Sending Grace Downstream

Dining on cubes of watermelon and calling it breakfast, the youngest son stands pajama-clad at the counter, his toothpick a dowser for the juiciest chunks.  In just a few end-of-summer days from now he will be up to his fetlocks in geometry, and I will be preserving the summer sweetness of our red tomatoes with one eye on the clock and the other eye (fierce!) on the boy’s screen time allotment.  We will approach breakfast with business-like efficiency, thinking about food groups and family devotions and the day’s agenda.

But today, summer is still in full sway and grace is on the menu — along with the watermelon.  In the busy days that lie ahead, is there a way to keep on living juicy, to hang onto the full brightness of summer solstice even though the planet keeps tilting us into shadow?  Brushing crumbs from the dining room table, I wonder if there’s a way to send grace downstream, like a note in a bottle, by deciding today how I will navigate the current of busy days around the next seasonal bend in the stream.

Today is a harbinger of the eventual, which means if I have my eye set on being a godly old lady someday in the far-off future, there are character qualities and mindsets that need to be set in bedrock ahead of time so that the accumulated complaints of life will weigh like feathers in the balance against the collected weight of blessings.  What better time than this seasonal transition to acknowledge the truth that bedrock does not lay down overnight?

In both of his letters to Timothy, Paul rattled off instructions and laid down guidelines for ministry.  Timothy had his hands full there in Ephesus, and that young pastor had a lot of sorting out to do.  However, tucked into Paul’s lists of qualifications and exhortations is this:

“Take strength from the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . .”  II Timothy 2:1 NEB

From one soldier to another, Paul was sending grace downstream to Timothy in the form of truth.  Truth can change the course of a day.  It can re-set a mind set.  Elisabeth Elliot translated Paul’s words into gritty practicality with one sentence:

“Whether you can take what life dishes out depends on what you take first.”

Is it possible that Paul saw a drift toward weakness in his younger brother and sent Truth as a course correction? On this late-summer morning, I invite Truth to inform my own feelings about the changing seasons with three small thoughts that carry the warmth and freedom of summer into autumn days:

There is always enough grace.

Even when my best efforts fail and progress on my self-salvation strategy of the day (also known as my do-list) proves that I am insufficient, I will remember that I am justified before God by my belief in HIS adequacy.  My obedient following makes the unseen visible and preaches truth to my own reluctance, for my smallest movement along “paths of righteousness” is met with God’s unfailing supply of grace for the next move.

Spoken words make a difference.

God stands ready to meet my unsure with sure and to galvanize my wishy-washy with a firm foundation.  There’s a good reason for Paul’s consistent use of the words “grace to you” at the beginning and ending of each of his letters, for he knew the Spirit-words that had been breathed to him would be read aloud to a fledgling church and believers would be strengthened in their faith.  Spoken aloud in a pick-up or drop-off run, murmured at the kitchen counter, these same words come off the page and dance in my imagination:
Take strength!
Don’t get tangled up in today’s mess!
Even if I am faithless, He remains faithful! 

To promote a deeper discipleship and a more faithful following in every season, I will choose to talk to myself more than I listen to myself.

Persevere in the Preserving.

Here just south of the 45th parallel, summer is a fleeting and an in-between season.  It won’t last for long, and even though the Atlantic Ocean is gorgeous all year long, there are only a few days in July and August when I can bear to feel its temperature on my skin.  The green cucumbers and plump tomatoes come in a rush and the last stragglers are snatched before the first frost.  What a perfect reminder that every moment on this planet can be a freeze frame, plucked from the blur and preserved in memory.  The colorful jars of beets and green beans shelved in my basement inform me that no good gift should be taken for granted.  Gratitude preserves joy, so I will persevere in the fight to train this oblivious heart to give thanks.

Instead of fighting the current as it carries away the last days of summer, I’m sending grace downstream by feasting on it today.  In True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer wrote about “faith in the present moment,”  and I’m convinced that moving with grace into schedules and lesson plans, cleaning and canning, will not be aided by day-old faith.  So I will speak to my soul today:  “Take strength!” in the bee-buzzing days of summer, because this practice today and the next day (and the day after . . .) sends grace downstream by training my heart in habits of strength for a day when the living is not so easy and grace might seem a little more difficult to find.

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Beginning September 7th, I’ll be hosting a discussion group focused on Wendell Berry’s  Jayber Crow.  His story spans much of 20th century American history and demonstrates the poignancy of this quote from his musings:

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful.  There is always more to tell than can be told.”

 

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The Great Paradox

Rich in metaphor, dizzying in apparent contradiction, Scripture describes the Kingdom of God with upside-down truth:  life out of death, power in humility, healing from brokenness, suffering as the path to glory.  In Stronger, his gripping memoir, Clayton King captures the underlying, big-picture paradox, and while he’s at it, he seizes the opportunity to relieve us of some pervasive wrong thinking about strength.  He also had believed the lie:

“To me, strength and success were proof that God was using me and that He loved me.”

Active in ministry since the age of fourteen, Clayton now travels internationally to speak in prisons, churches, and schools.  Founder and president of a humanitarian non-profit and a teaching pastor, he found that his ministry and his family life began spinning out of control when, in his thirties, he experienced the deaths of nine close family members.  Walking with him through the dark days of loss and his intense grief over the illnesses and deaths of both parents, the reader is invited to enter into the truth of God’s words in Psalm 91:

“I will be with him in trouble.”

Clayton helps his readers to see that God’s presence is “part of the greater purpose in our trials,” because the truth is that our strength comes from God.

There is no index in Stronger (It’s not that kind of book.), but if there were, the word leverage would have — by my extremely unscientific tally — at least eight entries.  The concept figures prominently in Clayton’s thinking, and here’s why:  Life on a fallen planet guarantees dark days and long nights; weakness; hard times; hopeless seasons; suffering; loss; regret; abuse and fear.  Stronger shares how God’s great power will leverage all of these for His own purpose; for our good and for His glory; for our ultimate transformation into disciples; for the sake of our humility, development, and growth; for the sake of helping others.

In this paradox, and in one sentence, Clayton King summarizes the problem of pain:

“We live in a world where the kingdom of God has not yet been fully realized on the earth, and in the meantime there are many things we can and must experience that we cannot make sense of with our intellect.”

Instead of intellectual mastery, God offers understanding, and “weakness is the doorway to understanding.  Understanding is the doorway to compassion and ministry.”

Clayton King’s journey and the telling of it — “How Hard Times Reveal God’s Greatest Power” — offers truth like a crowbar to pry our hearts away from the notion that weakness is a destination, when the truth is this:

“The goal is to be stronger.  Weakness is God’s way of getting you there.”


This book was provided by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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