The Heart of Authenticity

Okay ya’ll, it’s real talk time.

Remember that word I mentioned 10 days ago? That word that kept appearing in my life? If not, or if you need a refresher, check it out here: https://egroggbaker.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/authenticity/

Are you caught up? You can probably guess where this is going.

It. Keeps. Appearing.

Authentic.

Let’s investigate: to be authentic is to be raw, known, and accepted.

Wait. Did you read those last two?

Known.

Accepted.

Maybe that’s it… maybe the heart of living an authentic life is being known and accepted.

It’s time to dig a little deeper. One of the definitions of “authentic” I found a week and a half ago was “worthy of acceptance.” I wonder, is that at the heart of living an authentic life? Bear with me just a bit.

You see, I have this theory that every single person who has lived on this earth craves acceptance. The problem is where we turn for acceptance. Maybe a few of these ring true for you:

Opinions.

Relationships.

Performance.

Status.

Success.

The list could continue on, but here’s the thing: what if I told you that there is someone out there who doesn’t care about any of the words on that list? Would you believe me if I said there is someone who already finds you worthy of acceptance?

Okay, okay, I know I probably sound kind of crazy right now. Who in their right mind would ignore that list and only look at your heart?

Ready for it? God.

Yep, I said it. God.

He knows the depths of our hearts. He longs for us to invite Him to pour on us the surplus of grace He offers. He deems each of us as being worthy of acceptance.

So, here’s my question: are we willing to open up our raw and vulnerable hearts to Him, allowing Him to fill them with His grace and love, thus bringing us the opportunity of feeling true freedom and acceptance?

That, my dear friends, is what I believe to be a constant struggle. Our humanness can’t fathom a love so deep, a love so authentic, a love so pure. Yet, there is a Love that accepts us as we are, presenting us with the opportunity to be deemed worthy to drink of its overflowing cup.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27cropped-img_72901.jpg

Authenticity.

Authenticity.

Every time I read or hear this word, a picture of a young child learning how to pronounce it pops up in my mind. Can you see it? Can you hear it? AWE-THIN-ticity.

This word and versions thereof have appeared in my life numerous times this past week. When this happens, I ask myself, “What could God possibly be trying to tell me?” You see, this seems to be a pattern of His, bringing something to my attention numerous times to the point I can’t deny it must be from Him. I would like to assume it’s because I am skeptical and ask Him to make things obvious to me, which He so graciously seems to do.

Before continuing on, let’s examine the meaning of the word, shall we? From reading the definitions as presented by the Merriam-Webster dictionary online, I gather that to be authentic means to be: true, worthy of acceptance, and original.

But, here’s the thing. When I see or hear this word “authentic,” I tend to add another to it: love.

Authentic love.

Hmm… I continue to sit here questioning why this combination of words would be brought to mind so often.

Pause. As I am sitting here typing this, I audibly sighed when it hit me: If to express authentic love means to show truth, acceptance, and originality, haven’t I just described our Father’s love for us?

He, who loves us so dearly, so authentically, opens up His arms for us. This true love so vast we cannot fathom the depths of it is lavishly poured on us. And this love, isn’t this the love we are called to display for all to see? To live a life of authentic love, pointing everyone in our life to Christ, isn’t that our mission statement for life?

To not ignore the obvious, I continue to fail time and time again at living an authentic life of love. My prayer is that I would relentlessly continue to strive for actively living out this authentic love, continuing to be held in our Heavenly Father’s loving arms.

Will you join me?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:7-12

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At the Cross

Last night, I pictured myself on the cross, and I fell even more in love with our Savior. Have you ever done this before, pictured yourself on the cross? It’s rightfully our spot, but Christ bore the weight of our sin for us. He hung on a tree and was crucified even though He was blameless.

Picture this with me for a moment.

You’re walking, but you’re barely picking up your feet. You feel heavy, heavier than you’ve ever felt before. You’re dragging a cross, your cross, the one you’re about to hang on. It’s weighing you down. You pause, take a breath. A whip cracks on you, making the pain you feel even worse. How can you carry on? You must, though you are marching to your death. You look down at your naked, bloodied body. Is it really you? Look left, look right. People yelling at you, cursing you, mocking you. Their words blur together, but you hear some of the lies. Unlovable. Damaged. Dispensable. Look ahead, there’s the hill on which you will die. It’s so close, yet so far. The sky is grey, the air somber. Must you keep going? The whips keep cracking, but then something changes. You hear the whips, but you don’t feel them. The words stop penetrating your soul. Look left again. There’s a man, dragging along beside you. His flesh is torn, he wears a crown of thorns. You feel light, then you realize you are no longer dragging your cross, but he is carrying yours, too. You recognize him, you know he’s blameless. Why is he here? He looks at you, and says, “I will carry you, all you need to do is ask.” 

Do you run the opposite way? Do you continue on to your death alongside him? What do you choose? 

You look around, the people are now inviting you, luring you with riches of the flesh.

You look at the man, considering carrying your cross alongside him, the cross that is rightfully yours. You hear the crowd turn against you as you look at the man. 

He offers more, a drink of water. “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

You look back at the people, tempted by them. But, you choose. You drink the water he’s offering. You take your cross from the man. The suffering begins again, but this time you feel unexplainable joy. You carry on to the hill, this man beside you. It’s your joy and honor to walk this path with him. To die with him. To give him the glory in your death, a death from hanging on the cross beside the man whom you love, the man who loves you. The nails, yes, they hurt. The thought of living in death hurts even worse. You know the riches for you are not of this earth, but in the kingdom of heaven.

This picture stuck with me all night. How could Christ possibly love me so much that he would walk this earth, suffer, and die on a cross, offering himself as the sacrifice for my sin? I deserve that death for my sin, yet all he asks of me is me. I have nothing to offer him except myself, my life, my service. I come to the cross with my arms stretched, hands open, because that’s all I have to offer: myself.

What about you?

At the Cross as performed by Johnny Cash

Alas and did my saviour bleed and did my sov’reign die
Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I

At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

Was it for crimes that I have done he groaned upon the tree
Amazing pity grace unknown and love beyond degree

At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

But drops of grief cannot repay the debt of love I owe
Here lord I give myself away it’s all that I can do

At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

My Beloved Child

Sometimes words are laid on my heart that I feel I need to write down and share. This is my heart, portraying a vision I received from God two weeks ago during worship through music at my church. These specific words you are about to read have been forming on my heart for a few days, and I finally listened and wrote them down. I struggle with seeing how God could possibly love me as His daughter, but this picture He painted for me reminds me of His love for all of His children. I pray these words touch you as you read them, and that you, too, run into His arms.

 

The Father is sitting on His throne in His throne room and the Daughter is timidly walking in and pauses.

Daughter: Father, may I approach you?

Father: Yes, my child. Come.

Daughter: Are you sure, Father? I don’t want to bother you. You seem so busy.

Father: Yes, please come to me.

Daughter: Okay, Father. (Daughter slowly walks a little farther into the throne room and stops.) Umm, I have some things I want to talk to you about, if you don’t mind.

Father: What is it? I am here for you.

Daughter: Well, umm, it’s just that… I have a problem. You see, I’ve been hurt in so many ways…

Father: Oh, my darling, don’t you see? Those hurts and pains bring you closer to me. When was the last time we spoke, my child? You start to draw away, but I am always here.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
Psalm 85:10-11

Daughter: But Father, how can you keep accepting me? How can I trust you, with all this pain I have felt before?

Father: Darling, I am always here. Though you turn away, I will be here to welcome you back. You can trust me, this I promise you.

May he grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name or our God set up our banners!

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
Psalm 20:4-5, 7

Daughter: But Father, what about when I feel like I don’t belong to you?

Father: My dear child, you do. You do belong to me.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
John 10:27-30

Daughter: (Kneeling down where she is standing in the middle of the throne room) Okay Father, I hear you. But there’s something else… What about when I am questioning your love for me?

Father: Oh darling, my beloved. I have a love for you deeper than you can fathom. It’s deeper than the oceans, larger than the seas. Beloved child, I sent my Son to walk the earth, being tested and tried, yet blameless bear the burden of the cross, that He would die and rise again, conquering all sin, once and for all. Daughter, you are my beloved.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

Daughter: (Slowly standing up) Abba, Father. Why? Why do you love me so, that you would send your Son to save me?

Father: My child, it is because even when sometimes you don’t see it, you need me. You need my Son, your Savior. You need my Spirit to fill you. Please, my beloved child, come to me.

The Father opens His arms wide and slightly leans forward.

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away,
for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.
Song of Solomon 2:10-13

And the daughter runs into her Father’s arms.

 

All of the above verses are from the English Standard Version Bible.

 

A Different Type of Freedom

Fourth of July. July Fourth. Independence Day. Whatever you want to call it, this date is celebrated here in the United States as the anniversary of the day the Declaration of Independence was approved and the Thirteen Colonies gained independence from Great Britain in 1776. (I’m not a history buff, so thank you for bearing with me during my “one sentence history lesson!”) Today, I am thankful for the independence and freedom I have here in the States, but IMG_0547.PNGI can’t help but think about a more significant freedom I have, a freedom I yearn for others to experience and I pray they find: freedom in Christ.

Flashback: Wednesday, June 22nd. I was absolutely filled to the brim and overflowing with joy. I was unexplainably elated, crying happy tears with no names. All I could utter was praise to God.
I tried to hold back the tears, but to no avail. And that was okay. When I finally got the tears under control, I walked into church and completely lost it again when two young boys in my mlkidz class ran up to me and hugged me. After having some alone time crying and offering praise, I held it together for mlkidz and continued on through the evening. I was thankful to see two of my good friends during service, who also helped me process through these crazy (but good!) emotions. It wasn’t until the next day that I was able to put words to my emotions: I was feeling total freedom in Christ instead of bondage in sin.

Here’s my point: I can’t explain the freedom found in Christ to someone who hasn’t experienced His love. My heart hurts for people who do not know Christ, both in this country and out. I daily pray for people, both people in my life and people I have never met, to experience Christ’s love and freedom. Tonight as everyone celebrates the freedom of this country, I can’t help but wonder what it would look like if the whole world were celebrating freedom in Christ. I picture it being absolutely beautiful, a beauty that cannot be described.

Perseverance, Patience and Prayer

A devotional I wrote to present to a lovely group of business folks:

Hi! I’m Erica Grogg and I’m a house aide at The Sparrow’s Nest Maternity Home. We are a home for teenage girls who are pregnant and/or mothering. In my role as a house aide, I am a mentor and a teacher. We get vulnerable with each other, praying God’s redeeming love shows through at all times. At The Sparrow’s Nest, Christ’s love, grace, and mercy are central to our ministry. We have the opportunity to lead and disciple girls from many walks of life, and ultimately we pray for their salvation. Working in ministry can definitely be trying, but that shouldn’t be surprising. The enemy absolutely hates the furthering of God’s kingdom here on earth. Even so, the victories we have are so worth the trials.

In my time at The Sparrow’s Nest, I have noticed three characteristics appearing almost constantly: perseverance, patience and prayer. In my time with you, I would like to go a little deeper into how these three play a part in life at a maternity home and also life in general. So buckle up and here we go!

Perseverance: From a simple Google search, I found this definition of perseverance: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Working with teenagers definitely takes a lot of perseverance. I find that we at Sparrow try so hard to persuade our girls to make good healthy choices, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Or better yet, we’re met with resistance. Oh goodness can it be trying and taxing on us when the girls don’t complete our requests in our timing or when they don’t see how things benefit them, but we persevere. I can’t say this perseverance comes naturally, but rather these are times we lean more into God to carry us through. Romans 5:3-5 discuses the joy of perseverance: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It is our joy to have trials so we can persevere in Christ and feel God’s love. This leads me to Ephesians 4:11-16: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” In our humanness it is so easy to fall victim to our emotions being tossed to and fro, but it is the reliance on God that allows us to be steadfast through the trials.

Patience: Oh, patience… This is a good one. What I have personally learned is that patience does not come from me, but rather comes from God. I can very easily be quick tempered, but at Sparrow, as in daily walking with God, those are not characteristics I want to portray and be known for. That said I have to fairly often pray for patience. I can get very aggravated with girls not pursuing opportunities that would only benefit them, so I have to pray for patience in meeting them at their needs, not where I feel like they should be. I feel like that’s something to be said about interactions with anyone in life… praying to meet them where they are. This can take a lot of patience, but I promise you patience is possible. If you’ve ever been to a wedding, I’m fairly certain you’ve heard the infamous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 starting with “Love is patient, love is kind.” Love is not pushing, annoyed, or rude. Love is patient and kind. To be patient is to love. Patience is also a fruit of the Spirit, as stated in Galatians 5:22-23. Due to the Spirit being in us, patience can and will shine through us. Literally, praise the Lord for patience!

Prayer: Above all else, I believe that constant communication with God is vital to a relationship with Him, and there are so many opportunities to do so in daily life. At Sparrow, prayer is the foundation of all things. We pray for decisions that will be made, girls we don’t know yet who might need our services, girls who are with us, girls who have left the Nest, amongst others. Just the other day, I was painting in some of the rooms and while doing so was praying for the girls who would eventually live in each of the rooms. As a staff, we also pray for each other. Being willing to be vulnerable together helps connect us even more than if we were merely working together without deeper conversation. I want to challenge you to constant prayer. Pray for the opportunity to share Christ with someone. Pray that coworkers who do not know Christ will see Him shining through you. Pray for someone you’re emailing. Pray for God to search your heart and rid you of yourself so He can shine through even more. There are so many opportunities for prayer. In Ephesians 6:16-18, it is says, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” As followers of Christ, we also have the confidence that God hears our prayers. As stated in 1 John 5:14, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” I mean, come on. We have the opportunity to approach our King, our Heavenly Father, through prayer. Who else can approach their king in that fashion?

In closing, I want to leave you with one more thought: never forget love. People we all meet will typically not fit our idea of the “perfect human” mold. Even though that is true, we are called to love one another as Christ loves us. John 13:34. I know there are so many times in business as in life that it can be incredibly difficult to love, especially with a love as deeply as Christ’s unconditional love for us, but I urge you to pray for the ability to love that deeply.

 

A Little Bit of Quiche and a Whole Lot of Prayer

It’s amazing the places you can find yourself in complete worship of our God and Father.

This morning I found myself slightly stressed from wanting to spend quiet time with the Lord, but I needed to bake for my small group and prepare for the day. I turned on some worship music, started throwing together ingredients for a quiche, and it wasn’t long before I found myself in tears from desperate prayer and complete surrender to my Redeemer.

And no, there were not onions in the quiche.

Who knew that baking quiche could lead to such deep worship? I find myself standing amazed and in awe of the redeeming love of our Lord.