Friday, October 22, 2010

Have you ever had someone relieve you of a responsibility or position that was just too unbearable to perform or maintain? Maybe that person came in just at the right moment and took over when you felt you could not go one step further. What a relief you felt! That's what it was like for me one day when I was in my twenties. I was weary, depressed, and I had been carrying a heavy weight for way too long. I felt like Pilgrim in Pilgrim's Progress with the bulky bundle on his back. The weight I bore was my own faith.
Behind the clouds of my simple understanding of the Gospel sparkled a gem of truth so powerful that once discovered would catapult me from that murky despair into a lightness and freedom I had not previously experienced.
This jewel of an idea came from Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” I had known this verse for years, but I had missed an important aspect of its meaning, one that directly related to my struggle. I had grown up in a Christian home, first making a profession of faith at age 3. As years went by, I began to doubt whether or not my faith had been genuine enough to make that decision. Had I understood what I was doing? What if I didn't really believe enough then? I was encouraged to pray and ask Christ into my heart again, but with all the doubts swirling around in my head, I felt that my faith was just not good enough to earn the favor of a holy God. I kept inspecting my faith, wondering if I could ever make a flawless profession.
“It's not your faith that saves you. It's Christ's faith. Look at Him.” These words were the most soothing and wonderful words I'd heard in a long time! The preacher didn't realize then that he'd spoken into existence a new-found freedom that liberated me from years of panic, anxiety, and debilitating fears. As I began to practice looking on and resting in Jesus' perfect faith, I looked less and less at my own feeble faith. This in turn produced strong assurance, and I saw that I really was a believer.
I didn't know that the words the preacher used had a foundation in Ephesians 2:8-9. I had always believed that we were saved through faith and not of works, but I had always thought that the faith part was up to me. That's what lets Jesus into your heart, right? Upon more careful examination the verse actually says that the “faith” that is mentioned in the first line is what the next clause is referencing when it says, “And this is not your own doing.” I had been trying to get a perfect faith from myself. It was impossible. John 6:65 says, “And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” I came to realize that even faith itself is a fruit of the Spirit, something we don't have unless God gives it to us. Philippians 1:29: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” As believers, our faith has been given, or “gifted” to us. If it is from God it does not originate with us, nor is it maintained by us. It was the day I started looking so intently at my faith, that my troubles started. I was like Peter, walking on the water towards Jesus. As soon as he got his eyes off of Christ he started sinking.
Bunyan's Pilgrim watched his burden roll down the hill as he stood at the foot of the Cross. It is a true understanding of the Gospel that will set us free from our worries, cares, lack of assurance, or whatever troubles or distracts us. It is looking to Jesus that will aid us in getting back on track in our spiritual walk. He is the great burden-bearer. He has done everything for us and has all we lack. What burdens are you carrying?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Planting Seeds

Mozart of Mothers,” someone once called her. A veritable “Energizer Bunny,” Great Grandmother Andrus was tireless in service. She was known for her green thumb in her flower garden, but she also had a green thumb in the garden of hospitality. Her seeds returned to her in full bloom.

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” II Corinthians 9:6. For all of Grandma's giving, she never lacked. She had been a widow for a long time, but she was well-loved and taken care of by many. It was never more apparent than at Christmastime when mounds of gifts piled up beside her as we gathered with other relatives to open presents, many of us scarfing down gooey sections of her famous Dutch bread or munching sticky red or green popcorn balls she'd made in advance.

“Go get a cookie out of the cookie jar!” I was shy then, but Grandma was not to be argued with. Her short, slightly plump frame was accented with beautiful white wavy hair, defined cheekbones, and piercing blue eyes that held their weight in expression. Oh, don't get me wrong, I really did want a cookie. Those crispy pale yellow squares, accented here and there with Nestle's chocolate chips were just one of the many goodies Grandma's house was known for. My adolescent mind wrestled with Mom and Dad's strict no-sugar rule, and Grandma's expectation of my feasting on her baked goods or other treats once I crossed the threshold of her Pine-Sol-clean two-story home. Grandma did more than feed people. If it wasn't food, it was money or things, if it wasn't things, it was time or acts of kindness. She just kept planting seeds.

Grandma took in ironing from women who were too busy to do it themselves. After washing and removing them from the clothes line, the wind-blown fabrics were splashed with water from her “sprinkling bottle.” She then took the moistened clothes and kept them rolled up in a bushel basket. This kept them damp and easy to iron, which took her hours at a time.

Self-sufficient and frugal, she scrounged and saved with the intention of giving. Each Christmas all of the children, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren got an individual gift from her.

Visiting Grandma often meant watching her sit on her bed, telephone to ear giving advice to a needy soul. People called all the time, and Grandma was a strong shoulder to cry on. “Romans 8:28 is still in the Bible!” she once affirmed to my care-laden mom.

One Christmas Grandma got a big return on her planting. From a small package she uncovered a shiny metal object. The well-designed and accurately-depicted piece had been crafted by a friend of Grandma Andrus' son Arlee, a metalworker at Oldsmobile. Grandma's face lit up as she recognized her bounty. She smiled with delight as she opened up the miniature refrigerator and saw its contents, a collection of neatly rolled bills, all gathered from various members of the family, enough to buy a new refrigerator. Grandma's fridge was old and outdated, but she wouldn't have bought one herself. She enjoyed her new fridge for many years. Another harvest for Grandma.

I last saw Grandma when I was 15 years old. It was the last time I saw her sow. Standing on her front porch my mom, dad, brother, and I took turns hugging her, whispering goodbye to her, and to Michigan. We were headed to Southern California where Dad would commence work in a recently-formed Bible college. Grandma wept ever so softly, a light mist glistening on her wrinkled cheeks. This was the first time I'd seen her cry. She knew. It was the last time we'd be together. She shoved some money into my dad's hands, resolving still to plant.

Grandma died a couple of years after we moved. She's done planting. It's all harvest for her now. She has reaped the best gift of all: Jesus' presence. This is not from her planting, however. This is not due to her fervent work or service, but because she was loved ahead of time by God and was chosen to be his. Jesus' work; his service, his life bought Grandma this gift. Help us all to sow like Grandma did, Lord, and motivate us only by your love and finished work.