Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grace of the Commonplace

I was laying in bed late last night, thinking and praying... examining my own heart.  I was able to do some reading on our trip, having bought "Crazy Love" and "Erasing Hell" by Francis Chan in Lyndon.  I read "Crazy Love" while we were on the road, and my mom would occasionally read a chapter from "Erasing Hell" or an entry from Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost For His Highest".  For those of you who have read these books, you know that they do not contain easy things.  My heart was changed and convicted as I again realized the greatness of my God, my great inadequacy, and the cost and beauty of my calling. There is no way I could ever change myself - to somehow live up to the perfection of who Christ is. If I see myself as able to stand, I am gravely mistaken. I am swept away in the flood, on my face before a holy God, who gave His life to make me His child.  And so I am continually learning, growing in understanding, in the knowledge of my Saviour, and to this there will be no end.  But with each new insight, I pray that I will not merely hear, but that my life would be transformed.  These past few days, I've been thinking a lot about self-consciousness, insecurity, and pride.  All of those go hand in hand, and I struggle with each one.

Last night I was thinking of how I can so often separate myself from the life of Christ in me.  I realized that the things which I see as being to my account are in reality discounted.  As soon as I do something to which I associate a reward, I have begun to rely on myself and give in to pride. I had to ask myself, "Am I the judge of how effective I am as a Christian, or is God?"  Am I rewarded based on the knowledge that I somehow blessed the life of so-and-so?  If that were true, I would have already received my reward in full. 

During our holiday, Mom would often read a devotion from Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost for His Highest".  The August 21st entry really spoke to my heart on this issue.  I have copied it below.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit." Matthew 5:3

The New Testament notices things which from our standards do not seem to count. "Blessed are the poor in spirit," literally - Blessed are the paupers - an exceedingly commonplace thing! The preaching of to-day is apt to emphasize strength of will, beauty of character - the things that are easily noticed. The phrase we hear so often, Decide for Christ, is an emphasis on something Our Lord never trusted. He never asks us to decide for Him, but to yield to Him - a very different thing. At the basis of Jesus Christ's Kingdom is the unaffected loveliness of the commonplace. The thing I am blessed in is my poverty. If I know I have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, then Jesus says - Blessed are you, because it is through this poverty that I enter His Kingdom. I cannot enter His Kingdom as a good man or woman, I can only enter it as a complete pauper.

The true character of the loveliness that tells for God is always unconscious. Conscious influence is priggish and un-Christian. If I say - I wonder if I am of any use - I instantly lose the bloom of the touch of the Lord. "He that believeth in me, out of him shall flow rivers of living water." If I examine the outflow, I lose the touch of the Lord.

Which are the people who have influenced us most? Not the ones who thought they did, but those who had not the remotest notion that they were influencing us. In the Christian life the implicit is never conscious, if it is conscious it ceases to have this unaffected loveliness which is the characteristic of the touch of Jesus. We always know when Jesus is at work because He produces in the commonplace something that is inspiring.

A quote from the previous day sums this up well, "Christ-consciousness will take the place of self-consciousness. Wherever Jesus comes He establishes rest, the rest of the perfection of activity that is never conscious of itself."  If it is God who judges and rewards, I will be eternally blessed, not by deeds consciously done in my own strength, but by things done in the unconscious life of the Spirit of God, of which God alone knows the effects and the rewards.

In the end, it comes down to pride. Isn't it such a struggle? I have heard many of you express the difficulties of the battle - but I am so encouraged knowing that we are fighting it, facing it.  And yet, you see, this too poses a problem in my mind.  If we think we can beat pride by simply mustering up the strength to fight it, we will only find ourselves entrenched more deeply.  When we feel that we have become less proud, that is when we are most proud.  As Oswald Chambers alluded to, the only true humility is "unconscious" humility.  If I begin to focus on the overflow, rather than the Fount, it becomes mine rather than His, polluted and worthless.  Jesus said in John 4:14, "Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  Who will seek this water but the one who recognizes their thirst?  Likewise, we must remember always that it is God who is at work in us - it is the overflow of His grace that proclaims His glory. 

As 1 Corinthians 13 shows, love is ultimately self-less.  It is love that we must walk in, for love "does not seek its own."  Galatians 5:6 says that the only thing that is of any value is "faith expressing itself through love." (NIV)

"If anyone supposes that he knows anything,
he has not yet known as he ought to know;
but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him."
(1 Cor 8:2-3) 

"For it is not he who commends himself that is approved,
but he whom the Lord commends." (2 Cor 10:18) 

"For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this,
that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, 
so that they who live might no longer live for themselves,
but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." 
(2 Cor 5:14-15)

There is a mysterious and beautiful complexity to the surrender we are called to.  While dying, we live - not by the merit of our death, but His life.  May it be that we would never attempt to commend ourselves to the Lord, but instead be overwhelmed by the Savior's love, longing to serve Him with true devotion.  It is the Lord God who has approved us in Christ, so that we would be controlled by the love of Christ. He knows us! Incredibly, He chooses to use our lives for His purposes, but we must realize the truth that He is not dependent on us, or even on our obedience. Yet, by Him, we live, and are empowered by the Spirit to no longer live for ourselves! This is the work of God alone, and is deserving of our praise. It is my prayer that we would grow in the knowledge of this great Saviour, to the praise of His grace. "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Family Vacation Part 3 - Seaside

Port Townsend...
 A seaside tourist town...
mexican food
old buildings

To the lighthouse and fort at Dungeness Point later that afternoon.
So beautiful there...

A goofy game of golf in the evening...

last day...
hiking along the bluffs
at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

 the ocean below
gnawing at the base of the cliffs
barely visible through the fog

 the sandy grasses
like brave sentinels
piercing the salty air

a beautiful conclusion
to a refreshing holiday

Monday, August 22, 2011

Family Vacation Part 2 - Travel and Olympic National Park

On Tuesday morning we left Ferndale and took a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula.  The fresh sea air was so refreshing. On our first day in Sequim, we decided to do some exploring, and made our way up to Olympic National Park for some hiking.  The air was so clear and refreshing up there, with breathtaking views.

This deer was right beside the path outside the visitor center.  They seem quite used to people.  Such beautiful and graceful creatures!
wildflower meadows...
We decided to take a different path on the way back, but right when we were almost in view of the parking lot, we hit a danger zone.  It was slippery and steep, but we survived. :P It was neat to be hiking in snow in the middle of August.
I feel so blessed to have been able to have that time up on the mountains, looking at things so delicate as wildflowers and butterflies and fauns, at the mighty mountains and the vast ocean in the distance.  "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." (Rom 1:20)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Family Vacation Part 1 - Food and the Fair

I just returned with my family on Saturday from a week-long camping trip in Washington.  I suppose some would say it's not truly camping because we borrowed my grandparents fifth-wheel trailer, but what's wrong with luxury camping once in a while? ;)  Our first two nights were in Ferndale, and we took in the North West Washington Fair on Monday. Before we went to the fair, we stopped at a beautiful park in Lyndon to eat our picnic lunch.

I'd have to say the highlight of the fair was the food... although we by no means went crazy with it.
Our family motto is "all things taste better shared".  So we bought two plates of Pofferjes to share, four 50cent cartons of milk, and one moo-wich.

It was interesting trying to share that, but apparently you can cut things with spoon handles.  Just for the record, it did taste better shared... ;)
Besides waiting in endless concession lines, we wandered around the various booths and exhibits, lego collections, painted masterpieces by 9-year-old Picassos... that sort of thing.  We were hoping for a free show (I was hoping horse), but being Monday there wasn't much going on.  Still, it was fun to absorb the carnival atmosphere.
We did have a campfire that night - sadly, our only one of the trip, but with wood costing $5 a bundle and us all being so tired at the end of the day, we didn't feel like we missed out too badly.

So that is a summary of our first couple days of family vacation! More to come tomorrow. :)

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Family camp and youth camp were such fun, refreshing times.  Fellowshiping and worshiping with the body of Christ... lots of volleyball...  I'm definitely a liability, not an asset, when it comes to sports, but there were plenty of other things to do. :P  Such beautiful weather God gave us!  Only Sunday was a bit rainy, but I found reason to be thankful for all the rain we've had this summer, because the fire risk is low and campfires were allowed this year!  Oh how He blessed my heart that weekend... through the created beauty of His majesty revealed, the opportunities to encourage and be encouraged.  Three days after family camp ended, youth camp began. 

I was praying before and during those days at camp, that God would work in the hearts and lives of those who came, to build up each one and bring some to salvation, praying for many by name.  I prayed for myself as well, because I'd been feeling distant and discouraged, and I so wanted to be brought nearer to my Jesus.  The second morning at camp, as I spent a few quiet moments in my Bible, I read Ephesians 1.  Oh how the words washed over my soul, answering my prayer for God to "restore to me the joy of my salvation..." (Ps 51:12).  I'd been struggling with the nagging, subconscious thoughts that God doesn't truly, fully love or accept me... that somehow He's distanced himself or has turned away in disinterest.  Of course I'd never really believe that if I actually thought about it, but those are the subtle lies that float around like a vapour, without shape or substance, poisoning my heart.  Have you read Ephesians 1 recently?  Just read some of these verses...

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ... In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us." (Ephesians 1:3-8, select verses)

Wow.  He was thinking of love from the beginning of eternity, thinking of us, of me... His blood was shed, freely given in the One he loves... oh what riches! "Lavished." A perfect word.  Oh, but wait until you read these next verses, in Ephesians 1:18-20,

"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms."

Unimaginable. Truly. I'm humbled by the greatness of that power, the riches that are extended to one so poor as I. Each night after campfire as I walked up to the washroom to brush my teeth before bed, I would stop in the quiet darkness to look up and worship. What a Creator we serve! Each point of light, far above me in the heavens, crying forth the glory of God... like pinpricks to my eyes, but in reality larger than my mind could fathom.
image credit
Oh how gracious our God is! Not only did He speak to my heart and strengthen my spirit, He further answered my prayers and brought another soul into His kingdom that weekend. Oh how precious salvation is... I was truly overwhelmed with it... with the enormity of it, the praise of such a gracious redemption. My heart did not cease to sing those lines from Amazing Grace,

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ'd!

Perhaps it sometimes grows less precious to us due to time, but oh how we need to remember the wonder, the freshness of that first hour... the wonder of new birth - a new creation! Surely that is not something commonplace.  When I sing of it, when I read of it in His word, may it not be merely words, but an expression of the wonder and glory of this great redemption.  Undeserving, lost, His enemy, but given all things in Christ, our Saviour.

Truly, we are loved. Lavished.