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

Faith, grace, Hope

Grace, the Final Frontier

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”  Acts 20:24

One of the most difficult things to comprehend as a Christian is that Christ is in me.  In my frail jar of clay dwells the holy God who created the universe.   And, not only does He dwell in me but He assigns me work (“…telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God”) for His glory.  He has given me a lot to tell!

Most recently,  on September 9th, 2017, my husband and I celebrated our 25h wedding anniversary by renewing our vows.  The theme, “God is Gracious,” permeated every aspect of the day.   From the sun piercing through the majestic clouds at the very moment we renewed our covenant to the abundant joy experienced throughout dinner as we celebrated God’s goodness, His grace was evident.  But, honestly, without God’s grace we would have been divorced twenty years ago because the first part of Ephesians 2 described us perfectly.  But God, being rich in mercy…

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10

True, we were “indulging in the desires of the flesh and the mind,” destroying our marriage in the process.  But, worse still, we were dead to God and His great love for us.  It was here, twenty-years ago, steeped in rebellion, pride and self-righteousness, that God broke into my house built on the grainy sand of perfectionism and shame and set my feet upon the Rock of Righteousness.  During this transformation I was overwhelmed by my own sin, confessing all to Him, and, simultaneously, freed from all guilt as the blood of the Lamb washed me clean.  The grace, like a shield, enveloped my heart and I knew I was forgiven.  In his song, Lord I Need You, Matt Maher confesses his need for God in the same way:

“Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me.

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You”

This profound grace is both a verb and a noun.  The verb:  “do honor or credit to someone or something by one’s presence,”  means God graces us with His presence (Christ in me).   In addition, the noun:  “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings,”  is the gift of grace.   In the opening scene of the movie The Prince of Persia, both the presence and the gift were depicted beautifully.  The King of Persia ventures into a village near his palace, gracing the peasants with His presence.  He then notices a poor orphan and takes pity on him. The king reaches down from atop his horse, takes hold of the orphan, hoisting him upon the royal stallion, and upon returning to the castle, adopts him as his own son and co-heir to the throne, demonstrating unmerited, unearned favor.  That orphan was me. That orphan was you too if you have accepted the gift, allowing yourself to be carried off by the King and adopted into His family (1 John 3:1).  This is here and now grace, both His presence and His gift.

However, the phrase, “so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:7) reveals the existence of a great frontier of grace that we have yet to experience… a joy-filled eternity with the King of Grace.

“And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God.  The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”  Romans 8:10-11

Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher

 

Faith

Mama Bear

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.”

Jeremiah 17:7

During a recent hike through the mountains of North Carolina I saw a mama bear and her cub, two deer, a family of turkeys, a chipmunk and several butterflies dressed in vibrant cornflower blue with black trim.  I felt like Snow White walking through the forest in a Disney movie!  The animals were not afraid of me, seemingly at home with humans, although the mama bear did “bark” while protecting her cub, charging a few feet as I passed them on the trail.

The whole journey was a trust test.  God brought me to an unknown place with strange creatures where I was all alone and VULNERABLE; a place where I literally walked by faith.  Joshua 1:3 says, “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.”  This is what God said to me through His Spirit,  “Take a hike, Marlene.  Up to the highest heights I want you to follow Me.  Trust that I am good and faithful and will bring you into the land I promised you.”  To be honest, trust is difficult for me, even though God is perfectly trustworthy.  Of course, God wanted me to come face to face with my sin of distrust so He brought me up a mountain.  An out-of shape body,  and a three mile rocky trail with a twenty-percent incline separated me from the outlook.  (Can you feel the sweat pouring down your back?)  But God brought me to a broken place where I had to press into Him for strength, guidance and forgiveness.  Three times I doubted and asked for a sign. Each time He gave me butterflies.  Not the kind in your stomach but real, vibrant, blue and black butterflies that swept in from the forest and flitted up the trail saying, “Yes, you heard right, Marlene.  Keep going.  God is with you.”  Amazing.

Just now, the realization that God is my mama bear occurred to me.  He stands guard, protecting me, especially when I am vulnerable!  The truth is, God HAS secured our victory.  Our part is to “set our foot.”  Joshua still had to engage in battle but with a huge advantage; Joshua already knew the outcome because he believed God, therefore he had courage and strength, and was not afraid or overwhelmed.  Because He had faith he fought from a position of victory.

Unfortunately, this is a struggle.  The territory God has proclaimed victory over in my life are things like fear of rejection and using my gifts (like writing) in a public setting.  I hesitate to set my foot here because the transparent way He calls me to write makes me feel vulnerable.  However, I know in my heart the biggest barrier is actually unbelief.  Unlike Joshua, I march out in obedience but not fully trusting God will secure the victory.  This, I have recently learned, is saying that God is neither good nor sovereign.  Like Judah in Joshua 15:63  I have been unable to drive out the enemy, taking the territory God has secured, because of fear and unbelief.  Mark 6:5-6 describes it perfectly, And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief…”

No doubt, in the area of creativity and writing God has given me marching orders.  For too long I have not been secure in the reality that, though I am just like that bear cub, vulnerable and helpless, I have a “Mama Bear” who will ensure my victory wherever He leads.  I know that doesn’t mean I will not be rejected but it does mean that whatever He tells me to do will be for His glory and will have an eternal impact, resulting in a deeper intimacy than before.  That in itself is worth the risk.  And yet, it is not a risk to trust God, is it?  His promise is to equip the called, just like He did for Joseph and Moses and Gideon and Joshua and Esther and David…just like He does for you and for me.

Like dumping water on a campfire, unbelief not only squelches the beauty and warmth God intends to extend to others but it chokes out God’s power with the smoke of faithlessness.  God told Joshua, “Wherever you set your foot, I will give you victory.”  My foot-setting is not writing a book.  My foot-setting is allowing God to conquer and expel my fear of rejection by believing Him through the action of taking a risk in an area where I will most likely be rejected! And, He desires for me to be okay with that because Christ is my all in all.  The (unseen) reality is that the dreaded defeat is all in my head. The enemy has planted spies in the form of lies to subvert God’s best.  Will I choose to listen to these enemies of God or expose them as traitors, rejecting them by setting my foot on their neck?  What is it in your life that is causing you to doubt God’s goodness and sovereignty?  We all have our marching orders; We have been equipped.  The victory is the Lord’s!

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…”

2 Corinthians 10:5

Covenant, Faith, Gospel, Hope, Life, Love, Uncategorized

True Love, True Life

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  John 14:6

All physical life is completely dependent on the sun.  That may seem intuitive but when I heard this statement recently I was struck by the physical parallel of a profound spiritual truth.  All spiritual life is completely dependent on the SON!  Even with its exclusivity, I have never heard anyone complain about the way life is sustained.  It is narrow, no doubt, but everyone seems to agree that without the sun we are all doomed.   However, many argue against the reality of Jesus, the Son of God, being the only Way to eternal life with the Father.  Colossians 1:15-17 says, He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”  So, it is the Son of God who holds all things together physically, even the sun we so desperately need.  However, everything and everyone eventually dies.

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).  

But, how do we know that it’s true?  The answer is simple. When you accept by faith that Jesus died for you personally to pay the penalty for your sins that keep you apart from God because He is holy, and enter into a relationship with Him, then you are cleansed from all unrighteousness (literally in Christ or covered by Christ’s righteousness) so God no longer counts your sin against you because the debt has been paid by God Himself in the flesh (Jesus).  Because He loved the world so much He made a way for us to be reconciled with Him (John 3:16).  When we believe this by faith (accept the gift) we enter into spiritual life (born again) and are a new creation, completely forgiven and sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit.  This conversion from death to life is palpable and you will experience God in the same way a lifeless seed, when planted in fertile soil, watered, and exposed to the sun bursts forth into new life.  You will know by experience!

How I pray everyone who does not know God personally would realize that they are spiritually dead, like a seed, and would accept the gift of life from Jesus, the Light of the world, the living Water, the Son of God!

And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.  These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:11-13 

If you would like to know more please check out the links below.

https://billygraham.org/answer/you-can-know-god-personally-as-he-comes-to-live-within-you-by-his-spirit/

https://www.cru.org/how-to-know-god/would-you-like-to-know-god-personally.html