Speak Grace

With Thanksgiving only days away, I am thinking about gratitude, grace, and the state of my heart.

Many of us were taught to ‘say grace’ at the dinner table. Something like:

Thank you, God, for the world so sweet
Thank you, God, for the food we eat
Thank you, God, for the birds that sing
Thank you, God, for everything!
Amen

Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

Still, it breaks my heart every time I realize that so many of us have not learned to speak grace to those who need it: all of us.

At about the same age we learn to say grace before dinner, we also learn to judge. Who is in and who is out? Who is a friend and who is not? Who can I trust, and from whom should I run? Obviously, we need to make sound judgments. We shouldn’t trust the wrong people. Stranger Danger is all too real.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

As we get older, our judgments become more sophisticated—and hurtful. We all recognize the popular kids, the mean kids, and the outcast kids in the middle school lunch room. Sadly, it doesn’t stop at middle school. We decide who is like us, who we like, and we love them—because they deserve it. Others deserve sympathy, compassion, pity, or even contempt. Of course, we don’t like to think of it this way, but it’s true.

James warns: “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (1:19). Similarly, Jesus exhorts: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged…why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” (Matt 7:1, 3).

Unfortunately, we aren’t quick to listen—we are quick to judge! We decide in advance that what that person did was wrong, not up to our standards, was something we would never do…so we don’t listen to their story, we don’t hear their heart.

With anger bubbling around our heart and head, blocking our ears, we speak out of hurt or disdain, and never get around to listening. Often we speak the judgmental words only to ourselves, or worse, in gossip; we don’t take them to the source of our frustration, because that would require a vulnerable conversation, which might be uncomfortable for both of us and necessarily involve listening. We cut people out rather than allow them to be human, to make mistakes. We cut people out rather than get real, with them and with ourselves.

Gracious speech can be an antidote to judgment. Paul encourages: “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Col. 4:6). To speak graciously isn’t just good etiquette. It flows from believing in our God of grace, believing that He loves us no matter what, believing that there is nothing we can do—for good or ill—that will ever change His love for us. When you know you are loved, love will flow through you. When you know you have received grace, you are able to share it.

Notice, I wrote “we” all through this post, because of course I am guilty. I can be quick to judge. I need to be quick to listen to the loving whispers of God, and quick to listen to your stories. I need to speak grace to you, and not just say grace before dinner.

Create in Me

When I chose the word “recreate” to guide this year, I anticipated it would lead to play, fun, and new expressions of creativity. Instead, I have (re)discovered that to recreate often means ripping things apart, hacking pieces off, grafting in something else, and making a mess, in order to make something new. It can feel more painful than playful. No surprise that my like-minded friend Kelly has been ruminating on that same truth…

re:create recess #16: Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch

I’ve thought a lot about the word re-create as we moved into our new home this summer. I’m still shocked that we were able to buy a home in Northern California. If you’re from this neck of the woods, you know what I mean. And I am beyond thankful. It feels like a miracle, and I am inclined to think that it is. It’s an answered prayer. What felt impossible—like God making a way through parted waters—has happened.

That said, moving into our new home has reminded me that the process of recreating creates other things, too. Things I don’t automatically welcome into my life without some degree of hesitation or outright opposition.

Recreating invites change. It creates disorganization in some spaces and more organization in others. It allows you to re-envision your possessions. Sometimes it makes old things new. Often it means letting go. Recreation creates a mess. Recreating my home helped me recognize that the process of re-creation in any area of life doesn’t come without some measure of loss, chaos, frustration and stress. Negative emotions may be part of the process.

When I first gave my life to Jesus, I was seventeen years old. Full of youthful optimism and ready to help God “change the world,” I went on the mission field to know God more and tell others about Him. During that season, God did amazing things. I experienced euphoric moments when my heart felt so full that Christ’s love oozed onto others. There were also unexpected, confusing, and hard moments.

As a new Christian, I honestly felt like I wanted to scratch out parts of the Bible. I don’t mean that to sound sacrilegious. It’s just that the Bible has some hard things to say about “forgiving others,” “not seeking vengeance,” and going through difficult situations with “pure joy and a thankful heart.” These Scriptures befuddled me. I couldn’t grasp this idea that joy could be found in something I experienced as disappointing, or worse, heartbreaking.

I figured some parts must have been inaccurately translated from Hebrew to Greek. God couldn’t really want us to “rejoice when others persecute us” or “turn the other cheek,” to take more abuse from someone unkind. What God asked me to do in hurtful and difficult situations seemed counterintuitive. There had to be a mistake.

But the more I studied the Scriptures—exploring the cultural context in which they were written and what Greek and Hebrew words originally meant—I realized there was no misprint or misinterpretation of language. God didn’t only tell us what to do; through Christ He showed us how to live in our messy world, too.

I know many Christians feel overjoyed by understanding how God demonstrated His incredible love. That they have a tangible example of what God looks like in human flesh. And truly, it is extraordinary. But honestly, I didn’t share their excitement. Deep down, I knew what that meant…

I’m a pretty self-aware person. I know my heart and the depth of self-centeredness that lives there. Some people seem to be naturally less selfish and more servant-hearted than I am. But if I’m behaving sacrificially in any way, I definitely want something. If I don’t get enough attention or praise for what I deem to be a sacrificial act on my part, I get upset that others didn’t notice or appreciate it. I may not even be aware of what I’m after, but I know myself.

That’s why the way of Christ seemed so disheartening to me: I knew I couldn’t live it. Maybe for a little while every day, maybe on Sunday mornings or in Bible study, but not in the nitty gritty of everyday life. Not when people are downright mean. Not when I perceive injustice. Not when I feel like family, friends, or co-workers are pooping all over me. No way. It’s just not the way I’m made.

That’s how I knew God was going to have to remake me. Recreate my heart. Change the fiber of my being from the inside out. I didn’t need a make-over. I needed to become a new creation.

It’s a humbling and liberating thing to know that you cannot please God in your own strength. His power in you transforms you and makes you new. I’m so grateful that “He died for all so that all who live—having received eternal life from him—might live no longer for themselves, to please themselves, but to spend their lives pleasing Christ who died and rose again for them. When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:15,17)

I write this to encourage you. Until this summer, I had forgotten that re-creation creates other things as well. Frustration. Upheaval. Unintended messes. Unanticipated change. As much as you can, try to give thanks when something in your life feels upside-down, sideways, or discombobulated. Remember that God has made you into a new creation and that creation invites change.

If you’re anything like me, part of you will be deeply uncomfortable with that. Take comfort from Romans 8:27-28: “He knows us far better than we know ourselves… That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good” (Romans 8:27-28, MSG). If we keep that in mind, we actually can do what God says and it won’t seem crazy. “Is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete” (James 1:2-4, TLB).

Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch lives in Northern California with her sexy husband, three beautifully quirky kids, a dog named Lucy and a cat named Jack. She loves spending time with her family, good friends and good books. She hopes that one day her home will be organized and tidy, but until then finds joy in the messiness of life and love.

Scripture: Our Map

7-2-11 006

This picture has always struck me as an accurate portrayal of my relationship with my mom – the two of us snuggled up, enjoying a book together. Mom read with me all the way through high school, and even when I was in college she sometimes read the books I was assigned. She loves to read, I love to read, and one thing I know for sure I’ve done well as a mom is pass on that passion to my children.

I love stories, written stories and life stories. My story and your story. And God’s story, the written version of it found in the Bible, and the living version we play out everyday. I grew up going to church and I knew the kid-versions of Bible stories. But when I got to be a teenager people kept telling me I needed to read the Bible on my own, except I didn’t know how.

Let’s be honest, the Bible can be fairly intimidating! It was written in different times and cultures, with different languages and different uses of language (literal, figurative, descriptive, prescriptive, poetic, etc). And that’s even before you get to all the translations (NIV, NLT, NASB), study Bibles or life application Bibles, or even the question of where does one begin to read? At the beginning? At the beginning of the Old or New Testament, or at the beginning of any of its 66 books? And then what? You might feel, as many of us have, like the Bible belongs to certain people, whoever they are, and remains a big mystery to you, that some people ‘get’ the Bible while others aren’t qualified to crack its cover.

In our mid-20s Guy and I were married and working at a church and, while I regularly read books about the Bible, books that guided me in what the Bible said, I didn’t often read the Bible itself. Until someone showed me these verses in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

“All Scripture is God-breathed [other translations read “inspired”] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

“Teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” not big words but they don’t easily roll off the tongue. And what do they really mean?

Know. Stop. Change. Do.

God wants to use the Bible to speak to you about what you should know, stop, change, and/or do. So you read this Book, God’s Story, filled with incredible stories of God at work in the lives of some very ordinary people, all the while enjoying a conversation with God Himself about what He wants to say to you through His book. The “know, stop, change, do” paradigm changed everything for me.

I didn’t immediately shelve my stack of devotional books. I didn’t stop attending worship or my small group Bible study. But with this simple tool I didn’t have to rely on someone or something to help me understand the Bible. Instead of reading about the Bible I could read the Bible itself and come away changed because I’d read it. Because, while reading, I recognized that I was in the presence of God.

Still, where to start? I recommend using a Bible reading plan. I particularly like One Year Bible Online. Click on today’s date and it pulls up today’s Bible reading – Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm and Proverb. I don’t necessarily read all of each day’s readings, but the beauty of a reading plan is I don’t guilt myself if I miss a day or even a few days; I just go to that day’s reading and start fresh.

Recently a friend asked me about the Bible. She didn’t understand the basics: Old and New Testaments, the various books of the Bible, the chapter and verse markings. I was so grateful she asked, for two reasons: 1) she trusts me to guide her, and 2) she reminded me that the Church takes for granted that people understand the Book we revere as our authority for life and faith. So to you, dear Readers: if you need help understanding the Bible, find a trusted person to ask your questions; and if you’ve been around the Book a while, don’t assume that others get it. It’s up to us to help them find their way to Jesus, the Living Word.

Connect
What is your favorite book and why?

Study
Read 2 Timothy 3:14-17.
From whom did Timothy learn the holy Scriptures? (see 2 Timothy 1:5)
Using this passage, how would you explain the Bible to someone who hasn’t read it?
What benefits result from reading Scripture?
Read James 1:22-25.
Put James’ mirror analogy in your own words and explain what it says about Scripture.
What does it mean to “look intently” into Scripture and “continue” to do so?

Live
Who has been influential in helping you learn to read and apply Scripture to your life? How have they influenced you?
What are your practices for hearing the Word? For example, do you have a set time and place to read Scripture? What tools have you found helpful?
What are some strategies that have helped you be a “doer of the Word”? (i.e. How do you keep Scripture in mind throughout the day?)
What do these verses tell you personally to know, stop, change and/or do?

Pray
Pray that God will actively speak to you through His Word and that the Spirit will guide you to continue in it.

Experiment
Read Bible stories with children, or read a children’s story Bible. My favorite is The Jesus Storybook Bible.
Use One Year Bible Online and read for at least five minutes five days this week. As you read, have a conversation with God. What does He want you to know, stop, change and/or do?