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

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, Humility, Overwhelmed, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Uncategorized

Look Up

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:5

Imagine a well-lit stadium full of enthusiastic believers before a Casting Crown’s concert. Now imagine a “no sense of direction” me trying to find my seat in a sea of people when finally, an usher brings me to “my” seat but in the wrong section.  I was overwhelmed and confused because my husband was not there and was texting, “Where are you?” when I thought I was in the right place.

“I’m lost,” I explained to a different usher, handing him my ticket.

“You’ll need to go all the way up the stairs and around to the next section,” he said, while handing the stub back to me.  I must have looked pretty pathetic because he immediately said, “I’ll take you,” and bounded up the steep stairway.

Just then the stadium went dark and, trying to follow him with two water bottles, my purse and my phone in my hands, I tripped on the concrete steps and fell, dropping the bottles and my pride somewhere in section N.  Disoriented and embarrassed, I looked up and saw the light.  The usher was holding his iPhone with the flashlight shining down the stairs so I could find my way up to him.  Just follow the light.  Walk in the light.  Thankfully, I arrived at my seat without further incident.

A bit shaken, It took me awhile to start enjoying the concert but the genuine love, patience and grace shown by the usher moved me.  This is God’s heart.  His light is always there for us to follow.  He waits patiently for us to get up when we fall.  He doesn’t make fun of us or even chastise us for looking stupid or being late or making a mistake. When we are confused He meets us in our confusion and orders our “steps.”

In many ways this experience had a profound effect, changing my way of thinking about walking in the light as well as living in a state of humility.  In the dark we cannot see and WILL have an accident, be disoriented and lose our way.  However, if there is light, any light, and we focus on it, it serves as a calibrating force in our hearts and minds, pulling us to safety.  Humility, though, is really a sense of selflessness where you find it easy to “look up” and follow God because you are consumed with neither pride nor shame, only Jesus, the Light of the World.

So, although I was embarrassed at first, when I looked up and saw the literal light I chose to follow it instead of hide in utter humiliation.  Now, to be honest, thoughts did swirl through my head like, “Everyone must think I’m drunk, or stupid or clumsy or…” but that kind of thinking is self-focused and not even based in reality.  The fact that everyone was actually watching the concert and NOT me was evident but I felt like they were judging me! Capturing my thoughts was no less awkward then retrieving the rolling water bottles but, like living water, so worth it!  Because God’s light is there for me (both physically and spiritually) I was able to walk out of the darkness by faith one step at a time.

Compare these two Psalms:

“For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.” Psalm 40:12

“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” Psalm 5:3

The first Psalm reveals a self-focused heart heavy with guilt and shame.  The second a God-focused heart full of love and faith.  Although my tripping may seem like a “silly” example, there are all kinds of ways we trip and fall; some more severe and painful then others.  The circumstance doesn’t really matter because the principle is the same.  God is there for you.  He is patient, kind, loving and gracious and waiting for You to… look up.

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12

Obedience, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Uncategorized, Victory

Do Not, But Be

be-transformed

Romans 12:2

Obedience.  It’s what loving parents teach their children, to be obedient for their own good. In fact, we tell our children what to do and what not to do ALL THE TIME because children, left to their own devices, are foolish.  Likewise, in Romans 12:2 our Heavenly Father gives us two imperatives; Do not, but be.

The first command, “Do not be conformed to this world,” is a powerful statement.  It implies danger and choice.  I remember when, as a toddler, my youngest son, Ryan,  was trying to see what was on top of the stove while I was cooking.  “Don’t touch the stove,” I warned,  “It’s hot.”  But, instead of backing away he plopped his hand on top of the stove and burned himself.  I didn’t tell him he would get hurt but I did tell him not to touch the stove.  Yes, his disobedience led to pain but he never did it again.  Ryan tells us today that he knew right from wrong growing up.  “You were good parents,” he told us.   “I chose to do things I knew were wrong at times because I wanted to do them.”

Isn’t that like all of us?  We are not ignorant of God’s Word, we just want to do what we want to do regardless of the consequences.  So, when God says, “do not be conformed to this world,” what does that mean?  What is it that we are not supposed to do?  Well, I believe the answer is in a previous chapter of Romans.  Romans 1 lays out a blueprint for what not to do as a child of God.  It’s a “how to” manual for rejecting God, the One who loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you.   It says, basically, don’t do whatever you want to do, acting like God doesn’t exist, or if He does He isn’t Holy or loving or even The Righteous Judge.  Don’t be deceived, don’t be sexually immoral, a drunkard, etc. But more importantly, don’t turn your back on God and worship the created (yourself or anything else) rather than the Creator.  In short, don’t try to be satisfied with anything other than Me.

The second imperative in Romans 12:2, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,”  is mysterious until you dig into the statement.  “But be transformed” means  “to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure,” from the Greek word metamorphoō (Strong’s G3339).  Think butterfly.  How are we to change into another form?  By the renewing of our minds!  This is our sanctifying cocoon.  Instead of being someone who is pulled toward the world, wants our own way no matter what the consequences, desires to be fulfilled at the expense of other people, indulgent and disobedient to God,  we can be transformed into an other-centered person who loves God and is compelled by His great love to a life of obedience, denying fleshly desires, and following Him even when we don’t fully understand.

This happens when we allow ourselves to be exposed to God’s promises and choose to believe Him over our impulses and feelings.  Even though, as Christians, we are no longer caterpillars we can choose to stay in the cocoon even after God has given us wings.  Or, we can choose to press in and allow God to do the painful work of sanctification in order that we may burst out by faith, trusting that He has given us new life and the ability to “fly” by His power.  We no longer have to let the world pull us down, keeping us grounded in defeat.   We can live in the reality of our new life in christ.  The story of the Ugly Duckling is a perfect illustration.  In the end the “duck” realizes he is a swan.  He has been a swan.  He belongs to a beautiful family of swans and no longer has to try to be a duck or feel ashamed that he is not accepted by the ducks because he doesn’t belong to the duck family anymore.  He is something new altogether.  So are you if you have received the gift God has given us in Jesus.

 

Why do we still choose to walk around on our little caterpillar legs eating milkweed when we have wings and can drink the nectar of fruits and flowers?   God has given us His Word so we can live in freedom today.  Not in Heaven only but right now.   I can hear God saying, “I love you so much I chose to take all the pain and suffering of disobedience.  I want you to live in reality.  I want you to fly and glorify Me as the sunlight bounces off your wings.”  You are free if you have believed that God exists and Jesus has died for your sins and rose again from the dead, proving He is the Son of God.  If you don’t believe it then you are thinking like the world thinks and God is calling you to renew your mind with His Word.  Sit at His feet.  Meditate on His promises.  Read the Gospels, shedding tears of joy because, “If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed!”  John 8:36

Anxiety, Control, Idolatry, Insecurity, Obedience, Pride, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Unbelief, Uncategorized

Chokehold

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'”  Mark 10:21

One Sunday morning in October I saw a young girl with her dad walking toward the Children’s Museum in our small, New England town.  The legs of a stuffed Pooh Bear dangled beneath her right arm, his head peeking over the top of her chokehold.  All three crossed the street together.  The little girl’s left hand was securely tucked into her father’s right as she trotted to keep up with his pace.  My first impression was of the sweet picture this portrayed of our daily walk with Jesus; our secure, surrendered life of following Him.  My second thought concerned the Pooh Bear.   This little girl wasn’t content just holding daddy’s hand as she followed.  She needed Pooh to make her feel secure.

Of course,  I have one or two Pooh Bears under my arm of control for security too.  While I know in my mind that Jesus is enough there is a tendency to cling to other things while trying to follow Jesus.  “Pooh Bears” like savings, good health, ministry and family make me feel safe and secure.  However, anxiety rushes into my heart whenever I fear they may be slipping away.  My grip tightening with every anxious thought, I hold on to what I perceive as essential for my security by its furry little neck.  This happened a couple of weeks ago when we received a large but expected bill.  Emotionally spinning because it was outside my comfort zone of spending, my mind started flipping from asking, “What were we thinking!”  to “Why is this service so expensive!”   My Pooh Bear (savings) was in danger!

This incident was so revealing because I didn’t even know I had a chokehold in this area.  It took a few days of unpacking for God to reveal the content of my heart.  Using the key of confession (I’m sorry Lord that I don’t trust You to take care of me and believe I have to protect myself) and repentance (I choose to believe You over my feelings of insecurity, accepting Your forgiveness and choosing to walk in the truth that You will never leave me or forsake me and You have given me everything for life and Godliness) God opens the door freedom.   When I choose to look up and see that my Father has my hand and will never let me go there is an overwhelming sense of peace and security.  My  Pooh Bears, I realize, are only gifts to enjoy.  Like a carrot in the hand of a child feeding a horse they are meant to be held with an open palm lest my fingers get nipped.  His love enables the open hand.

In addition, although there are times when I am totally surrendered, walking in lock-step with God’s glorious pace, admittedly there are also times when I do insist that Jesus “follow me.”   Instead of holding other things in my grip for security I try to get hold of Jesus ’round the neck and choke out the sound of His voice, refusing to surrender to His life in me.  The result is mental chaos and feelings of isolation.  No longer walking in The Light I grope around in emotional darkness.  Insisting on my way while stumbling across the dangerous terrain of rebellion until He brings me to the end of myself.    Here, again at the altar of confession and repentance,  He restores my soul while I allow Him to wash my feet, getting me ready to follow HIM once again.

So, whether the sin revealed is idolatry or rebellion He is waiting to heal every dark place.  The key is recognizing when you are stuffed with other things or getting ahead of Him.  How can we know?  The answer is in Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.”

If you ask Him He will search your heart, revealing any unclean thing and, with His righteous right hand holding yours, lead you in the everlasting way. His path is straight.  We can follow Him with confidence, joy and peace, trotting all the way to Heaven with His good gifts held loosely in open hands of praise. \O/

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”  John 8:12

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
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

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!