Charis

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– Paul, Ephesians 2:8

Grace. Short word, but not easy to define. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about grace this past week. If you read the last blog or listened from the podcast, then you’ll know I mentioned grace at the last part of the blog. As promised I’m going to talk about grace. Last time we looked into placing blame on others and considered several examples of shifting the blame on others, when we ourselves often overlook our own responsibilities. What we need is grace.

To be honest, I have a difficult time narrowing down a definition of grace. I know for some of you who might have grown up around Christian circles there is an acrostic for grace using each letter of the word. But, I think it needs a bit further example. It is true we do experience the grace of God because of Christ’s expense on the cross, but what does it mean to live in this life of grace? How does it play out? Like I said, I’ve been trying to find a good example to give you and have been reminded that grace is the right topic for me to write about this week. It has been literally everywhere. Have you ever noticed that when God has something for you to meditate upon, He keeps bring it up in the simplest and strangest of places? For me, it was in a podcast I listened to,my devotional this week, and in my reading through the letter to the Ephesians, written by the apostle Paul. If you haven’t read it, or it has been awhile, let me encourage you to do so. Paul has a lot to say about grace.

One of the strangest reminders of grace this week, was finding grace written on the side of a building. Well, let me be specific, it was a sign on a church building in a very small city, near where two of my adult children live. Can I call them that? It does seem a strange contradiction of terms. Anyway, I almost overlooked this prime example of what grace can be defined as, since I was familiar with this church. I had visited once, when it was located in a smaller building and was aware they had moved down the street.

But, what is remarkable is not a church moving, or that they are called “grace” church, but what bigger picture I think they represent. Let me explain. I am a big fan of revitalizing old down town areas. Not with large condos, that push out the people living there, so they are not able to afford to stay put, but restore, reuse, remodel and reawaken dead, historical business districts. Many times the architecture found in these older buildings is amazing. Great care was put into the design and expert workmanship. They were not simply quick, cookie cutter buildings. But they had history and design. They often reflect the time period in which they were built.

But, sadly, as my husband and I have discovered traveling across the United States, so many of these classic, historical down towns are neglected, falling into ruin and boarded up. Interstate travel moved the business districts too far from the traveling public, subdivisions created commuters and fast food restaurants to be accessed by cars. Drive- thru’s took the places of sit down diners. No one ventured off the bigger roads to visit these small towns anymore, factories on the fringes of the towns closed and businesses shuttered their doors.

Often as I drive through these towns, I wonder what they must have been like in their hey day. Before the faded paint, broken windows, and darkened interiors. I close my eyes for a minute and imagine it. People strolling down the streets, shop keepers displaying their goods in the window, the smell of food drifting from the restaurants and the faint sound of music coming from inside. As it got dark, the street lights would come on and the lights inside, welcoming and beckoning the shoppers and those looking for a meal.

As I opened my eyes, it was still there. The brightly lit shops, the food smells from the restaurants, and the music. There was even the sound of saws and hammers as another building was being rebuilt inside. This wasn’t my imagination, but a reality in which I found myself this past weekend in a revitalized down town. The streets have been all repaved in bricks, the restaurants open their doors to tables and benches on the sidewalks, special events and event spaces now frequent these once broken down and silent areas of town. As I ascended a staircase leading to a newly opened photography studio, I noted the decorative welded iron work on the stairs. This was definitely not cookie cutter, but the work of a skilled craftsman from years ago.

I visited this same town three years ago, as it began to revitalize when there were only a few new businesses in these graceful old buildings. It has taken those willing to step out of the cookie cutter strip mall worlds, invest in the broken down and old. The abandoned and forgotten. To see how it can be. It took someone to see past the inside of the buildings, past the darkness of broken street lights, and broken windows to offer this town a second chance. To imagine what this town could be like once again. Full of life, and full of light and joy once again as people were welcomed to visit it. It took grace. And not just the church that decided to revitalize an entire city building for its new church, rather than build in a large suburban area, it took looking past the broken parts to what it could be.

We are like that too. No, we are not the imagineers, or the visionaries. We are those broken buildings. Dark inside, without light and life. We were once full of light and life, but not now. We are full of strife and anger and hopelessness and sin. When we were created and designed by the ultimate designer and architect, God, we were designed to be welcoming, to be in perfect relationship with our creator and each other and full of life, His life, His Zoe that He breathed into the first man Adam. But then sin arrived and we found ourselves off the beaten path from God. The life and light was gone. We grew old and our bodies saw decay and death. But God offered us grace, right from the beginning, and He promised to send Jesus who would defeat our enemy and restore our life. God looks past the brokenness of our lives, the dark places we have been and that resides within us and offers to recreate us. To restore our relationship with Him, to give us life, not just like the world’s cookie- cutter version, but His life, and Himself, the Holy Spirit, who will change us and transform us into the likeness of Jesus, what we were and should have been. God offers us grace. His grace. Nothing we have earned or deserved, but because He sees what is possible in us and loves us despite our shortcomings. God Bless- Nancy

Giving Good Gifts

So, how’s that Christmas shopping going? How many times have you heard that question this year? It seems like it is a common question this time of year as we approach Christmas, a time to celebrate Christ’s birth by exchanging gifts with our families and friends. But maybe the real question should be; how are you at picking out gifts? I find that the people who procrastinate at their Christmas shopping are the same ones who struggle to figure out what a good gift might be. They fear giving the wrong gift, so they put off their shopping.

Thankfully, God knows how to give the best gifts. of course the first and best is His Son Jesus, but also there’s the spiritual gifts that He gives to believers. There are many self tests out there to help you discover your spiritual gift. 1 Corinthians 12 gives a good list of these gifts as does Ephesians 4. These good gifts are for the benefit of the church, to grow it and build it up. But, there are other gifts that God gives. Our natural abilities and talents that helps us to do our vocations and hobbies.

Recently I was reading an article that suggested parents should not recognize or celebrate their children’s natural gifts and talents. Instead it was suggested that parents should encourage their children to work hard and excel at everything. All it takes is a little self determination and everything is possible. Well, I  believe that God creates each person individually, I mean look at your fingerprint- there isn’t another one like it. Our natural talents are meant for us and is a part of who God made us to be and should be celebrated. We as human beings are unique and specially created by God. We are not cookie cutter.

Sometimes, I think we can forget this. We try to be or do something we are not. We are trying to use a gift that doesn’t fit, because, well, we don’t have that gift. It is a fake it till you make it philosophy, but it’s not long and we can become frustrated trying to do something we were never meant to do in the first place. We should always operate in what we have been gifted in. It is the right gift. The right fit. The good gift from the ultimate gift giver.

I was reminded of this today. I am responsible to use the gifts I have been given, not try to use someone else’s gift. It is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t fit and it’s a struggle to figure out how to make it fit. In the end, it’s a choice to select to do what I am gifted to do and not try to do everything.God Bless -Nancy