How to Grow In Grace

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Last year was a hard year but a good year.  And by the great grace of God, I have come out a better person because of it.  “Better?”, you ask?  Yes, not just better as a survivor of some horrible event, but thriving as a “growing in grace” kind of person and better because of what I experienced.  Here are few lessons I’ve gained:

1.  Acceptance:  Often we think that we are in control of our lives.  I’ve found that we can certainly own our lives to an extent but then there are some things, events, or occurrences like death, cancer, or accidents that you wrestle with but in the end have to accept.  No one likes to submit to what can’t be controlled.  However, one of the hard truths about life and death is that every person alive needs to accept what life hands them.  For instance, death has a place in everyday living.   Get used to it because death insinuates itself at the most inconvenient moment.

2.  Trust:  Since we are talking about death, along with dying comes the mourning and grieving process.  My friend once texted me (after I made a “faith” move) with a three-worded message:  “Trust the process”.  These words are sound advice.  The process of trusting is hard in itself and requires a deep faith but to accept what you can’t control and use self-control for what you can’t accept is truly the essence of living by faith.

There’s a process to learn faith in the deeper parts of life, like trying to understand life and death itself.  I believe death is one of life processes where understanding only comes in the grieving and you have to give space for mourning.

3.  Agreement:  One of my close missionary associates once said to our team, “How about we just agree with the Lord!”  My eyes met another team members’ confirmation to understand that the Lord was definitely opening our eyes and unstopping our ears in one accord (agreement) in a power-filled lunch.  Whoa, what an impartation!

Jesus actually said to do this, to agree with his teaching in John 8:31-32  “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Agreeing with the Lord means holding to the teaching of Jesus for the purpose of true freedom.  There’s no going your own way AND the way of culture.  You can own your life by being accountable for your actions but you have to trust the leadership of spiritual mentors in your life to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  It’s when you hold to righteous teaching then you will make progress and experience freedom on a whole new level.

4.  Leadership:  To grow in the knowledge of God by faith you have to live within the teachings of Jesus.  He started with a small group of willing people who were seeking some direction in their lives.  At the end of his ministry, Jesus had a band of brothers who were well-versed in the disciplines of learning, teaching and evangelizing.  Believers often skip the fact that this training was difficult, or intense, or challenging.  In all actuality, they were with Jesus as He walked, taught, and touched lives.  We have been given the same opportunity to be among those who are looking for a relationship with Jesus and we can easily lead them by the way we live our lives.  We can lead with what we know about Jesus and how He has touched our life.  Share that…it will take you far in leadership.

5.  Influence:  To be under the influence doesn’t mean the same anymore.  I’m not talking about drinking alcohol or smoking pot.  I’m speaking of the spiritual influence of total submission to the Holy Spirit.  The fact is once you examine the life Jesus lived he was led by the same Holy Spirit that we have access to.  He was all man and all divine.  You might say, “A perfect life was easy for Jesus!”  Yes, He lived a perfect life.  He butted up against sin many times but never did; was tempted by Satan himself, and He was tormented as He took a confident stand for all mankind!  For the entire time Jesus walked the earth, he was walking in his own humanity but totally submitted to the influence of the Holy Spirit.  We, as believers weren’t given a junior version of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit that empowered Jesus is the same Helper that believers submit to.  Want to live a sinless life?  Go ALL IN unto the power of the Holy Spirit and be a person of influence under the Influencer.

What I’ve learned has been gained by applying the Biblical teaching into my everyday life.  Life is a good teacher and we have the choice to respond to every occurrence or situation.  But when it comes down to the end of the day, we all have to reconcile our responses and experiences under the lens of faith.  This is living the Christian life as a disciple of Christ.  It’s full of power, disciplines, and experiences that will help you Home.  There’s nothing like an encounter with God that will meet you where your history has left you.  There’s more beyond what we know, I am grateful and am all in the growing in grace.

When You Need To Let Go

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Recently I’ve backed off of my running habit for about 6 weeks as a result from my left hip shifting out of place.  There was a part of me that wondered if I would ever run again.  The pain was so intense that I wanted to just give up.  I was also afraid that if I returned to the road that a re-injury would occur. So I choose to rest the habit for a while and return when I had given myself some time to heal.

During this time, I lost my drive to try.  All I recall was how much running or even walking hurt.  I wanted to protect myself from pain.  Thankfully, over time, the drive returned and I overcame the fear, encouraged myself, embraced the process and tried again.

I talked myself into pushing through it.  There were many days I only walked but felt like I could handle a little more pain.  I had my hips adjusted and let my body heal more.   Yesterday it happened that I broke through a threshold of pain to run free.  I wasn’t calculating the pain, counting the cost nor considering the toll it would take upon me later.  I just pressed through the ache to run.

It was marvelously liberating to bring change in my perspective.  Often we look at changes as painful or from a place of fear when really it only takes a different run at the process.

This can go as deep as you want to take it, as far as success, failures, motivations, growth and destiny.

It’s the same with our spiritual walk with God.  This is not a race but a journey where sometimes changes come slow and steady, sometimes it’s an immediate turnaround.  Both perspectives matter, but the process is important.  Some are heart painful, other changes only need a few small tweaks.  The perspective of the process is termed by God as pruning in John 15.

When you think of pruning, you understand it’s needed to get rid of a bad habit or something that is non-producing.  But who of you would would be first in line when a good thing needs to be cut?  How about several great things?  How can cutting several good producing branches be seen as a benefit?  Some great questions that need a different perspective.

I have always thought of pruning in a negative sense as cutting out a dead place that needs to go or something that is painful.  Think how hard it is to let go of a tree which is still producing fruit.  How do you decide which branch to prune, for the benefit of the whole orchard?  Intentional focus is an important part of producing, bearing fruit  and must take on a strategy.

Pruning could be termed as training, practice, or correction of a habit. God is changing my perspective of cutting and training of habits.  I am learning to bear more patience with change and transitions, and bear through the pains in the process.  I still have a lot of grace to realize in this to help me find freedom in the pain.

As believers, we are changed little by little to reflect Jesus as we let go of those non-producing branches.  But also in the process, there are some good branches that might be caught up in the cutting.  It’s okay to let them go as well.  Remember not every branch should be a fruit bearing branch, some are supportive for strength or a preparation to the fruit production.

It’s all about your perspective really.  It’s painful to remove good parts of our lives for the good of the whole.  We can’t see that something good causes damamge or pain until it’s removed.  Often those branches need to go for the greater good, and it’s often to prevent a deeper pain or futrther damage in the future.  God sees our harvest and knows how many bushels of fruit that He wants to bear in your life.  He also sees the non-producing branches that need to be cut and those which are weighing us down, or will do so in the future.  He sees our greatest good from His best perspective.

Consider the greater good of change, pruning and training.  Even though sometimes painful, from God’s point of view it’s always for THE greater good considering THE bigger picture of perfection of our lives.  Even if we can’t see it right now, you must  keep training, practicing, or pressing through the aches and growing pains.  Be teachable.  There’s fruit to bear, and a potential harvest of goodness awaits on the other side of your growth.

The gains of 2015

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I don’t know how to get into a summary of this year.  You see, “she” said it couldn’t be done.  Let’s just jump right into that thought.  I had connected with someone years ago on Twitter who was a writer.  I told her that I just wanted to discover God in my life and then write about it.  She said, “Everyone wants to do that!”  When she gave me that response, I assumed that “my name wasn’t on that assignment list”.  If everyone was already doing that there “would be no reason for me to attempt to even try.”  If I was successful in a similar venture, “then why would it matter, no one would read it anyway.”

Today, I know that these were all lies to get me to not believe in the way God has built me to operate.  At last, I’ve come to the conclusion I must accept this journey for what it looks like and what God has given me to make of it.  Many of you know that I have a dream of becoming a published author.  Now, I know that this idea falls in line with God and what He has placed on the inside of me.

I have come to accept that.  Now I’m learning not to criticize my own work.  Many of you have said my dream will come true, but up to this year, I couldn’t accept that it would actually would become my reality.  Therefore by not seeing the talent that God has placed inside of me I suffered from what is called “hope deferred.”  Admittingly, by my own denial of God’s handiwork.  I can see now that I wasn’t ready to accept it.

Accepting gifts is one thing, using them is another.  It has taken several stabs at this blogging thing to realize a lot of what I am built to do and what ideas are NOT mine not to do.

All I can say is “me too”.  I sense I am not the only person out there searching for God’s plan in this troubled world we live in.  I have gained a lot of wisdom about a lot of things but things about the Internet, relationships, and loving people where they are, basically  are hard things to tackle on a daily basis, and I, like you, don’t have all the answers.

Once I realized that I was in denial and forgotten what I was capable of, I simply asked God what I was made of and why this the tendency to write was so strong within me?  Just imagine yourself asking the Lord that power-packed question!  All I got back is “Do you trust Me?” from God.  What I got from other people are these phrases about their own doubt.  “No one reads blogs anymore.” “Everyone wants to write about God.”  “What do you have to say that hasn’t already been written?”  I’ll let you figure those statements out.

Can you see how doubt is one of the biggest enemy’s of a writer?  I started looking at the people I was hanging out with and then changed my set of friends.  So before I go on and on about what I am not, I accepted this year that I am an honest writer that seeks to write about my faith, my faith process, and where God is in the middle of it all.

When looking back at my year, I see lots of gains and a lot of confidence.  I see a lot of growing and stirring.  Perhaps the biggest measure or gain that happened is found in the fact that I finally wrote my first book in four weeks time before going to Africa in October.  Now yes, there is a major amont of editing that needs to be done.  I also realize there will be changes to the orginial manuscript.  But I got it out of me and that was a process for sure.

A process worth waiting for (said with tongue in cheek) but by doing it showed me a lot of personal growth.  Just knowing that I can is HUGE to a writer.  You don’t know how many days I wondered if I ever could.  I’ve sent it to an editor who messaged me back to say “Congratulations, you have done what only 10% of people do.”  I said back to him, “What’s that?”  He replied, “90% only talk about what you have already accomplished.”

I was pleased momentarily.  There was a tinge of regret that it took so long.  By writing the book God reconciled my past issues with food and rejection.  I cast off a lot of shame, guilt, and self-blame in those pages.  Because of going through the struggles, I am more free than ever before and have a stronger voice for what I have been through.

Losing weight requires hard-work and focused dedication to a goal.  Writing about it requires the same kind of hard-work and focused dedication.  It’s one thing to only apply this to the physical side but a whole new realm to pursuing reconcilation with God about your past.

When I see what helps me, I want to keep on saying, “me too.”

I don’t have to share my struggles but its in our weakest places can we discover God in them.  My wrestling may be same as yours or completely different, as you don’t know the doubt and denial I live with.  But it does help to share in those times, where we can all say “I feel you.”

Life is full of those opportunities to quit and say “that’s not for me”.  Or we can choose to come alongside another and say “me too”.  It’s just that, a journey and any time we can connect with others and say “I feel you”, it opens the door for God to work His reconciliation power in us and through us.

That’s a good place to be and something I’ve been dreaming for.  What would you say your biggest gain of 2015 is?