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
Control, Faith, grace, Insecurity, Restoration, Sanctification, Surrender, Trust

Neon Signs

“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.” 

Proverbs 3:5-6

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.

Philippians 1:6

Confession, Faith, Grief, Overwhelmed, Pride, Rebellion, Repentance, Restoration, Sanctification, Surrender

Messy Me

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV

Anyone who knows me (by this I mean anyone who has seen my closet) would tell you that I am not tidy.  Ok, they would tell you I’m pretty messy.  For some reason I am unable to work on a project unless all the inner workings of the project are exposed.  For example, when I’m writing I have hand written notes and several books surrounding my computer; when I cook I have everything out on the counter; when I get ready in the morning my bathroom counter is cluttered with makeup, lotion, hair product and jewelry and my bedroom is usually littered with clothes I am “in the process” of  cleaning, putting away or deciding whether or not to keep.

However, this way of living has consequences.  Sometimes when I come home I am overwhelmed by all the “little” messes I’ve made during the week.  Dishes, crumbs, papers, books, clothes, oh my!  How did this house get so messy?  Answer: A little at a time.  Similarly, when we find ourselves in a spiritual mess of our own making, suffering the consequences of a mountain of small rebellions, we too are overwhelmed.  How did my heart get so hard?  Answer: A little at a time.  Surprisingly, the solution to both problems (messy house and messy heart) are the same.  How is my house going to get clean?  By repentance, or turning 180° away from the direction I was going (bigger mess) and into the opposite direction (putting things in order).  How is my heart going to be cleansed?  You guessed it — Repentance!

Of course, some people may object to this observation because they know they have been fully forgiven when they accepted Christ as their Savior, which is true.  However, in the same way I fail to clean my messes until I recognize the chaos all around me, we do not bring all our heart messes to God until we recognize they exist and are overwhelmed with grief and Godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  Because of the blood of Jesus we are already forgiven but not restored.  David understood this to be true.  His little messes turned into a mountain of rebellion when each decision David made in opposition to God caused chaos in his life and the lives of those around him.  Because of this, his heart was hard and his attitude harsh until Nathan, God’s messenger, confronted David. Only then did he recognize the overwhelming mess.  David’s 180° turn away from his sin led him straight into the arms of God where David appropriated God’s gift of forgiveness. Through it all his relationship with the LORD was strengthened and his heart forever changed, which is testimony to God’s faithfulness and redemptive heart toward His children.

Psalm 51 was birthed from David’s repentant heart.  I’ll leave you with the beautiful reality of our gracious God who longs for intimacy with every one of His “Messy Me’s” as He turns our messes into milestones of His grace and intimate love for you and me.

Psalm 51 

A psalm of David.

When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

(Psalm 51, New International Version)