Looking the part

Man looks at the outward appearance,
but the LORD looks at the heart. ~1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

Recently I joined a fitness center. I bought shiny white running shoes and a couple sets of new workout clothes. My membership card hangs on my keychain. Sporty water bottles are half-empty all over my house. My family is exercising and discussing things like whether today is a strength-training day or a cardio day. Pilates tapes line our movie shelves. I’m trying to plan around things like yoga classes and personal trainer appointments. It’s crazy.

The thing is, even though I’m surrounded by all these trappings of fitness, even though I’ve started going to the gym and have learned about nutrition, calories, and stretching, I’m still not physically fit. I’m not an athlete; my muscles aren’t toned; it’s all I can do to get myself there and make myself keep going when it gets hard. Because of the objects around me, it may look like I exercise (if you look at my thighs, you’ll know better), but this is a whole new world to me. I have a trainer who knows what she’s doing, who’s already fit and healthy, but I haven’t yet begun to emulate her or learned how to do it on my own.

It’s a lot like Christianity. We can line our bookshelves with Bibles and books on spiritual growth and tell people we’re praying for them. We can hang Scripture plaques on our walls and listen to Christian music. We can go out to dinner on Sunday, dressed up, so everyone knows we went to church. We can surround ourselves with the paraphernalia of religion, but that doesn’t automatically make us Christians. To develop a closeness with God requires work. Training. Discipline. Focus. Exercise. Time. Especially time. Sure, if we have all the tools around us and experienced people to help us, it’s a lot easier, but—if the truth be told—we don’t need the stuff. We just need to buckle down and get to work. We need to dedicate ourselves to learning about the Lord. We need to flex our spiritual muscles by praying, studying, learning. Soon, it won’t seem like hard work. And before long, you’ll notice that you have become what you looked like you were all along.

Grace is just a phone call away

My grace is sufficient for thee. ~ 2 Corinthians 7:9

The name of my church is Grace & Mercy Ministries. When the person at the phone company entered the name into their system, though, they typed it as “Grace and Merci.” When I first noticed it, I was annoyed by the misspelling. But, after thinking about it one day, I realized the typo is perhaps even more appropriate than the original word would have been.

Grace, as you know, means “unmerited favor.” That means we are given a gift that we do not deserve. We are granted riches and blessings beyond our worth, beyond anything we could possibly earn. One dictionary defines grace as “any benefits His mercy imparts; divine love or pardon; a state of acceptance with God; enjoyment of the divine factor.” When we realize the enormity of this gift, the staggering depths of the love that is behind it, we can become overwhelmed. Words escape us as we bow under the weight of our gratitude. But in simple terms, we feel thankful. We want Him to know we appreciate what He has done for us. The word “merci,” in French, means “thank you.”

So every time I see the name on my Caller ID, I glance up at the heavens with a silent tribute. Thank you, my Lord. Merci.