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Posts Tagged ‘saved by grace’

Jo 23One of our daughters works at a charitable organisation and occasionally gets to deal with people who phone up to make a donation. She has had some interesting conversations as a result, but one memorable one went something like this:

‘Good morning! How can I help you?’

‘I’d like to donate a thousand dollars to the foundation.’

‘Did you say one thousand dollars?’

‘Um … is that enough?’

What a strange question! Was this gentleman honestly thinking this might be too low an amount for them to accept? My daughter suspects he had given more in previous years and felt bad he could not now do the same. Or perhaps he was actually questioning his own level of generosity. Perhaps to him, a thousand dollars was a mere pittance—he would never miss it. So was it indeed enough?

Sadly, this question is all too familiar to me. As a people-pleaser from way back, I have often asked it, either aloud or in my head. For example, if someone at our dinner table eats everything on their plate, I wonder if I gave them enough. Are they still hungry? Are they thinking what a mean hostess I am? If this happens at a family gathering, usually one of my children, just to tease me, pipes up with what they know I will say next: ‘Did you have enough? Would you like some more, love?’! In other contexts too, even when I have given my best to some task, I can still ask myself, over and over: ‘Was that enough? What did people think of it?’

People-pleasers want everyone to think well of them. They cannot bear to let anyone down or upset anyone—after all, it’s up to them to keep everyone happy. Yet how wearing that can become—and how impossible to achieve anyway!

Of course, this can affect our view of God too. When I was in my early teens, I thought that, if I went to church on any given Sunday, surely this would put me in God’s good books. Surely I would have a great week all round, because God was so pleased with me. Thankfully, a few years later, I came to experience the amazing love and grace of God in my life and to see there is no point in trying to impress God. My ‘good’ will never be enough. But Jesus, the perfect, sinless Son of God, who lives in me by his Spirit, has taken care of that for me on the cross and become all the ‘enough’ I need.

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8 New Living Translation

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

It’s not about striving to measure up. It’s not about making sure we have done enough or given enough to get in God’s good books. Instead, it’s about doing our best to honour God because of the grace we have been shown through Jesus. And that’s an entirely different and wonderful thing, don’t you think?

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IJo 23t was 1968 and I was in my busy, final year at university, but I decided I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to be a counsellor at the upcoming Billy Graham Crusade. This involved several training sessions, then attending as many crusade meetings as we could at the Brisbane Showgrounds. I was new to it all—and in both the training and the actual meetings, I learnt some lessons I have never forgotten.

During our training, we were asked to memorise some key Bible verses in order to counsel someone better—Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, John 3:16, John 1:12, Ephesians 2:8-9 and others. Those verses remain clear in my mind, fifty years on.

But one day during our training, I learnt another key lesson. Some, it seemed, were questioning others’ fitness as counsellors because they were not baptised or not taking communion in a certain way or not following some other church practice these critics regarded as essential. I remember the gracious way our trainer handled the matter, gently warning us all against being judgmental.

Later, he asked if any of us had been able to put into practice what we had learnt the previous week about sharing Christ with someone. There was silence—until a little, old Salvation Army lady stood and, with a beaming face, told us about how she had talked about Jesus with someone on the train that day. What a profound and salutary lesson! This lady represented a group of Christians who do not usually practise baptism or take communion—yet she was apparently the only one present who had shared Christ with someone that week. Hmm.

But I was to learn an even more profound lesson in not being judgmental one Sunday afternoon at the crusade itself. I had made my way to the old ‘Machinery Hill’ section of the grounds, proudly wearing my counsellor badge, and was waiting for the meeting to begin. Two men were sitting in front of me and one of them was smoking. I could tell he was nervous—he was fidgeting around and his friend was obviously trying to put him at ease. Then a man wearing an usher’s badge approached them, red in the face.

‘Excuse me!’ he said loudly to the man smoking. ‘Would you please put your cigarette out? This is a religious meeting!’

The man seemed stunned, then apologised and did as asked.

Right then, crusade or no crusade, I wanted to get up and punch that usher! I could not believe what I had witnessed—after all, it was an open air meeting and no one else seemed to mind that the man was smoking. At least he was there! I could feel the deep embarrassment of both men seated in front of me—I was sure neither would hear a thing Billy Graham said that day because of that officious usher. Surely he could have been more discerning and prayed quietly for the man instead?

Yes, one of those verses we learnt mentions grace—and that is what we all need, don’t you think? Tons and tons of it!

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

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One would think I might have had enough of watching sport on TV in recent days. It began with the Ashes cricket tour, followed by the one day matches, with the twenty-twenty ‘Big Bashes’ mixed in as well. The Australian Open tennis complicated things, forcing me to choose between channels at times. But then, just when it all seemed to be over, along comes the Winter Olympics! Yes, I think to myself, I still have the excuse of recovering from a recent back operation. I can watch some parts of it at least. Should be fun, right?

I gasp, as I see athletes squeezing themselves into tiny capsules before hurtling down an icy course to what seems like certain disaster. I watch horrified, as young men and women balance their snowboard on the knife edge of a huge pipe, then plummet down, only to bob up on the other side to perform amazing tricks. I hold my breath, as skiers try to outdo one another via sliding down a metal bar before skiing backwards into one impossible jump after another. I cringe as other skiers fling themselves down a mountain at breakneck speed or alternately hurtle into the air before hopefully landing upright again.

But my biggest heart-in-mouth experience occurs when those figure skaters take to the ice. They all look stunning. They all appear confident. But then I watch as they attempt a triple this or a quadruple that, spinning high and fast in the air. I gasp as some stumble and crash hard on the ice or manage somehow to steady themselves and I will them to keep going. Yet even if their performance looks excellent to me, the commentators almost always seem to find some fault with it. They did only three twists instead of four, I hear them say. They did not complete a particular element. They did not move their feet cleanly. They over-rotated. Their routine was too simple. Their routine was too complex and frenetic. They did not take the music into account or connect with the audience. Even if the skaters don’t stumble and fall, every little mistake is picked up by those judges and commentators. But to me, they have all given their absolute best. They have shown us the results of months and years of hard work, commitment and training.

As I watch, one overriding thought comes to me. I’m so glad I don’t have to perform like that for God. I’m so glad God doesn’t have some complex marking system where he deducts points for this mistake and for that. I’m so glad God doesn’t exclude me from going further in the competition because of this fall or that. I’m so glad life isn’t a competition at all, where God is concerned. I’m so glad, when I fail, that God picks me up, forgives me and strengthens me to do better. I’m so glad, in the end, because of Jesus, it’s all about grace.

Aren’t you?

Because of his great love, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ … it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ … in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus Eph 2:4-7

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This past week, I met up with an old friend for lunch. As we sat chatting (for over two hours!), we reminisced about our high school years together. At one stage, I shared how I had caught up with a mutual friend while in Queensland recently. I was book signing in the town where this mutual friend lives and she came to find me. Despite the forty-eight years that have elapsed since we were at school together, we recognised each other immediately—and what a joy it was to share our spiritual journeys right there in the middle of the bookstore!

At that same two hour lunch with my friend, I also updated her on another mutual friend I had seen recently. All four of us had been involved in a Christian group at our high school—at least in our final two years. After high school, our lives took different directions. One married a grazier and lived on remote properties, with little opportunity to meet with other Christians. But God watched over her and she would head over to a neighbouring property whenever the pastor from this family’s church came to visit. Another moved overseas with her husband and was reconnected with church via some Americans in Germany. After having one child, she then had triplets, but sadly her husband passed away when the triplets were quite young. Yet God kept his hand on this friend and today, she is a vital part of her local church. The final friend married a minister, as I did, and has served faithfully alongside him in country churches for many years. God has sustained her through times of ill health and challenge and enabled her to serve others with patience and grace.

Yes, God has indeed watched over us, throughout the twists and turns of our lives. As a result, here we are today, still loving and serving the Lord with all our hearts. Yet while God has been so faithful, there is another important aspect here too.  All three of my friends have hung in there through some very tough times. They have reached out to God and the Body of Christ and have continued to grow in their faith. They have chosen to keep following the Lord, despite discouragement from family members, despite deep grief and loss, despite loneliness and disappointment. They have chosen to love and serve others and to remain faithful to the end.

I thought of my three friends as I again read this week the parable of the sower from Luke 8. Through all these years, they did not allow the devil to take away God’s word from their hearts (v 12). They did not fall away, but let this word take root in their lives (v 13). And they were not ‘choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures’ (v 14). Instead they heard the word, retained it, then persevered—and bore wonderful fruit in their lives as a result (v 15).

It’s so true we are saved by grace and not works, but persevering is pretty important too, don’t you think? Surely, in the light of God’s amazing love and grace, this is what we are all called upon to do?

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I hesitated for quite a while before writing the title of this blog. After all, I’m not in the business of shocking or offending anyone—and definitely not in the business of writing about Jesus in any dishonouring way. But I decided to take the risk in order to share something that may challenge but also encourage you as it did for me this past week.

A few evenings ago, I was privileged to speak to a group of women at a nearby church who braved some bleak, cold weather to be there. I had chosen to speak on a favourite part of Scripture—Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 where he first of all prays the following for ‘the saints in Ephesus’:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (3:16-17).

Yet Jesus Christ was already present in the hearts of these believers. In the previous chapter, Paul reminds them how they have been made alive with Christ by grace (2:5) and how they are now ‘fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household’ (2:19). So what does he mean?

Apparently, the Greek word translated ‘dwell’ here can also mean ‘inhabit’, ‘live in’, ‘settle in’—even ‘settle down and feel at home’—which is why we find the following in the New Living Translation: ‘And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him.’ In other words, Paul is praying that these believers will be strengthened more and more in their faith in Jesus, coming closer and closer to him in the process.

As I explained this, I noticed one girl sitting with her feet resting on a nearby chair. She wasn’t being rude. In fact, she was right at the front, paying close attention to everything I said. In an instant, it occurred to me that this is exactly the way Jesus desires to be at home in our hearts—sitting back, feet up, knowing he is so welcome there, ready to listen and also so ready to share with me from his own heart. And that is what I told the women, as I pointed at the smiling girl, sitting back with her feet up and enjoying it all!

Sometimes I’m convinced Jesus turns the tables on me when I speak and has me say things intended first and foremost for me. Sometimes I picture him smiling wryly at me and saying in a gentle but firm voice, ‘Oh really, Jo? Make sure you put it into practice yourself!’ But this time, I think Jesus wanted to show me again how delighted he is to be at home in my heart and to put his feet up there. Because he loves me, he is prepared to wait there patiently in those times when I ignore him and want to run my own life. He doesn’t leave—because that’s his home. But he longs for me to notice he is there and to allow his presence to fill me to overflowing once again.

What a privilege we have to be able to open our hearts to Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and make him comfortable there!

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