Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Immeasurably More: Grace

(This is a long post. Of course, what other kind does Tamera write? There's also a video at the end. Please, please take time to listen.)

I’ve shared before about grace, but today let’s pull all the stops.
I have a friend who reads my blog; I am honored by his reading. He is not my typical reader. He does not blog-hop or surf. He came across my blog in a roundabout manner through a third party I have yet to meet. Mike reads my words, and for this I am astounded. Seriously. Mike gently fusses at me. He says I bare my soul too much. Playfully he questioned my husband about the laundry, underwear and all, I hang out on my line here at The Chambered Nautilus. This morning I want to warn Mike that there’s going to be a lot of laundry on this line.
In Romans (I am far more in love with Romans now than years ago) Paul laments the fact that he does what he DOES NOT WANT TO DO, but doesn’t DO WHAT HE WANTS TO DO.
Angst saturates Paul’s words. There’s a spilling transparency that floors me. This man is the Apostle to the Gentiles (in reality: us) because Jesus called him, he visited the third heaven, he stood before governors and kings and emperors, he preached the gospel in places I can only dream of, he started the early churches and he wrote the bulk of the New Testament.
Yet, here he is in a moment so transparent, so achingly poignant, and so deeply raw that suddenly I am his sister. I, a woman living two millennia after him understand his struggle. Why?
Because I struggle the same.
I do what I don’t want to do.
I don’t do what I do want to do.
And I weep because of both.
This past weekend I fought a battle I didn’t think I was going to win. The whole battle was in my head—the closed space of my spirit. A horribly fierce tug of war: Tamera was on one end of the rope, and Tamera was on the other end.  And just like Paul we pulled back and forth. Straining and heaving.
The struggle? Far too personal to truly write here, blazoned for all the world to see. But…
In this tug of war struggle I thought about Michal. Perhaps you know her. Maybe you have met her. She was Saul’s daughter. She was King David’s first wife, long before he was ever king. She was the daughter of royalty. The beautiful daughter of the first king of Israel. And she loved David.
Until events happened. Until circumstances unfolded. Until life played out, and it played out in a way she didn’t expect, didn’t anticipate and most certainly didn’t want. In the midst of this life her love for David grew cold. It waxed hard. Her love brittled. Bitterness grew. An ugly, ugly root.
In this tug of war struggle I thought about the parable of The Prodigal Son. These thoughts were different. Usually I play the role of the prodigal boy—gone hay seed wild and away. But this week I looked into the eyes of the elder brother—this first born son. The one who stayed. The one who continued to work for the Father. The one who obeyed. The one who didn’t bring ridicule to the father’s name. Life played out for this Elder Brother. Perhaps it played out as he thought it would…
Until the younger brother returned. Until his younger brother—the wayward, squandering rebel—returned. With this return the older brother’s life changed. He didn’t change with it. And a bitter root grew.
Two scenes play out before me.
Ecstatically David danced before the Ark of the Presence. Disrobed. Abandoned. Given over. Caught up in worship. Dancing before the Lord.
From the slit of a window in a tower Michal watched. A headdress covered part of her face. She did not lean against the sill of the window to peer out. She stood, ramrod stiff, at the aperture. Contempt etched in her countenance. Her stature declared judgment. Bitterness and anger brewed. Self-righteousness rose in her.
She wanted to be where David was. Or she believed she should have at least been with him.
Once the Ark arrived David moved to the palace to bless his family. After being before the Lord—can we do anything but bless? Michal met him, but the greeting was not cordial. Instead, sarcasm and judgment and bitterness spewed in David’s face. Michal spat venom.
Michal was a recipient of grace, but she did not give it. Michal did not understand grace: the unmerited favor of God. Too long she felt entitled. Too long she depended on her status as the king’s daughter and David’s wife. She didn’t understand she needed grace. Therefore, neither did she extend it. Because deep down she was jealous. She was envious of what David had. Of what David had become. And resentment filled her.
Resentment and grace cannot maintain the same space.
Another scene.
The younger brother, the prodigal, returns home. Humbled. Disrobed. Ruined.
We know the story. His father watched for him. The father ran to meet him while the boy was still far away. The father brought him home. Restored him. Lifted him. Reinstated him. Robed him. Sandaled him. Ringed him.
The servants slaughtered the fattened calf, and the frenzied preparations keyed the Elder Brother into awareness of his younger brother’s return. He stood afar off. Elder Brother watched the scene of welcome before him. His back held ramrod stiff. His prayer shawl’s tassels draped over his shoulders. And bile, green and bitter, rose up in his throat as he watched his father slide the family signet ring on his brother’s grimy finger. His father stooped and brushed the road filth from his brother’s feet and then slid on a sandal. The older brother grimaced and turned away. Contempt carved in his face. His retreating figure declared judgment. Bitterness and anger brewed. Self-righteousness rose in him.
The father gathered his family to celebrate, and he found his beloved Eldest Son far from the festivities. But the meeting was not cordial. The Eldest Brother spat accusations in his father’s face. He pointed out all the failings and sins of his brother and he reminded his father of his successes and faithfulness. To his duty and obedience. He was envious of the Younger Brother. He turned and walked away. He did not join the celebration because he felt slighted. He believed he had been robbed. He wallowed in his entitlement. And resentment filled him.
Resentment and grace cannot maintain the same space.
Michal and Elder Brother believed David and Prodigal Brother were going to rob or take from them what in reality could not be taken.
Many times I have been David and the Prodigal Brother.  
Sadly, I have been and sometimes continue to be Michal and the Elder Brother.
Resentment and grace cannot maintain or abide in the same space.
Resentment cancels out gratitude.
Resentment chokes the passageway of grace. Narrows it down so the flow of grace is but a trickle. Not because God’s grace has been altered, but because we pinch off the flow.
Michal and the Elder Brother narrowed the flow of grace. They did not understand that when they narrowed the portal of grace to others it became narrowed to them (for the measure you use will be used with you). All the grace given to David and the Prodigal Brother would have overflowed to them. And they missed it. Were blind to it because of their resentment.
Michal and Elder Brother believed they were entitled. Because of who they were and the positions they held they thought they deserved more.  I am sure there were moments when they knew the good to do, but didn’t do it. They knew what they shouldn’t do and did it anyway. Deep down they felt wretched.
Just like Paul. Just like me. Just like you.
What is so painfully sad to me is that Elder Brother’s narrative ends here. We tell the story of the Prodigal Son, but the Elder Brother is mentioned only in passing. Only with negativity.
Michal’s epitaph?
She was barren. No children. None.
These thoughts sobered me. Do I want to be remembered for negativity and resentment? Do I want to be barren, fruitless, the rest of my days? All because I do not understand or extend grace?
Oh, what wretched people we are. Who will rescue us from these bodies of death?
Thanks be to God! We will be saved through Jesus Christ.
Through grace 
God’s beautiful, salvaging grace.
In spite of the times I have been wretched like Michal and Elder Brother God’s grace continues to be funneled to me as an open geyser—a fountain shooting upward and falling down in broad and wide arcs.  Spraying my face wet. Showering the length of me soaked.
What Michal and Elder Brother didn’t know or recognize is that grace finds us. His grace finds us.
David came looking for Michal and the father came looking for Elder Son.
Has grace come looking for you?
Have you welcomed grace or scorned grace?
Are you David or Michal? Are you Prodigal Brother or Elder Brother?
Doesn’t matter. Read that again. Doesn't matter.
Regardless of whether you are Michal, David, Elder Brother or Prodigal Brother God’s grace will find you.

Bank on it. Depend on it. Bet your life on it.

He will extend immeasurably more grace, more unmerited favor, than we could possibly ask or imagine.
Grace. God’s grace. Such grace.



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