Not Performance. Not fear of Punishment.

mine

“Live for the Audience of One.”

I remember the injunction clearly, and pondered what it meant for me, a teenager and new believer. I knew salvation was by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone. I understood my need, responded to his relentless pursuit, and experienced his saving power. I saw radical transformation, wildfire growth if you will. And I wanted to follow Christ with all my soul.

“I am no longer who I once was,” my heart rejoiced!

But many facets of this thing called the “Christian Life” were still fuzzy. Audience of One?

“Well that must mean ‘to live for God’s approval alone.’ I suppose God is more pleased with me when I don’t do certain things, but do other things. If he’s the audience then I must perform, right?”

And so, I tumbled into the trap of performance. Do this. Don’t do this.

My failures crushed me. I couldn’t measure up. “Didn’t read my Bible every day this week. Epic fail. God must love me less.”

I may never have said the words aloud, but if I was honest, I thought they were true. I knew I’d been saved by grace, but I lived like I still had to earn it.

I’d love to tell my teenage self some things. I suppose I had to learn them over the passage of time, but if I could, I’d save her years of guilt ridden, faulty belief.

The Audience of One already approves.

Have you forgotten who He is?

As a father grins at his lisping child, stumbling through one line in the Kindergarten play, so does the Audience of One beam. Everyone else sees a gymnasium, but a father sees Carnegie Hall.

The father approves, not for the merit of the performance, but because he looks and says, “Mine.”

I’d say to my teenage self, “Christ justified you. By His blood you are declared innocent. He took your sin, and put it on Himself. Not only that, He gave you His righteousness. You belong.”

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

“But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 2:4-7

Justified.

Just as if I’ve never sinned.

Just as if I’ve always obeyed.

He approves. On my best days and worst days, God loves me just the same. He looks at me and sees His Son.

“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by his love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

He looks at me and sees a daughter, no longer slave to sin but heir with Christ. I’m in the family. I belong. A proud father, he beams, “That one’s mine.”

Furthermore, He does not punish His own.

One root of a performance driven life is the fear of punishment. “If I don’t do xyz, I will be punished.” However, if I believe the gospel is true, I know that Jesus already took my punishment.

“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also  are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” I John 4:17-19

Jesus is very definition of perfect love. And His death and resurrection are the ultimate manifestations of perfect love, therefore crushing the fear of punishment. Because of Christ, believers stand confidently before God.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” I John 4:10

Propitiation is one of my favorite words. The consuming fireball of the Father’s wrath should have been hurled at me. Instead it was hurled at Jesus, and on the cross He took it all. He drank the cup of wrath completely.

Propitiation is “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and turns it into God’s favor.” (ESV Study Bible)

I will not face wrath. I do not fear punishment. In Christ I am the recipient of lavish, never failing, never ceasing, tangible, incomprehensible grace.

Sure, God disciplines His own, but that’s a vastly different action than punishment. Punishment exists to exact justice and judgment. Discipline is to instruct and to train.

Sure, my actions have consequences, and when I sin and need to repent. BUT my sins are covered by the blood of Christ. There has been atonement.

To live for the Audience of One isn’t fear of punishment. And it isn’t performance.

It is worship, the delight that flows from all Jesus accomplished on my behalf.

“Our obedience is not a fearful striving to please God but a thankful and joyous response to the love with which he has already embraced us and provided for us by the sacrifice of his Son. The gospel is indeed news of great comfort and joy!” (Gospel Transformation Bible)

The Audience rejoices, not on my merit, but because I belong to Him. My lines may be lisped, my song sung with cracking voice, but He looks and says, “Mine!”

Only one was an audience, the Audience of One. The smile of the King’s approval swept through the choir like fire across dry wheat fields. When the song was complete, the Audience of One  stood and raised His great arms, then clapped His scarred hands together in thunderous applause shaking the ground and sky, jarring every corner of the cosmos. His applause went on and on unstopping and unstoppable.”  -Randy Alcorn


I first published this post two years ago under the title “Mine.” I regularly need to be reminded of who Jesus is and who He has made me to be. So I thought it was worth revisiting. As I read through my original thoughts, some necessary additions came to mind. For why do we perform? Fear of punishment. Misplaced identity. Not knowing God’s character. A faulty understanding of grace. I hope this post has strengthened and encouraged you. Believer, I pray it makes you sing with confidence. I pray the truths of justification, adoption,  and propitiation resonate deeply with you today.

Our need for Jesus is exceedingly great. Without him we are doomed to face wrath and judgment for sin. He is the only true Savior, and through Him we know peace. Through Him we are reconciled to God, declared righteous, and no longer face wrath. Justification and propitiation– they aren’t just “theology” words. They are life-transforming realities.

And for the heart that is still struggling-

It Changes Everything.

hello.-2I’ve never been a part of a 12 step program, but we all know the classic “Let’s introduce ourselves” moment.

“My name is Ami. I’m 33. And I’m a widow.”

Hi, Ami.

I’ve now boiled down the sum of my existence into ten words that “define” me, and everyone turns to the next poor sap. It seems like such a sad reality.

Is this all that I am?

And of course, we’ve all been in similar situations any time a new person is added to a group.

Say your name, where you’re from, what you do, and one interesting fact about yourself. Or if we’re really getting creative, “What super power would you have?”

What do I say about myself?

  • My name is Ami.
  • I’m 33.
  • I’m originally from Virginia.
  • I’m a teacher, a developmental therapist, and a wannabe writer.
  • I walked down the runway at the Miss America Pageant when I was a kid (a story for another day).
  • I am a widow.

I don’t usually say the last one. But it’s often on my mind. And I never know what superpower I would choose. Maybe I’d have the power of instantaneous housework. Snap my fingers and it’s done. I digress.

It’s a little more defined picture, but still so limited. I’d much rather get down to the business of really knowing and being known.

WAIT A SEC. SOMETHING’S WRONG HERE.

The crevice widens, creating a gaping schism. The tectonic plates below the surface shift, altering the landscape until it’s something new entirely. As an earthquake creates a radical shift in topography, so do I sense a profound shift in my thinking.

The lame introductions are arrows landing far short of the target. None of those things define me. They’re all part of me, but are they really what make me me?

I’m not who I think I am. My thinking is fundamentally flawed.

What if I were to introduce myself this way?

“My name is Ami. I am a new creation in Christ. I’m adopted, redeemed, reconciled, and justified. I am being sanctified. And I happen also to be a widow, a teacher, a developmental therapist, and a writer. Someday I’ll also happen to be wife again and perhaps a mom, but those are all tangential. I am a new creation.”

Well, the average person sitting around the circle might look at me like I’m crazy, but I just flipped my identity on its head.

If I’m defined by my circumstances, profession, age or anything but Christ, I place my precious hopes and dreams in something fleeting, ever changing.

But in Christ, identity is constant, sure, and real.

If I define myself as wife, mom, teacher, or a myriad of other callings, what happens to my identity when they’re stripped away? What do I hang my hat on then?

I’ve walked that road. And it’s not pretty.

BUT IDENTIFYING MYSELF AS A NEW CREATION CHANGES EVERYTHING.

Identity in the cross of Christ supersedes whatever struggle I am going through. It frees me from fearing future suffering. For even if I were to walk through the death of a second husband, I would still be chosen, redeemed, beloved, cherished, biggest need already met, and lavished with grace. I would still be complete in Christ. I would still know that He is good. And I would still be me.

It reminds me that the power of sin has been broken. I am new.

I am bought with a price, and my life is not my own.

It transforms my responses to the paper cuts and the gaping wounds.

I’ve been given a new name and a new identity.

“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married, for the Lord delights in you.” Isaiah 62:2-4

This is way God speaks of His own. What an incredible earthquake sized reality!

I am a new creation in Christ.

WHAT IF WE ALL THOUGHT THIS WAY? DANG. THAT’S LIFE CHANGING.


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This post appeared first at intentionalbygrace.com

Mine.

Live for the Audience of One.

I remember the injunction clearly, and pondered what it meant for me, a teenager and new believer. I knew salvation was by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone. I understood my need, responded to His relentless pursuit, and experienced His saving power. I saw radical transformation, wildfire growth if you will. And I wanted to follow Christ with all my soul.

“I am no longer who I once was,” my heart rejoiced!

But many things about this thing called the “Christian Life” were still fuzzy. Audience of One?

“Well that must mean ‘to live for God’s approval alone.’ I suppose God is more pleased with me when I don’t do certain things, but do other things. If He’s the audience then I must perform, right?”

And so, I tumbled into the trap of performance. Do this. Don’t do this.

My failures crushed me. “Didn’t read my Bible every day this week. Epic fail. God must love me less.”

I may never have said the words aloud, but if I was honest, I thought they were true. I knew I’d been saved by grace, but I lived like I still had to earn it.

I’d love to tell my teenage self some things. I suppose I had to learn them over the passage of time, but if I could, I’d save her years of guilt ridden, faulty belief.

The Audience of One already approves.

Have you forgotten who He is?

As a father grins at his lisping child, stumbling through one line in the Kindergarten play, so does the Audience of One beam. Everyone else sees a gymnasium, but a father sees Carnegie Hall.

The father approves, not for the merit of the performance, but because he looks and says, “Mine.”

I’d say to my teenage self, “Christ justified you. By His blood you are declared innocent. He took your sin, and put it on Himself. Not only that, He gave you His righteousness.”

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

“But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 2:4-7

Justified.

Just as if I’ve never sinned.

Just as if I’ve always obeyed.

Negative infinity to zero.

Zero to positive infinity.

He approves. On my best days and worst days, God loves me just the same. He looks at me and sees His Son.

Therefore, to live for the Audience of One, isn’t performance. 

It is worship, the delight that flows from all Jesus accomplished on my behalf.

The Audience rejoices, not on my merit, but because I belong to Him. My lines may be lisped, my song sung with cracking voice, but He looks and says, “Mine!”

Only one was an audience, the Audience of One. The smile of the King’s approval swept through the choir like fire across dry wheat fields. When the song was complete, the Audience of One  stood and raised His great arms, then clapped His scarred hands together in thunderous applause shaking the ground and sky, jarring every corner of the cosmos. His applause went on and on unstopping and unstoppable.” -Randy Alcorn

 

I don’t have to be tough.

toughI got up early, showered, straightened my hair, and overall just looked cute. I thought about corporate worship, and couldn’t wait to be with the church. What snow? I’d be just fine.

A southern girl living in the midwest is bound to have some angst about five months of winter (as I’ve noted before), but I feel like I’ve conquered many of my snow issues. I’m not afraid to drive in it; I think I can handle a snowy road like a champ these days. I’ve learned to accept it, dress in layers, and buy thermal socks. Therefore, when the forecast called for a blizzard, I was not alarmed.

I backed out slowly. All was well; there was no getting stuck in this driveway.Opening my garage door, I wasn’t surprised to see several inches of the white stuff and more still falling. “No problem. I’ve got this.”

Well, until I got stuck, that is.

The wheels spun, and the engine revved. But it was just a show. Hmm, that was futile.

First action step, call a friend, of course. A true gentleman, he offered to come get me. Meekly, I accepted. In the meantime, I shoveled with determination and perhaps stubbornness. At least I could get it back in the garage, right?

I’ll spare you all the grizzly details, but I ended up wet, freezing, covered in snow, mad, crying, and no closer to getting the car unstuck. The wind was unforgiving, hurling snow at places I’d already cleared. And you can forget that lovely, straightened hair.

mad

Tears stung my face. I was angry I no longer had a husband to take care of such things. I was angry I couldn’t do it, and angry I had to ask for help. When I called my friend back, I felt like an incapable wimp.

“Don’t come get me.”

“Why?”

“I’m so angry and upset that I can’t get my car out. I’m mad that I have to, and not at all in the right place to be at church.”

“Ami, you’re being ridiculous. I’m coming to get you,” my guy friend calmly replied.

Later during worship, he slipped me a note. “I need your car keys. Several of us are going to go over and get you unstuck.”

Tears formed again, yet these were full of gratitude. I’m strong in many ways, but it’s okay to admit my weaknesses.

I am weaker in physical strength than men, but that’s not a bad thing.

So, here are the lessons.

Culture says, “be a strong, tough, independent woman.” But God honors women as the “weaker vessel.” I don’t mean that women aren’t capable, but our Lord says be honored, cherished, protected. Be the fine china. My pastor put it this way, “A chivalrous man takes the bullets, does the nasty work, and gets dirty because he realizes a lady shouldn’t have to.”

“…showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.” I Peter 3:7 ESV

“Weaker vessel” doesn’t mean it’s inferior or any less valued. Rather, it is to be protected, esteemed, more highly valued.

That’s a difficult thing for widows to hear. “Who’s protecting me now? Who is doing the nasty work? Quite frankly, I have to do it a lot these days, “ my heart cries.

Yes, that’s often true, but it’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes it’s even needed. I know that’s a challenge, but people may not know the need until we ask. While Peter is speaking specifically to husbands in the verse above, there’s broader application within the church. Men can still honor the women around them with appropriate boundaries.

More importantly, Christ already did the nastiest of work. He already provided the ultimate protection. What’s a little snow compared to my need for salvation? When I remember my ultimate weakness, it more drastically contrasts His ultimate strength.

Being cared for is a lovely thing. I miss my chivalrous husband dearly, but I’m thankful God still puts chivalrous men in my life- family, friends, pastors. I’m thankful for men who help with home repairs, lift heavy objects, and pick me up in a blizzard.

I’m most thankful for Jesus, the ultimate chivalrous man.

I don’t have to be tough.


This post by Ami appeared first at anewseason.net

When I long to be held by human arms

The room was cold.

“Oh well, better cold than hot for sleeping.”

I crawled into bed bringing the covers snuggly to my nose, leaving only eyes exposed to the elements. My feet quickly cocooned themselves in the down comforter. I lay on my side, knees bent, arms clutching a pillow. Everything was customary. But something was wrong. It took me a minute, but then I remembered; I was on my left side.

“Quick Lovee, huddle for warmth!” 

His strong arms circled me, his knees tucked behind mine. He held me close, heat radiating against my back from his very solid, very physical presence. He prayed aloud. There was security. We lay that way for awhile, content.

“Ok switch.” 

He rolled over, and I turned also, both of us now on our right sides, my knees tucked behind his knees. I held him close. And he was asleep within seconds, his chest rising and falling in a slow, gentle rhythm. I nestled behind him, warm and secure. Night after night we followed this pattern. He held me for awhile. Then I held him. Then he fell asleep. And I lay there soaking in his warmth, taking in every detail. Finally I slept.

But I have not started the night on my left side for almost two years. Perhaps it hurts too much to imagine him there behind me, knowing the reality that he’s not. Who am I kidding? It hurts regardless which side I face. I guess last night, however, realization hit me square in the eyes; what used to be such an integral part of my life no longer feels customary.

As I lay there on my left side, I welcomed the sorrow. Sometimes that’s an ok thing. Sometimes it’s a necessary thing. Nobody tells you that grief even affects the side upon which you sleep.

“Lord, how long must I be alone? Please be near me. Help me to know the security of your presence when I long to be held by human arms.”

As I continued to pray, peace flooded in, remarkable and true. I was warm and secure. I knew the very real presence of the Lord; God was near. Sleep was not an unwilling guest that lingered in the shadows. Rather, it came sweetly, and I drifted off without turning over.

I have learned much about dwelling in the presence of God. Let me say it this way, I have learned to be aware. Tragedy and grief taught me to run to Christ, to slow down, to listen, to hear His voice echo from the pages of His word, to know the comfort of the Holy Spirit, to know that my heart and mind can be guarded with incomparable peace. (Philippians 4:6)

Likewise, prayer has become a continuous, flowing conversation. I’m learning to talk to God through the mundane: showering, driving, folding laundry. And I’m learning to talk to Him when my heart is filled with sorrow. Or anger. Or fear. It’s totally safe because I have a great High Priest who intercedes for me.

Through Jesus, I have unlimited access to the Father, and I can run to Him with any emotion. He is big enough.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Hebrews 4:15-16

Though I once was a stranger, by the blood of Christ I have been brought near. (Ephesians 2:13) Therefore, I may come boldly. I can expect grace. I can expect mercy. To be near Him, is to be in His very presence.

Through Jesus’ finished work, the Holy Spirit comforts. He draws near. He hears my pleas, and perfects my weak, inept, and often selfish prayers.

And so I say with confidence “Before the throne God above, I have a strong and perfect plea. A great High Priest whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for me. My name is written on His hand. My name is graven on His heart. I know that while in heaven, He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.”

Yet it is not every night that I welcome peace so easily. Sometimes, I must wrestle. Sometimes I must cry out. Sometimes the longing for human touch seems much more real than the presence of God.

I don’t pray perfectly. But I have Someone who does. When I long to be held by human arms, He reminds me that His arms are stronger, His security infinite. He holds me close. The safety He offers is far beyond what my husband had the ability to give.

He is near.


This post by Ami appeared first at anewseason.net

Before the Throne ©1997 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

It’s heaven because Jesus is there.

love for ChristThe other day I came across a sentence written in the margin of my Bible.

“Behold the glory of Jesus!”

It was dated January 27, 2013.

I stopped in my tracks, stunned. I had no recollection that I wrote it, but there it was in my handwriting.

The date was merely two days after the death of my husband. No wonder I don’t remember the words! But the day itself is extremely vivid.

It was the first worship gathering after Jon died. Though I was still in shock, I was compelled to be with the church. Grief crushed me like a freight train, but I had to go. God’s  grace was tangible. The Holy Spirit’s presence was so powerful, almost physical.

I was surrounded by so many who loved me. That day I knew my church was family. Every person wanted to bear the weight of sorrow with me. Tears flowed freely. No one seemed to want to leave. My husband was also deeply loved.

I scanned down the page of my Bible, trying to recall the sermon. I don’t remember it, but somehow, “behold the glory of Jesus” broke through the fog.

As I read the passage my pastor must have preached, I landed on some tough stuff.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

And then I remembered. When I heard those words two days after my greatest fear became reality, I thought “Yes, my heart is heaven. My treasure is there because that’s where Jon is.”

Somehow I think “behold the glory of Jesus” was the response I wanted to have.

But at two days, my most cognizant thoughts were “I just want him back, or God, you could just take me there too? Please.” I longed for heaven because Jon was there.

Over time, I’ve pondered “treasure” often. To treasure something is to value it highly. An ultimate treasure is what we value most highly, that which takes precedence over all. It’s the thing that captures our attention and holds sway over our emotions.

I’ve reached some difficult conclusions. Jon cannot be my ultimate treasure, but Jesus must be. 

I’m reminded of another passage.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73: 25-26)

What? Does your jaw drop to the floor like mine did? I’ve read this verse so many times, but now it carries radically new significance.

I do have someone in heaven. The man with whom I wanted to grow old, the man I adored is there.

And you’re telling me that the psalmist said he had only God?

Yes.

Well surely Asaph, the Psalm singer, must have experienced the death of a loved one?

Probably, but he made a definitive point that God was the satisfier of his soul. No one else he loved could compare.

God was the captor of his primary affection, his ultimate treasure. Like the Psalmist, I am learning that Jesus is the best thing.

It’s tempting to remember my husband through only rose-colored memories. He was wonderful, but he was also fallible. He loved me, but he also failed me, as I did him. Yet Jesus never fails.

Now let me clarify, to treasure Christ above all does not mean I love Jon any less. But it does mean I want my love for God to be so exponential, that love for Jon seems paltry in comparison.

That’s hard thing to hear. I know. It’s a hard thing to write.

A song I love called “Bare White Walls,” beautifully expresses truth.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nobody. There is nobody. If heaven’s just a room with bare white walls and you and me, that’s all I’ll ever need.

My kids, my wife (insert husband here), my job, my car, my friends, my health, my heart, they fail me. But you don’t fail me. Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nobody.

When I compare your glory with these present pleasantries, they don’t matter. And when I compare your glory with these present sufferings, they don’t matter.”

I’ve found that the more I know God, the more I treasure Him. The more I dwell on the realities of the death and resurrection of Christ, the more I am mesmerized by Him. I have learned what it is to long for Jesus.

When I was crushed by a freight train, when I longed to go where Jon was, even then my soul grasped for truth. My emotions screamed the opposite, but the Holy Spirit broke through the fog.

“Behold the glory of Jesus!”

Heaven isn’t heaven because Jon is there. It’s heaven because Jesus is there.


This post by Ami appeared first at aNew Season Ministries.
“Bare White Walls”, copyright Temples from the album Against the Grain

Reclaiming #Blessed

HgZuGu3gSD6db21T3lxm_San-ZenoneBlessed. It’s a word that often makes my skin crawl.

“I’m so blessed.” I cringe at the statement, hoping no one else can see the involuntary shudder.

Blessed is a perfectly biblical word, so what’s the big deal? Aren’t you being cynical? Surely, you’re just bitter because others have what you want.

Yes, sometimes it’s hard to rejoice, but there’s no cynicism here.

I cringe because “blessed” seems to be merely a trend, a cliche, another word hijacked of its rich meaning.

#blessed…

“We just closed on our new house. #blessed”
“What a beautiful baby! #blessed”
“Praise God! My husband got a big promotion. #blessed”
“My awesome hubby just gave me the most gorgeous just because flowers. #blessed.”

Yes, blessed indeed.

“I just got diagnosed with cancer. #blessed”
“I’m so lonely I could scream. #blessed”
“We lost it all in an instant. #blessed”
“My husband died. #blessed”

Blessed? In these circumstances? I can see your mind reeling…


You’ll want to read the rest. Check out the full post at Intentional By Grace

Join me. #ReclaimBlessed