the grace of God that wounds

I was a good kid. I made high A’s all through school and the extent of my rebellion to my parents was how low I would grow my sideburns. I led worship at my church throughout high school, and then again with our student ministry in college, and I would often speak/preach when given an opportunity. I learned how to be socially adept and maintain friendships with many people, so that my friends would jokingly use terms like “social butterfly” and “friend whore” to describe me. And I had a relationship with Jesus that seemed earnest, and I knew that I needed Jesus.

But I didn’t really need Jesus.

I knew that God sent Jesus to save sinners like me, and I knew I was a sinner, but I really didn’t think I was that much of a sinner. I didn’t do that many sinful things. I knew about the grace of God, but grace seemed more to me like good things I deserved because I was good. I was a good kid! Why wouldn’t Jesus save me? Grace was just for those few times I slipped up and looked at pornography or lied to my parents about being in my dorm when I was really at my friends’ place.

I knew that the gospel was good news, but honestly, the bad news didn’t seem that bad, at least for me. School was going great, my parents bragged about me, my church family loved me, my friendships were great, and I did all the things a good Christian leader was supposed to do.

But then I felt God calling me to vocational ministry, and I switched my life about. And in fear of the consequences, I wasn’t so forthright about it. My parents and extended family eventually found out and didn’t take this so well, because it had seemed clear that God was actually calling me to be a doctor or some other prestigious vocation.

There were many tears shed and hurtful words shared. We went from talking almost daily to me talking to my mom maybe once a week. I hardly talked to my dad at all. My grandparents didn’t know what to say to me except to look at me in sadness and my church family just didn’t talk about it. School seemed to take a turn for the worse. I ended up hurting close friends, and I was hurt by close friends. I was in a relationship that ended suddenly, and for the first time, it wasn’t amicable. I was hurting and cowering in the darkest shadows of my life, and I didn’t know who to reach out to. I tried to portray cool confidence and trust in God, but I was floundering. I was confused and depressed and heartbroken and angry and anxious. There were even several times where I thought that the best way to deal with it all was by ending everything. And several times where I almost did.

And all this brought me to a place of deep introspection and crying out to the God I claimed to love and serve.

Slowly, layer by layer, relationship by relationship, God began showing me things I had never seen before. I realized that I was selfish and hurtful and greedy and arrogant and sexually immoral and wicked — all without having to do any specific actions. That was just how my mind and heart was bent! God showed me how silly it was that I prided myself in my “humility” and self-deference. He humbled me by unveiling the fact that I was capable of causing so much destructive damage in my relationships with people. He exposed a heart that sought comfort in temporal things rather than on eternal things. He revealed that self-approval was the idol I worshiped at, and my identity wasn’t really found in Christ, but ultimately in how people perceived me.

It felt like life was beating me up, but when I thought upon the sovereignty of God, it dawned on me that my world wasn’t rocked upside-down by chance, but by the grace of God. He had brought me to this place! And it was one of the greatest displays of love I had encountered personally. It was a gift of the grace of God. 

In love, he had brought me to that point to show me my brokenness. I had always been broken, I just refused to see it. In love, he had wounded me so that he could reveal his goodness. So that he could reveal his love in binding me up. He had knocked my legs out from under me, so that I could be on my knees before him. He bruised me to show me why the Son of God was bruised. To show me why the gospel was such good news.

The depravity of man (the fallen nature we’ve all inherited ever since our ancestor Adam felt like rejecting God was a good idea) began to be a real thing I knew not only in theory, but in experience. Sin wasn’t just things I did, but the posture of my heart. As I began to see myself for who I am, I began to see why I so desperately needed Jesus! I was a mess, and no amount of self-help would ultimately fix my heart. I turned to the only One I knew to turn to.

I was spiritually dead, and Christ came into my dead-ness and caused me to be un-dead, to have life, and new life in him! He had saved me from sin, from death, from myself. And by the grace of God, he has healed my brokenness — and my relationships.

I am thankful for the grace of God displayed in the perfect life, sin-absorbing death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that this same Jesus is coming again! It is the gospel that changes everything!

But I’m also thankful for the gift of the grace of God that sometimes, He wounds us in love.

“Let me hear gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” – Psalm 51:8
“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down , and he will bind us up.” – Hosea 6:1
Image Credit: Courtney Celley 

sick cycle carousel

I’ve had several things I’ve wanted to write on the last month, and what’s more, I’ve had more time than I’ve had in almost a year! But I’ve been stuck in a bit of a writer’s block as soon as I get part way into  the post. And what I’ve slowly come to realize is that I had another issue I had to write about first, something that was more pressing. Something that, as the prophet Jeremiah described, was like a burning fire in my bones.

As long as I’ve called myself a Christian, I’ve lived in the space between my broken sinfulness and perfect holiness. I know I’m a new creation, changed from the old, wicked heart that I once had when I was apart from Christ. I do not live in abject sin in defiance to the Creator of the cosmos — but I’m not the picture of perfection I aspire to be. The one who looks just like Jesus, so that others can see me and see the goodness and transformation-power of following Jesus. I seem to still struggle with my old self. I heartily identify with Paul when he says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do… I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15,18-19) I know what I’m supposed to do, but I don’t do it! And what I don’t want to do, what I know is a stark contrast of the hope in me, I do, and do frequently. I struggle with idolatry, lust, pride, envy, greed, and that’s just me being gracious with myself. I want to step off of it, but I keep going around and around in a sick cycle carousel of sin and depravity. I long to be rid of all the elements of my brokenness and live a sin-free, victorious, holy life that pleases and glorifies God. I’m not too patient with this whole sanctification thing.

I know I’m not alone in this. In honest conversations with people, most echo a similar sentiment, of wishing that all sinful desires, thoughts, and actions were eliminated at the moment they believed and trusted in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. And in truth, there is transformation that occurs at our salvation! Most of us just wish that it were…. more complete.

I’ve had the privilege and honor this last year or so to lead worship at a great and Christ-glorifying church, but a couple weeks ago, I was at one of those points where I was just so disappointed with myself. I’m pretty sure I had broken all of the Ten Commandments within the span of a week, and what’s more, I had hardly spent time reading the Bible or praying to God. When it came to Sunday morning, I felt like a bitter hypocrite and as far away from God as I could be. I thought, “God, I don’t want to sing these worship songs! Jesus, I can’t raise my hands or really lead your people into worship! Just look at what I’ve done, I can’t serve you! I’ve disappointed you again and again and I’m not even sure you’re listening to this prayer.” I wasn’t worthy to sing songs that talked about the wondrous grace of God or His beauty when my own life seemed to be unfazed by it.

And as all this guilt and sorrow and shame was roiling in me, it was as if the Holy Spirit cut into my thoughts and spoke: “You’re not loved because of what you’ve done. You’re loved because of what Jesus has done. Don’t sing because you’re worthy to sing the songs, but sing because the Christ you sing of is.”

I vividly remember that moment because of how much it humbled me. In a twisted way, I had somehow believed that God was thrilled to have me on His team when I had my act together, but regretted it whenever I fell. I was trying to make it about me and my worth to God and my ability and how felt, forgetting that Jesus is the center of it all! My sin and shortcomings are not more powerful than the triune God who is the blazing center of all worship and adoration!

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you worry that you’re just not on par with God’s expectations, so you’re just a disappointing “could-have-been”. That because of your sin and brokenness, you’re a huge failure in His eyes. But that’s where the cross comes in, because it accomplishes what we could never do on our own in all our attempts at cleaning ourselves up: it replaces our filthy rags with the righteousness of Christ. Now, when God the Father looks at us, He doesn’t see the habitual idolater, but He sees the sinless, risen Jesus. It’s not an excuse to continue in sin, but it’s an assurance that the power of the resurrection and the Holy Spirit in us is greater than the power of sin or our lack of discipline.

That’s the message of the gospel, that those of us who were far away, despised, destitute, strangers, foreigners, and hopeless have been brought into the Kingdom of God and given unconditional citizenship. We have new identities and are new creations, and we’re given the task to honor and glorify the King because the King is good and gracious and just, saving us when He had no obligation to. And that act of rescue should compel us to thank Him, living to make His Name famous and showing everyone the grace and glory of such a God.

And a funny thing happened: as I was singing those songs, my heart and mind were reminded of the truth I was singing, and joy and peace enveloped me in a way I can’t quite put to words. I realized I wasn’t just instructing people in the glory of God, but I was reminding myself of it. And what’s even better is that a day is coming when we won’t have to be stuck on the sick, cycle carousel of our faults and failures, when we won’t have to live in the space between our depravity and glorification. A day when we’ll be living with our Savior and King.

I am so looking forward to that.