Anxiety, Faith, Trust, Unbelief

Irrevocable Trust

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.” Psalm 56:3

My father stood across the living room in his purple, cotton shirt. The ceiling of the Quonset hut curved behind his wavy, black hair.  His bleary eyes stared at my mother who was dark with anger. Sitting upright on the Naugahyde couch, she cradled my sister and me on either side of her.  I could feel her thin build stiffen next to me as she narrowed her eyes. There was vomit on the green, shag carpet from a guest who had passed out – the catalyst of the argument. Earlier that evening, the house was full of laughter as colorful people drank and talked in our living room.  Cigarette smoke swirled overhead while ice clinked in glasses and the reel-to-reel boomed songs by Sinatra and Martin. I was young. Four or five. Alcoholism was not in my vocabulary.

“We’re leaving!” my mother announced as she ushered us into the bedroom.

My sister was older by two-and-a-half years.  Her taller frame stood next to mine on the bed as my mother briskly tied our puffy kimono-like robes around our thin, tan frames.  My mother’s short, black hair did not move. Everything about her was efficient, clean, crisp. She was an R.N. and worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) on base.

“You’re not leaving! I won’t let you!” my father said as he entered our bedroom.  The gun was obvious, but my mother didn’t flinch.

I loved my father. When he was sober and wearing his Air Force blues he seemed safe. But, I couldn’t trust him.  He was unpredictable. Scary. In my heart that night I vowed that I would never trust a man.

“Go ahead. Shoot us!” my mother blurted as she scooped us up and walked briskly outside before plopping us in the car.  We drove away to the sound of locusts screaming in the trees.

For many years this event, and others like it, colored my relationships, even my relationship with God. To cope with the instability I withdrew, surviving through a world of fantasy.  Fear defined my inner life. Fortunately, many years later, God revealed the vow I made as a little girl, “I will never trust a man.”  This vow was like a seed that germinated behaviors like self-protection and distrust, enabling me to shut myself – my real self – off from the world. But, God rescued me at the age of twenty-eight and brought me into a love relationship with Him that forced me to question my normal. Intimate relationships were terrifying, painful and not worth the effort. Eventually, through prayer and counseling, God revealed several deep-rooted lies that had been hiding in my heart for years.  The lies, like weeds, choked out the roses of security, love, patience and trust that God longed for me to experience. He spoke these tender words to me from Isaiah 43:1-3…

“But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’”  

An unstable childhood is a reality for many of us. Like me, you may have struggled with reconciling the truth of your past with God’s character. When I was a young believer God’s personality was morphed together with my father’s.  It was a distortion; a Holy God I couldn’t trust. A God that may not be there when I need Him most.  A God who loved me but wasn’t always delighted in me. A God who would abandon me…someday, just like my father.  It took many years for me to see how I was dishonoring God with these lies. Fear and anxiety took over as I tried to protect myself and failed.  The pain crept in and I felt…abandoned. Forsaken. Betrayed.  In a pit of self-pity God showed me my sin saying, “I am not a man that I should lie. I am not your father.”

He is not my earthly father. He is trustworthy and always patient. He will not love me one minute and dismiss the next. He will not abandon me. He is Love. I can trust Him…irrevocably. It has taken many years of walking with God to come to a place of owning these truths. I still struggle with trusting men in general and have lapses where I forget I have a Godly husband who loves me. The trust struggle also continues with God as I recognize the familiar feelings of fear and anxiety in situations where I feel helpless. However, I have learned to accept these moments as gifts of reflection. No one likes to have their faults exposed (ouch) but God gives us the gift of a holy mirror, allowing us to see the smudges of sin on our faces.  Only then will we allow Him to gently wipe them clean with His blood.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths

for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.”

Psalm 23:1-6, NIV

Control, Faith, Insecurity, Life, Obedience, Overwhelmed, Perseverance, Rebellion, Repentance, Trust

Soda Can Heels

“I will walk in freedom,
    for I have devoted myself to your commandments.”

Psalm 119:45 NLV

When I was a little girl living in Okinawa on Kadena Air Base, my sister and I would slip soda cans onto our heels and walk, clinking and clanking, down the hill. Pretending to be “grown-up” we endured hot asphalt on our toes, just so we could know the boost of adulthood.  We also felt free, even while the pinch of sharp aluminum pressed against our heels. Though we had fun pretending to be autonomous at the time, now I know that freedom is a powerful motivator, especially when it concerns parting from oppression.

Of course, war is proof of this.  As a child I was unaware of history and could not comprehend the horrors the Okinawan people witnessed during the occupation period, nor did I understand their fear of being pushed into the Vietnam War.  During one trip to the fish market we had to bring our German Shepherd, Bo, for protection. And, like fish in a bowl looking out on the world, we drove through a crowd of anti-war/anti-American protestors in our station wagon. They yelled; Bo barked; I stared. Hate and fear stared back. On the other side of their experience, I could not appreciate how they felt. They wanted their independence—their soda-can heels—so they could feel safe from China. But, what they needed was a freedom that only comes through surrender.  They needed God.

This reminds me that I need God too.  My freedom doesn’t come from something I do (like squish soda cans on my heels) but from who I am. Anger and protest will not bring me peace and no dog can protect me from the world. It is Christ’s blood on the doorpost of my heart and His Word applied by the Spirit that causes me to walk in freedom. That brings me to a confession.  Lately, as we are in a time of transition, I have found myself neglecting the fact that I need God. The time spent with the Lord has been microscopic compared to my “normal” and I have paid a steep price. Ironically, studying for Christian Ministry has been one of the main distractions along with moving, travel, serving and working out. Forgetting that blood was shed for my freedom, I have neglected God’s Word. Now, instead of walking in freedom I find myself taken by apathy and anxiety, fearful of the future and reaching for my soda cans.

Fortunately, God has a way of reminding me of the basics. “I will walk in freedom for I have devoted myself to your commandments” (Psalm 119:45, NLV). In other words, I will live a life free from spiritual oppression because I have spent time with the Lord and have been in His Word. Recently, Charles Stanley set me straight by challenging me (through the radio) to confess and repent the sin of neglect. He talked about how easy it is to drift away from God right into a prison of hard-heartedness and confusion. In a way I felt like that little girl in the back of the station wagon looking out on the ugly world as I clung to my dog who was not entirely safe at the time.

Oh, how I love our Father who speaks so tenderly to us, even when we run off. Perhaps He is not so safe either. He may still ask us to go to the fish market during war-time in a hostile setting.  But we will never be alone.  From now on leave your soda cans at home and walk with Him.

“My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Proverbs 4:20-23 (NIV)

Faith

Do I Have To?

“But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Mark 8:33, NIV

Who invented the one-legged burpee?  Or better yet, the one-legged, TRX burpee which  involves placing your foot in a TRX band while balancing on one leg then executing a burpee (squat thrust) with your legs hovering in the air (all weight on the arms) before hopping back up on your lone, free leg?  What?!!!  The better question is why?  Why on earth would you ever design such a thing? As you can tell by my sarcasm, it didn’t go so well for me.  With lots of wobbling, I fumbled through the exercise with one goal–trying not to injure my pride.

Unfortunately, this is how the Christian life feels at times. I can imagine that’s exactly how Peter felt when Jesus “began to teach them [the disciples] that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31, New International Version).  Mark 8:32 says, “He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him” (NIV).  If I could guess, the questions swirling around inside Peter’s head at that moment were something like, “I’m not sure you know what You’re doing, LORD.” and “Why on earth would You ever consider setting up Your Kingdom in such an awful way?”

Regrettably, Peter must not have heard the “rise again” part — or he didn’t believe it. Apparently, Peter lacked faith and desired an easier way. He knew Jesus was the Messiah because he declared this fact in verse twenty-nine.  It is fair to say that Peter did not understand the big picture. Even after spending so much time with Jesus, Peter focused on what was seen and not on what was unseen.  He fixated on what he thought he had control over and not on surrendering everything to His LORD. Nevertheless, Jesus’ own response shines a light on Peter’s motivation.  According to Jesus, Peter was putting man’s concerns before God’s and Jesus called that sin. This was not easy for Peter to hear or understand.  I believe that’s why, right after this interaction with Peter, Jesus summoned the crowd together and said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34, NIV).

For you, trusting God may look like a move across the country, leaving everything you know, or an investment in something that doesn’t make sense.  It may be in the form of sacrificial giving or taking someone into your home.  Whatever the case, I am willing to wager Jesus has rocked your world in some way or another and trust has been a struggle in your own walk with the LORD.  My prayer is that you will stop asking “Do I have to?” and instead, say “Yes, LORD.”

Providentially, like the one-legged burbee, God’s ways are not easy, or even understandable. He knows that difficult things are good for us, teaching us to balance our lives in accord to His will and His ways as we surrender by faith. But, we know our God. We know He is good, faithful, loving, all powerful, gracious, sacrificial and holy. Fortunately, God is not confined by our ability nor are His plans thwarted by our objections.  He may use you as an object lesson for others, as in Peter’s case, but He will never leave you or forsake you.

Trust & Obey

“When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.”

Trust and Obey by John H. Sammis, 1887

 

Confession, Faith, Grief, Overwhelmed, Pride, Rebellion, Repentance, Restoration, Sanctification, Surrender

Messy Me

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV

Anyone who knows me (by this I mean anyone who has seen my closet) would tell you that I am not tidy.  Ok, they would tell you I’m pretty messy.  For some reason I am unable to work on a project unless all the inner workings of the project are exposed.  For example, when I’m writing I have hand written notes and several books surrounding my computer; when I cook I have everything out on the counter; when I get ready in the morning my bathroom counter is cluttered with makeup, lotion, hair product and jewelry and my bedroom is usually littered with clothes I am “in the process” of  cleaning, putting away or deciding whether or not to keep.

However, this way of living has consequences.  Sometimes when I come home I am overwhelmed by all the “little” messes I’ve made during the week.  Dishes, crumbs, papers, books, clothes, oh my!  How did this house get so messy?  Answer: A little at a time.  Similarly, when we find ourselves in a spiritual mess of our own making, suffering the consequences of a mountain of small rebellions, we too are overwhelmed.  How did my heart get so hard?  Answer: A little at a time.  Surprisingly, the solution to both problems (messy house and messy heart) are the same.  How is my house going to get clean?  By repentance, or turning 180° away from the direction I was going (bigger mess) and into the opposite direction (putting things in order).  How is my heart going to be cleansed?  You guessed it — Repentance!

Of course, some people may object to this observation because they know they have been fully forgiven when they accepted Christ as their Savior, which is true.  However, in the same way I fail to clean my messes until I recognize the chaos all around me, we do not bring all our heart messes to God until we recognize they exist and are overwhelmed with grief and Godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  Because of the blood of Jesus we are already forgiven but not restored.  David understood this to be true.  His little messes turned into a mountain of rebellion when each decision David made in opposition to God caused chaos in his life and the lives of those around him.  Because of this, his heart was hard and his attitude harsh until Nathan, God’s messenger, confronted David. Only then did he recognize the overwhelming mess.  David’s 180° turn away from his sin led him straight into the arms of God where David appropriated God’s gift of forgiveness. Through it all his relationship with the LORD was strengthened and his heart forever changed, which is testimony to God’s faithfulness and redemptive heart toward His children.

Psalm 51 was birthed from David’s repentant heart.  I’ll leave you with the beautiful reality of our gracious God who longs for intimacy with every one of His “Messy Me’s” as He turns our messes into milestones of His grace and intimate love for you and me.

Psalm 51 

A psalm of David.

When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

(Psalm 51, New International Version)
Commitment, Faith, Love, Submission, Surrender, Trust

Brothers & Sisters

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.”

Hebrews 10:19-22

Reading Hebrews 10 is like drinking from a firehose.  Here Paul assures us that we can draw near to God with confidence because the Way was made possible through Christ’s death and resurrection.  We are no longer guilty but cleansed and washed by blood and water.  The Old Testament sacrificial system was a shadow of Christ’s atonement and could never take away sin.  But God, from before the foundation of the world, provided all we need for life and Godliness.  But, this promise was directed to a community of believers; a family of “brothers and sisters” in the faith, whom Paul assumed would read his letter as they gathered together as one body.

Therefore, we can conclude that community is an important part of our walk as believers.  Without it we are prone to the harsh elements of this world as well as single-minded interpretations or conclusions based on our own feelings and experiences.  To illustrate, this past January, after leaving a case of water in my car overnight in three-degree temperatures, I discovered that only two of the water bottles were frozen.  Only two out of  twenty-four froze because only two were separated from the rest.  They had somehow popped loose of the plastic wrapping and were leaning out of the casing, no longer touching the other bottles.  They froze because they lacked the insulation the “community” of water bottles offered. Disaffected, distanced and divided from the group, the water in the bottles hardened because they were vulnerable to the affects of the outside world just like the human heart.

In the same way,  we can become cold and hard hearted when separated from a community of “brothers and sisters.”  When our family first moved to New England from Oregon it took an entire year before I plugged in to a local church.  During that time I was angry with God and felt sorry for myself. “What were You thinking moving us across  the country without providing a church family?”  My heart was hardened to God’s timing and sovereignty.  However, not being connected to a community of believers allowed me to indulge in self-pity.  Eventually, my jaded attitude led to a divine spanking in the form of a Poison Ivy rash all over my body, my very first EVER sinus infection because, what do you know, I’m allergic to New England, and finally, walking pneumonia with chest-burning coughing spells during the worst winter in who knows how long that included a Nor’easter which dumped three-feet of snow in one day.  It does seem like God was trying to get my attention.

However, in God’s defense, He did provide a Mother’s of Pre-Schoolers (MOPS) group and a loving Christian neighbor.  Unfortunately, I was too distracted by my expectations to notice His provision and chose to pop out of the plastic wrapping and freeze.   Not only will I never forget this experience, I also share it with others in the event that they are tempted to “give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.”  Whether you are planning to move, taking a second job or just don’t want to commit to being a part of a church, I beg you to pause and consider the consequences.  Don’t allow your heart to harden to God’s love for you which He demonstrated on the cross and is experienced through His church.  You were made for community to “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:23).   See you at church!

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” 

Hebrews 10:23-25

Faith, Trust, Victory

That You May Know

“My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion. And how bold and free we then become in his presence, freely asking according to his will, sure that he’s listening.  And if we’re confident that he’s listening, we know that what we’ve asked for is as good as ours.” 1 John 5:13-15 The Message

Is there someone in your life with whom you can be “bold and free” in their presence? Imagine that someone trying to put you at ease by saying, “Trust me, it’s going to be okay.” What would your response be?  Mine would probably be, “Oh yeah? We’ll see about that.”  But, it would honestly depend upon the level of trust I had in the person reassuring me.  That’s why, when it comes to salvation, eternity and Heaven I believe God wholeheartedly.  No, I don’t just believe, I KNOW without a doubt that it is really going to be okay.  The unity I have with Christ is secure, not because I say so but because I have experienced what God’s Word calls being “born again” (John 3).

However, I have experienced trust issues with people (mostly men) all of my life.   Because of abandonment and betrayal early in life I learned to question the intentions of others and protect my heart.  It is no fun assuming the worst of people, even nice people.  More than that, it is exhausting.  Fortunately, God has given me relationships that have redeemed the past and I am slowly learning to trust again.  Not long ago my husband helped with this process by wearing a name tag that read, “Your Godly husband who loves you,”  during a time when I was struggling with trust in our marriage.  Most of our life together my husband was not a believer but a few years prior to the name tag incident he had given his life to Christ and truly was a different person.  Our relationship had changed but I refused to relate to him as a Godly husband who would “never leave me or forsake me.”  Fortunately, one day my counselor said, “You are not secure in your own reality,”  and it struck me that I was not believing truth.  You see, even though it was true that Marty and I were married and he was loving I still responded to him the same as before.  Self-protection was a comforting habit that created a barrier in our relationship.  I was not free to approach my loving husband because I refused to believe it was true.  What more could he do to convince me? Nothing.  It was obviously true that there was nothing I could do to lose his love.  It was all in my mind.  I needed to step out of the looking glass by faith, into reality and relate to him based on the truth.  This was scary trust.  This is what God calls us to do with Him as well…trust.

In the same way, we can offend God by acting like He’s not trustworthy.  However, God would not give the free gift of eternal life and then take it back.  He  would not adopt a child and then disown him.  That does not line up with Scripture and it is not the heart of God to leave us in a state of uncertainty.  Now, there are those who may believe they are born again but have never confessed with their mouth the Lord Jesus and believed in their heart that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9).  These people would rightly question whether they were truly saved.  This is not, however, an indication of loss of salvation, rather it is an awareness of your separateness from the Spirit of God who is prompting you to respond to Christ’s invitation to believe on him.   If you do not experience intimacy with God in your Spirit then you can ask God to give you the faith you need to believe in Jesus, inviting Him to come into your life and take over as Savior and LORD.

But, for true believers, a consequence of uncertainty is insecurity.  John wrote 1 John 5 to ensure those who are God’s children that they have eternal life so their relationship with God would be one of freedom and trust.  Look closely at 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”  If we doubt our adoption into God’s family,  unsure where we stand, then we will not be so bold as to approach Him in prayer, asking anything in His name.  A very effective tactic of the enemy is to distract and deceive, convincing us that it is no use praying, relieving us of a very powerful offensive weapon in a very real spiritual battle.  For this reason, God desires a knowing deep in our hearts that we are His.  Only then will we be “bold and free” in his presence.

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

Romans 10:9-10

Further reading: John 10:27-29; Romans 8:35, 38-39; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 1:4-5; Hebrews 6:4-6

Faith

Why Try?

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14

When I was a little girl I played soccer, not because I loved it but because my father loved it and I wanted to please him.  However,  one time an opposing player fell when we were competing for possession of the ball and I stopped to help them up.  (As you can imagine, my father was not pleased.)  Although I wouldn’t recommend this as a winning strategy, I would argue that this is a great picture of how to live in the world but not of it.  As believers we are to live in peace with everyone and be holy (set apart) at the same time.  This takes effort, awareness and humility.

Having said that, living in this world as a Christian is not easy.  Rejection and ridicule await us at every turn.  Many people view us as enemies, considering our faith evidence that we are delusional, have an imaginary “friend,” and are a danger to society.  Or, at best, they view Christianity as a boring way to live.  So, why try?  Is there something more that we are living for than to rise above the fray or to be helpful?  Peter tells us to “…make every effort to confirm your calling and election.  For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:10-11).  This is the reason why – You will NEVER stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into Jesus’ eternal Kingdom.

For certain, understanding this verse will motivate you to “run the race with endurance”  without a second thought about other’s perceptions.  But, to understand it you need to know what “these things” are and how to “do” them.  First, in 2 Peter 1:3, Peter reveals a great promise saying, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a Godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”  Second, since Jesus has rescued us from death (eternal separation from Him) and has given us everything we need for life and Godliness, we are compelled by His love to make every effort to add to our faith goodness, or virtue (2 Peter 1:5).  The practical way to walk this out is to avoid things that corrupt the soul, turning our hearts and minds away from God.  For example, pornography, sexually explicit novels, movies burgeoning with murder, sex or profanity, gossip, drunkenness, or even negative self-talk is like junk food that spoils our appetite for life giving food that encourages spiritual growth.  2 Corinthians 7:1 says it this way:

 “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

Only when we have virtue can we grow in the knowledge of God, have self-control, persevere, be Godly, love fellow believers and love our enemies, which is the progression of growth Peter is referring to in the first chapter of 2 Peter.  This is also what is meant in Romans 12:2 when it says, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Fortunately, the list of don’ts is not a legalistic standard, rather a matter of being sensitive to the Holy Spirit abiding in us, while at the same time, convincing us of what is good and what is not.  Also, there are practical ways to set ourselves apart (consecration) for the Lord through a “good” spiritual diet.  Things like memorizing scripture, meditating on the Word, being still before the Lord, prayer, fellowship, confession and repentance, serving others, and sharing the Gospel infuse us with life giving bread that more than satisfies.  If we do these things because we desire to know God and not because we are trying to earn His acceptance, we will not only be rewarded in this life with intimacy with God, but we will also be rewarded for eternity!  What a promise!

In other words, if you pursue God you will never fall.  Press on, run hard, persevere because there is a crown.  More than that, there is a Savior who desires intimacy with you.  Others may not understand what propels us in the faith but we know that God is faithful and He will fulfill His promises.  We need to be reminded of these things often.  This is another reason to be in the word.  Shout from the sidelines, encourage others to press on, pick those up who have fallen, grabbing them by the hand, and run fast into eternity.  A rich welcome awaits!

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.”

2 Peter 1:5-9

Anxiety, Faith, grace, Hope, Love, Overwhelmed, Rest

Crazy Grace

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  James 1:19-20

Christmas is a time to reflect on what’s important and express gratitude for the precious gift of God’s Son.  “Peace on Earth, goodwill to men…”  If this is true, why are we so angry and impatient?  Between traffic and long lines to “prickly” relatives, Christmas seems to bring out the worst in people.  Why is it that we all seem to be somewhere on the spectrum of insanity during the “most wonderful time of the year?”  Could there be a dark spiritual campaign that ramps up every Black Friday to blur the vision of the grace God bestowed on humanity by becoming a man for the sake of our eternal salvation?

Personally, I have to admit that my focus is not on the coming Messiah during Christmas, rather, the coming company or Christmas meal that needs preparing or the gifts that need buying and wrapping and sending.  Insanity is the only word for it.  We all go a little crazy during the Christmas season.  It is fitting, then, in our culture of out-of-control “doing,”  that Christmas is followed so closely by the New Year.  Around the corner it comes with optimistic newness, forgiveness, if you will, for our December sins.

Because of this, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is my favorite week of the year.  Everything stops (except for basketball which is one more reason empty nesting is awesome).  There is time to rest, reflect and look ahead to a brand new year, God willing.  Instead of angry and impatient we feel optimistic and hopeful.  This is crazy grace.  The fact is, God not only sees us through our imbalanced, imperfect celebration of His Son’s birth, but also showers us with forgiveness and hope.  His love keeps us from being consumed by our fears, insecurities, failures and, yes, insanity.

In short, Lamentations 3:23 says, “His compassions never fail.”  His compassions (plural) never (that means never, ever) fail.  The word “compassions” reflects God’s heart for us in a powerful way.  It means God has the same affection for you and me that a pregnant mother has for the baby in her womb, “as cherishing the fetus.”  Regardless of our insanity level His grace is crazier still.  We can’t out-give God and we certainly can’t out “crazy” Him.  But for the grace of God we would all perish.

“Yet this I call to mind, therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,

for His compassions never fail. 

They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:21-23

 

Control, Faith, Holiness, Hope, Humility, Obedience, Perseverance, Pride, Righteousness, Self Righteousness, Submission, Surrender

Finish Well

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.  Because you have rejected the word of the LordHe also has rejected you from being king.”  1 Samuel 15:23

Crossing the finish line after a grueling marathon must incite a feeling of overwhelming relief and accomplishment.  I say “must” because I am not a runner.  However, I can imagine the feeling, having “finished” other things that seemed impossible and required perseverance to endure (like raising teenagers).   Unfortunately, King Saul did not finish well.  In fact, I would say he is one of the most prominent cautionary tales in the Old Testament.  Anointed the first king of Israel, as a young man King Saul was humble in his own sight.  However, as he grew in power he also grew in self-reliance and pride.  Therefore, by the time Samuel admonishes Saul in 1 Samuel 15, he is rebellious, prideful and distant from the Lord.

Personally, finishing well gives me great satisfaction and joy; especially since completing a project or achieving a goal is not my strongest attribute.  So, when it does happen I feel great, especially if God was glorified.  Even greater will the joy be when, at the end of my life, I finish the race, running across the finish line straight into the arms of Abba who says, “Well done!”  Still, the question remains, why didn’t King Saul finish well?  How did this tall, handsome, humble man become a king  with a hard heart?  Most importantly, how did this anointed King fall out of favor with God?  1 Samuel 15:10-11 tells us: “Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.’ And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night.”

Most assuredly, the answer is pride.  Saul had decided in his heart that he was just as capable of making “good” decisions as God.  Little by little Saul recessed into the bowels of self-absorption until he no longer honored God or His prophet, Samuel.  Self-absorption and hard-heartedness are stones that build a path to spiritual calamity.  We are all prone to the idea that we know better.  Romans 9:20a says, “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?”  The word translated “talk back to” is the Greek verb antapokrinomai.  It means “to contradict in reply, to answer by contradiction, reply against” (Strong’s G470).  Which prompts the question; am I talking back to God in any area of my life?  It can be a subtle slide into spiritual fatigue as we log the miles this side of Heaven.  I want to encourage you to finish well, as many have spurred me on in the race of life.  If you don’t already, surround yourself with Christian encouragers who are running with perseverance.  More importantly, be that encourager to someone else, thinking little of yourself as you “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24) so we may all finish well as we break the ribbon between heaven and Earth.

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”  Acts 20:24

Control, Faith, grace, Hope, Humility, Life, Submission, Surrender

Boxing Out

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

Boxing God out has been a common occurrence throughout my Christian walk.  Viewing Him as an opponent, with elbows out and my backside pushing against Him, I try desperately to keep him from getting the ball.  This is what happened on a Southwest flight in the summer of 2017 when my husband and I were sitting together in the aisle and middle seats.  Knowing the flight was not full I laid my jacket on the window seat next to me hoping no one would sit there.  (Yes, I did that.)  “Why is your jacket on the seat?” My husband asked, noticing the subliminal “Do not sit here” message I was sending.

“I really don’t want anyone sitting next to me so I put my jacket there hoping they wouldn’t ask.”

He replied, gently, “Uh, you should take that off the seat.”

So, while grudgingly removing my coat and sliding it under the seat in front of me, a young lady stopped and asked, “Is that seat taken?”

“No.” I whispered, letting her slide by.

Plopping in the seat next to me she promptly put her earphones in so she could listen to her music.  As she did my husband noticed the album cover on her phone.  “I love that band,” he said smiling.

Looking over at her phone I saw she was playing Christian music.  From that moment on Avie and I were flight friends.  In fact, we didn’t stop talking until we got off the plane.  As it turns out she was going into her Senior year of high school and in a dilemma regarding College.  She didn’t know if she should go to college or, if she did, where to attend or how she would pay for it.  Her parents were divorced and focused on their new families and spouses with little to offer for advice or money for education.   Avie had a heart for missions so I told her about Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and other options she hadn’t thought about.  At the end of our time together she said, “Thank you so much for talking with me.  I really needed to hear from someone other than my parents or my guidance counselor.”

Wow!  I almost missed it.  My comfort was the only thing I considered at the time and, in my narrow mindedness, forgot that God is so BIG that He could orchestrate a conversation to give a high school girl hope for her future.  He loves that much.  All I can think about at this moment is the waterfall of grace He has for His children.  Instead of calling “foul” He rolled around me and stole the ball.  I realize we are on the same team and all is forgiven, however, this encounter gives me pause for the future.  I resolve not to knowingly box Him out again and asked God to make Avie an Ebenezer stone for me; a reminder that God works in subtle, loving ways, running the plays of life through His children.

Lord, please give me a heart for those you wish to lavish with your love through this earthen vessel of mine.  Help me to remember.  I long to be compelled by your love and to live for Christ and not myself, keeping the Passion at the forefront of my mind.

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.”  Psalm 37:23