Book Review, 50 Shades of Grace

Fifty Shades of Grace. Who knew there were so many?

Weren’t you taught, as I was, that grace had a rather simple definition? Grace is, “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” It has a nice Sunday school rhythm, but honestly, it doesn’t mean very much. It prompts all sorts of questions:

How many or much of God’s riches?
Did Christ pay for all of it, or was it simply a down payment?
What are God’s riches?

These are questions I believe everyone entertains, whether consciously or not. I was twenty-five years into my own walk with Jesus before I admitted my struggles with the concept of grace. One question in particular plagued me: “If grace saved me, what keeps me saved?”

“By grace you are saved through faith!” I knew that by heart, but the trouble is, that’s where it stopped. I was saved—now what? Does grace still apply to me or do I now have to earn my keep?

As I listened to countless pastors and teachers, attended to dozens of pulpits and persuasions, only rarely did the fog, the confusion over the concept, lift a bit. Instead of feeling adopted into God’s family, I felt a little like a foster child, hoping to please my temporary parent so much that He wanted to keep me forever.

Don’t get me wrong, for a couple decades I denied I felt this way. But my actions shouted over my voice. The anthem of my heart was, “God, what do you want me to do?”

Slowly, God has been removing the veil—the same veil that hung over the eyes of the Hebrews in 2 Corinthians 2:14,

“But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.”

I felt worse in church or Bible studies; a cross between motivated to, “go out there and serve God more”, and a fear that I wasn’t doing enough. The old covenant of law-keeping still hung partially across my vision. Saved by grace … saved to serve … and what if I’m not serving God well enough?

If you identify with anything I’ve said so far, you must read, 50 Shades of Grace.

Who knew there were so many shades of it? Who knew the grace that saved you through the red-hot blood of Christ, is the same grace that beckons the golden sun every morning, the same grace that shelters you in the blue-black storms of life, the same grace that tastes like green grass and looks like being led by streams of living, blue water. It’s the same grace that transfigured Jesus and allowed the disciples to see Him in all of his brilliant white splendor; the same grace continually transforms you from golden glory to golden glory.

This book is meant to be read steadily and digested like a scrumptious meal. From the very beginning, author, Dr. Eddie Summers, instructs his readers not to rush through the book. We’re shifting whole paradigms here; this is going to take some time!

Fifty Shades of Grace, is effectively broken into 10 chapters, which contain five sub-chapters or “shades” of grace. Beginning with “Grace Every Day”, Dr. Summers walks with his readers through the application of grace in health, troubles, spiritual growth and extending this grace to others.

It’s tempting, as a life-long Christian, to throw up our hands indignantly, insert a snippet of Scripture and move on to “deeper” books, believing we’ve mastered this grace thing. Believe me, you haven’t. You never will.

Don’t miss this book; or you’ll never know the glorious, full spectrum of grace you’ve been missing all along.

If you’re interested in a Bible study on this topic, you can find my book Beyond Belief: Jesus Saved You, Now What? here. 

CS Lewis and Complete Freedom from Anorexia

I hereby designate C.S. Lewis “My Favorite Author”. But then, maybe by simply reading Predatory Lies, you figured that out before I did.

This morning, I got an email called, CS Lewis Daily. Never one to disappoint:

Teachers will tell you that the laziest boy in the class is the one who works hardest in the end. They mean this. If you give two boys, say, a proposition in geometry to do, the one who is prepared to take trouble will try to understand it. The lazy boy will try to learn it by heart because, for the moment, that needs less effort. But six months later, when they are preparing for an exam, that lazy boy is doing hours and hours of miserable drudgery over things the other boy understands, and positively enjoys, in a few minutes. Laziness means more work in the long run. Or look at it this way. In a battle, or in mountain climbing, there is often one thing which it takes a lot of pluck to do; but it is also, in the long run, the safest thing to do. If you funk it, you will find yourself, hours later, in far worse danger. The cowardly thing is also the most dangerous thing.

It is like that here. The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way — centred on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.

When I was fighting for freedom from my eating disorder, I ran up against this conundrum.

Could I not retain “myself” or the habits I had established that afforded me some imaginary modicum of control?

Could I give up counting calories but continue obsessively exercising?

What if I was willing to get treatment, as long as I could weigh myself everyday?

Could I continue to pursue the self-centered desires of my heart and keep personal “happiness” as the great goal of my life and at the same time surrender my will, my life, my eternal salvation to a God that I claim to love and trust?

And this is what I found: Just like cutting the grass can keep it short, but will not produce real, nutritious wheat; managing aspects of my eating disorder might keep me alive but would never result in freedom.

To mature and blossom in freedom, I must necessarily uproot the  grass and allow Christ to remake me–to make all things new. The change must be complete, a destruction of the old to allow the new to take root and flourish.

How to Be a Faith Hero

What would it take to be listed in the “Hall of Heroes”, Hebrews chapter 11? What made people like Abraham and Sarah, Barak and Rahab, David and Daniel and the others stand out? Do you think you have heroic faith?

Romans 4:19 says, “And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb.”

Maybe that’s what it takes—maybe the kind of faith God wants us to have never doubts, never weakens, struggles or asks questions.

Before you get too discouraged and give up, knowing you’ve already had a few doubts or questioned God a few times, let’s take a close look at Abraham’s life.

In Genesis 17, God told Abraham that He would give him a son and that through Abraham God would make a might nation. But Abraham was already 100 years old and Sarah was really old too! It hardly seemed possible that they could have a child. Abraham reminded God of this fact:

“Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. ‘How could I become a father at the age of 100?’ he thought. ‘And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?’” (Genesis 17:17)

Abraham laughed at God! At first, he didn’t believe that God could really do what He said.

Later on in Genesis, Abraham was following God on a journey toward a promised land. He came to a city called Gerar. There, he told his wife, Sarah, to lie and say that she was his sister, because he was afraid that the king of that place might kill him in order to marry Sarah himself because she was very beautiful.

God never tells us to lie. But Abraham doubted that God would protect him, so he took matters into his own hands.

If we look through the rest of the Bible and examined the lives of the other faith heroes mentioned in Hebrews 11, we’d find that they sinned, failed and doubted God sometimes, too. Gideon did not believe that God would deliver the nation of Israel through him. David disobeyed God and committed adultery. Jacob deceived his father and stole his brother’s blessing. Rahab was a prostitute, and Samson rebelled against his parents and acted pridefully.

God doesn’t expect us to have perfect faith. Even the men and women that the Bible commends for their strong faith, doubted sometimes.

One of my favorite Bible stories is in Mark 9. A man came to Jesus asking Him to heal his very sick son. Jesus told the man, “‘Anything is possible for the one who believes.’” With great honesty and humility, the man replied, “‘I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!’”

At the end of the story, Jesus did heal the man’s son.

Don’t be ashamed if your faith wavers, if you have questions or difficulty believing. Ask God to help you with your unbelief and to strengthen your faith. The Bible says that God knows our hearts. Tell God about your fears and questions; He is big enough to handle your doubts and to give you answers.

Deflating the Misery Index

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy … “ Romans 15:13

Statistics show that you are miserable—albeit less miserable than you were last year.

Did you know that there’s such a thing as the Misery Index? In the 1970s, Arthur Okun, created a simple formula to measure the happiness of the average American. The equation is the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate, and as of February of 2015, the number is the lowest it’s been since the mid-1950s.

But, Americans still express a dismal outlook about the next six months. A recent article on NPR suggests that the formula is just too simple for today’s economy. They factor wage growth and consumer debt into the equation and surmise that the economy is still the culprit for our misery.

But what if there’s more to it? St. Augustine said, “”You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” And God’s own Word tells us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Even those who deny the deity of Christ or shun His saving sacrifice, understand the need for hope, joy and peace. It is the lack of those things that inflates our misery index—not simply empty pockets. As Christians, we possess the antibody to the world’s misery. In the grip of Christ, misery is indeed foreign to us; the love of Christ has dispelled it.

As we brave the world today, let’s flavor our witness with joy. The world is ripe for it.

 

A New Kind of Balance

balance-875412-mIn the 2012 Olympics, Gabby Douglas, a USA gymnast, slipped on the balance beam, her favorite event, and forfeited any medal in the competition. It was hard to believe, since just days before she had performed beautifully in qualifications.

In the competitive sport of gymnastics, there isn’t real balance. There is pass or fail. For Douglas, it wasn’t enough that she’d performed well previously; past scores did not balance out poor performance and eliminate her loses. She would either make it to the other side or fall, keep her feet on the straight and narrow or crash gracelessly to the ground. There’s not much freedom, no margin for error.

In the beginning stages of recovery, as I clawed my way out of the depths of an eating disorder, finding balance felt much like being on the balance beam.

To finish reading this post, please visit FINDINGbalance

All Things New, Life After Death

I’d given up on that phone call years ago. Subconsciously, I just knew it wasn’t a good idea. I’d ruined my body for having my own babies, why would anyone else trust me with theirs?

But last week, a sister called me. My second sister isn’t much of a talker, so I knew something must have prompted the call. “What’s up?”

“Well, nothing is wrong, don’t worry. In fact, it’s not that big of a deal. Well, it’s a big deal, but…”.

“Now I’m really curious,” I urged her on with a laugh. What on earth could tie her tongue and yet still be so important as to warrant a phone call in the middle of her daughters’ bath time?

“My husband and I have been talking and praying about it. We would like you and Patrick to consider being the ones to take the girls if something were to ever happen to both of us.”

She paused. My heart hit the floor and took wings all at the same time. Giddiness washed over me. Me? They chose me—my husband and me?

Not so many years ago, I would have been a terrible choice to take care of my nieces if something happened to their parents. In the throes of a longterm battle with anorexia, it wasn’t a stretch to wonder if I might not live to see them reach high school. I let my mind follow that line of thinking.

Not so many years ago, my sister and her husband might have feared that living with me would warp their girls’ body image. They might wonder if I’d feed them well, tend to their precious bodies or teach them how to fully embrace all of life outside the numbers by which society measures happiness. Or they might have been concerned that I wasn’t mentally present enough to assume responsibility for their little girls. What if I fell asleep at the wheel driving to gymnastics? What if I was re-admitted to a treatment center—what would happen to the girls then?

My sister still waited on the phone; slowly my mind resurfaced and collected itself. I tried to control the waver in my voice and suggest following the proper protocol. “Of course, I’ll talk to Patrick and we’ll pray about it. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. But I have to ask one question—why did you pick us?

My sister and her husband have done a remarkable job instilling the love of Jesus in the hearts of their little girls. A passion for Christ at the center of all things is the desire of their hearts, the defining trait they want for the home where their children mature.

“We think that you guys embody the way that we want the girls to grow up. We want them to know Jesus as a Person, not simply grow up in a religious home. We want them to feel His presence and learn to walk with Him.” (Not a precise quote, I wasn’t recording my sister.)

Not so many years ago, the mention of my name conjured worries, memories of treatment centers, confusion, deception and fear. I identified myself as anorexic. The dominant thoughts of my wakeful hours, and often even my dreams, were calories, food and exercise. But now…

Oh the joy, the sheer magnificence of a healing God! He healed me and allows me to experience abundant life, unhindered joy, Christ-filling. He redeemed the years, redeemed my reputation, redeemed my identity.

To be known as one whose mind, heart and home is consumed with Christ, is a greater honor than I can explain. To know that the old is so far gone, so far has He removed my sin from me, and the new has come—there are no sufficient words.

Of course, you’re likely wondering if I ever consulted my husband, who would share the responsibility of raising our nieces and what he said. He said, “Yes!”

Please don’t be put off or allow this to be seen as a morbid story, considering the loss of my sister and her husband. Rather, I believe her call, their question was meant first and foremost as God’s testimony to me, of me, that He makes all things new.