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
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