“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him and
He will make your paths straight.”
Neon signs, although effective, annoy me because I can’t ignore them. They are the sign equivalent of yard gnomes. You don’t want to look at them but you can’t help yourself. Throughout my life I have encountered God placed, in your face, neon signs. It always means He’s leading me into some kind of change which is usually painful.
The most recent God placed neon sign I’ve noticed is Proverbs 3:5-6. First, I saw it during a Bible study on Proverbs. Then, I heard it during a message on the radio. Finally, I heard it again before a worship song at church. And, just this week, I read it in a friend’s blog. Unable to ignore the neon signs, I opened my Bible and read…
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart…” Proverbs 3:5a
What came to mind was an incident that happened when I was eight years old. My father bought a small motorcycle and wanted me to ride it. He set me on the seat and then he hopped on the back and told me to take off.
Scared out of my little mind I shouted, “I can’t do it! You’re too heavy!”
He laughed confidently and said, “It’ll be fine. Let’s go!”
I took off but we immediately crashed (just like I knew we would). The motorcycle fell on my left leg so my father, worried that I would get burned, thrust his hand under the bike to free my tiny limb, slicing his palm in the process. I was fine but my dad wasn’t. I felt responsible. When I went inside the house to check on him I saw my mom in full R.N. mode cleaning his wound. At the time I didn’t know how bad the wound was.
“What happened?” I asked.
Smiling he said, “Look what you did,” as he showed me the bloody flap of skin on the palm of his hand.
That hurt. I still cannot look at any bloody wound without feeling sick. In hindsight I know my dad was being sarcastic, perhaps trying to lighten the mood, but my little girl heart was broken. I felt betrayed. My father, who was supposed to protect me, was blaming me! What I learned that day made a life-long, therapy worthy, impact. Because I listened to my dad I was physically and emotionally hurt. Therefore, I cannot trust my father.
I know many of you, if not all, have wounds too. It doesn’t matter what the intent was. What matters is the message we perceived. The neon signs at that time in my life said, “If bad things happen it’s all your fault” and “I can’t trust anyone to listen to me or take care of me so I have to protect myself.” Because of this, it is not natural for me to trust anyone. Of course, I trust God with all my head but not with all my heart. I naturally lean on my own understanding and acknowledge Him when I run out of ideas or hope. Then I get confused when His will or path is not clear.
Unfortunately, because of my experience, I still feel deep, deep, deep down inside that I have to protect myself above all else. At some point in my childhood this became my mission — self-preservation. I didn’t get it from the Bible. (Stop looking, it’s not there.) On the contrary, Jesus tells us that we are to die to ourselves. Matthew 10:39 says, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for my sake will find it.”
Ironically, loss is what I’m trying to avoid. I think of Churchill’s speech when he said, “We will never SURRENDER!” Surrender. The one word that came to mind when I read this verse along with Psalm 3:5-6. Trusting the Lord is giving yourself over to Him like a bride gives herself to her husband. It is a willing love offering that acknowledges His death on my behalf because He first loved me and “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20, NASB).
Have I surrendered my heart to God in a way that allows me to always be of one heart and mind with the only One who loves me perfectly? Hardly! But God is pursuing me to this end. I am so thankful for His persistence and faithfulness.
Have I unintentionally sent similar messages to my own children? Yes! I pray for God to heal their hearts and redeem the pain, using it to help others as they learn to trust God’s perfect love even though mine was far from perfect. I pray this prayer because that is what God has done for me.
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
“May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!” Psalm 20:5
Recently, my husband and I spent the weekend in Gainesville, Florida visiting our oldest son, Sean. On Saturday we made our way to the UF football game. Traveling by foot through campus in the human current of orange and blue we passed some professional tail-“Gators” anticipating the sure victory over Colorado. However, the majority of fans were, like us, eagerly speed-walking to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, nick-named “The Swamp.” It was the second hottest (and I’m guessing the most humid) game-day on record for the Gators. Regardless, we all rose up the ramp in ant-like procession. Everyone was so excited — joyful even — as they took their seats. Although fans (literal paper fans) were waving, no one complained about the heat. Apparently Gators don’t sweat.
Soon, the band played and everyone cheered as the team streamed onto the field. Then it happened. Thousands of arms lifted, right over left, elbows locked, and moved up and down, like an alligator’s mouth. At the same time ninety-thousand voices shouted,”Go Gators!” Go Gator’s is their battle cry but there is something about this chomp, chomp motion that motivates both fan and player. It gives them a sense of belonging — a confidence because they know they are part of a winning team. And (chomp, chomp) they wanted their opponents to know it.
Wow! This kind of community is inspiring! I’m not even a football fan and I enjoyed it. However, this experience made me question my own approach to the spiritual battle we find ourselves in as Christians. We too are a part of a winning team. However, we are not always excited to gather together. And even though we have the best quarterback, coach and manager in the universe we don’t always trust Their judgement. We may have a rag-tag team but because of Jesus – because he resides in us – we are victors! What is our intimidating war cry? “Jesus lives!” and our motto, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” Romans 8:37. What is our uniform? “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience“ Colossians 3:12.
Do I believe Jesus has secured the victory? Do I act like it? Do I confidently endure all things by faith? Struggles, like conflict, pain, heat and injury, are expected by the football player. But, he doesn’t overcome these obstacles alone. He stands on that battlefield as part of a unit. We too are part of an enormous community. The “great cloud of witnesses” cheer us on because they already know the outcome. The individual Christian is encouraged while doing his part as the sure victory unfolds because God provides us with a team called the Church. Instead of The Swamp we have The Sanctuary and instead of a war cry we have praise. Instead of tailgating we have fellowship and instead of a winning season we have salvation by grace, through faith in our leader, Jesus Christ. So, this Sunday put on your game shirt and cheer on your “team” while raising your hands and shouting with joy! Chomp, chomp!
“For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me.” Psalm 18:39
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.”
Although waiting is defined as “The act of remaining inactive or stationary“ it seems it takes more energy to wait upon the Lord than it does to jump ahead of Him and do what we think He wants us to do. Right now, my husband and I are experiencing a time of waiting and it’s hard. At times I feel like a little kid holding my breath, about to burst with anticipation. It isn’t a matter of doubting God’s goodness or faithfulness but it is a matter of not trusting His timing. As we wait I feel restless and sometimes anxiety rises as I think about the options before us, including all the possible outcomes. I find myself wanting to do something, anything to make me feel like there is progress being made. But, the Bible says to wait upon the Lord. The problem comes when I focus on the next step rather than on the relationship. In all things God draws us to Himself. In waiting He is asking for us to trust His love. He is asking us, as our Heavenly Father, to believe His plans are for our good.
However, right now I feel like I’m warming a bench at a bus stop. I’m not sure of the bus schedule but know it will come eventually because my father told me it would. But it’s been awhile and I’m starting to wonder if I heard correctly, so I call Him.
“Hey, Dad, it’s me.”
“Hi sweetie! How are you?”
“I’m ok. Just sitting here waiting for the bus. It’s been twenty minutes. I was just wondering if I’m at the right stop.”
“Are you where I sent you?”
“Then you’re at the right stop. Is there anything else? You seem stressed.”
“No. I just think it’s taking too long. I was thinking of walking.”
“Just wait there. I’ll talk with you until the bus comes.”
“Ok. I’m kind of anxious about the trip anyway. I’ve never been there before. How do I know I’ll like it?”
“I understand. Doing something new is hard, but I wouldn’t send you someplace that wasn’t going to be good for you. And you can talk to me anytime. Just trust me.”
“I do. It’s just I don’t always feel good about it.”
“Just remember I love you. That’s it. I love you.”
“Okay Dad. I know. I love you too.”
Do you believe God is there, talking to you in the waiting? Many times, instead of talking to God I look for the next step. Something to “do” instead of spending time with Him in intimate conversation. Of course, sometimes it’s hard discerning between the vision and the timing. Like Abraham, God showed us a picture of what would glorify Him–what He wanted us to do by faith, and yet we do not have the green light. Instead of peacefully waiting on the bench God has provided, I feel like walking or hitch-hiking or maybe taking a scooter. I want to be set free to do what I want (for God of course) without any restraints. But God is not incompetent, nor does He procrastinate. The waiting period is a time of molding and testing and a time to cultivate intimacy with Him. Just like a wild horse is mastered in the coral, God pens us in for the refining process, keeping us close to Him as he works out the willful pride and self-reliance that I am so easily bent toward. I don’t like it–AT ALL! But, because of His love, I am willing.
“For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”
“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
Psalm 23:1-6, NIV
“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)
“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.
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
“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.
A psalm of David.
When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 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.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 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)
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
Further reading: John 10:27-29; Romans 8:35, 38-39; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 1:4-5; Hebrews 6:4-6