Scandalous Grace

Recently, my year long bible reading plan has led me into the always unpredictable book of Leviticus. Nights of reading have triggered heavy eyelids and gag reflexes as the dimensions and specifications of the Tabernacle are outlined and explanations of sacrifices and skin diseases are provided in detail. However, the Living Word of God never ceases to amaze me at the little nuggets of wisdom that are showered throughout the pages, even in the least expected places.

I have tried to stay open-minded and understand more of God’s advice and characteristics, as well as the applicability of the practices throughout my reading of Leviticus. But frankly, it has been difficult. I have a strong stomach, but when blood is being splattered and rubbed on big toes (I promise it’s in there), I have trouble focusing. I haven’t given most of the book a second thought, especially the part about offering God only animals without defect. I mean, duh, God deserves our best, right? Even though we don’t offer animal sacrifices anymore, the concept still makes sense. But, then I stumbled across a passage where the tables were turned and I couldn’t help but stop and reread.

Leviticus 21:17-20, 23

17“Give the following instructions to Aaron: In all future generations, none of your descendants who has any defect will qualify to offer food to his God. 18 No one who has a defect qualifies, whether he is blind, lame, disfigured, deformed, 19 or has a broken foot or arm, 20 or is hunchbacked or dwarfed, or has a defective eye, or skin sores or scabs, or damaged testicles (I promise it’s in there). 23 Yet because of his physical defect, he may not enter the room behind the inner curtain or approach the altar, for this would defile my holy places. I am the Lord who makes them holy.”

Now we weren’t talking about animals, but people being without defect. What?! At surface level it was alarming. I couldn’t help but feel for the people afflicted with these conditions and wonder how hard it would be to place your hope in a God who wouldn’t let you into His presence. I would already feel hopeless from my condition, much less being physically prohibited from entering God’s quarters behind the curtain of the Holy of Holies.

I am not trying to say God changes from the Old Testament to the New Testament, but His relationality seems to. The Old Testament is filled with a logical, step by step way to get to God that seems to have a disconnect and a fixation on faults. On the other hand, the New Testament is consumed with an overflow of emotion as the Presence of God came to earth and ministered directly to the people this passage exiles from the Tabernacle, as He ultimately accepted them for who they are. Talk about mixed messages.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross and took His final breath, it was “at that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart” (Matthew 27:51). This is the moment everything changed. “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) God’s Presence was no longer contained in a temple, behind a curtain, but entered into each of us. There is no longer physical separation, because Easter is an everyday occurrence! Can I get a hallelujah?!

But on my second glance on the Leviticus passage, I was ironically hit on a personal level. God’s spirit is within me. Ephesians 2:13 proclaims, “But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.” I no longer have an excuse for separating myself from God. Even though I have never dealt with literal blindness, lameness, deformities, or severe skin conditions, that would have kept me from entering God’s Presence in the days of the Old Testament, I have spiritually had these afflictions and let them control me. I have failed to acknowledge God’s Spirit working within me, because I have been blind to the opportunities He gives me to grow, I have refused to move into His presence to vulnerably share my heart condition with Him, I have focused on my physical and personality flaws rather than how I can learn more about the character of God, and have carried shame for not appearing as I have it all together. These sound like good enough excuses to keep me from experiencing the love and life God has in store, right?

Seriously, Payton?!

“Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins” (Romans 3:24). I couldn’t bear to think of a time when people would be separated from God, but thanks to “God’s unfailing love and faithfulness [that] came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17), that separation no longer exists. Yet, I constantly CHOOSE to separate myself. Why?! Because God’s grace is beyond my comprehension, but shame is so easy to hold on to. God wants you and loves you as you are. The same God I was slightly agitated with for ordering people with “defects” to stay out of His presence, is the God I can’t fathom yearning for me and all of my flaws to come be with Him. Grace is such a funny thing to me. I can’t think about living without it, but I struggle to live in it. Pastor Steven Furtick warns that the familiarity with the definition of grace can be dangerous, because we lose how scandalous it actually is.

Everyday God gives us the choice to live in His grace, to see, move, and work with His love shining through us. We have the choice! He wants us! He asks for purposeful intentionality as we embark in a relationship with Him.

Let’s get real for a minute. When I was first learning about what it means to follow God, I realized that I had never understood that He wants me to know Him like He knows me. When this switch was flipped, so was my entire world. That was 4 years ago and I continue to get frequent spiritual punches in the gut that remind me of how often I forget to BE with Him in my everyday. This is a privilege the original followers of God did not have access to, yet I neglect the opportunity when He dwells inside me.

Girls, this is a place to be real. A place to lay everything down, including the facades we put on each day. A place to break down the emotional walls we have built up and express true humility and vulnerability with one another. And a place to share how amazing, glorious, precious [and every other adjective that demonstrates the greatness of our God] is and what He is doing in our lives. I am not perfect and I will not pretend to be. I struggle with understanding and accepting God’s grace in my life. You might too. Or you might have some incredible words of wisdom that can help me gain perspective. Ultimately, this is a place to be ourselves and share our love for the One who first loved us. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for this blog and I can’t wait to start learning through each of you!

Happy Easter!

With Love, 

Pay

Philippians 2:13

 

Letting Go of Expectation

Where are my fellow struggle bussers at? I mean seriously.. I basically drive the thing every day. But lately I’ve been pondering a question.. is it possible to be driving the struggle bus and run over by said bus simultaneously? Somehow I’ve managed to find a way to master this. Let me back up and give you some context.

1.5 years ago I moved away from my small city vibes life in East Tennessee and moved to honkey tonk central in Nashville, Tennessee. I came here pursuing my graduate degree in occupational therapy (Yay OT!), completely full of excitement in embracing my independence and moving alone to a popular southern city that doubled as a hub for people my age.

OMGoodness I’m gonna meet so many cool people, be best friends with all my classmates, find an amazing church to get plugged into and a small group to go with it, maybe I’ll get a dog, I’m definitely going to meet my future husband……” Literally from the second I got my acceptance letter to Belmont’s OT program, these thoughts danced in my mind and graced the ears of anyone who was willing to listen to me ramble on about it.

EXPECTATION.

Before I even got to Nashville, I had created a world of expectation of what my life would look like. I also have a nasty habit of playing things up in my imagination.. thinking up this ideal version of life, relationships, etc. This only set me up for a brutal jab to the gut when reality came crashing through.

For 1.5 years now I have dreaded going to school every day because I’m not close to my classmates, have tried and failed to get plugged into various churches and small groups, have struggled to connect with people, and have not met my soulmate (not that I know of anyways). Every single expectation I placed on myself slowly slipped further and further away with every day that passed (with the exception of getting a dog.. cause I totally adopted a puppy. In the middle of midterms if that tells you anything about how well I handle stress haha). I spent 1.5 years shaking my fist at God.. “Why would you bring me here, God? I was SO sure about feeling called to Nashville. I have been putting myself out there, stepping out of my comfort zone and pursuing godly things, but here I am with nothing to show for it. How can this be part of your plan for my life that you promised would be good?”

For 1.5 years I was missing what was right in front of me the whole time. One day, very recently, I had my eyes opened to the fact that I am a RADICALLY different human than I was 1.5 years ago. I have embraced my brokenness in a way I never have before… I have been unafraid to show vulnerability and intentionality with people I barely know because I desire a new depth in relationships that I was never forced to seek out in my past… I have embraced my independence and gone places by myself, tried churches by myself, joined small groups by myself… I have had to learn to be responsible for myself, my bills, my dog, my decisions. The list goes on and on. I suddenly realized that I had been looking for tangible blessings to be given to me. Although things like a Christian community and a husband are strong desires of my heart and desires that are good and come from God, He never promised me these things. I just expected Him to hand them over to me because I wanted them. Reality check. That’s not how it works. I opened my eyes to the fact that just because I can’t see something unfolding in front of me, doesn’t mean that something is not unfolding within me. Not all blessings are tangible. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 reminds us not to spend our time focusing on the tangible things of this world because in the end, they are transient. God, and his intangible, unseen blessings are eternal.

I have been striving to reach these expectations that.. get this… I PLACED ON MYSELF. Have you actually ever stopped to think about why you have the expectations you have for yourself? More often than not they stem from our own social comparison and fear. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, envy, etc. All of those feelings are REAL. I’m not here to tell you that you’re not allowed to feel those things. But be careful how you respond to those feelings. If we keep running over ourselves with the struggle bus, we stay hyper-focused on our own failure at living up to the unrealistic expectations we placed on ourselves and become blind to God’s goodness in the midst of it. We get stuck in a never ending downward spiral of unhealthy defense mechanisms and withdrawal from God. It’s time for a change in perspective. We are going to screw up.. that’s what it means to be human. But that’s the beauty of grace and redemption. God isn’t surprised when we screw up, nor is He disappointed. He just wants us to let Him love us through the struggle. My friends, He sees us in the midst of our deepest struggles and He is constantly at work.. if we would just have the eyes to see it.

What would it look like if we could 1) extend grace to ourselves when we mess up rather than beating ourselves up and feeding our fear and 2) surrender our fear and expectations and fully embrace the journey that God has us on RIGHT NOW.

I’d be lying if I told you I knew the answer to these questions cause I’m still figuring it out.. and it’s a DAILY struggle. But I’m trying to do a few things. 1) Stop running over myself with the dang bus cause that’s not helping anything… and tire marks don’t do anything for your outfit. 2) Give myself grace that I am driving the struggle bus every day and stop expecting myself to have it all together, because God doesn’t expect that of me. 3) Surrender the fears, expectation, and negativity to God when they creep their way into my mind. 4) Stop stiff arming God and actually let His love break down my walls and wreck my life.

My advice to you is this.. Let God love you. Let God pursue you. Wouldn’t it be a joyous life we could live if we could stop controlling ourselves by expectation and instead simply live loved exactly where we are?

Sending you a big, warm hug. See ya on the struggle bus!

Mads