The 2nd Greatest Grace

I talk a lot about God’s grace. It’s the passion of my life and the lens through which I see and understand the world.

28 years ago today (June 15, 1991) I received the 2nd greatest gift of God’s grace in my life.

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She is my tutor in organizational techniques.

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She is my partner in all kinds of ministry.

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She is my fellow adventurer in journeys near and far.

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She is my counterbalance for many of my extremes.

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She is my encourager when fear wells up within.

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She is my un-ignorable voice of conscience when I don’t want to listen.

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She is my cheerleader and my drill sergeant.

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She is my training partner and finish line celebrator.

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She is the most common tool of God’s refining work in me.

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She is amazing and beautiful and funny.

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She is my hand-holder and sorrow sharer.

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She makes me want to be a better man.

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She is, without question, the 2nd greatest demonstration of God’s grace in my life.

“An excellent wife who can find?

She is far more precious than jewels.

The heart of her husband trusts in her,

And he will have no lack of gain.” (Proverbs 31.10-11)

Through Thorns and Waves

The painful sting of thorns is a part of this existence—even when working with the stunning beauty of roses. There is no way around it.

The heaving and crashing of waves affect the most sure of sea-going vessels and there’s not a technique for dismissing them. You can’t experience the wonder of the open ocean without being affected by them.

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I have found myself captivated with the haunting simplicity of a particular hymn. The melody was crafted by Jean Sibelius in his tribute to his homeland in a piece so appropriately identified as a tone poem called Finlandia.

The lyrics predate the music and were translated from German (written 1752) into English by Jane Borthwick in 1855.

This hymn is a discipline of self-talk. It is the urging of the mind to return to the soul-deep truth from which life so easily distracts.

I have been particularly enamored with Jadon Lavik’s reverent and hope-dripping rendition that I encourage you to pause and listen and meditate upon here:

Jadon Lavik, “Be Still, My Soul”

Did you see those powerful words?

Be still, my soul, the Lord is on your side

Bear patiently the cross of guilt and pain

Leave to your God to order and provide

In every change God faithful will remain

Be still, my soul, your best, your heavenly friend

Through thorns and waves leads to a joyful end

Be still my soul

It’s so rich—like cheesecake that demands you slow down and take small bites. The author reminds herself that God is on her side, that guilt and pain are a part of life in a broken world through which we must simply endure.

The urging to leave to God the burden of directing and providing because we know that what God requires God always provides. Because we know this, we can trust His faithfulness no matter what changes roll through our lives.

The assertion that God is, indeed, my best and heavenly friend is a realization to which many believers never acquiesce. But the testimony of Scripture bears out the assurance that, through the thorns of a fallen world and the waves of a sin-cursed journey, He will surely lead to the joyful end that He has promised.

It doesn’t make it not hurt. It doesn’t mean the journey will be smooth and easy and care-free.

It does mean that the destination is sure.

And in that we find rest. In that we can stop and just be still.

Be still, my soul.

 

Just nice.

Sometimes I find myself to be pathetically nice.

I try to drive politely. Behind the wheel I’m nice.

I will often insist someone else go first. In line I’m nice.

I attempt to hide my annoyance and smile politely at the server. In the restaurant I’m nice.

I will choose a parking spot further out and leave the close ones for those who really need them. In the parking lot I’m nice.

I know, I know, those are indications of attempting to simply be a decent human being. None of those things are bad. But they’re not necessarily good.

Song lyrics often lodge in my head like a piece of a popcorn kernel in my teeth. It’s been a while since I last watched it, but the bizarre work that is Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” contains a lyric, spoken by the witch, that has stuck in my craw for quite some time.

You’re so nice.

You’re not good.

You’re not bad.

You’re just nice.

They sting my heart as they roll onto the keyboard through my fingers.

She could be talking about me. I want to be good. I know that goodness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit within me. It is something that I want to cultivate. But I just can’t do it in my own strength.

These words haunt me because of the way I walk through life and interact politely with many people and perhaps even express legitimate concern for their well-being and may to a large degree commiserate with their problems… but I don’t even particularly look for something that I might do to make it better.

I’m not bad. I don’t look for ways to pile difficulty or troubles upon their heap of burden. I don’t kick them when they’re down. I don’t laugh or mock their pain. No, I’m not bad.

But I’m not good. I don’t step into their mess and walk with them through it. I don’t look around for some way of providing assistance, comfort, or aid. No, I’m not really good.

I’m just nice. I smile and nod and maybe break the tension with a silly comment or a surface commiseration. You know… just nice.

No, it’s not all the time. But, much of the time, I’m not bad and I’m not good. I’m just nice.

But I know the source of all comfort and assistance and aid. I talk with Him moment by moment and day by day. I spend hours studying His writings and seeking His guidance and encouraging His followers.

When I interact with someone and have the opportunity, even for a brief moment, to speak or share or point to joy and hope and I fail to do so… it’s worse than bad.

Something is lacking. Jesus told us that the world would recognize His followers by the love we demonstrate to others. He did not say they would recognize us because we’re nice. There is a difference.

But, God help me, sometimes I’m just nice.

Not bad.

Not good.

Just nice.