Archive | September 2018

Becoming a Gracious Woman

 



Yesterday, a friend of mine gave me a very kind comment. She said, “You are a gracious woman.” I appreciated the affirmation and thanked her. Is this true? Am I a gracious woman?

When I got up this morning I started thinking about what it means to be gracious. I reviewed the story of Joseph written in the book of Genesis. What an example of graciousness! He suffered abuse and he was falsely accused. Yet, he was neither revengeful nor bitter.  Where did he find the strength to overcome these natural tendencies? He experienced the grace and goodness of God.

God blessed him with a wife and two sons. He named them in honor of God and as a reminder of God’s goodness to him. This is how the story is recorded in the book of Genesis:  

“Two sons were born to Joseph before the famine came. Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, was their mother. Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, saying, “Certainly God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s house.” He named the second child Ephraim, saying, “Certainly God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” (Genesis 41:50-52 NET)

God has been as gracious to me as he was to Joseph. He’s given me a compassionate and gracious husband, a precious family, and many dear friends. More than that, he’s given me the companionship and of the Holy Spirit, the Friend whom Jesus said he would send to all of his followers.

Because of his gracious blessings, I am not bitter and angry. I am not focused on inner pain. I am free from shame. I have self-worth. I can look beyond myself and reach out to others.

Does this mean I am a gracious woman?  Sometimes, I am. Sometimes, I am not. God, alone, is gracious 100 percent of the time. My desire is to continue growing in grace, each day to become more and more like Jesus. In the words of this song by BJ Thomas, I want to be more and more like Jesus.

 

This entry was posted on September 29, 2018. 2 Comments

Who is a Safe Shepherd and Who is Not?

 



It’s been distressing to watch the Supreme Court justice nominee’s hearing and the events leading up to it. Issues of personal safety certainly are at stake. I feel very sad. However, I’m not stating my position regarding the people questioned because I want you, my friends and readers, to think for yourselves. I hope you will not stop reading but consider my criteria for making wise decisions about leadership in general.

As the following proverb states, we must all learn to be discerning.  

“A naive person believes everything,
but the shrewd person discerns his steps.”- Proverbs 14:15 NET


Naïve is not a word that I often see on Facebook. I think it deserves some consideration. What does it mean to be naive? This is one dictionary definition: “having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information”.

As the above Proverb tells us, there’s a danger in being naïve.  We have a tendency to take shortcuts and to make quick judgments and hasty decisions without thoughtfully examining evidence and asking pertinent questions.

We can be tricked into believing safe people are dangerous and dangerous people are safe. How do we know who is safe and who is not? Jesus gave us an important clue when he said, “Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.” He did not say, “Beware of sheep in wolves’ clothing” because a sheep never wears a wolf’s clothing. Sheep are not out to deceive people. They’re just set on following a path and they need guidance in order to find the right path. They need a shepherd.

When Jesus looked at the crowds of people in the world around him, he said that they were like sheep without a shepherd. I don’t think much has changed since his day. The world is full of sheep. Sheep can easily be deceived. They need a shepherd.

That shepherd needs to be a safe person. A safe person is someone with integrity. Someone who never deceives us. Someone who always tells the truth. Someone who is patient, kind, and good. Someone who does not expect perfection. Someone who does not condemn us when we fall down. Someone who walks beside us and helps us recognize dangers, not only points them out but teaches us to recognize the dangers ourselves. Someone who teaches us how to have discernment.

We need to have knowledge and discernment. We need to ask questions. We need to know what questions to ask. Appearances can be deceiving. A safe shepherd does not go around comparing one sheep with other sheep. They are all equally cared for and protected. He or she does not condemn sheep. He or she does not go around causing divisions among the sheep. A safe shepherd brings sheep together and teaches them to live in peace, unity, and understanding.

Because his or her self-worth is settled, a safe shepherd confidently makes decisions. He or she is not looking for approval or even acceptance. Nor is a safe shepherd hungry for power or control. A safe shepherd has control of his or her own life, shows us how to gain control of ourselves, and assists us in escaping the control of abusive shepherds.

When I look at the world today, I’m concerned. I see a lot of naïve sheep and very few safe shepherds. Yet I do not despair because Jesus is still alive. As we look to him, listen to his words, and follow the guidance of the Spirit he has given us, we will gain discernment and not be deceived by wolves dressed as shepherds.  


Prudence and naivety were walking down the road.
Soon they met a stranger who offered them some food.

Naivety just swallowed it; she thought all things were good.
But prudence first examined it; she wisely understood . . .

Appearance can deceive us; we must be very shrewd.
Things, which at first taste sweet, can turn sour when they’re chewed.

Jane Ault 2002 

This entry was posted on September 28, 2018. 8 Comments

The Dynamic Dance of Choosing Grace

 



As followers of Jesus, how do become like him in character? What is our responsibility? Do we actively participate or do we passively receive his grace? In the process of developing spiritual, mental,  and emotional integrity, what is the balance between responsibility and grace?  It’s helpful for me to picture this relationship as a dance, which I’ve not yet perfected! I’m continually learning new versions.

This how I describe it in my book, Emotional Freedom

The Dance  of Choosing Grace

 Jesus does not compel us to obey him. He empowers us to overcome evil and destructive passions, but it does not happen automatically. It’s a shared effort. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, uses the phrase (Matthew 11:28–30) to describe the shared relationship that Jesus invites us to have with him.

I love that “unforced rhythms of grace” phrase. It reminds me of a dance. I’m not a great dancer. My least well-developed intelligence is kinesthetic. When I was in college, I had to take beginning swimming twice in order to pass it. Kinesthetic intelligence is one of my husband’s highest developed abilities. He loves to dance. I love watching him dance. We do it as a part of our worship on Sunday mornings. I managed to dance with him at our daughters’ weddings without crushing his toes.

The concept of dancing with God delights me. I call this dance with Jesus “Choosing Grace.” It has two basic steps—grace and responsibility. Grace is God’s step of love toward me. Responsibility is my step of love toward God. Jesus said, “If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love” (John 15:10 MSG). 

Choosing grace is about dancing in such a close relationship with Jesus that his nature becomes a part of us, motivating our decisions and empowering our behavioral changes. Here is a clear Biblical statement describing the interaction between grace and responsibility: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12–13 NIV).

Choosing grace is about acting on our decisions so that our behavior will change. However, it’s much more than a how-to-do list for selecting and practicing new behaviors. Through this dynamic dance with Jesus, we are transformed, and we become like him. How do responsibility and grace work together to bring about character change and freedom from destructive desires and emotions? There are two common misunderstandings.

Problems on the Dance Floor

Some of us focus entirely on God’s grace, and others of us focus entirely on our responsibility. Some of us depend on God to do all the dancing, while others of us leave him standing on the dance floor and take off in our own independent rhythm.

When we place responsibility—as well as grace—totally in God’s lap, our slogan becomes “let go and let God.” God did not design us as robots, and he does not bypass our will. We have the responsibility of choosing whether or not we will rely on God’s empowering grace.

When we place responsibility on our shoulders and forget about grace we take up the “just-say-no!” slogan. Our program of self-reform does not usually work very well or last very long.  The only way we can be successful by just saying no to our destructive desires is by lying to ourselves—overlooking our slip-ups.

On any day, I may deceive myself into thinking I can stay away from the chocolate ice cream which gives me digestive problems. Perhaps by God’s grace, I’ve been successful for a few weeks. Now, I think my willpower is sufficient. I no longer need God’s assistance. What happens? I’m so focused on my performance that my craving takes over.

I tend to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. Sometimes, I act as if God is totally responsible for my growth. In passive irresponsibility, I refuse to take initiative. I don’t anticipate problems, and I don’t plan how I can obey. I sing “I want what God wants” while waiting for him to exercise the will he gave to me. What’s the result? Nothing happens. Why doesn’t this work?

God will neither take over my will nor override the choices I make. His freedom of choice gift includes responsibility to act and accountability for our action or failure to act. 

Questions for reflection:

On which end of the responsibility/grace spectrum do you tend to swing?
Do you need to take more action steps or do you need to focus on God’s grace?

 

This entry was posted on September 21, 2018. 6 Comments

An Appeal for Graciousness



The conflicts within our nation deeply grieve me. How can blaming, name-calling, and other techniques of evasion affect healing in any of us? There’s no easy and simple solution. As others have notably recognized, it’s only by conquering the enemies within us that we can conquer the enemies outside of us.

When facing an angry crowd of self-righteous people bent on stoning an abused and “sinful” woman, Jesus declared, “Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one the accusers dropped their stones and left.

Who in our day is willing and able to balance truth and grace so effectively? For deep and lasting conflict resolution, both are essential. In his book, Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud offers valuable insights and practical help for gaining and maintaining this truth-grace balance.

Cloud’s description of the “wise”, the “foolish”, and the “evil” person is outstanding. While he points out the necessity of ending some relationships, he does not advocate unnecessary endings. He gives clear guidelines for conflict resolution so that we can cultivate healthy seeds in our souls–gentleness, kindness, goodness, peace, and love.

Neither grace nor truth standing alone can save us from destructive seeds within us, such as arrogance, hatred, revenge, envy, greed, and apathy. 

 Truth, by itself, denounces and destroys persons, yet does nothing to empower healthy change. Grace, by itself, overlooks seeds of destruction and falls prey to its own and others unhealthy tendencies.

In today’s poem, I’ve tried to express my concern in a positive manner. It’s not my intention to name names or take sides in the political arena. It’s my desire and hope that we will all choose to become the kind of citizens that promote greatness in the entire world.


We often hurt each other in unexpected ways;
We don’t mean to do it; disease makes sad our days.

An invasive cancer resides in every soul and spirit;
We may refuse to see this; yet, it is inherent.

Self-righteous denial blinds us to the truth
And foolishly we trust those evil and uncouth.

When arrogant defiance is enthroned in our land
How long can we survive? How long can we stand?

Reconciliation will come when to this we agree:
We all chose foolishness and error to some degree.

Humility is the grace that empowers leadership;
It saves us from harshness; yet, strengthens our grip,

Giving us the courage to remove all cancerous growth;
Let us not resign in despair but retain faith and hope.

9/7/2018 Jane Ault

This entry was posted on September 7, 2018. 4 Comments