Short thoughts

God loves us and has a wonderful ability to bless our here and now.
Sometimes God blesses us by removing a difficulty. Sometimes he blesses us by giving us peace in difficulty.
God is about something bigger than us, but there is great goodness for us in it.
If left to ourselves, we will miss the blessings. 
God can make more of me than I can make of myself.
I don't have to have the things I want to be happy.*
The things I want often won't make me happy.
Getting what we want may not be a blessing, it might be a trap.
If I can't be content with the things I have, will I be content with the things I want?
The secret to contentment is first to have faith in God and in his blessings, and second to give thanks.
The default life of faith is not to see God deliver you from all your problems, but to see God encourage and strengthen you to trust and bless you through your problems.
We often think we couldn't possibly be in the situation we're in if God's promises were true. But this situation is where God wants to demonstrate how he keeps his promises. 
God really wants to bring peace and contentment  and good character to our hearts. Any other objective we have misses the point.
God knows how messy our hearts really are. He still insists on bringing peace and contentment to them.
God does not want to act once to make us happy ever after. He wants to act again and again to bring us blessings each day.**
We need him to act again and again. When we aren't happy ever after, we haven't missed something.
When other Christians act like they are happy ever after, they're probably faking it.
If you think admitting your imperfections gives God a bad name, think again. His specialty is helping imperfect people.
If you think that the Gospel of grace is for people outside, and once you come inside you need to learn to do the right things, reread Galatians. You're believing in an altered Gospel.
Lamenting our circumstances is not lacking faith. It is the life of faith.
God's great plans involve using us. He is not concerned how much more efficiently he could do things by himself without us.
What he most had to do on his own, because we couldn't help at all, he did by becoming one of us.

*Not original with me. I read this on Facebook.
**I know Christ's death and resurrection was a one time event that changed everything. I'm talking about how we discover and live out what that event means.  We don't experience it as a one time discovery that changes everything in our hearts and circumstances, but as a progression of learning to hope, trust and confide more and more from day to day.

Grace as a process: why is it hard to understand

Why is the evangelical church so fond of quick fix theology, the "before and after hoax?" I'm sure there are many reasons. Here's one big reason, I think we're already hard-wired from our culture to believe it.

In my childhood, the book I loved best was Great American Fighter Pilots of World War II. And my favorite chapter in the book was about the Marianas Turkey Shoot. In the first couple of years of the war, American fighter pilots had great difficulty because American planes were slower and less maneuverable than the Japanese Zero. They had to figure out tactics (like starting above the Japanese Zeroes and diving down on them) to overcome this. Then in 1944 the American pilots got a new plane, the F6F Hellcat. It was faster, more maneuverable than the Zero, but it was also more heavily armored. So in this battle air combat for the Americans became easy -- they could catch the Japanese planes before the Japanese could catch them, and if a Japanese pilot got lucky and hit a Hellcat, the armor absorbed the damage. That's why I loved that chapter, after all the dangers of the earlier chapters, the Good Guys now had it easy, thanks to technology.

This is the basic Gospel of our time. Technology will make life easy. It has in many ways: microwaves, washers and dryers, computers and Internet. But technology doesn't make life effortless, and it never will.
And God's power, much greater than technology, doesn't make our life effortless either.

Grace for the process

I've known this for years, and yet its still a new concept: The Christian life is a process, not a one-time event.

I was thinking about Addie Zierman's phrase, the "Before and After hoax" and how the evangelical church is too prone to talk about the Christian life as conversion then happy ever after. Before, I was lost, totally miserable. Then I came to Christ and my problems went away.

Scripture does say we were dead and now we are alive in Christ. We are new creations. But I think that the newness, the aliveness is something we have to work out, something we experience step by step. Scripture also talks about faith in something we don't see, and about not giving up when we encounter fiery trials to refine and deepen our faith. Romans 6 talks about us being dead to sin. But Paul says in verse 11 to count ourselves dead to sin. Being dead to sin isn't something that just happens. We have to count on it, exercise our faith that this promise is true despite what our hearts say about it, and ask God for help.

That's what I tried to say in Covenant of Hope. There wasn't a single prayer event that in a single stroke healed the division and brought Stonegate church back together as it used to be. But the promises of God invited prayer, invited Ralph and Jim to cry out to God that this isn't how the church should be, and over time, sanity did return.

The great leap

It happened again this morning. After  blogging last week about Addie Zierman's story, the cynic burned out by the church's superficiality, I heard another story. A young woman gave a testimony about seeing church leaders from the inside, and realizing they only appeared to have it all together. "They weren't any different than me, just better at hiding it." But the church expected everyone in leadership to be perfect. So they faked it.

It strikes me there is a great gap in our thinking when this happens. We know and proclaim the Good News, God has mercy on the broken and invites sinners to come. Don't clean yourself up first, come. Let God clean you up. But then comes the undocumented shift -- you've received grace, you've been cleaned up, now go and do the right things. God's reputation as someone who can handle broken people and bring them back to yourself depends on you being perfect, flawless in your behavior.

This just doesn't add up, if you think it through. If God can heal and transform the broken, why do we expect our leaders to be perfect? Do we think the healing and transformation should be instantaneous? Did that happen for Jesus' disciples? For Paul?

Let's not forget who we are

Addie Zierman has a follow up post to her open letter to the church from the cynics. In dark times of her life she felt suspicion from evangelicals. "Perform! Prove your faith to us all over again." When she spiraled downward "the Church People smiled empty smiles and spoke empty words." 

I think we evangelicals need to remember who we are. We should not be defined by our doctrinal positions or by our political stance or by our favorite hymns or how often we are at church. We should be first and foremost the people who know that we were helpless to know how to live, how to save ourselves, and we met a very powerful and very loving friend who did for us what we could never do for ourselves. And we should be ready and eager to express that this same friend is willing and ready to meet anyone else in the dark moments of their life, and bring them into the light.

We should also be willing to admit where there is still darkness in our hearts. We have met the Truth, and he is for us, but still we struggle and long for what we shouldn't have, and only keep going by his faithfulness to keep with us.

Addie Zierman's follow up post
Addie Zierman's open letter to the church