Empty for a Reason, Perfection Not Necessary

Christmas at Our Rich Retreat

Christmas at Our Rich Retreat_Come Empty, Leave Full

We don’t simply decorate our house for Christmas; we do a Christmas Load In. It’s as though every Elf on the Shelf comes to a pre-season-kickoff-convention and collectively loses their minds partying. Let’s call it the 6 Days of Chaos at Our Rich Retreat. Sometimes as I empty the boxes, I learn a lesson.

Must … not … accept … empty …

Around Day 4, I pulled out an ornament-holding tree that stands about two-feet tall. I decided I would adorn it with a set of dinky-sized, metallic-red bulbs. Due to the way I’d used these itty-bitty ornaments in past years, the little guys were in various totes around the house. Digging through dozens of boxes, I came up with almost enough ornaments to fill the little tree, but I was one short. It became a game-stopping quest to find this missing one-inch bulb. To understand the scope of my quest, check out the number of totes we have for Christmas (… and check your judgment; I know I’m crazy).

Christmas Crazy_Trailers are NOT empty

Empty Spaces are Meaningful Spaces

I eventually had to admit defeat; I couldn’t find that last bulb. My decorator-elf-self started thinking about unearthing another set of small ornaments to alternate and fill the tree. In the next moment, however, the Holy Spirit gave me a better idea: Leave that spot empty because it’s a picture of so many things.

  • The lost. As diligently as I’d searched for that missing little bauble, God is searching for those who currently are rejecting His offer of love and grace. Going past that tree this season, I’ve been reminded to pray for the lost. I pray for some by name. I also pray that my eyes are open to seeing how I can reflect God to those I meet … maybe it’s an opportunity to point a lost soul to Him.
  • Those who feel left out. Many come to church but don’t feel included. They look around and see all the “matching ornaments” and don’t feel like they belong. Because they feel different, they drift away and leave an empty spot. When we’re at church, we need to look up and around. Let’s break away from our friend groups when we see someone alone. It could be the difference between those folks feeling the joy of being visible and connected or them leaving feeling empty.
  • The missing people in our lives. I lost it last night looking at pictures of my mom holding my kids when they were little … she’s been gone for 10 Christmases. The missing ornament on that tree reminds me to pray for those who are also navigating the holidays with those empty spots on the trees of their hearts.
  • Seasonal emptiness. The holidays can usher in so many disappointments that leave many feeling hollow. Again, let’s keep our eyes open for those who need encouragement through a kind word, an extra hug or an invitation to spend time together.

With Jesus at the Center, We're Never Empty

Emptiness Leads to Holiness

That spot on my tree is empty for a reason. Only one thing can fill it – prayer. I pray expectantly – not only that God would work in others, but that He will work through me.

Out of the chaos of decoration boxes came an invitation to holiness. Out of the manger in Bethlehem came the One who can fill our emptiness with His holiness. May any emptiness in our lives lead all of us to more holiness this Christmas.

The Grace and Truth Tightrope

truth in love tightrope of grace

 

tightrope between grace and truth

When does a tightrope walker think, “…Point A to Point B on a skinny rope strung between high towers? Sign.me.up.”? Probably after observing someone do it well—someone who made it appear an attractive, thrilling adventure.

Our lives are a balancing act. We walk the Tightrope of Tasks and the Rope of Relationships. If we take a misstep along either, we lose equilibrium. We flail and try to regain control. In the meantime, we attempt to stay upright as we hyper-focus on not crashing.

Some tightropes are short and only affect the moment. Others, though…others are lengthy and have long term effects. One lengthy tightrope caught my attention this week—the tightrope between grace and truth.

Tightropes too tense

It seems that in the Christian community (and I realize I paint with broad strokes here), when a person commits a sin, he/she is met with a lot of truth. It’s as though the community absorbs the sin and puts their collective head down. They force the one who committed the sin to drop his head in a sort of community-imposed, “Look at what you’ve done.” The focus is on the one who made the mistake. The way that person is received causes him to center on himself. Truth, truth, truth pounding—even when it’s God’s truth—throws a hurting person off balance. The tightrope he’s walking? It should be a twine woven of love. However, if the community heaps condemnation—whether openly admitted or secretly harbored—the twine starts snapping under the walker’s weakened feet. It doesn’t feel like love. Yet…

truth in love, tightrope
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. Ephesians 4:15

…it should.

Tightropes gone slack        

On the flip side, I recently soaked in an atmosphere that caused me to consider the imbalance of grace without truth.

Scene: A hipster coffee shop in East Nashville
Characters:

  • Me: computer and caffeine at the ready
  • Baristas: long-haired, tattooed, relaxed, open, in their zone
  • Customers: Hipster moms and dads, college students, bearded/tattooed/funky hair/lots of metal in body parts/all holding cell phones/most seemingly relaxed and in their zone

As I watched the baristas interact with their new and regular customers, my pastor/writer’s mind started speculating. Let’s assume—not with any judgment, but simply for the sake of assuming—that most of the folks in the coffee shop were not Christians. Here’s what got me. Take that hurting tightrope walker from the above scenario. If that guy were to come and share that same sin with this group, he’d find acceptance. Because there is no scriptural truth on which non-believers base their lives, the kinds of things that wig out Christians don’t hit their radar as an issue. If the hurting person shared how condemned he felt by the Christian community, he wouldn’t find that here. Instead, he’d find acceptance and “grace”. The tightrope under his feet would strengthen by the non-judgmental love this community extended. Their grace may be the very thing that causes him to walk away from Christians all together.

However, this twine becomes ensnaring. Because God’s truth is not part of the life-conversation, the feeling is…well Dori comes to mind with the message…

just keep sinning

…“Just keep sinning, sinning, sinning, sinning”. He’ll be stuck in that spot on the tightrope. It’s loving, but it’s a deceptive encouragement.

Tightropes that go the distance

After someone has messed up and we have the privilege to walk with him on the tightrope between grace and truth, let’s take our cues from this:

  1. Have a vision of “Point B”: Point B is where this hurting person will emerge after coming through their mess. Is the goal of Point B to rub his nose in his sin or is it to see him stronger in his relationship with the Lord? Knowing the end goal shapes how we interact with him today…because today is prayerfully one step closer to Point B. It also prevents us from reacting in ways that cause him to turn around and give up even trying to do the walk. Our actions should help restore the hurting person without us putting ourselves in the judgment seat. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12)
  2. Check your twine: Are you laying down “love” as the encouraging pathway out of the mess? If love leads, the hurting person can receive truth that will be life-giving as they journey. The encouragement to suffering friends is to “Just keep swimming” away from the mess and to know that your love is there for them. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13) …but the greatest of these is love.
  3. Lean on the grace you’ve received: It’s disappointing when people let us down. Hmm…with 7+ billion people on the planet, I wonder how frequently God says that. We let Him down often, but we never want His grace to fail or flee from us. The more we feel His grace, the more we want to live a life that pleases Him. That’s the beauty of God-ordained grace and truth. Let God be God in other people’s messes. (2 Corinthians 12:9) But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

 

Tightrope between grace and truth

I have struggled with this tension between grace and truth, so I write to you and to me.  Here’s what I know: I want to be a person who powerfully navigates the tightropes of my life so others see that walking with Jesus is an attractive and thrilling adventure. I want to be a person who encourages others on their tightropes to look up, see the truth in God-Point B and know they are walking toward it with my love under their feet.

What tightrope are you navigating? I pray you are feeling God’s grace from His people. I pray His people are speaking truth, but only after loving you well. If you aren’t experiencing that, don’t give up on God, but find Christians who get it. There’s nothing like hearing grace-filled truth because it will lead you to deeper experiences of God’s love.