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, Hope, Humility, Obedience, Pride, Rest, Reverence, Sanctification, Self Righteousness, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Uncategorized, Victory

From Tantrum to Trust

“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  Galatians 5:24

“I want it! I want it! I want it!” echoed through the Target checkout area as a little boy sat screaming in the child seat of a shopping cart, his hands out stretched, tears streaming down his face.  Fascinated by the audacity of the child; I stared, curious to know what he wanted so desperately.  Alas, the moment he’d been waiting for arrived.  The item was placed in his chubby arms as he greedily clasped the large, round toy with his little fingers.  Then I realized, as I watched mom trying to keep her little guy from chucking the toy out of the cart onto the floor, that what he wanted wasn’t the toy at all.  What he wanted was his own way.  What he wanted was to be in charge. What he wanted is what we all want…control.

Now, I don’t have physical temper tantrums (too often) but I do communicate, “I want my way!” all the time.  In her book Altar’d, Jennifer Kennedy Dean writes, “Flesh is proud, possessive, demanding, grabby, angry, envious, wants to own and manage and manipulate and get its way.” [Altar’d, Day 1, Page 16]   Ouch!  My sights can be locked on something as small as a chocolate chip cookie and as big as wanting the Universe to revolve around my every whim.  And, like the toddler, if I get what I want then the target of my desire immediately changes.  Never satisfied, flesh destroys contentment, peace, love and relationship.  So what’s the remedy?  It is to live in denial.

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'”  Luke 9:23

Deny myself?  How often does that happen?  Honestly, I rarely deny myself; but the choice is alway available.  The “if” in Jesus’ statement in Luke 9:23 implies choice and sacrifice.  To put shoe leather on this statement I’ll share what it would look like for me to personally deny myself and take up my cross daily:
  • If I would come after Jesus I would deny myself large food portions, exercise daily, and surrender to the Spirit’s leading to take care of the body God gave me in order to glorify Him like Jesus did.  
  • If I would come after Jesus, I would deny myself of sleeping in or browsing Facebook and take up my cross of laboring in prayer for family, friends, my church and our nation daily like Jesus did.  
  • If I were to come after Jesus I would deny myself taking offense to something someone said or did.  Instead I would forgive daily, nailing all offenses to the cross like Jesus did for me.
Why is this so difficult?  Because we want to be elevated. Like Adam and Eve we want to be like God.  However, we know that there can only be one master.  Mom needs to be in charge for things to go well for her toddler’s future.  God needs to be in charge for things to go well with your future and mine.  The good news is that God is always in charge and never gives in to our whining!   But, for me to be at peace with God (Not have a rift in our relationship) I need to acquiesce to God’s authority over my life.   Foundational to walking in freedom is the understanding that God is God.  Once that’s established then everything else falls into place.   Whether you struggle with same sex attraction, a critical spirit, smoking or overeating the solution is the same.  Jesus knows best and I will follow Him.  There may be times we don’t like what that means.  There may be times when we are tempted to yell. “I want it!”  But thanks be to God He will never give in.  We have to literally deny Him (instead of ourselves) to get something we want when God says, “No.”  Jesus is not a weak, sleep-deprived mom who just wants us to be quiet.  Jesus is the mighty King, holy and righteous who sovereignly dictates His loving boundaries because He loves us.  He has given us Himself.  We have everything we need for life and Godliness in Christ.  We are the children of the King, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Ephesians 6:1, and the Bride of Christ, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:22.  The way up is to kneel down in a heart posture of humility.
Through this filter, picture the child in the shopping cart, eyes fixed on his momma.  He’s watching her every move.  He knows she loves him and will give him what is best for him.  He knows by experience that she is good, loving and generous.  He also knows that she is just and disciplines him when he needs it.  He is secure and at peace.  Anticipating good things, he smiles when she says, “I bought a gift for you.  When we get home we can play with it together.”  Then, he laughs and claps his hands in joyful expectation and says, “I love you, mommy.”
This is a picture of resting in Jesus and the work He has accomplished for us.   “I want it!” transitions to, “nevertheless, not my will but Your will be done.”  I encourage you to write out your own snapshot of hope as the Lord “is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13   What would your reality look like if you set your eyes like flint on Jesus, believing He is who He says He is?  What would your moments look like if you were living in the reality that you are healed?
“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.”  Isaiah 53:5
Idolatry, Insecurity, Pride, Sanctification, Self Righteousness, Submission, Surrender, Uncategorized, Works

Nothing but the Blood

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10

No matter how many times I skim the surface of the water or how much debris is retrieved from the bottom, the pool is never perfectly clean.  It’s not the leaves or the bugs that elude the net but millions of microscopic particles that scatter throughout the water only to gather in mocking, dirt piles on the bottom of the pool.  This job clearly requires something outside my abilities.  In the same way, you and I can NEVER clean ourselves up to the point of purity.  It is a futile task to try to be “good enough” for God to accept us.

This was a lesson I learned the hard way many years ago when I was “doing” well in meeting my standards of the Christian life.  1. Read the bible everyday.  “Check!” 2. Pray for my family and for the lost.  “Check!”  3. Serve in ministry.  “Double check!”  I graded myself an A+ and anything in me that seemed subpar was, of course, someone else’s fault. In other words, after Jesus reached down into the murky waters of my sinful heart and cleansed me from all unrighteousness  I insisted on keeping my own heart pure by using the Christian to-do list.  It didn’t work.  Instead, microscopic particles of sin scattered into mocking piles of pride and self absorption.  Unnoticed because of the stealthiness of self-righteousness I survived for years without much conviction.

Lovingly, God led me to a discipleship class He knew I needed. During the second class there was a lesson on Performance.  It shed light on the error of using the patterns of this world (i.e. A good performance = a good person/reward; What I have and do defines me) and applying them to Christian living.  Being that it was my first time hearing this truth I had questions like:  Trying to earn the approval of God and others by doing the right thing is sin?   The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”    Jesus finished the work, He paid the price, and we are to live accordingly. Our identity comes from Jesus alone, not from anything we have done (good or bad) or will do in the future (good or bad) or from our family (good or bad) or from our past (good or bad).  Furthermore, trying to earn or deserve the “goodness” label is the opposite of  Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  and Romans 15:16 b: “I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit.”    The difference is not in the outward appearance but in the motivation of the heart.  What I was doing was for self glorification, not for God’s glory and definitely not compelled by His love for me but by my love/hate relationship with myself.

Boy, did I have a revelation!  I would love to tell you that I fell to my knees in repentance when God revealed the idolatry of works within my heart.  In actuality, I was angry with God.  After all, I was an A+ christian, right?   Sadly, instead of running to God my pride kept me away from Him.  I stopped reading the bible, stopped praying and, in essence, gave God the silent treatment.   My heart was isolated and cold and Jesus’ warm, sacrificial love was unable to flow through the icy vessel of self. But God… Thank God for the precious blood of Christ!  David knew that only God could create in him a clean heart, purifying him from sin (Psalm 51).  The same is true today.  Only the Holy Spirit can make us holy as He is holy.

When I finally confessed what I believed in my heart – that His grace was not enough – the cross was not enough – the blood was not enough – that I was trying to add to what Jesus did – then the power of pride that dominated my life was broken.  Instead of unseen particles, the piles of dark sin were revealed and obliterated by adding the blood to the pool of my heart.  I still struggle with performing for the wrong reasons, finding myself wondering if it’s good enough, if I’m good enough.  That’s where God’s Word brings freedom when the enemy desires condemnation.  “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Romans 3:10 and Romans 8:1 “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”

Now I see that anything He calls me to do is for His glory.  It’s not about me! His burden is light because He does all the work!  He equips those He calls.  He gives rest when needed.  He is the power source.  I am already accepted to the fullest degree so there is nothing to earn even if I blow it.  His love is deeper and more complete than I could ever imagine and, in the Spirit, it compels me forward to good works because I get to, not because I have to! He is a living Savior and His blood covers all sin. No debris in my flesh is missed!  He will complete what He started.  So, the question now is, “What can wash away my sin?”

Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my cleansing this I see—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
For my pardon this my plea—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

Nothing can my sin erase
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Naught of works, ’tis all of grace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

This is all my hope and peace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
This is all my righteousness—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!