Commitment, Contentment, Faith, Gospel, grace, Hope, Humility, Jesus, Redemption, Restoration, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Victory

Waco’s Redemption

Washington Avenue Bridge, Brazos River, Waco, TX
Photo by Marlene McKenna

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”

Ephesians 1:7, ESV

What does Waco, Texas have to do with redemption? If you’ve visited this small city in the hill country, made famous by the television show Fixer Upper, you’d know. After attending a women’s retreat in Seguin, a friend and I journeyed to Waco for some shopping therapy at Magnolia Market. What I found, however, was much more than great shopping. Waco is a city defined by the word redemption.

Not only are there several homes that have been brought back to life, there is also a thriving economic upturn because of the popularity of Fixer Upper. In fact, thirty-thousand tourists visit the city per week! But it wasn’t until we took a tour from Waco Tours (https://www.waco-tours.com/) that we discovered other organizations that were working to revitalize the poorer parts of the city.

For example, the library in East Waco was refurbished and a mural was designed to encourage education for the underprivileged who live there. There is also a non-profit grocery store called Jubilee Food Market created by Mission Waco that was placed in a “food desert” so that those without transportation would have access to healthy, low-cost food. Finally, we were told about a church that gathers the homeless who live in Waco for a church service every week under the bridge where most of them live. During construction, when many were displaced, Chip and Joanna Gaines opened the common grounds at Magnolia Market for their services on Sunday morning.

When you arrive, you realize very quickly that this is not a wealthy city even though there are very nice areas with rolling hills, green grasses, and a beautiful river. But God is moving mightily, meeting the needs of the poor through His people. Moreover, He is bringing people from all classes and races together in love. For instance, Jubilee Market offers jobs to convicts who are transitioning from jail to living in the world. At Jubilee, they find a place to belong when others turn them away. As one employee put it, “I now have hope for the future.”

In short, Waco is a place where you can see the Gospel lived out every day. It is an uncomfortable place where you are challenged to look at your own heart, beliefs, and motivations. It is a place of glory where Baylor University shines and a place of poverty where a homeless man bathes in the fountain at Baylor’s entrance near the Hilton hotel and the Brazos River.

Similarly, our hearts are complicated too. We love the Lord and yet do not always love Him with all our hearts or love others as Jesus loved us. Nonetheless, like Waco, we are being redeemed. Every day we walk in newness of life and have hope for the future. To me, Waco is a metaphor for spiritual sanctification. As we allow God to search our hearts, He chooses to cleanse us. Then, little by little, we are made more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

As we allow God to reveal the deprived and impoverished parts of our lives we can surrender to the process of redemption. Remember, there is a river as powerful as the Brazos in your own heart cleansing you from all unrighteousness. Remember, there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Remember, there is a Jubilee Market where we can belong, no matter what we have done, and get fed by the One who paid the price. Remember, there is a place for us to gather as a Church and praise His glorious name for all He has done, is doing, and will do for His glory. Remember the Cross!

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.”

Romans 3:21-22
Contentment, Faith, Hope, Jesus, Life, Sanctification, Spiritual Battle, Trust, Victory, Worry

Circus Circus

  …be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’”

Hebrews 13:5-7

He picked us up outside a little church in Sarasota. “Hello!” His accent was unique.

“Where are you from?” I asked as we drove away.

“I live here but I’m originally from Morocco.”

“What brought you to Sarasota?”

“Oh, the Circus!”

“Really? We’d love to hear your story…”

The Uber driver shared how he provided for his family when he was a child growing up in Morocco. He performed acrobatics on the boardwalk for tourists and, he said, “I made more money than my father.” His Uncle had been in the Circus and taught him how to perform. Eventually he was able to get an internship at Disney World working at EPCOT. Afterward he worked with the Ringling Bros. Circus for almost two decades, traveling all over the country until they shut down in 2017.

This colorful story reminded me of God’s faithfulness and the power of contentment. When I first heard it, I was transported to the Moroccan seaside and felt the joy and pride that he had as patrons would pass him money and applaud. God gave him a gift that eventually carried him to the United States where he continued his dream and lived in relative luxury. Even as an Uber driver he was satisfied and happy with the memories of his nineteen-year circus career. His Pooh Bear like attitude impacted me. If I were him, I would have told the story of my rough childhood in a poverty-stricken country where my labor enabled my family to eat. But he didn’t mention the obvious difficulties, only the blessings.

Even now as I reflect on this encounter I am convicted. You see, I am a pessimist. Naturally, when I wake up in the morning I’m usually grumpy. My sunrise countenance aligns more with Eeyore’s than Pooh’s and I am definitely NOT a Tigger—those energetic people who are always cheerful and kind from dawn to dusk. There is a weight to my flesh that is attached to childhood memories telling me that “bad things always follow anything good.” It’s not until I sit at Jesus’ feet that I start to feel and act joy-filled and content. Because of this I have to purpose to listen to God’s promises first thing in the morning or the heaviness follows me throughout the day. For example, when I am tempted to worry about loss, fear can grip me and keep from being productive. However, if I listen to my Heavenly Father, He whispers, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Or, when I fear criticism because I think I’ve done something wrong I will isolate myself and “hide” from God and others. But, if I run to Him, He says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

God, like the Uber driver, always looks on the bright side and wants His children to remember what He has done and to be content. That’s why God wants us in His Word. It truly is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. It illuminates the dark places so we can see the work God has done through the suffering. Only then do I realize that the heaviness I feel in the morning is an illusion. My reality is amazing! I am free from the poverty of sin and death and so are you. Regardless of our past or current circumstances we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. We just need to be reminded often.

Ironically, whenever I tell my story, including the trials, others are encouraged because God’s redeeming love is all over my past. Like an acrobat’s trapeze act, it is the hard and dangerous feats that impress us. We are amazed at what God has done, if not without suffering. My story, like the Uber driver’s, includes suffering too, but God masterfully choreographed every step. I am grateful for the journey God has brought me through and desire to be satisfied with wherever God leads. I want to reflect on God’s goodness in my story and to have a contentment and optimism that is reflective of God’s faithfulness. I want to be a Circus Pooh.

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Matthew 6:25-26
Faith, Hope, Jesus, Love, Redemption, Restoration

Be a Neva

The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.”

Psalm 34:22

I sat on the mottled shag carpet staring at the mess. My younger brother and I had just finished building a little town with large, plastic blocks. Then, without warning, he slapped the tall buildings with his toddler hands. The blocks collapsed onto the coffee table with a crash. My brother smiled then grabbed a block and started over.

Years later I found myself staring at a different mess. The building blocks of my life were scattered. My marriage was seemingly over. I had no foreseeable future. I had no education. I was alone. But God set a plan of redemption in motion that reached far beyond my salvation. Immediately, He started building, block by block, until something new— something indestructible—was built on a strong foundation.

The first block He chose after saving me was a person. As I walked into the Bible study and sat in the center of a semi-circle table, I noticed her writing on the whiteboard. The woman stood on her toes so she could reach the top of the board as she finished her notes. Finally, she lowered her arm and turned toward the class.

 “Good morning! I’m Neva True.” She announced with a smile. Her short, gray hair framed her joyful face like a silver hat of curls. As I remember, she talked about the Holy Spirit and asked us what we knew about Pentecost. I leaned toward my friend and asked, “What’s Pentecost?” She shrugged and we both turned our attention to Mrs. True.

That day Neva became my spiritual mother. We often sat at her round table for two and ate cookies as she poured tea into my cup and love into my heart. She encouraged me to love my unbelieving husband even if he didn’t “deserve it,” pointing me to 1 Peter 3. She cheered me on by saying things like, “Keep on being your joyful self and don’t worry about tomorrow.” Most importantly, Neva pushed me into the arms of a loving Father and taught me to pray deep, faith-filled groanings and to trust God with the results. She is also the one God used to ignite my love for writing. Neva would often search through her old journals for things that would encourage her daughters in the Lord. I have one of her hand-written journal pages she wrote when she was a young mother and all her children had the flu. Now, just having her handwriting is special to me.

Why is this a story of redemption? Because my own mother was terribly broken and unable to love me with wisdom and affection. She was trapped in a marriage to an alcoholic and was brought up in an environment much the same. My mother was a survivor and taught us to survive. But I was unable to thrive without the sunshine of unconditional love and encouragement. My mother did the best she could considering her background and mental state, but she did not have Christ and she lacked the ability to demonstrate love—real, physical affection and verbal affirmation—which makes up the rich soil of a healthy growing heart. That’s why Neva means so much to me. She was a gift from God when I was a spiritual infant. He supplied all my needs, even a mom who nourished and loved me to maturity.

Are you a Neva? God uses people as vehicles of both salvation and redemption. Our part is being available and responsive. My relationship with Neva enabled me to trust people again. Her encouragement and faithfulness gave me direction as her face was always tilted toward Christ. She encouraged me to walk in the light with courage, saying things like, “I hope you start writing before I die so I can read it!” or, “Marlene, you’ll be a giant in the faith someday.” No pressure, just encouragement. She didn’t care that I had no formal education. I was her spiritual daughter. She was my mom. I don’t know how many “kids’ she had but she always made me feel like I was her only child. She always had time for me. This is Jesus’ heart too. Jesus is our Redeemer! Not only does He redeem our souls, but He also redeems relationships, starting with our relationship with Him. Yes, He redeemed my marriage and, after fourteen years, saved my husband. I now enjoy the fruit of being equally-yoked to a strong, Godly man—something I did not expect but I suspect Neva did!

God not only redeems souls and relationships; He also redeems our emotional brokenness using the fragments to build something more beautiful than we can imagine. Take refuge in God, trusting Him with all things because He is our Redeemer. God knows what we need and has the ability to provide. God is a resurrecting God. He creates abundant life where there was only death. He builds beauty from the ashes and uses unlikely construction workers like Neva True and you and me to transform lives. So, I encourage you to see God’s redemptive work in your own life and be a Neva to someone else.

Faith, Gospel, grace, Grief, Holiness, Hope, Jesus, Life, Love, Obedience, Rebellion, Redemption, Repentance, Rest, Restoration, Uncategorized

Death & Resurrection

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem
Photographer: Glen Bergstrom

Would you die a brutal death to save someone who hated you even if you knew you would come back to life? Easter is all about the death and resurrection of Jesus, but did you know that He died for people who hated Him? Do you see yourself? Yes, you are the one Jesus died for while you were His enemy. Easter is about you before you knew God and about you right now if you don’t know Him still. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). It also says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV). The language is so poetic we may miss the weight of the statement. Jesus was offered up to be beaten, whipped, scorned, rejected and crucified to pay for the sins of the world for all time so the world could be reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ. He suffered and died for you and me before we gave Him a thought.

Even more fantastic is the fact that He suffered and died for the very people who were beating Him, the very people who pulled out His beard and spit on Him, the men who scourged Him and the soldiers who mocked Him. He died for the ones who pierced His hands and feet with nails. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus died for people who hated Him, for people who doubted Him and for people who rejected Him. Jesus died for you.

If you don’t think you needed Jesus to die for you than this may seem extreme. But the truth is we are all depraved and separated from a Holy God because of our sin. Yes, we are ALL sinners, meaning we miss the mark of holiness (which God demands because He is Holy). Because of our very nature we are born with the propensity to rebel and want to be our own God. The great news for you and me is that what God demands He also provides! We can enter into God’s holiness by accepting the gift Jesus is offering.

How do I know? Because I am living proof. Jesus took my sin and gave me His righteousness. I drank, for the first time, the Living Water. It was finished. Like a flower which bursts out of the ground, I was made new. The dead seed was my hard, sinful heart and Christ made me alive! The turning point for me was grief. I was broken and alone after suffering a huge loss and God met me in the darkness. Jesus said He was sent to heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to liberate those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18). Boy, did I qualify!

How did this happen? The Bible says,

Men become right with God by putting their trust in Jesus Christ…For all men have sinned and have missed the shining-greatness of God. Anyone can be made right with God by the free gift of His loving-favor. It is Jesus Christ Who bought them with His blood and made them free from their sins. God gave Jesus Christ to the world. Men’s sins can be forgiven through the blood of Christ when they put their trust in Him. God gave His Son Jesus Christ to show how right He is…He shows that He is the One Who has no sin. God makes anyone right with Himself who puts his trust in Jesus” (Romans 3:22-26, NLV).

Romans 3:22-26

How do we know this is true? Because He rose from the dead just like He said He would. There were hundreds if not thousands of witnesses to both His death and resurrection. No one could survive crucifixion, and no one could deny that He was raised because they saw him and ate with him and spoke with Him. It turned the world upside down because it was prophesied centuries before it happened, and everything made sense. They understood that “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23, NIV).

You see, God is just and loving at the same time. His grace and truth are perfect; and God has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) so we would never be satisfied apart from Him. Also, He is not only the Way and the Truth, He is also the Life. If you have ever placed a dead seed in the ground and witnessed its rebirth you have seen the power of God and a picture of Christ’s death and resurrection. Would you plant the dead seed of your sinful heart in the soil of God’s love and let Him resurrect you to new life? Will you believe He died for you and is Risen? He is Risen indeed!

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”

Matthew 28:5-6 NASB
Alan Jackson
The Old Rugged Cross
Faith

Immersed Faith

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Hebrews 11:1
Marlene’s Baptism, July 1997
with Pastor Jon Courson

It was a bright, July afternoon when I entered the warm waters of baptism by faith. In the outdoor gardens of Applegate Christian Fellowship, I openly gave my life to God. I had already been transformed by Jesus shortly before that day and came with an expectation of public proclamation, “I am Yours, Lord!” The scent of Jasmin danced around me as I prayed and cried as if I were walking down the aisle. The veil had been lifted and I was His.

This memory helps me understand faith. Like a wedding veil separates a woman from her groom, the curtain of faith separates two realities. When I walked through the linen folds at twenty-eight years old it was like seeing daylight for the first time. I tasted grace and forgiveness and real love. And yet, it was a love bound by holiness. The perfect balance of truth and grace, Jesus is our object of faith. He is our groom. Hebrews 10:19 says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body…” So, it is by faith we are ushered into His presence.

In other words, for those who realize their need for Him (and we all need Him), faith in Christ’s work on the cross is the doorway into the Holy of Holies. Here, by faith, we are ushered into the very presence of God. Romans 4:3 says, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to Him as righteousness.” God offered. Abraham accepted. Only then did Abraham enter into a love relationship with the God of grace by faith. Fortunately, God makes us the same offer. But we have a deeper intimacy with God than Abraham. We have Christ in us. He abides in us through His Spirit. You can’t get much more intimate than that!

Fortunately, there is nothing we have to do apart from believing. “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law… since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.” This tells us that it doesn’t matter if you are a “good” person who follows the Law (circumcised) or not (uncircumcised). Heaven is not some rich utopia set aside for “good” people. It is a place for forgiven people. It is a place for faith-filled people.

Also, Romans 3:28 and 30 make it clear that there is only one God. There is only one Savior. We cannot save ourselves through good behavior. We may think it’s not fair. We may want to explain that we have lived a good life and deserve Heaven. But, do we deserve it? How can we justify ourselves? There is only one way to Heaven and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot be our own God. We cannot save ourselves from destruction. We cannot clean ourselves up enough to be able to enter into the presence of a Holy God.

“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12, NASB).

Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Therefore, you must believe for the veil to be lifted. As the person being asked (the intended bride), saying “I like Jesus” is not a profession of faith. Instead it’s a rejection of the groom. Jesus isn’t a novelty to like or dislike. He is God. God lays the foundation for a love relationship with Him. His cornerstone is Jesus Christ. And, you know what? We can trust that His Way is just and fair because He is just and fair. More than that, He is love. He bled for you. There is NO OTHER WAY. Faith is confidence in a God we cannot see but A God who has revealed Himself all the more, demonstrating His love on the cross. Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29, NASB). Immerse yourself in faith and believe.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

Hebrews 10:19-23
Faith, grace, Hope, Humility, Jesus, Love, Trust

God Knows

Nothing about me is hidden from you!
I was secretly woven together deep in the earth below, but with your own eyes you saw my body being formed.
Even before I was born, you had written in your book everything I would do.

Psalm 139:15-16 CEV

Do you ever feel like God has stepped out for a minute and isn’t paying attention? Or, perhaps it seems like a long time since you’ve “heard” from Him. Could it be that the subtle messages He’s sending are hidden in plain sight? Sometimes life is so distracting and overwhelming that we miss those little icons of hope and guidance God leaves for us in the chaos.

Recently, just after New Year’s, we went to Disney World with our two adult sons. It was the first time we had all been together at Disney since they were teenagers. The Holiday crowds had not left. There was hardly enough air to breathe let alone space to walk. Lines were long, rides broke down and we were feeling, well, not as happy as the happiest place on earth should make you feel. We did have fun, even waiting in line, playing trivia games and laughing way too loud. We were the crazy, joyful family that people rolled their eyes at but secretly wanted to join. Still, after the third time of standing in line for an hour only to have the ride break down and have to leave, we were discouraged. Then, I found Mickey. All the times I had visited in the past I never noticed the little Mickey symbols embedded in the most unlikely places. It was a sign to slow down and enjoy the little things they had to offer.

Walt Disney is no match for God’s creativity. He too leaves us signs of His thoughtfulness and attention to detail. When I am looking for Him in the everyday, expecting Him to show up in unlikely places, I see Him so clearly. Just last week I had several God symbols placed strategically in my path at the “right” time. On three different occasions God led me to a scripture passage or topic and reinforced the message through odd encounters that no one could have planned but God.

First, after preparing to teach a women’s Bible study on sexual purity, I searched for an audio teaching on the topic for more insight. I was on my way to the gym and wanted something quick. No luck. So, I hopped in the car and turned on the Christian radio station. David Jeremiah was on, which was odd because his program should have ended fifteen minutes earlier. Also surprising was the topic. He was teaching from Proverbs on sexual purity using the very same verses I just studied! In the same way the Mickey on the manhole cover revealed Walt Disney’s genius, God was showing me He was the master of detail. God knew what I needed to hear. He also knew I would miss it if He didn’t change the timing. The programming was off by fifteen minutes but God wasn’t! Okay, it’s not quite like “making the sun stand still,” but can I get a “wow?” Yes, He could have ushered me out to the car earlier but He chose to make it obvious, like the Mickey symbol I had never noticed before. So clear. So cool.

The second “God symbol” was in Acts, chapter one. (I’m reading the Bible chronologically and this is where I happened to be that day.) Again, while driving, I turned on the radio and heard Chuck Swindoll reading from Acts, chapter one, preaching about Jesus’ ascension. His focus was on the joy the disciples felt after Jesus ascended, verses the depression they felt after His death. They understood the big picture. Their eyes were opened and they were filled with joy. They knew they had a job to do and they had a promise. None of this occurred to me that morning. I had failed to meditate on the word, even though I read it. But, God had more for me.

I discovered the last “God symbol” after having lunch with a friend who was navigating conflict with friends. She had been rejected by two friends in the same day. The two incidents were unrelated and not her fault. No grace, no love, just yuck. Ouch! After encouraging her and sharing what I knew from life and God’s Word about healthy, Godly friendships, I went home. As I was preparing dinner that night I decided to listen to the In Touch podcast by Charles Stanley. Guess what? The program was called Right Relationships! Stanley talked about how Jesus is our perfect friend but He made us for relationship. Then he went on to share what a healthy, Godly friendship looks like. He quoted Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times.” I quickly sent the link to my friend and thanked God for His ever-present help.

Imagine, everywhere you go and everything you do, God is a part of your journey. God revealed so many wonderful truths to me in a very short period of time but the over-arching truth–the aha moment– is that God is with me! He is my intimate friend. He guides me and loves me through His Word, His Spirit and through other people. He makes Himself known in miraculous ways, proving that He is real, loving and knows our name. My friend, God is Good. God loves His children. God is intimately involved in our lives. God is always with you. God’s timing is perfect. God knows…you.

But God has revealed it to us by the Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

1 Corinthians 2:10
Faith, grace, Humility, Love, Pride, Sanctification, Self Righteousness

I Forgot

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35

Have you ever forgotten something important? I have.

“Did everyone grab their passports,” I heard someone ask their family as the bus passed the road sign for Mt. Arbel on our way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Panic struck me as I shouted, “I forgot my passport!” My face was hot and my heart pumped hard with fear. I heard people saying, “We have to turn around!” and “Thank God you remembered!” There was so much grace. Inwardly, though, my pride was crushed and what I heard in my heart was,”What a stupid little girl.”

Once again I was “that guy,” the one who inconvenienced an entire busload of people and threw off the schedule for the whole day all because I forgot to check the hotel safe. When we finally “snuck” back onto the bus everyone was very gracious, kind and loving. My husband, Marty, was struck by their reaction and looked up John 13:34-35, “Everyone will know you are My disciples by your love for one another.” Well, anyone who witnessed the grace and love that morning would have no doubt that this was a group of Jesus’ disciples. We didn’t deserve grace. We were “losers” who forgot their passports — the one thing you don’t forget when visiting a foreign country. But, what we experienced was the love of Jesus.

Ironically, before I realized my mistake I was feeling quite good about myself. We were on the bus early. I was a “good girl.” I was obedient and thoughtful. Then I wasn’t. Just like that I was the bad girl, the stupid girl and the inconsiderate one. Feelings of incompetence and humiliation overwhelmed me until God, through his people, showered us with the love of Christ…

“It’s okay.”

“Others have done the same.”

“Thank you because we got to use the restroom.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Praise God! I’m thankful you realized it now.”

Through all these comments God was saying, “I love you, even when you make mistakes!” The truth is, I can be absent minded and forgetful, but that doesn’t define me. God’s love defines me and my value comes from the fact that Jesus paid a very high price for me. I am His beloved and He is my Abba, Father.

So, why am I surprised by the grace and love of fellow believers? Because I believe I deserve rejection and condemnation when I mess up. In fact, I have been programmed to expect it. But that is not God’s heart. He is a good Dad. He is a patient Father. He is love. Likewise, Jesus revealed the Father’s heart when He touched the afflicted, caring for the needs of God’s messy children. He came to save me even before I knew I needed saving.

Over the years, God has taught me to renew my mind with His word, allowing it to clear away the dirt of the past. The things done to me He calls me to forgive. The lies I believe, like “I have to be good, perfect, etc. in order to me loved and accepted,” He tells me to lay down at the cross and trust His unconditional love. Like the man He healed at the Pool of Bethesda He asks me, “Do you want to be made well.” Then He reminds me, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Go and sin no more.”

Yes, striving to make myself good is sin. Pride is a false God and one I too often trust. I am thankful that God allows us, all of us, to fail. (Even the most competent people fail.) It is an act of grace. Only then, when we recognize our sin, be it pride or shame, can we walk in the light of His forgiveness. There is no striving for God’s love. He is love and bear hugs us to death! He knows to be humbled is to be saved from ourselves. To mess up is to need Him. It is all those empty places He longs to fill in our hearts. Those places we try to stuff with pleasure and performance will never be filled apart from Him. The hole is too vast and only God’s love can fill it. In fact, He made us that way.

This Christmas let your light shine in the lives of those who are not perfect in the same way our fellow bus-mates did for us. Leave room for mistakes in all your relationships (and for yourself), allowing God to cover the offense. We are not perfect and cannot blame or hold tight an offense when we have been forgiven so much. This Christmas, don’t forget.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Ephesians 2:8
Covenant, Faith, grace, Hope, Insecurity, Jesus, Love, Redemption

Love Happened

Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.”

John 14:22-23 NASB
A stepping stone on the beach of Tabgha, Israel on the Northern Shore of the Sea of Galilee where it is believed Jesus restored Peter after His resurrection.

Marriage in the Middle-East looks very different than in the West. In general, the son prepares a place for his bride by building another story on top of his father’s house. Therefore, tiered homes with flat roofs pepper the hillsides, each tier representing another generation of the same family. The son is expected to stay with his father. The bride, however, leaves her family, exchanging her identity for her husband’s. The son loves the bride and she loves him and he brings her to his father.

When I was ten years old my mother finally left my father. He was, what would be called today, an abuser, albeit a charming one. He was not a good example of a father, and yet I loved him. Unfortunately, the day we left was also the last time I saw my father. His infrequent calls did not help the fact that he never came to see us. Not once. Somehow, he was able to disconnect with his three children and forget. No longer in my father’s house, I felt abandoned and dismissed. I also felt vulnerable, weak and unprotected. Over time I learned to hate my father and blamed him for my insecurities. He was the source of so much pain that I shut him out of my heart altogether. Then, at the age of fifty-four, my father died. I was only sixteen but I remember feeling nothing at all. I thought, “He obviously didn’t care about me so why should I care about him?” Years passed before I felt the love of a father again.

Because of my experience, when I read John 14:22-23 what popped into my head were the words, “Love happened.” When Judas (not Iscariot) asked the question, “What then has happened,” instead of a direct answer to his question Jesus gave him hope. He basically said, “I happened, Judas.” It wasn’t about the past. It was about Jesus as the Bridegroom who loves His bride. It was about the covenant that was about to be made. It was about Jesus allowing us entry into His Father’s house. It was about redemptive love.

When I was grown all I wanted to do was get married and have a family. I wanted to belong to someone who loved me. I could not wait to change my name and enter into marriage. Unfortunately, because of my brokenness and that of my husband’s my marriage looked similar to my mother’s–full of conflict and void of love. Those familiar feelings (abandoned, dismissed, vulnerable) slowly crept into my everyday. I had no hope. Then I met someone who swept me off my feet. He offered to come live with me and I said, “Yes!” His name was Jesus. 

Finally, Love happened! Jesus scooped me up, revealing Himself to me. He bound my broken heart, dressed me in white and gave me a secure place to abide. But, He also loved me deeply and promised to never leave me or forsake me. He ushered me into a family I did not know and gave me His name, “Christian.” Even still, He is preparing a place for me in His Father’s house. His Spirit, which abides in me, is like an engagement ring–a promise of forever. My part is to love Him by keeping His Word. My part is to love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength and to love others as myself. My part is to wait, preparing myself for Him. My part is to receive His everlasting love.

If you were wondering, my husband and I are still married and he loves the LORD too. Jesus eventually gave us both hope and not only redeemed us individually but our marriage as well. As this advent week of hope comes to a close, remember the hope of Heaven where we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever! Remember that we are not home yet but are confident of our future with Him. Remember, Love happened. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 NIV

Confession, Depression, Faith, grace, Jesus, Trust

The Sea of Grace

Sea of Galilee, Tiberias

Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there.

Matthew 15:29 NIV

We are back. Thirty hours of travel and several days rest have given me time to reflect on the trip and I am undone, overwhelmed, grateful and so much more. One of the highlights was sailing on the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee people! The  same body of water Jesus walked on two-thousand years ago! This region of Israel was the most dear to my heart, not because it was greener than southern Israel but because so much of Jesus’ ministry happened around the shores of this beautiful lake. As we sailed, our guide stretched out his hands, one toward Tiberias and the other toward the setting sun, and said, “Two thirds of Jesus’ ministry happened in this region.” This was Jesus’ home.

Capernaum, Magdala and Tiberias still exist and their ancient beauty lingers. Magdala is a little town on the western shore where a first-century synagogue was recently uncovered. The Roman road next to the dig points south. When I stood beside the the synagogue and walked over the worn pavers I prayed with wet eyes and a soaring heart. “Jesus, you were here!” I know Jesus is everywhere but I was struck by the reality of the stories in the Bible. Not only did they really happen but they happened here.  After worship I wandered down the “road” toward the water. In ancient times it was a fishing village, a place of processing fish, on the Sea of Galilee. A place of sustenance. A place of grace.

This lake, called a sea, is still a place of grace. Just think about what happened here. The calling of several Apostles, the healing of the demon possessed and the restoration of Peter all took place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. So Galilee is a place of grace not because it is beautiful, which it is, but because it is a place of restoration, reflection and rejuvenation. I can imagine Peter’s soul was as dark and pitted as the basalt rocks on the beach. Heavy with the memory of the denial of His Lord, his guilt would have felt like his water-logged fishing net. In the flesh Peter self-protected. His love for Jesus and passionate resolve evaporated in the heat of fear. Before this Peter was rebuked for “protecting” Jesus twice but now he was left only with the memory of his betrayal.

But Jesus is always waiting for us in the place of grace. And, to Peter’s credit, remembering Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:32, “But after I have been raised I will go ahead of you in Galilee,” Peter went home. Ahhh, Galilee! Right away this must have instilled hope. Before Peter ever denied Him Jesus planned to restore him. Not only was Peter’s home in Galilee but Jesus grew up in Galilee too. As an adult Jesus walked on the surface of this lake and its shores heard many of His sermons and the surrounding hills witnessed many miracles. Galilee is a symbol of the hope, dare I say it, of Heaven, where we too will be free of sin and we will be home with Jesus. 

However, we are not home yet. Jesus also used this lake as a classroom. It is where Peter’s faith was tested, as was the faith of the Apostles. During the storm Jesus challenged them to believe and trust in Him even when things looked dark. Even when the sea looked anything but merciful, Jesus made it so. We have Jesus in our boat. He is in our body traveling through the mountains and valleys and stormy seas of our lives. But look! He is the captain! It is not about us or about the journey. My life is about Jesus. My beautiful, stormy, rocky, amazing life is about Him. I think that’s why this body of water moved me so profoundly. My smallness and insignificance became obvious and His glory screamed through every cloud as the sun set over the water and I heard, “Do you love me? Then feed My sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

John 21:17 NIV