How An Attempted Ban on Bump Stocks Got Me Thinking About the Miracle of Faith

On the radio the other morning, I listened as the commentator gave a rundown of local news, everything from the impending first frost to legislation over the ban on bump stocks. It was a quote regarding the latter subject that piqued my attention.  In response to passing a ban on bump stocks, Illinois state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer had this to say:

“You’re turning law-abiding citizens into criminals,” he said.

That single sentence played over and over in my head all day. Maybe it’s because we’re studying Romans this year in bible study, and my heart has been reminded of grace and without it I am a simple criminal. Maybe it’s because we’re hours from celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses and the beginning of the Reformation.

Whatever the reason, I was struck by that quote and continue to be so for two reasons. First, despite our law-abiding tendencies, apart from grace we simply remain criminals next to a holy God.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,  that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:2-4).

As if His dying on the cross to fulfill the Law’s requirements wasn’t enough, that was merely the beginning. It was enough that every slap of the whip and pound of the nail through soft flesh was payment for every evil thought, unkind word, ungodly motivation I have indulged in over my lifetime.

But it doesn’t stop at the cross, and it is this second part that I find stunning. He finishes His work of salvation by not just offering me the gift of going from criminal to forgiven through unmerited grace, but then extending another gift: faith. The faith to not only believe that all of this is true but to accept it as such and believe.

When I was teaching my kids to pick up their toys, I would take their small hands in mine, walk them to the pile of toys and one by one, walk them through the process of picking up each toy. Closing their hands around the toy, I walked them over to the toy box and opened their hands where it would slide down their fingers and into its designated spot.

In the same way, God reaches down, takes the curled fingers of our clenched fists and opens them one by one until they are reaching back to His.

Ephesians 2:8 says it best.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (ESV).

The simple truth is this: as humans, we take part in a myriad ofcactivities over the span of our lives; activities that get things done, accomplish goals, and change the world. Let’s marvel at the one thing we will never be credited for doing, having the faith to accept Christ’s gift of salvation. We are simply too broken and rebellious to ever accept the life-saving act of Christ without His intervention. Praise God for the completeness of His work.

What are Your Qualifications?

“God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.”

I heard those words in a speech one year at a fundraising dinner for the school where my husband was teaching. I’m sure they weren’t new words to most of the people in the room, but they were to me. I’ve rolled them over and over in my mind since hearing them and clung to them like a bulwark in a storm. In difficult circumstances, when the calling of God on my life seemed daunting, I would recite them as if in doing so, I would somehow release a mysterious power to aid me in my time of need.

Over the years as they proved to be less helpful in practice and more lofty in theory, I wondered where I was missing the boat. The idea that God would qualify me to handle the difficult tasks He’d called me to frustrated me as I didn’t see the truth of the statement playing out in my life. Did I have an incorrect view of “qualify”?

One particular situation was the one I found myself in this past summer. Several things changed at once: my husband resigned from a 14-year teaching career to do something completely different, my oldest was getting ready to go off to college, we were homeschooling our youngest for the last two years of his high school career, and I was going back to work full-time after a 23-year break from the 40-hour work week grind. It was a lot, and I felt overwhelmed; overwhelmed by the change in our family structure, overwhelmed that my sweet daughter wouldn’t be asking me to go shopping or sitting on my bed late at night to discuss the latest happenings in her teenage life; overwhelmed by the fear that my son would graduate stupid because of my poor teaching; overwhelmed that my house would be dirtier than normal and I’d be too tired to clean it; overwhelmed by what I had to learn at my new job.

Don’t misunderstand, the changes were good, but they were still changes. For years, my husband had summers off, and we could enjoy much-needed time together for a few blissful weeks; for years it had always been the four of us, and even if we were all in different rooms of the house, it had always been the four of us; for years I’d depended on the school for my kids’ educational upbringing, and now I was doing the unthinkable and taking it on myself. To top it all off, after cleaning houses for 20+ years, I knew more about dismantling and reassembling a vacuum than I did about running multiple computer programs while answering phones and making split-second decisions. In my mind, I was grossly unqualified for the task at hand, and the reminder that God would qualify me for said task brought me little comfort. What? Was He magically going to arm me with multi-tasking prowess and computer literacy overnight to do what in my mind was the impossible?

Back to my question: did I not understand the concept of qualify?

Qualify: to be entitled to a particular benefit or privilege by fulfilling a necessary condition (according to Bing)

There are a couple of things to unpack in this definition. First, to be qualified is to be entitled; entitled to whatever it is that encompasses the situation you’re in. In my situation, I was entitled to all of the negative feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and questioning that I had entertained if I wanted to take that path. I was also entitled to the hope that God, in his infinite riches would provide me with exactly what I needed to do exactly what He had called me to do.

But there’s a catch: according to the definition, entitlement to the benefits and privileges associated with any situation apply only by fulfilling a necessary condition. Now we’re getting somewhere. So what was I not doing? I’d already followed the path He was laying out for me. I’d obeyed. What more could there possibly be for me to do? I simply had nothing left to apply to my circumstances. And then the words of Paul came to mind, and it all became crystal clear.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  II Cor 12:9-11

The thorn in Paul’s side was put there as a reminder of his insufficiency apart from Christ, and upon recognizing this, the power of Christ was his for the taking. This attitude of being poor in spirit, the recognition of who we are before Christ-weak, empty, lacking everything good- and who He is, opens wide the gate to the immeasurable riches at the fingertips of God for our use and benefit. God doesn’t call the know-it-alls. He calls the weak and qualifies them by showing them their weakness.

It’s a little difficult to teach a four-year old to tie their shoes if they don’t know that they don’t know how to do it, and even if they are aware of their lack of skill, until they stop trying and admit their need for help, it’s pointless. They’ll keep stringing those laces together in all manner of concoctions only to wind up at the same place: a knotty mess.

The simple truth is in the irony: the only qualification you need to fulfill the plans of God for your life is in admitting that you are grossly unqualified for the task. Do this, and you open wide heaven’s coffers bursting with resources ad infinitum.

What Difference Does It Make?

Do you ever wonder how salvation makes a difference in our lives here on earth? I will never forget sitting in a class in college and being given the assignment to write out my testimony. The professor, having assigned this particular task for several years, was familiar with the rebuttals from students like me. “I don’t have a testimony. I was saved at a young age. I haven’t done anything majorly wrong yet! I have nothing to write about.” I think this is particularly common for those of us who were saved at a young age, grew up in church, in a Christian family, with Christian friends, etc. etc.

His answer, to write about a turning point in our lives that brought us closer to God and changed the course of our lives, somewhat allayed my worries that I had nothing to say. I’d had plenty of turning points: dedicating my life at camp, going on a missions trip when I was 17, deciding to go to Bible college rather than the university I’d been accepted to. I’d experienced the power of God many times in my 19 years. I’d experienced His goodness over and over again in the form of answered prayers and mended relationships. But I didn’t have a big story in terms of recovering from drug addiction, experiencing abortion, turning to Him after living a life of complete and utter rebellion against Him. Though thankful that I had not experienced what so many I knew had, my faith felt stale and lacked a serious wow factor. 

Fast forward to the present, and I find myself on my knees thanking Him for what He’s saved me from. I’ve talked about the study of Revelation that I have been in over the last several months. As it comes to a close, I’m reflecting on the holiness of God more than ever before. Though I’ve barely touched the surface of this truth of God, I’ve encountered enough of it in His Word to start to understand my sin in relation to it. 

You know those thoughts that creep into the back of your mind out of nowhere that you would never dream of telling anyone about? You know the temptations you face on your way to work? You know the voices in your head that scream something about you that is contrary to the truth of Scripture? You know the sin tendencies you battle every day as soon as your feet hit the floor? 

That’s what He saved us from! Salvation is not merely fire insurance for the life to come.  He owes us nothing, and that would be enough. But not only did He save us from an eternity of pain, separation from Him, torment, He saved us from an earthly life of it too. God, in His mercy, has saved us from having to follow the rabbit trails of our thoughts. He’s given us a way to refute the lies of Satan that would paralyze our faith, He’s provided an escape from the temptations of sin that we face every day, He’s given us an escape from the sin bent that each one of us is born with. All we have to do is take what He’s offered. When we accept salvation, we are accepting it both for the life to come, and for the life we live now on earth in front of our family and friends and a watching world. We’re saved from a life of living like every other lost soul on this planet. We’ve been saved to new life. 

Sometimes salvation seems far off because heaven seems far off. Though grateful for the eternal life He offers, we forget that salvation starts now. It doesn’t start the moment we step out of this life and into the next. No, the next life is merely the perfection of everything He’s started here. 

This simple truth is this: like marriage is a commitment that starts the moment we say “I do” so salvation is a lifestyle that starts the moment we accept the gift. If that’s not enough of a wow factor, then nothing will be!

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20, NKJV).

It’s Who You Know

What if we started looking at our lives with all of its problems, joys, situations through the lens of what we know, really know, about God? What would change? What would life look like?

This seems like an obvious perspective for a Christian to adopt in daily life, and maybe for some it is. In the past I’ve flirted with this idea but have never really grasped the life-changing power this perspective provides. Let me explain.

Several months ago, I started attending the Revelation study through Bible Study Fellowship. This is the first time in its 50-year history that this study has been offered, and it took the writers three years to put it together. Currently, every week 400,000 women from around the world are studying this book.

My view of Revelation has always been from the perspective of how’s it all going to end and in what order. That first night the teaching leader reminded us that there are many interpretations of this book: literal vs. figurative, pre-tribulation vs. mid-tribulation vs. post-tribulation vs. pre-wrath, etc. She said that this study would not answer those questions for us. Instead she wanted us to concentrate on one thing: “Our hope is not in the details. Our hope is in God.” That was an “aha” moment for me.

Honestly, as a person who pays no attention to detail whatsoever (ask my detail-oriented husband), this really shouldn’t be an issue. It’s the reason in all the years of cleaning houses I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve noticed cobwebs in corners or dust on ceiling fans. It’s a detail. It’s the reason why when I make hamburgers for dinner we rarely have buns to put them on. Details often get lost in my day-to-day existence so why, when faced with frustrating circumstances, I focus on those rather than on what I know, is beyond me.

But God, the great Teacher, used a moment last week to show me how this could be applied in everyday life. One of my kids came home with a long list of expenses for different activities they are involved in. I was irritated, of course and directed a wordy diatribe at the Lord. Give me a break. Why do I always feel like I’m constantly putting money in pockets with giant holes? I just can’t seem to hang on to it. This kind of attitude will often put me in a funk that can last for days. But almost instantly I heard the voice of God: Your hope is not in the details of this situation. It’s in Me. What do you know about me? Concentrate on that. Eureka!

So I started recounting all the things I know about God in relation to money. I thought back to all of the times I’ve experienced His provision, what His Word says about Him as Jehovah Jireh, the Provider, what He promises regarding His provision. Miracle of miracles, I instantly calmed down within minutes-pretty good turnaround time for me. Oddly enough I felt relieved. I didn’t have to worry about how everything was going to turn out. It’s really not my problem. I just have to know that it will and hang on to the knowing.

So I ask you, what circumstances in your life have your knickers in a bunch? What do you know about God in relation to your situation? Comb the Scriptures for truth and your brain for experiential proof and cling to what you know.

This is what Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego did when faced with a fiery furnace at their refusal to bow down to the image King Nebuchadnezzar had built. Here’s the conversation:

 “Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, ‘Is it true,Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?’ Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up’” (Daniel 3:14-18, NKJV).

If anyone had the right to question the details of a situation, it was these guys. But they didn’t. They clung to what they knew: God was able to deliver them right then and there if He so chose. If not, their greater deliverance was waiting. Either way, they had won.

The crazy thing about it is that even the most basic of faith, the newest of Christians can cling to what they know, that is, that Jesus is Who He says He is based on His revelation to that person. If that’s all a person has, it’s enough to hang on to. Every single one of us claiming to know Jesus as Savior should be hanging our hats on I Timothy 1:12:

 “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (NKJV, italics mine).

Here’s the simple truth: Our hope is not in the details. It’s in God. Rest in the knowing.

Directionally Challenged

The first time my parents and I realized that I was born without a sense of direction was in seventh grade during a semester of map skills. I hated it immediately. First of all, as a visual person, the workbook wasn’t even a little aesthetically pleasing. Printed on newspaper-like paper and covered in bright blue and black ink on dirty white paper, it was all I could do to get through the pages stapled together. Coupled with my assumption that forward-facing is always heading north, it’s not hard to believe that I didn’t do well as evidenced by the massive amounts of red pen covering my work and screaming “fail!”.

Once I got my license, things didn’t improve much. Because that was the era of no GPS or cell phones, much of my time on the city roads included tearful stops at the nearest gas station to call my mom and ask for directions on how to get home. If I thought ahead and got directions before leaving my house, they always started with, “Imagine you’re at the mall…” For some reason, I always knew where I was in relation to it, and the following instructions seemed to make sense.

After marrying my husband, he took over the task of getting me from point A to point B; often taking me to the house of a new cleaning client the night before I started so I wouldn’t get lost on my first day. When he wasn’t with me, his instructions would often start with, “Ok. Imagine you’re at the mall…”

I’d say the GPS has been helpful, and it has been to a degree. But even the talking machine sitting on my dash has failed me as it did one day as I was driving to work. It was a fairly new area for me with road construction, and after doing exactly what “she” said, I still ended up in a farmer’s cornfield where he stood at his door screaming at me to get off of his property. “Do you think I want to be here,” I screamed back at him tears pouring down my face.

Hebrews 13:8 says this,

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”

In recent months, I have been hit by just how closely this idea of alternate routes parallels the Church’s evolving theology. If you pay attention you will notice everything from Christians wanting to change the message of salvation to appeal to the culture, to questioning whether we can really be sure that absolute truth exists. We’ve gotten to a place of entertaining Satan’s age-old question of “Did God really say?” leaving ourselves naked and without God’s hand of protection meant for us. I recently heard someone say that one of the greatest issues facing the Church today is homosexuality. This makes about as much sense as our government telling us that the biggest problem facing our world is climate change.

While homosexuality in the Church is definitely a disheartening trend we are now seeing I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that it is one of the greatest issue we face. The greatest issue facing the Church today is the absence of absolute truth and the courage to stand by it.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6).

As a person who cannot read maps, decipher drawings, or leave the house without a GPS, this verse is especially meaningful to me. Nothing strikes fear in me quite like the big orange detour sign I’m not expecting. I only know one way to get to any of my destinations.

One of the worst instances of getting lost happened when my friend Mary and I were headed to a conference in a town about 2 hours away. I didn’t realize her sense of direction was as lacking as mine until I watched an exchange between her and her husband taking place right before my eyes, echoing the one I’d just had with Bruce. The conversation was filled with concentrated instructions and words and drawings in an effort to help us get to our destination as smoothly as possible. An hour later, we still hadn’t made our way out of our own town. Due to road construction, the exit that both of our husbands had told us to take was shut down so we continued to circle the circumference of the city until we had to decide which one of us would put our tails between our legs and call our husband. When I explained the situation to my husband later on from the hotel (by the way, we totally missed the opening night activities), I remember wondering if he was even listening due to the silence at the other end, until I heard him finally take a breath in the middle of hysterical laughter.

There are multiple ways to get someplace in any given city which for people like me is a real problem. Praise God that His Word never changes, nor does His truth, nor do His instructions. In a culture that is constantly changing, don’t we want to cling to the one thing that doesn’t? I would caution all of us with these words:

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power “(Col. 2:6-10).

Want know how to obtain eternal life? Open His Word. Want to know how to treat other people? Open His Word? Want to know if what you’re being told from the pulpit or the culture is correct? Open His Word. It’s all in black and white, much like my map skills workbook. However, instead of screaming “failure”, the words in red are coaxing, “follow me.”

Let There Be Light!

Two months after my son was born, we moved to Chicago so that my husband could attend graduate school. Bruce was working full-time on campus and going to grad school part-time. I was home full-time with a two-month old and a two-year old. Despite the fact that we knew this was what God had for us, it was still hard. We left the familiarity of Peoria and all of our friends for the big city which looked a whole lot different to us with two little kids than it did when we were just dating. I spent that first summer crying and being impatient with my two-year old. At one point, I remember Nick screaming as he often did for some unknown reason while at the same time my daughter needing me for something and not letting up until she got a response. The one she got was not the one she wanted judging from the look of hurt in her eyes. That was a wake-up call for me; a lesson in operating out of the darkness in my dealings with other people rather than out of the light that God shines into us if we will let Him.

“Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness; He is gracious and full of compassion, and righteousness.” Psalm 112:4

When I first read Psalm 112, this is not the verse that stuck out to me. In fact, upon closer inspection, it appeared to contain two completely unrelated thoughts. What does light and darkness have to do with grace and compassion? And who is this verse talking about?

As is usually the case, God did not leave me flailing around for too long before enlightening me, calling to mind examples from His Word and my life that explain what He’s trying to get across to me. In this case, I was immediately reminded of the story of Joseph. This verse could very easily be used to sum up the theme of his life. From the moment of his enslavement due to his brothers’ heinous actions against him, Joseph’s life became a living example of finding light in our darkness and allowing it to light the way in our relationships with other people.

At the end of Joseph’s life, after his father Jacob had died, his brothers were concerned that Joseph would finally take his revenge on them for their sin against him. I’d like to take four verses at the end of Genesis 50 to make a case for Psalm 112:4.

“Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.’” (Genesis 50:18-21, NKJV).

Here’s what the life of Joseph has taught me about Psalm 112:4.

1). “Am I in place of God?” By begging for Joseph’s forgiveness, his brothers had placed him on somewhat of a pedestal where he knew he didn’t belong. At some point in his life Joseph had to come to the realization that he wasn’t calling the shots, and the sooner the better. We can’t know when and how his conversations with God turned his heart to submission. Was it in the initial betrayal when he was cast into the pit? Or was it on the road as he was being hauled away into slavery? Maybe as he sat on the dirty prison floor among criminals when he wasn’t one, that he surrendered to the idea that he wasn’t charge. Whenever it was, he learned the lesson we all need to come to grips with-placement is everything and we are not at the of the table.

2). “God meant it for good.” Darkness doesn’t exist simply for the sake of darkness. Paul understood this when he said, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” in Romans 8:28.

I can’t imagine being Joseph at the end of his life and reflecting on all he’d been through and having the rare opportunity of seeing the bigger picture. How different would his life have been and the life of his brothers had he chosen to wallow in his darkness, refuse to let the light in and seek revenge on those who’d wronged him? How would history have changed? Perspective is everything.

3). “I will provide for you.” There is a vast difference between the righteous and the unrighteous in how they behave toward other people, especially those who’ve wronged them. What separates the righteous from the unrighteous is from where they are living-out of a position of light or from a position of darkness. It is from a position of light that the upright mirror the life of Christ through their grace, compassion and righteousness. It’s amazing what a little light will do.

Unless we’ve chosen to live off the grid, out in the middle of nowhere completely devoid of human interaction, we will deal with people every day. That’s what this life is about. How we do it depends on what we do with our darkness. Darkness comes in many different forms. Everything from the death of a loved one to difficult relationships, fear, depression, worry, illness, all of it and so much more casts shadows of darkness over our lives often to the point of rendering us paralyzed, unable to function at the level of life we’ve been called to. At the point of our deepest darkness, we have a choice to either sink further into it or to surrender ourselves completely to God and let Him shine His light in the dark corners.

“And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not My will but Yours, be done.’” Luke 22:41, 42.

“Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, in to your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:44-46, NKJV).

Talk about darkness! The whole earth was shrouded in it. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, surrendered His will to the Father, gave up His Spirit and finished the work they had set out to do from the moment of the Fall. To the human eye, the crucifixion was a dark day, but the bigger picture would argue otherwise. To those of us who know Him personally, the light seeped in the moment He died and the veil was torn giving us unlimited access to Him culminating at His resurrection. Because of His willingness to die in the murky darkness of sin, He made a way for us to experience His light in our lives. His surrender granted us grace and compassion. This is what the righteous man is to mirror. The darkness often has a higher purpose, but not for the purpose of wallowing in it. We would do well to remember our place, surrender to it, and allow the light of God in so that our dealings with others will be marked by grace, compassion and righteousness.