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

Waco’s Redemption

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

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

Ephesians 1:7, ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circus Circus

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

Hebrews 13:5-7

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

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

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

“What brought you to Sarasota?”

“Oh, the Circus!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be a Neva

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

Psalm 34:22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death & Resurrection

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem
Photographer: Glen Bergstrom

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

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

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

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

How did this happen? The Bible says,

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

Romans 3:22-26

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

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

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

Matthew 28:5-6 NASB
Alan Jackson
The Old Rugged Cross
Faith, grace, Hope, Humility, Jesus, Love, Trust

God Knows

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

Psalm 139:15-16 CEV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 2:10
Covenant, Faith, grace, Hope, Insecurity, Jesus, Love, Redemption

Love Happened

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 3:16 NIV

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