Commitment, Faith, Obedience, Perseverance, Sanctification, Spiritual Battle, Surrender, Trust, Victory

Chomp Chomp

“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

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

Commitment, Covenant, Love, Righteousness, Uncategorized

His Banner Over Me is Love

 

“He has brought me to his banquet hall,  And his banner over me is love.” Song of Solomon 2:4

When I married my husband twenty-four years ago I had no idea what a covenant was nor did I understand love as defined by God.  My motive for marriage was completely selfish.  I wanted someone to love me and take care of me.  I wanted to have children.  I desired a “savior” who would love me unconditionally and fill the void in my life.  The sad truth is that I never considered my husband, nor did it cross my mind that he would have insecurities and needs.  The reality was that he was coming into the marriage just as empty as me.  We had nothing to offer one another.  It wasn’t too many years before we felt completely discouraged and even betrayed by one another.  Fortunately, God used this very desperate circumstance to introduce me to Himself.  Jesus found me wallowing in the shame puddle of loneliness and imminent divorce and said,

“I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
In lovingkindness and in compassion,
And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.
Then you will know the Lord.”  

Hosea 2:19-20

Yes, He has brought me to His banquet hall,  And His banner over me is love.  In the Song of Solomon the “banner of love” can refer to a man’s limited, romantic love for a woman, but the deeper meaning points to God’s intimate, extreme love for Jesus’ bride, the Church.  To understand where I got this idea let’s break down Song of Solomon 2:4 using the Hebrew definitions:

  1. “He has brought” =  bow’: to enter, come in

  2. “me to His banquet” = yayinwine (A symbol of the Holy Spirit)
  3. “hall” = bayith’: house; temple; home (We are the Temple of God)
  4. “and His banner” = degel: banner; standard  (Covering)
  5. “over” = al: over (in excess)
  6. “me is love” =  ‘ahabah: God’s love to His people

https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb/sng/2/4/t_conc_673004

Do you see it?  A personal application would be that God has made me a new creation by entering my spirit with His life giving Holy Spirit just like sperm enters an egg, creating new life.  I am the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:16).  He dwells in me and I in Him (John 6:56), and He covers me with His excessive love (Psalm 36:7).  We are one.

 

There is now a shadow of this tender affection in my own marriage; it is something holy and set apart.   God not only forgave me but taught me to forgive.  He also restored our marriage and eventually brought my husband into the banquet hall as well.  He is so gracious!  So, after meditating on Song of Solomon 2:4, it is easy to understand why God takes marriage and sexual intimacy so seriously.  It is meant to be a picture of His glorious, single-minded love for His church.  Mark 10:7-9 gives us an understanding of the forever-covenant God intended for marriage, serving as a reflection of His forever-love for you and me,  “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”    It’s God’s love that enables Marty and me to remain in love, unseparated.

As we reflect on our position of security based on God’s faithfulness, remember that Jesus is our rock.  He is the faithful husband that gave Himself up for us.  We are covered by His blood and have entered into a forever-covenant with Him.  God loves us with a lavish love demonstrated by the death and resurrection of His Son.  We are adopted into His family and, as Jesus’ forever Bride, can boldly enter the banquet hall wrapped in Heaven’s wedding gown.  Amen and Amen!

 

“I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,  As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”  Isaiah 61:10

 

Commitment, Insecurity, Love, Obedience, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Uncategorized, Victory

Be Intentional

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  

Jeremiah 29:11

Intentional: done in a way that is planned or intended  (merriam-webster.com)

This word has been haunting me for the past several weeks and last night I woke up with the phrase “Be intentional” impressed on my heart.  Since I am an accomplished procrastinator and life floater I know this wasn’t from me.  Prior to its haunting, the word first came to me in May while attending Sean’s college graduation.  I was talking to another mom who shared how she purposed to have a conversation with her son.  In essence, she gave him permission to move on, letting go of the parent-child relationship and freeing him emotionally to leave and cleave.  I said, “You are so intentional in your parenting.”  to which she replied, “I try to be.”

The next morning at breakfast while talking about books, our son, Sean, said , “I like to finish stuff.”  He shared that whatever he starts, even if it’s not extremely enjoyable, he likes to see it to completion.  Between the two conversations I was convicted.  If I were to write a parenting book it could be titled Wing It or Raised by Grace.  (Maybe I will write the second one because it does sum up how my kids were raised!)  The opposite of intentional, my conversations with Sean and Ryan were usually spontaneous and even compulsive.  If you were to ask them (embarrassing) they would probably say I preached or lectured more than listened with intentionality.  And, as far as finishing stuff, let’s just say Sean didn’t get that trait from me.  It dawned on me that God is intentional. He planned everything from the beginning and is very intentional about following it all through to completion!  Thank God that He is not like me or many of us would be sitting on a shelf only half completed!

Unfortunately, not finishing projects is an old pattern in my life.  Usually, I feel like whatever I’m working on isn’t good enough to complete, and there is some merit to knowing when to cut your losses.  However, because I have allowed distraction to steal my minutes, most of the time my inability to complete something has more to do with not being intentional.  In reality, not planning and not being disciplined enough to eliminate distractions and set goals has been a safety net to avoid failure.  However, it also allows for the enemy to steal blessing and steal the joy that comes from doing things well for God’s glory.

For example,  while cleaning out some drawers recently I found photos and a blank photo album intended for Sean’s high school graduation memories.  The 2012 ribbon was still there, neatly rolled up with the extra pages I knew I would need to finish the project.  I had good intentions but I was not intentional.  Things happened, time went on and I put everything away in a drawer (probably because company was coming) and forgot to “finish stuff.”  I missed the blessing of being creative and Sean missed out on the joy of knowing I cared enough to intentionally create something meaningful for him.  And, of course, most importantly, it was a way to reflect God’s intentional love for His child.  I want to relinquish this pattern.  Perhaps it’s time to allow God to change me into something more Christlike; something less chaotic and more…finished.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. For He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His presence.  In love.  He predestined us for adoption as His sons through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will…”  Ephesians 1:3-5

Commitment, Covenant, Faith, Hope, Idolatry, Submission, Surrender, Uncategorized

In Christ Alone

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains. Where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121:1-2

Arriving at the car rental queue at the Baltimore airport we frowned at the long line but patiently waited the forty-five minutes it took to get to the counter. (I should rightly say my husband, Marty, waited patiently while I sat in a comfy seat watching the luggage.) Understandably tired and prickly, the agent checked us in and ten minutes later we were on the freeway driving to our hotel, excited for the fun few days ahead. However, after just a few miles, the rental car rumbled and lost power.  Surprised by the strange noise and loss of acceleration Marty heeded the warning on the dashboard imploring us to “See Owner’s Manual” and pulled the car over into the breakdown lane. Unfortunately, there was no owner’s manual in the glove compartment.

“The transmission slipped,” Marty said, puzzled as he turned off the motor.  After a few minutes he started the car again and took off. This time it seemed to drive okay and we made it to our hotel. Sadly, the next day the same thing happened on our way to breakfast. Because of this, we arranged to have the vehicle exchanged, which we knew would be time-consuming, inconvenient but necessary.  The wonderful thing is neither of us let it steal our joy. There was peace “like a river” because we had our eyes set on the prize. We were there to enjoy watching our son play baseball.  And, because the hotel was next to the ball field, there was no disappointment when the car didn’t work properly because it had no bearing on our ability to enjoy the games. Also, we didn’t care that the car was a hassle because we weren’t focused on the car!  We ended up having a wonderful trip and made it back to the airport without a hitch or rumble.

In the same way, God tells us to focus on the prize (Christ Himself forevermore) and not on our circumstances. We will all eventually arrive at our final destination with joy if we keep our eyes on Jesus. Unless, of course, He isn’t your prize. What are you living for? What do you hope for your future?  Are you trusting God, hoping in Christ alone, or are your eyes stuck on what is lacking? If your hope is in a changed spouse, good health, a new house, perfectly behaved children or a larger paycheck instead of Christ Himself then you are not placing your Hope in Christ alone. You are metaphorically focused on the rental car that doesn’t work and the hassle you are forced to go through because of it, never mind that it’s the very vehicle that God chose to use to get you to the final destination.

The song In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty begins with a bold statement describing our firm foundation and the peace we have in Christ when He is our rock.

“In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song; this Cornerstone, this solid Ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm.  What heights of love, what depths of peace,  when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!  My Comforter, my All in All, here in the love of Christ I stand.”  

Looking up we see our eternal future and nothing this side of heaven can steal our joy.   In contrast, if my focus is, for example, on my child’s success or failure and how it may reflect on me then my hope is on unstable ground. In this case my song would be more like this;

“In my child alone my hope is found,  He is my light, my strength, my song;  this little me, gives identity, changing with every up and down.  What heights of pride, what depths of shame, when fear and striving never cease! My tormentors, my all in all, here in insecurity I stand.”

This is not the kind of theme song I want to define the majority of my life. I pray for God’s holy hand to take hold of my chin and lift it to heaven when I am tempted to linger on anything other than Christ alone. Thank God for graciously giving us warning lights on the dashboard of our hearts and for His perfect Owner’s Manual!

“Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.  “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.  Isaiah 55:6-8

Commitment, Covenant, Hope, Humility, Love, Obedience, Submission, Trust, Uncategorized

Laser Focused Bride

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:22-24

A wedding is a wonderful snapshot of hope. It is a picture of the covenant promise God made to His bride, the church.  This past week we were blessed to witness a covenant being made that mirrored God’s unconditional love and commitment.  Watching a beautiful bride allow herself to be tucked under the wing of her husband to be nourished and cherished by him gave me hope for our future wedding feast with Jesus Himself.  When we were born again we were united to the Bridegroom   We are now set apart for Christ alone, tucked under His mighty wing.

Because of this, we enjoy complete freedom in Christ, which can also be mirrored in marriage.  Emotionally, spiritually and physically, within this covenant, there is opportunity for intimacy.  Furthermore, God calls us to love Him with all our hearts and serve Him wholeheartedly.  This sounds to me very much like being subject to a husband by choice. In other words, we enter into a relationship of submission in marriage trusting our husbands to nourish and cherish us.  We are not to have divided hearts, looking outside of marriage for protection and romance. In the same, way we are not to look outside of Christ’s love for our identity or fulfillment.  (We should not even look to our husbands to fulfill the role only Christ can satisfy.)

The song, “I Only Have Eyes for You,” by The Flamingos, is a lyrical reminder that we are called to be a laser focused bride.  We are only to allow one man to meet our needs.  Therefore, entertaining the offer of another man’s affection is out of the question because we relate to our husband’s on an intimate level as “alive” and any other man as “dead.”  This is a picture of our faith walk with the LORD!

Having an undivided heart means denying others (including ourselves) for the love of One whom God has given us to meet all our needs.  This laser focus keeps us abiding in Christ AND faithful in marriage.  Why?  Because when we join our minds, hearts and wills with Christ,  we then allow the Holy Spirit to proclaim, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” Genesis 2:23a

“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:9