Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story

Grace Is Greater (Baker Books, 2017)

Kyle Idleman titles his latest book Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story.  Kyle, teaching pastor at southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, uses Hebrews 12:15 as the inspiration for his book.  The verse reads: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.”  However, our familiarity with the word grace creates a problem.  Society’s frequent use of the word grace makes it so common it ceases to amaze us.  Consequently, when we miss grace things become toxic, and a bitter root begins to grow.  Thus, we must face the truth that we’re worse than we want to admit.  But, God’s grace is greater than we could’ve imagined.

Pastor Idleman asserts we best and most fully understand grace “not by way of explanation alone but through experience.”  Furthermore, our ability to appreciate grace directly correlates to the degree we acknowledge our need for it.  For if we cover up sin, we cover up grace.  Therefore, Kyle stresses, we need to confront this hard truth.  Before we collide with the grace of God, we must collide with our own sin.  In fact, the author coined the phrase beautiful illusion for the moment God’s grace finally catches up to someone’s mess.   God doesn’t give up on you.  It’s never too late.

Yet, grace is a two-way street.  Because grace flows, it’s not an option to receive grace from God, but then refuse to give it to others.  Hence, Pastor Idleman defines the litmus test of grace as “the extent to which you give grace and offer forgiveness to the person who’s hurt you the most and deserves it the least.”  Also, extending grace and forgiveness constitutes more than a decision we make.  It’s a journey.  Living in grace means releasing your pain to God.  In other words, while letting go of what happened to your isn’t fair, it is grace.  So, you forgive and remember.  And when you remember, remind yourself: “I forgive that.”

In conclusion, Kyle observes that complaining is the rival of grace.  Therefore, to help you give thanks in all circumstances, Pastor Idleman suggests, reverse engineer God’s grace in your life.  Specifically, find reasons to be grateful for God’s grace at work (1) in situations you’d like to change and (2) in much of what you’ve complained about in the past.  Since God authored your story, trust that grace has the final word.  Kyle summarizes:

“Life is hard.  God is good.  Just keep reading.  Grace is greater.”

No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending

No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending (Zondervan, 2017)

International speaker and writer Esther Fleece recently completed No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending.  In her book, Ms. Fleece uncovers the biblical language of lament.  Esther describes lament as a real-world way to deal with our raw emotions that moves us forward to healing.  Furthermore, Esther states, think of lament as real talk with God when you’re hurting, the kind of song you need for hope and healing, a cry God can work with.  For no matter the cause of your pain, pain always needs to go somewhere.  Therefore, we need a grid for processing our grief.  However, coping mechanisms, although well-intentioned, ultimately never take us where we want to go and function as a cheap substitute for healing.

Lament, in contrast, requires acknowledging the truth of what happened to us and taking our pain directly to God.  God, the protector and keeper of our hearts, desires to be with us in our pain.  On the other hand, unprocessed laments keep our heart in chains.  Also, when we opt not to wrestle with God in our brokenness, we turn to blaming others as well as God.  But, lamenting opens the door to a relationship with God in the midst of our heartaches.  Only God offers this type of intimacy for our pain.  First, though, we need to attest to our pain and offenses before we can lament them.  While facing the past is painful, it’s even more painful to live out the lies we’ve come to believe as truth.

Learning to lament out loud allows God to correct our misconceptions regarding how He sees us and thinks of us.  Hence, Ms. Fleece encourages us to take our questions to God rather than using them as an excuse to disengage.   She notes that, in our laments, God permits us to ask questions as a relationship-building test- to draw near to us in conversation.  God prefers honest questions to faked spiritual strength.  Specifically, Esther sees one particular question- “How long, Lord”- as a powerful prayer of hope.  In addition, that question serves as a bold declaration of God’s presence, active listening, and power to act on our behalf.

In conclusion, Esther urges us to spend time with God and in His Word to remind ourselves of His true character.  When we fix our eyes on God through the lens of our circumstances, we see a warped reflection.  Thus, reminding God of His promises helps us to remember them and reassures us of our trust in Him to keep them.   No season of lamenting lasts forever.  No season of lamenting is designed to take us out.  Instead, as we surrender to those seasons in faith, we know that the future holds joy.  In the meantime, Esther inspires us:

”  . . . let’s all make the choice to be done with faking fine.  God has much better plans — plans for true healing, wholeness, and life upon life.”

Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny

Detours (B & H Books, 2017)

Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny is the most recent book from Dr. Evans, founding and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas.  The word detour implies there’s  a destination, or destiny.  Specifically, destiny involves bringing glory to God as “people come into contact with Him through our words, spirit, emotions, or actions.”  And it’s a normative reality that a life of faith includes detours.  In fact, Dr. Evans notes, detours are God’s modus operandi- His default mode for guiding us.  Furthermore, whether we like it or not, God designed detours for our good.  That realization enables us to take trusting steps of faith.

Yet, breaking us of our own ambitions and independence signals a painful process.  However, we need to praise God in our pain, even if that praise consists of a faint word falling off our parched lips.  For God uses tests to reveal and accurately diagnose the condition of our heart.  As a result, a test always brings truth to the surface.  Thus, that allows growth to occur in a spirit of honesty.  God loves us too much to let us keep walking down the wrong path or in the wrong direction.  The key, then, to making it through testing = intimacy with the Lord.

When your preparation meets God’s purpose, you’re ready to move from detour to destiny.  In addition, once God’s prepared and developed you – even broken you- God’s providence comes out of nowhere- suddenly!  Dr. Evans describes God’s providence as a “word punctuated by truth and postulated by accuracy.”  Consequently, looking through the lens of providence enables you to experience the victorious Christian life and abundance Christ died to provide.  But, you never see all there is to see when dealing with the providence of God.  And the things you do see often don’t connect.

Even so, God brings harmony to discord and turns disappointment into destiny.  Maintaining the right perspective keeps you going despite life’s circumstances.  Then, when evil inevitably shows up, we need to place God in the equation for good to come out of it.  Also, as Dr. Evans points out, God doesn’t just work around negative things, God works in the negative thing.  Furthermore, sometimes you need negative potential in your life experiences to take your further than you’d go on your own.  Dr. Evans concludes with these final comments on your unpredictable path:

“Your destiny and kingdom purpose often involve both a hookup and a hope to people beyond yourself.  Look for both as God guides you.  Pray for both as you wait patiently.  Sharpen your faith, hone your skills, seek His face, and He will move you from detour to destiny.  Keep your eyes wide open . . .”

Holiness: The Heart God Purifies

Holiness: The Heart God Purifies (Moody Publishers, 2004)

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth published Holiness: The Heart God Purifies in 2004.  The author rightly states that holiness and sin both matter to God.  As a result, the message of repentance and holiness needs to transform the way we think and live.  Thus, Nancy’s goal in writing this book focuses on issuing an earnest appeal to God’s people to pursue holiness.  We should consider sin, rather than holiness, burdensome.  Also, the word holy comes from a root that means “to cut, to separate.”  If follows, then, that we’re set apart by God and for God.  This calling is a priceless privilege.

Therefore, true holiness- cultivated in the context of a relationship with God- starts on the inside and reflects God’s purpose for your life.  In addition, you must be intentional about pursuing holiness.  For sin needs to be eradicated and put to death- not tamed or controlled.  Furthermore, sin disappoints, dominates, and destroys.  Also, ignoring or cherishing sin in your heart keeps you from intimacy with God.  This transformation, powered through the indwelling Holy Spirit, develops on the inside and works its way out.

To assist us in the process of putting on holiness, God provides avenues of His grace.  These avenues of grace include the Word of God, confession, the Lord’s Supper, and the body of Christ.  As we put on the heart of Christ, we minister to others as we call the world to accommodate to Christ- rather than accommodate to the world.  In fact, Nancy stresses, the power of a church’s testimony is directly proportional to its holiness.  Therefore, the church cannot become a safe place to sin- overlooking “respectable” forms of sin.

In conclusion, the author exhorts us to look forward to the day when we face our Beloved Bridegroom with joy- radiant and unashamed.  Nancy urges us to cast off sin, through God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit:

“Nothing, nothing, nothing could be more important.  Nothing could bring Him greater glory in our world, and nothing could bring you greater joy — both now and throughout eternity.”

How’s Your Soul?

How’s Your Soul? (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Judah Smith, lead pastor of City Church in Seattle, WA, recently authored How’s Your Soul? Why Everything That Matters Starts with the Inside You.  Pastor Smith observes that we tend to avoid soul-searching questions because we’d rather be superficial than vulnerable.  Consequently, deep down we feel we’re not okay.  As a result, when we doubt our internal stability, we need to rest in the arms of God.  God’s greater than our turmoil and bigger than our souls.  In addition, the Holy Spirit inspired a handbook for a healthy soul: the Bible.  Also, a healthy soul is paramount to a healthy life.

Judah continues by listing four elements of a healthy soul environment- rest, responsibility, restraint, and relationship.  However, the author cautions, the first three elements fall flat if we fail to include relationship.  In the context of relationship, we often find inner fulfillment, peace, joy, and health though doing the exact opposite of what we feel like doing at the present moment.  Although feelings come and go, our God remains the same.  Furthermore, God fulfills our universal and timeless innate need for stability.  Yet, in the middle of a storm, the option of escape tempts us.  Rather than anchoring our souls in Jesus, we search for Helicopter Jesus.

When we need Jesus most, we must trust Him.  During our walk with Jesus, the point isn’t the journey.  It’s being with Jesus.  Throughout this journey, our souls cannot survive without love.  Therefore, Pastor Smith states it’s imperative we understand the paramount nature of love and define it in a God-inspired manner.  Real, authentic God-love describes how love functions all the time.  For love knows no limits and endures all things.  Defining love in this manner enables you to cultivate a calm and quiet soul.  With inner calm and quiet, you recognize you’re not in control as you create a God-category, level yourself, and rest in the arms of Jesus.

In conclusion, Judah notes that God gives identity to your soul as He changes you from the inside out.  Remember, embrace and live consistently according to your identity in Christ.  Walk steadily, at a regular pace.  What God began in you at birth, He plans to bring to completion.  A truly effective life begins with an effective, healthy soul.  Maintain a healthy soul as you focus on the reality of eternity with Jesus.  Pastor Smith explains:

“Eternity . . . inspires you to awaken, to dream again, and to take risks . . . shaped . . . by the glory of God and the reality of heaven.”

The Broken Way

The Broken Way (Zondervan, 2016)

Ann Voskamp opens The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life with a bold assertion.  She proclaims: “Not one thing in your life is more important that figuring out how to live in the face of unspoken pain.”  Yet, we don’t know how to put all our broken pieces into place.  For only God’s wounds heal our wounds.  All our brokenness meets in the mystery of Christ’s brokenness and givenness- becoming the miracle of abundance.  As a result, when we experience abundance, we dance in communion with Christ.  Furthermore, good brokenness grows out of every wound and scar we’ll ever suffer.

Courage, then, means reaching out and taking just a bit of Christ’s iron-nail grace.  As a result, the only abundant way forward means giving yourself forward.  In addition, your multiply joy by spending yourself.  But, for your life to yield fruit, you must be yielding in soul.  When you understand there’s more belovedness in Christ for you than any amount of existing brokenness in you, you receive God’s love.  Then your love bears all things, like a roof bears wind and rain.  Thus, you ultimately find your real self in giving.

This means, Ann exhorts, to live in the givenness of the moment.  Look for pocket miracles- small miracles or small gifts.  When darkness descends, fight back with doxology.  It’s never the cross we carry, but our resistance to the cross, that makes our brokenness a burden.  Ms. Voskamp encourages us to remember that “after a rain of tears, there is always more of you than before.  Rain always brings growth.”   So, with God indwelling us, all our broken efforts become impossable.   Without our wounds, we have no strength.  Load-bearing + love-bearing = cross-bearing.  Identify as a prayer warrior, not a panicked worrier.

In conclusion, Ann reassures us that it’s acceptable to feel okay with being un-okay.  We simply trust that Christ always makes a way.  The fear that “I’m not enough” exposes the lie that God’s not enough.  Furthermore, retreating behind barriers only causes a new type of pain.  Therefore, when pain comes looking for you, control your pain by living given.  Also, give the broken hearted your pain.  And don’t be afraid of theirs!  Finally, Ms. Voskamp draws The Broken Way to a close with these words:

“It’s the broken hearts that find a haunting loveliness of a new beat — it’s the broken  hearts that live a song that echoes God’s.”

Fully and Creatively Alive

Fully and Creatively Alive (Self-published, 2016)

Tom Eggebrecht introduces his self-published book Fully and Creatively Alive by defining the title concept.  From Tom’s perspective, fully and creatively alive means “living out your total potential and doing it with uniqueness and flair.”  In Tom’s book, it’s the only way to live.  In addition, there’s always an artistic alternative to life.  Very often, that alternative leads to your own joy while at the same time serving to help others.

However, even though living fully and creatively takes time, work, and effort, God stands ready to help you tap into your creativity.  Specifically, the sentences of life’s fill-in-the-blank moments provide an amazing opportunity.  You discover the creativity our Creator God places within you.  Prayer also supports those fill-in-the-blank moments.  When you pray, petition the Lord for inspiration and creative insight.  You’ll respond to the Lord’s prompting with renewed energy, interesting ideas, and the desire to follow through.  Therefore, create something because you like it, it affects your life, or evokes personal meaning.

Yet, when failure occurs, give yourself a kind of grace.  Accept the existence of a learning curve and develop a positive, proactive, and optimistic attitude.  Furthermore, use that failure as your mode of transformation.  Then tell about it!  For a positive attitude makes you, but a negative attitude breaks you.  Also, a positive mindset centers on serving others, not shining the spotlight on yourself.  As a result, the true test of your passion for something focuses on your motivation.  In other words, you’ll do something you’re passionate about whether or not you get paid for it.

In conclusion, the author emphasizes that hard work succeeds when passion and purpose meet discipline.   Remember not to focus too much on yourself.  Let others help.  Also, be willing to serve in unexpected ways.  So, pick your head up, look at what you’re doing day to day, and be prepared to shift your dream.  Tom closes with these words of encouragement:

“The world needs what you have to give. . . . Help those who need help.  Live a better story.  Surround yourself with people that fill the gaps in your life.  This is your call to live a life that’s fully and creatively alive.  Now go do it!”

Chase the Lion

chasethelionChase the Lion (Multnomah Books, 2016)

Mark Batterson, head pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, recently published Chase the Lion: If Your Dream Doesn’t Scare You, It’s Too Small.  Mark’s latest book serves as a sequel to In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day.  When one encounters a five-hundred-pound lion, the brain relays an urgent message to the body: run!  Lion chasers, however, run to the roar.  They consider normal overrated.

As a result, lion chasers let God get between them and their circumstances, not vice versa.  Therefore, you’re only one encounter or genesis moment- when God reveals Himself- from your destiny.  To be prepared for that genesis moment requires understanding that you accept response-ability for the things that happen to you, even if you cannot control them.  So, when God tells you to go “just a little farther,” a divine appointment may be close at hand.  For God strategically positions us in the right place at the right time.

Lion chasers not only see, but seize, the decisive moment.  They operated in a spirit of focus, not of fear.  Lion chasers also recognize that closed doors represent some of God’s best premoves.  Yet, to achieve your dreams, you must establish and practice daily disciplines.  Obedience over along period of time equates to faithfulness.  Faithfulness, in turn, undergirds your view- and view affects vision.  And when God gives vision He makes provision!  Your dream is from God and for God.

God’s working His plan, even when you perceive little or no evidence your plan’s moving forward.  Therefore, in difficult seasons, give God the sacrifice of praise.  Ultimately, how well we endure difficult seasons defines us.  So when others give up, respond by stepping up.  To make a difference, you need the courage not just to stand, but to stand alone.  To achieve this, excuses must first be identified and then confessed.

In conclusion, Mark stresses that you find your destiny by looking at God.  By looking at God, then, your destiny finds you.  Yet, destiny also includes demonstrating faithfulness right where you are.  Furthermore, a faithful spirit includes a posture of servanthood, necessary for God to place you in a position of leadership.  Most importantly, you take the presence of God with you wherever you go.  Your dream is a calling.  Run to the roar!

More to Your Story

MoretoyourstoryMore to Your Story (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Max Lucado originally published More to Your Story: Discover Your Place in God’s Plan in 2011 under the title God’s Story, Your Story.  In his Introduction, Pastor Lucado states that the great promise of the Bible and the hope of this book center around this statement: “Your story indwells God’s.”  Therefore, we cling to the Christmas hope that God indwells the everydayness of our world.  As John 1:14 indicates, Jesus pitched his tent in the neighborhood.

However, Max emphasizes, we can’t understand God’s narrative unless we understand Satan’s strategy.  Specifically, God uses Satan’s temptations to train, purify, and strengthen us.  Furthermore, God created you with a heavenly guidance system.  Although you don’t know what the future holds, you are not alone.  Jesus Christ invites you to open your eyes and lift up your gaze (emphasis author’s).  The voice of Jesus guides us home.  In addition, God’s story redeems our story.  Hence, our names are written in the Book of the Lamb with blood that cannot be removed.

Yet, when we battle adversity our convictions wrinkle, and our resolve melts.  Therefore, we need to be drenched in the Holy Spirit’s power.  As a result, the Holy Spirit indwells the hearts of God’s children.  Consequently, as God’s story becomes our story, we must be intentional in learning to wait, maintaining silence, cherishing stillness, and listening for the Spirit’s voice.  Thus, trust becomes the key to the Spirit-led life, not panic.

In conclusion, when panic serves as our default mode, we view closed doors as interruptions of our plan.  The truth- closed doors become indicators of God’s plan.  In addition, even though nothing may be wrong with your plans, God’s plans are better.  Trust God and align your plans to His. Finally, remember that God works in all things– not through a few things, good things, best things, or easy things.  God instilled, and continues to instill, within you all you need to fulfill His plan in your life.  Always see you challenge in the scope of God’s story.  Ultimately, Max states, “we shall graduate from this version of life into his likeness.”

Waiting on God

WaitingonGodWaiting on God (Baker Books, 2015)

Waiting on God: What to do when God does nothing is written by Wayne Stiles (DMin, Dallas Theological Seminary).  Dr. Stiles currently serves as an executive vice president at Insight for Living Ministries.  The Old Testament account of Joseph provides the framework for Wayne’s discussion of the most difficult kind of waiting- waiting on God.  Like Joseph, our confidence must be in God, not in God’s plan.  Therefore, God hides His plan so that we will trust Him- and wait on Him.

God arranges the gaps- where we wait on Him- as well as the great days.  Most noteworthy, those gaps are too long for us to place our hope in seeing significant days.  As a result, we need a different goal- faithfulness rather than significance.  However, when life gets tough we tend to take matters into our own hands.  This misguided effort only intensifies our problem.  Furthermore, Dr. Stiles notes, “natural circumstances seem more compelling than God’s revelation.”

In order to effectively wait on God, we must love Him supremely.  While waiting on God, He prepares us for our ultimate purpose by taking us on a journey we’d prefer to avoid.  Therefore, what we see as a hindrance to our progress truly becomes an essential part of our development.  In contrast, a ‘safe’ life that never gets us hurt seldom recognizes God’s hand.  Thus, we presume God’s goal for leading primarily involves taking us somewhere.  Instead, God’s main purpose is for us to follow.

By leading us, the Lord takes the initiative in our lives and waits for us to respond- a divine exchange.  In the process of this divine exchange, we grow.  Yet, Dr. Stiles observes, quite often the Lord allows painful tests to serve as a warning that something needs to change- usually us.  And during those moment of painful revelation, we experience God’s presence as He patiently waits on our response.  When in the midst of impossible situations, we need to trust God rather than figure out solutions.  Depending on people as our foundation only makes us slaves of our circumstances.

Although the world fails and disappoints us, God never does.  Our response necessitates walking the path of obedience.  Because the path of obedience always follows the big picture God sees, it ultimately leads to the life we truly desire.  As we humble ourselves, stand alone, and face our fears, we express trust in the Lord- with all our heart.  Dr. Stiles concludes:

“The Bible doesn’t tell us everything.  It doesn’t need to.  It tells us all we need to know to live a life of faith.  The rest, we wait for.”