Grace in Real Time, Guest Post by Lori Smith

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I have this neighbor who bakes. She bakes like it’s nobody’s business – but it’s her business, she made it a business, gave it a name, takes her orders. And our kids, they play well together – her boy and my boy, her girls and my girl. They ride bikes, share Legos, switch backyards. But the belief systems, they’re different. She believes she is still under the law – me I’m under Grace. The rituals are there, the bread baking on Fridays, the annual celebration of Hanukkah, Hebrew spoken to friends on certain holidays. We’re standing outside one day, watching kids play, talking a little about belief, and it rolls off her tongue and hits me like a Mack Truck, like a gust of wind it takes my breath away – I Don’t Care If My Kids Believe In God. Her husband doesn’t believe anything, so maybe I should have seen that coming. I saw other things coming – like when she got plastic surgery or all the ways she belittled her beloved. The Holy Spirit gives us insight into hurt, and I felt her hurt from the time I met her – even if she didn’t feel it. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised then the day her husband whispered to mine they are divorcing. But still I cried, and my heart shattered into a million pieces for them, for the kids.

When there’s nothing to stand on, how do you stand?

At church we are exploring the Supernatural. My son, he’s in the video. At home we teach it. We learn it everyday. We discuss ALERTNESS vs. UNAWARENESS. We home school so God can be in school. And we try to put FIRST THINGS FIRST. One Sunday there’s this illustration. And I’m warned by my friend the day before – it’s powerful. Demons – that’s the topic. The family on stage is being ripped apart, while demons dance around, egging it on. But then a single prayer, a child’s prayer, and in come the mighty angels. I’m crying, tears streaming, because I’ve pictured this scene. I’ve seen it, and I know it’s there. My house, God’s angel army set around it, because I pray it most nights – God set your angels around us, around my house. And my neighbor’s house, ravished by demons, running amuck – because everyone serves someone. I want my angels to go over there, beat them up, take them down in an instant because I know they can. I even pray for it to happen. Whether she is asking or not, I ask for her. But the unseen desolation continues – like in the Matrix – when the “real” world is revealed, all dark and demolished but all the people are living in the matrix and so all looks well, seems happy and bright.

“But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear!” Matthew 10:26-27 (MSG)

Everything in me wants to shout it from my rooftop to hers. Because even the demons know the truth. But there’s enough shouting in the world for now, and I know that shouting never got anyone anywhere – I know because there was a lot of shouting in my childhood home, and it never got us anywhere either. So I take the servant’s route.

“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16 (NLT)

I ask how she’s doing when he moves out. I ask how the kids are doing. I offer my help. But still I pray, because I don’t want to be devoured. I don’t want to be consumed – because I already feel consumed by my own circumstances and there’s demons all around, looking for a way in. And, she’s asking on Facebook for someone, anyone I guess, to watch her kids after school – because she’s a working mom now. When I read the post it’s one of those moments I wish I could hit the rewind button, not have checked social media at that moment. HIS callings aren’t always comfortable. But I feel called immediately by HIS words:

“That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. ‘I took on the troubles of the troubled,’ is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next.” Romans 15:3-4 (MSG)

…and I whined a little, because my days are already so overwhelming. Then, I whispered, “yes.” How can we teach obedience to our children, if we ourselves are not obedient?

So I wade right in, help out. I take on the troubles of the troubled children, my heart breaking every bit as theirs. I play God music while they’re here, hoping an angel will follow them home. And, I pray they ask me questions so I can give God answers. My husband and I, we discuss all these things, because how can you ever know anything about marriage if you don’t talk? We talk, and we wonder why others don’t. And we pray because sometimes that’s all we can do.

And my children, they recite the scripture to me:

“Stay alert, be in prayer, so you don’t enter the danger zone without even knowing it. Don’t be naïve. Part of you is eager, ready for anything in God; but another part is as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.” Mark 14:38 (MSG)

So I stay alert. And I pray.

Lori Smith
Shoreline MOPS Coordinator

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Say What?!

We have a young man who has come to church with us off and on for the last few years – mainly just on Wednesdays. He has probably only attended on Sundays with us a handful of times, if that; and we enjoy bringing him when we can. Through out the years, he really has become like one of our own. When he started coming with us, he was just in second grade. Now in 7th, he is much larger, but still the same sweet young man. He has had a rough life… I don’t know all the details, but I know he clams up if I ask too many questions. And so, we just love him while we have him and pour into him when we can.

Imagine my surprise this morning, when we got an early knock on our door. My daughter came to tell me it was this young man and that he had ridden his bike over to our house and wanted to come to church with us. I said, “Absolutely, of course he can, tell him to come on in.”

On the way to church he was sweetly sitting in the front passenger seat, talking to me like one of my own. He told me that he had just prayed the night before, that at church he would find the phone he lost there on Wednesday. I thought, “How sweet to hear him tell me about his prayers! He has grown so much in these last few years!”

When we got to the church, he and my other kids and I all went our separate ways as we do each week. They have grown up at our church; it’s like their second home. They know where to go and what to do, and they like to go walk around and connect with their friends before they go to class.

We attend both services, and in between I was walking down the hall past the youth hang out room, and the doors to it were open. Suddenly, I heard a very loud F bomb float out the doors in what sounded like slow motion; said loudly and stretched out as if for emphasis. All the adults in the hall way looked up like they had just heard gun fire. I looked up too, probably faster and with a bit more response, because I knew this was one of mine who had just let that expletive rip. Well… not biologically, but we consider him a part of our family.

My first thought was, “Wow, that wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t here.” Then an even faster thought quickly overshadowed that one. That thought was, “I’d rather have him here and hear an occasional bomb like that drop, than not have him here at all. At least here he is in a place of love, where he can get poured into and grow in his walk with God, even while he is imperfect… after all, aren’t we all?”

Isn’t it funny how quickly we can forget our own imperfections and need for a savior? The Bible says, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). None of us are perfect, and all of us need a place where we can be imperfect while God works on our hearts, all the while finding acceptance, grace and love from the people around us. Church should be that place. I was reminded of that today.

I also was reminded that God gives us one another to bring accountability and a gentle, loving prod in the right direction when needed, especially in the role of raising up the next generation. I was thankful that I walked by in that moment, because it gave me a chance to show him what another kind of love looks like, and that’s the love of a parent figure giving gentle correction where needed. In this situation, I just leaned in, looked him in the eyes and said for all in the room to hear, “Let’s watch our language please.” And that was enough.

Copyright © 2012 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

Unforced Rhythms

Have you ever picked up something only to find that it is too hard to carry? I do every time I think I am strong enough to carry one of my kids up to bed. All of them, my youngest included, are too old, too big, and too tall for me to be able to handle in any graceful way. In the recent times I have had to carry them, I may have gotten them upstairs & into bed, but I was beat… worn out, breathing heavy and weary by the time I was done. I accomplished the task, but at a cost to me. Whereas David seems able to just whisk them up and walk smoothly up the stairs, place them in their beds, and come down effortlessly. You can probably look at me and tell I was not designed to carry great weight over long distances. I am not strong enough!

 Some of us can relate to seasons where we have lived our lives that way – trying to carry loads we weren’t made to carry. Maybe we buckled under the weight of trying to measure up; to be successful in the eyes of the world. Or perhaps we bent under the strain of our past hurts and injustices, because they became so much a part of our identity, we didn’t know who we would be with out them. Or maybe we toed the line; in an effort to be a “Super Christian”.

 Jesus knew we would struggle in these areas, and He wants more for our lives. He wants us to learn from his example of what a successful life living for God looks like. In Matthew 11:28 (MSG), He said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 

Come… Walk with me… Work with me… Watch how I do it…  These are all action oriented statements. Christ wants us to lead active, productive lives, but it’s action from a place of resting in Him, fueled by His grace to live a life that brings glory to God. When we surrender our lives to God in this way, He is able to accomplish more of eternal value in us and through us than we could ever do on our own; our lives are no longer about keeping score or a test of how much we can carry or accomplish in our strength, but instead our lives become a testimony of how much he can accomplish through us as we rest in Him.

 My prayer for you today is that you will lay down anything you are carrying that is ill-fitting, anything that is causing you to stay trapped in the past, or is keeping you from being able to surrender to the life God wants you to live. And in exchange for what you lay at the feet of Jesus, I pray you will embrace the life, blessings and all things he has in store for you… serving, loving, and leaving a Godly legacy. There is no greater adventure, no greater sense of fulfillment than that which comes by living a surrendered, God-fueled life!

 Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

Held

I remember when each of my kids were learning to walk. I would prop them on their feet, wrap their tiny fingers around mine, hold tightly and then encourage them to take steps. At first they could only walk if they held my hands, but it seemed like in no time at all, they had gained the strength and courage to let go and toddle across the room on their own.

In each of their first years, there were many times I felt like I was holding my breath as they began to let go of my hands and fearlessly explore new territories. With each stumble and fall, my heart seemed to skip a beat as I would run over, to wipe away tears and help them to get back on their feet again! And those moments were foreshadowing for what was to come. In the years that have followed, I have had plenty of breath holding, letting go moments… when we took the training wheels off their bikes, on each of their first days of kindergarten or their first time away from home over night. When my oldest entered middle school and later high school, I felt those butterfly feelings again, and I could tell this aspect of parenting would not be an easy one – training them to step out along the path God has for them without me by their side, to hold their hands along the way, and pick them up when they fall.

The reality is, I can not live out my parenting days holding my breath as my kids grow and mature, and as a human I am limited in my ability to extend my reach wherever life leads each of them. I simply can not hold their hand every step of the way, but what David and I can do, is train them up in the way they should go and teach them to grab hold of the hand that will uphold them, steady them and never let them go – and that’s the loving, gracious hand of God.

Psalm 37:23-24 (NLT) paints a beautiful picture of what walking hand in hand with our Heavenly Father looks like. It says, “The steps of the godly are directed by the LORD. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand.”

 Isn’t it wonderful to know that no matter how old we are, we have the hand of God available to us at all times? There is no more fruitful, joy-filled way to live than in a life of surrender to God, placing all we are into his grasp, and allowing him to lead us each step of the way. When we stumble, He won’t let go – he picks us back up, dusts us off, kisses our aches and pains – and lead us down the path that leads to life.

 Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

But God

Can you imagine sailing through life thinking you were living right, maybe even passionately pursuing God the best way you know how… only to find you were off track? In the bible, we can read about a man named Saul who lived the early part of his life that way. We first see him in Acts 7, where he was observing Stephen’s stoning. Any questions we might have had about Saul’s reaction to Stephen’s stoning are laid to rest in Acts 8:1 where we read, “And Saul was there, giving approval to His death.” You see, Saul was a Pharisee, and he was passionate about his Jewish faith.

After Stephen’s death, a great persecution broke out against the church, and Saul was at the heart of it, as he went house to house dragging men and women out and putting them in prison. The Christians scattered, preaching everywhere they went, and the church grew. But Saul’s plans to stop them grew as well. He got permission to travel to Damascus to capture Christians that had fled there to bring them back to Jerusalem. He was willing to go the distance and do whatever it took to stop the church from spreading! Permission granted, he was on his way until something amazing happened – Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, literally bringing him face to face with the truth of the gospel. Paul surrendered to Jesus, and His life was never the same.

This is a powerful story of God’s grace in action! Saul became Paul, and went on to become one of the greatest leaders, preachers and writers of the New Testament. These words found in Ephesians 2:4,5 (one of the books Paul wrote) show us how much his life was transformed, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Paul knew he was undeserving that day he put His faith in Jesus, after He met him on the Damascus road. Only love could explain the way God stepped in and turned his life around. You could say he had a ‘but God’ moment… ‘But’ because of His great love for him, ‘God’ stepped in and made him alive in Christ, and God does the same thing today for us as well. He reaches out to us where we are, he sees where we can be, and by His grace he gets us there.

Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved