lord Himself has been with them. They must learn to walk in wide open and the narrowest of spaces. Theres beauty and power in the fun parts of the process, but theres fear and a lack of control in others. We must continue to engage with Holy Spirit as we create an environment and a teaching plan for those in our charge. To offer a hand when they fall, but to show them how not to. We learn to balance grace with the law. We learn to look at the law as a means of safety and life rather than a way to perform to impress. A lack of balance that leans toward grace doesn’t lend a hand to those who fall, it allows the fallen to stay on the ground. A lack of balance that leans toward law keeping creates an obstacle course with no finish line and a rule that says, “If you fall, you must return to the start.”
Theres a reason that the Lord always uses the word, “forgiven.” So often I have responded to those who apologize to me for something they’ve done wrong with the phrase, “It’s okay.” It’s a phrase that doesn’t bring two people back into a reckoned relationship, it blurs the boundary line and admits that it was upset for no reason. We need to know how broken we are if we are ever going to know the fullness of how Christ loves us. This year I’ve chosen to respond to apology with the phrase, “I forgive you,” and Ive found that the response from the other party is one of such intense appreciation and a strong effort not to offend again. I’ve found that it’s in God’s kindness that He allows us to feel the weight of our sin because without the experience of the weight, we could never know the weight of His love.
My reckoning was an ugly and beautiful one. I spent three years in complete darkness and doubt, and it was love and forgiveness that drew me out and gave me a seat at the table of those I had no business sitting next to. A best friend that I had abandoned for a boyfriend who would eventually cheat on me the entire three years that we dated. A best friend who wasn’t easy on me when I called to tell her what I had found out. A best friend who was one month away from marrying the love of her life and because of my absence, I hadn’t even been invited. A wedding that she graciously allowed me to sit at front door of and greet people as they walked through the doors. I should’ve been on the back row, but I was invited to play a key part. I shouldn’t have even been invited, but I was extended an invitation and given a key role when I wasn’t worthy. I should’ve been blacklisted, but I was included. She didn’t let me skate back into her life on an excuse and a sob story. She told me how much I had hurt her and how much she had missed me. She told me I never should’ve dated him. She gave me the , “what for.” But then, just like Jesus, she offered and undeserved pardon. A pardon wrapped in the best wrapping paper she could find that included an invitation to the most important day of her life, second only to the day she met Jesus. And it was the “fleshing out” of the instruction of the Spirit that walked me back into the presence of God and I’ve never looked back.