The Grace Of God by Andy Stanley

I heard Andy Stanley speak during a weekend service at Willow Creek and enjoyed the message so much that I decided to read his book The Grace of God. In it, the author takes a stand against graceless religion to prove “that the grace of God and the law of God are not opposing concepts.” To prove his point, Stanley’s book is filled with biblical examples of how God works through unlikely people to carry out His eternal plan. People like Jonah and King David who were blessed, not because of what they did, but in spite of it.

We are all sinners in need of a savior and The Grace of God provides a thorough study of how God worked through people just like us to make this possible.

Favorite Quotes from The Grace Of God by Andy Stanley:

“You can tell a lot about a person … by the rules they enforce. … The same is true of God. His rules reflect his values.” – p. 56

“God doesn’t throw fences around people to make them his. God gives rules of conduct to those who already belong to him.” – p. 64

“Just as sin sometimes results in bad things happening to good people, so grace creates the possibility of good things happening to undeserving people.” – p. 34

“Christ’s death and resurrection signaled to the world that the kingdom of God is not reserved for good people. It is reserved for forgiven people.” – p. 190

“grace is inviting to the unrighteous and threatening to the self-righteous.” – p. 140

“Jonah could never embrace God’s global message of grace. … Who are the Ninevites in your life? Who are the people to whom you have a hard time extending grace?” – p. 117

“someday God may assign you the task of extending grace in their direction. But that’s between you and God. And if he decides you are the person for the job, I assure you, you will have a brand new appreciation for our friend Jonah.” – pp. 117-118

Going Overboard

It started with a Harry Potter board game that Katie had been wanting since Christmas. Next there was the hourglass sand timer that I thought would look great on Hollie’s desk. Although it was tempting to present these finds to the girls right after I bought them, I knew that it would mean more if I waited until Easter morning.  And so I kept accumulating items: Pez dispensers in Easter shapes that would make Hollie smile; a new type of nail polish in Katie’s favorite color; and two chocolate bunnies like the ones Bill received as a child (except mine were molded into the shape of runners because Katie was out for track).

By the time Easter arrived, I was surprised by how many things I had collected. While every item was hand-picked with one or both of my girls in mind, seeing the overloaded baskets made me wonder if I had forever hopped over to the commercial side of the holiday.  As I considered setting some of the gifts aside for another time, I remembered how much God loves to give good gifts to his children and concluded that anyone created in His image has a right (and a responsibility) to do the same.

Jesus talked about the relationship between his heavenly father and earthly parents in Matthew 7:11 when he said: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

No matter how big the basket, we cannot out give God. And if He chooses to work through us to bless others, who are we to stand in His way? Knowing this made it easier to justify my actions to Bill on Easter morning when he turned away from the camcorder he was operating to whisper: “What happened to just giving them chocolate bunnies?”

It was a question that needed no answer as I smiled at the girls and thought to myself: If you think I went overboard, wait until you see what God has planned for them (and all of us) one day.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. 
Do not say … “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”— when you already have it with you.

Proverbs 3:27-28

Putting Every System To The Test

A friend just e-mailed me to say that her family is staying in a hotel while new hardwood floors are being installed in their home. I remember the first time we moved into a house with wood floors. I had no idea how to take care of them. What I did know was that I had an obligation to find out. Jesus made this clear in Luke 12:48 when he said: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” 

After making a call to the business that installed our flooring, I purchased a Bona Hardwood Floor Care System and have been using this company’s products ever since. What I like most about Bona is that they haven’t rested on their laurels. When the company created a floor mop with a refillable cleaner cartridge, I wanted to tell every mom I knew to ask for it for Mother’s Day. (I’m that passionate about progress.)

To pass some of  my enthusiasm along to you, I close with one of my favorite (and perhaps my only) process improvement rhymes:

Put every system to the test until your good is better and your better is best.

My Own Worst Enemy

Have you ever known that something was going to make you feel bad and done it anyway? I thought I could handle the two packages of Rolo chewy caramels that Bill tossed into our cart the last time we shopped together for groceries but, after just two days, they were almost gone.

Why did I do it? Why did I open the last bag when I knew I would be powerless to stop? Sometimes (most of the time) I feel like I  am my own worst enemy because I know what’s good for me and still do the opposite. Sound familiar?

It’s a problem that’s been around since biblical times when the Apostle Paul had this to say about his own struggle with sin: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) I used to think that the reason behind my cycle of self-destruction was a lack of willpower. That  I could conquer every stronghold and demonstrate any desirable attribute with God by my side and verses like Philippians 4:13 in my pocket.

My position changed one day when, while working through page 119 of Beth Moore’s study Living Beyond Yourself: Exploring the Fruit Of the Spirit, I read that the fruit of the spirit “is the supernatural outcome of being filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Learning that self-control is not about what we possess, but who we reflect, made me realize that Bill’s Rolos weren’t to blame for my latest binge. I was. And if I wanted to stop overeating, I would need to start spending more time with God.  

Any character-building efforts on our part beyond what we put into spiritual disciplines really are meaningless. A chasing after the wind. God is our refuge and our strength because it is He who transforms us (and our eating habits) from the inside out. 

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” – Galatians 5:13

Uphill In An Avalanche

Sometimes I feel like I’m climbing uphill in an avalanche as I work to make progress and wind up with nothing checked off my to-do list. Today was one of those days. All week I’d been waiting for an item I ordered to arrive in the mail. When it finally came, I opened up the package to find that the wrong item had been shipped. Frustrated at the thought of having to return the unwanted product, I decided to get it over.

“Returns Are Easy!” the invoice assured me in large, bold print. I wasn’t so sure when I logged onto the website to find that, although the main page was working for people who wished to make a purchase, screens for returning an item were suspiciously unavailable.

Determined to accomplish something with my day, I turned off my monitor and headed to the van to run a few errands. While I was out I learned that the office supply store closed ten minutes before I arrived, the second office supply store that I tried did not carry what I needed, and a toy that was on sale at my favorite discount store was nowhere to be found. The afternoon was almost over when I returned home with zero errands checked off my To Do list.

What a mess, I thought to myself as I walked upstairs to hang up a shirt that I had purchased while I was out. As I walked into my closet I was struck by how disorganized it was and decided that, although I had no control over the uncertainty outside my home, I could do something about the chaos within it. The next hour was an organizing blur as I purged unwanted clutter. It felt so good to get rid of outdated items that my bad mood lifted, even though the To-Do list remained.

Just like the clothes in our closets, we choose which thoughts to hang onto. When we focus on the good and forget the bad, we show that our days aren’t determined by what happens around us; they are a product of what goes on within us—and maybe we aren’t having such a bad day after all.

Use Equals Storage

I believe that use should equal storage. And when you keep something in an unhandy spot, it decreases the chances that it will be utilized. To prove my point (without knowing that we were doing it), my husband and I decided that the logical place to put our mini refrigerator when we moved to Illinois was on my side of the garage. That’s where it stayed, unused and unplugged, for four years because there wasn’t enough room to open the refrigerator door when my van was parked in front of it.

Once in a while (and to Bill’s dismay), I ran into the refrigerator when pulling into the garage. The dents caused by my front license plate proved that my vehicle was in far enough to shut the garage door. They also made the appliance too unattractive to bring indoors for a holiday party that we were hosting in our home.

“We can’t use it like that,” Bills said after examining my handiwork.

“I’ll buy something to cover the front,” I assured him.

The next day, I perused the aisles of Home Depot until I found a plastic kitchen backsplash that Bill could cut to fit the door.

The refrigerator looked so good when he was finished that we decided to move it to the pantry after the party was over. Ever since then, it’s been used on a daily basis. And whenever one of us reaches for a drink, I receive a refreshing reminder that if we’re not using something as much as we ought, it helps to put it in a more useful spot.

Passing Things Along

Shopping for bargains comes easily to me. I am, after all, a salvage man’s daughter. What doesn’t come easy (also thanks to my father) is letting go of purchases when it’s time to send them on to another home. It helps to know that, when I do give up something I haven’t worn in a long time but have been struggling to part with, it often becomes the very thing that will make another person smile. Like the time I parted with a pink leather jacket that I really liked, but rarely wore. It went to a single mom who I regularly sent clothes to. Because of her limited income, she would never splurge on something so unpractical. And when I gave it to her, she smiled and said: “I’ve been waiting for you to pass that along.”

Her words taught me a lesson that will never go out of style. They reminded me that my someday could be another person’s everyday. They also convinced me to go against my nature and commit to following the one-in-one-out rule every time I bring a new item into my closet. If you are struggling to do the same, it helps to remember that you may not be the best person for your possessions. And when you let go of something good, it opens the door for God to do something great by working through you to reach out to others.

When Kids Go Berserk

I attempted to cook something new today. “Your kids will love it!” the woman at church had promised after handing me her recipe for calzones. To my dismay, Katie and Hollie did not share her enthusiasm when I pulled what looked like oozing cocoons out of the oven.

Gross,” they said in unison.

Feeling belittled for my efforts and bloated from eating their portions and my own, I sent Katie and Hollie upstairs so I could clean up the kitchen in peace. A short while later, I was still feeling unappreciated when my oldest raced through the living room, chasing her sister with a plunger.

 “All right,” I said sternly. “If you’ve got that much energy, you can help me clean.”

After swapping out Katie’s weapon for window cleaner, I put both girls to work. All hard work really does bring a profit, I decided as their behavior improved with every polished surface. 

When the work was done, I thanked both for their involuntary service and breathed a sigh of relief: The house was cleaner, my children were quieter, and I felt better as a parent because I took Proverbs 14:23 to heart. We can discipline our children and reap the benefits of better behavior or let them run wild. Having seen the results of both I am a firm believer that when kids go berserk, it’s time to put them to work.

For a complete list of parenting rhymes to remember, visit my Organizing Tips page Guiding Children In The Way They Should Go and remember, it’s never too late to learn from what you live through as inch by inch, yard by yard; what seems impossible is only hard.

What Comes To Mind

One morning while the girls were playing, I tuned in to a reality show called Starting Over. I’d read an article about one of the hosts, Rhonda Britten, and was curious to see how she helped individuals dig out from past mistakes and present circumstances.

In the episode that aired that day, Rhonda instructed one of the cast members to not speak to anyone unless what she had to say was: 1) necessary, 2) true, 3) helpful, and 4) kind. Wanting to share these communication guidelines with my daughters, I made up a rhyme to help them remember:

Only speak what comes to mind, if it’s necessary, true, helpful, and kind.

Less than an hour after memorizing my new communication mantra, I overheard my six-year-old talking negatively to her sister.

“What you said was not necessary or kind,” I said as I patted myself on the back for a parenting job well done.

Much to the girls’ delight, my rhyme was a bit more difficult to call upon after a gas station clerk refused to help me with an invalid car wash code. I also struggled to take my own advice when Katie proved incapable of getting ready for a birthday party, even though she knew we were running late.

Why is advice so much easier to give than it is to receive? I didn’t have an answer as I struggled to keep my cool. What I did have was a reminder to be careful about what I wish for in the future, because I might just get it. And all God’s children (even grown ones) can benefit from rhyming their way to respectable behavior, one conflict at a time.

Setting a Godly Example

This morning, while driving to a meeting at church, I received an unexpected call from a friend whose six-year-old daughter was having a temper tantrum in the parking lot of our church.

“She’s still in her pajamas and refuses to get out of the car because she doesn’t want to go to preschool,” the mom said as her daughter screamed in the background.

“I’m almost to the church and will pull up next to you,” I replied.

Feeling like a fireman without a ladder, I had no idea how I was going to talk this little girl off the ledge of her own hysteria. I never claimed to have all the answers when my daughters were her age and, after writing on numerous occasions about my own incompetencies as a parent, felt highly unqualified to help. When I arrived, the little girl was hysterically throwing things as her mom jumped out of the front seat to avoid the blows. After watching several CDs and other loose objects spew from the belly of the vehicle, I said a quick prayer for guidance and walked around to the passenger side to assess the situation. My first instinct was to gently, but firmly grasp the girl’s arms to keep her from picking up anything else.

“I’ll let go when you calm down and promise to stop throwing things,” I said as she screamed louder and fought to free herself from my grip. When it seemed like she would never stop writhing in anger, I remembered something that Mayor Rudi Giuliani said after the terrorist attacks on 9/11: “My father, when I was very young, used to say to me, ‘If you are ever in an emergency, if you are ever in a fire and everybody gets very excited, very emotional, then you become the calmest person in the room'”(1)

My friend’s daughter was definitely on fire as I looked into her determined eyes and quietly repeated that I was not letting her go until she let up on the screaming. I could tell that I was making progress, but it wasn’t enough. Something was missing. Something that kept her guard up and her mind closed to the possibility of letting go of the rage. That something was an emotion, and as soon as I showed empathy, the anger melted away.

“You must be exhausted,” I said quietly.

The little girl nodded.

“I am too. Would it be okay if we put this behind us and went inside?”

Another nod.

I don’t know who was more surprised when the girl quietly exited the vehicle, her mother or myself.

“Great job at calming down,” I said. “Give me five!”

After slapping my hand, she gave me a big smile and headed toward the church. As her mom and I followed, I thought about what had just happened and realized: If I’d waited until I knew what to do to help my friend’s daughter, I never would have tried. I had to take the first step before God would lead me to the next one. Knowing that I could find myself in similar situations in the future, I reflected on what worked in the hope of duplicating the outcome and came up with the following three ‘E’s of Crisis Management. Each one is followed by a quote from the consummate of calm: Rudolph Giuliani.(2)

1. Engage: “During a crisis, leaders must be out front rather than running or hiding from the ordeal. They must go to the scene of disaster and stand front and center – to accurately assess the situation as well as show their concern, while also demonstrating confidence that the group will persevere.”

2. Empathize: “You must speak up and take charge of what people are thinking and feeling at the time. You must reassure them and give them a simple yet specific plan that will get people through the crisis. Outline important action steps that they can take immediately to help themselves and the team.”

3. Encourage: “As difficult as the crisis can seem, remind people that there is hope.”

These steps, together with prayer and personal reflection, have the power to help even the most perplexed parent set a Godly example that all of God’s children can follow.