Friday, December 16, 2011

Hope in the Lord

"Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, 
and ye that hope in the Lord."


Psalm 31:23


On September 11, 2001 I woke up about 5:00 am and could not go back to sleep. I turned on the TV to watch the local news program just in time to see the planes crash into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I was stunned. As I watched all of the sights and sounds of our nation’s attack, the personal testimonies and the pictures of suffering families were overwhelming. Yet, the Lord was so real and such and encouragement to me during the week that followed. As I saw the first scenes unfold on TV, the Holy Spirit began bringing Scripture to my mind. The words of King David, whose life was surrounded by chaos and danger, brought to my mind that God is my stability and rock in the midst of chaos. This passage encouraged me to trust God's stability in seemingly unstable situations, "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge." Psalm 62:5-8.
The morning after the attack I woke up with a praise song running through my head. It was a powerful song about Christ's return. Then I turned on the TV and I saw a mother from California sharing how her son, Mark had called her from the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. He told her he knew they were going to die no matter what they did so they were going to try to take control of the plane back so no one on the ground would die. He told her calmly he loved her and then 12 minutes later he died. She looks at his call as a beautiful gift, proud that he would give his life to save others. 
As I left to walk and pray for her, I was reminded of Christ going to the Garden of Gethsemane to talk to His Father about His imminent death. I wondered if the mother and son shared the same emotions as Christ shared with His Father that dark night long ago. As Christ intensely prayed, God whose very nature is love had to ache, knowing what Christ would endure. Yet, just as the mother expressed comfort she had in her son's sacrifice, our heavenly Father and Christ were comforted by the joy of people being redeemed and reconciled to God. As I contemplated the cross, the song I had woken up thinking about came flooding back unto my head. The first words of the chorus are, "Behold He Comes, riding on the clouds!" When I checked my email, I found some German friends had written of their concern for us. They ended their letter with a praise that Christ is coming back! Both the song and the sentiment our friends expressed are reflective of Revelation 14:14 and Revelation 19:11-16. "And I looked and, behold, a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat, like the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle…And I saw heaven opened and, behold, a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but He himself. And He was clothed with vesture dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies that were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations, and He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and He treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords."
Out of New York's tragedy I learned I live too much in the shadow of the cross. Even though we are brought back to the cross every time we confess and repent of sin or take communion, we need to also embrace the truth that Christ has been resurrected and He is coming back. When we focus on the truth that we serve a living God who is victorious over both sin and death we are free to live in a way that honors God. While the cross is a beautiful picture of His outrageous love, our strength comes in remembering His power displayed in the resurrection. If we live in light of the truth that He is coming back, we will be comforted by knowing when He returns He will rule and reign in all of His glory and justice will be carried out perfectly. By remembering the descriptions found in Revelation we are able to live courageously in the face of these hard events that ordinarily paralyze us. We are able to love people who are not easy to love, able to say no to nagging temptations, and be able to grieve losses as people who have full confidence in God's faithfulness. 
May I ask you of you are living in the light of His promise to return? Does that truth purify your heart and give you the courage to love boldly and courageously? Do you long for His return?

Prayer: Father, the 9-11 tragedy is still hard to comprehend. Please continue to be with families who lost loved ones that day. Help us trust in Christ's power during all tragedy’s we face. Draw our minds to the fact that Christ is coming back with his glory fully manifested for He is Faithful and True, King of Kings and Lord of Lords and will reign in love and perfect righteousness. Amen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Blessed Forgiveness

"And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, 
by whom you are sealed unto the day of redemption."
Ephesians 4:30--Part 4

Today I am finishing up the last part of the verses surrounding Ephesians 4:30, in particular Ephesians 4:31-33. "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
I have always wanted to be a kind and compassionate person. That desire came out of knowing two sweet elderly ladies, both of which had tremendously hard lives and suffered major grief. One was a very loving person in spite of a great deal of anger and bitterness, while the other was loving and full of joy, displaying a deep abiding faith in the Lord. By having known them both, I was given the opportunity to see what God could do in me if I took my hurt and anger to Him. I have found it hard to forge people that deeply wounded me. A part of me wanted to hold on to anger, because it felt powerful and I believed it would protect me from further hurt. However, the big problem with unresolved anger was it kept me in bondage to the persons who hurt me and hindered my love relationship with God and others. It also kept me from enjoying God working in and through me.
Paul used several different words for anger. Bitterness is a hostility that has settled deep into one’s soul. It has the potential to poison our whole being. Bitterness leads to wrath, which is an outward explosion towards others. It is a volatile outward expression of inward feelings. Wrath and anger can then lead to brawling, which is fighting with fists. Another by-product of wrath is evil speaking, which is purposely using words to pound another’s soul.
Bitterness grieves the Holy Spirit. One of the reasons we lose our joy when we are bitter is because the Holy Spirit who indwells grieves. Why does our bitterness grieve the Holy Spirit? First, it is because it reflects a lack of faith on our part. Loving God and loving people will at times cause great pain. As we allow the Lord to turn cold angry hearts into hearts full of compassion, we will be able to see past sin that has hurt us and see what sin is doing to the other person. Then we are more capable of forgiving and returning evil with kindness. Our whole basis for forgiving is based on the fact that Jesus bought our forgiveness when He died for us. He died when we didn't deserve it or show much promise. Yet, He knew how His Spirit could change us. We may never know what God can do in another person if we're not willing for Him to demonstrate His love and forgiveness through us. It could also grieve Him because it blocks us from loving God and others well and keeps us from enjoying His love and blessings. Lastly, it keeps us from experiencing God as the Healer who gives us the strength and the ability to sacrificially love others.
Is it easy to forgive? Sometimes it is. Other times it is very difficult and we can only do it with the Lord's strength. One thing that has helped me learn to forgive is to realize that it is a faith issue. To forgive from the heart, we have had to learn to be really honest with God about our feelings we experience and face what was in our hearts when we got hurt. We have to trust God to love us no matter how we are feeling when we present that hurt to Him. We then have to be willing to let God heal the hurt and then give up the fear of being hurt again, asking Him what Godly love looks like towards that person. It also requires trusting God to be sufficient enough to heal any future hurts that we might experience.
To become a compassionate and kind people, we cannot stuff anger and bitterness. Nor, can we deny it, letting it brew beneath the surface. We can bring it to the throne of grace and let God's light expose it and melt it away. It may be an uncomfortable process but the joy that follows makes it worth it. I wonder how each of us is doing in the area of forgiving others? Are we trying to protect ourselves by holding on to some anger and hurt? Are we willing to develop a deeper intimacy with God by telling Him our hurts and letting Him heal them? Are we willing to let Him show you us how to love those who hurt us with a bold godly love? It doesn’t mean going back for more abuse, because a godly love confronts with the hope of reconciliation, growth, and restoration. A godly love isn’t one that puts up with abusive behaviors, it sets godly boundaries that call another to live in light and love. We would do well to remember that as many times as another person hurts us with his or her actions, it will never be as many as we hurt the Lord--our forgiveness cost the Lord His life. 

Prayer: Father, please teach each of us to be totally real and transparent with you. Help us to not bury hurts deep inside or let them fester. Help us to forgive as you did and to replace the feelings of hurt with your compassion and kindness. Most of all help us be people who love You and don't grieve you. Even the fact that you grieve over us is a reflection of your love for us. Thank you. Amen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Getting Rid of Bitterness

"And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, 
by whom you are sealed unto the day of redemption."
Ephesians 4:30--Part 4

Today I want to focus on the verses following the above verse – Ephesians 4:31-33. "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
I think I have always wanted to be a kind and compassionate person. That desire came out of knowing two very dear elderly ladies both of which had tremendously hard lives and suffered through some major grief. One was a very loving person in spite of a great deal of lingering anger and bitterness, while the other was loving and full of joy, displaying a deep abiding faith in the Lord. By having known them both, I was given the opportunity to see what God could do in me if I took my hurt and my anger to Him rather than holding on to it. I believe it is human to struggle with forgiving people when we experience deep hurt. It is normal to experience anger, which can feel like it is protecting us from further hurt. However, the big problem with unresolved anger is that it keeps us in bondage to the person who has hurt us and it hinders our love relationship with God and with others. Anger and bitterness also keeps us from enjoying having God work in us and through us.
It is helpful to identify and define the different words Paul used for anger. Bitterness is used to mean hostility that has settled into one’s soul poisoning a person’s whole being. Bitterness often leads to wrath, which is an outward explosion towards others. It is a volatile outward expression of the inward feelings. Wrath and anger can lead to physical fights or it can be expressed through evil speaking, which is purposely using words to damage another person’s soul.
Bitterness grieves the Holy Spirit. One of the reasons we lose our joy when we are bitter is because the Holy Spirit who indwells us is grieving. Why does it grieve the Holy Spirit? First, it reflects a lack of faith on our part. Loving God and loving people will at times cause us great pain. As we allow the Lord to turn our cold angry hearts into hearts filled with compassion, we will be able to see past a sin that has hurt us and see what it is doing to the person. Then we are able to forgive and return evil with kindness. Our whole basis for forgiving is based on the fact that Jesus bought our forgiveness when He died for us. He died when we didn't deserve it or show much promise. Yet, He knew how His Spirit could change us. We may never know what God can do in another person if we are not willing for Him to demonstrate His love and forgiveness through us. It could also grieve Him because it blocks us from loving God and others. It also keeps us from enjoying His love and blessing for us. Lastly, it keeps us from being able to experience God as he heals and gives us the strength to sacrificially love others.
Is it easy to forgive? Sometimes it is a cinch. At other, times when the offense is heinous and/or continuously being repeated it can be very difficult and we can only do it with the Lord's strength. One thing that has helped me learn to forgive is to realize that it is a faith issue. To forgive from the heart, I have to be willing to let go of my desire for revenge or change and trust that God will work in the person’s life and do what is best for me and the person who has hurt me. I have had to learn to be really honest with God about my feelings and face what is in my heart when I got hurt. I have to then choose to trust God to love me no matter how I am feeling when I present that hurt to Him. I then have to be willing to let God heal the hurt and be willing to give up the fear of being hurt again. I often ask God what Godly love looks like towards a person who has hurt me. It also requires faith in that I have to choose to trust God to be sufficient to heal any future hurts that I experience.
To be a compassionate and kind person, I can’t stuff anger and bitterness inside and pretend that it isn’t there, because it will either ooze out in sarcasm or it will erupt in explosive anger. This means I can't deny it, can't let it simmer, and can’t lie about it. I have to bring it to the throne of grace and let God's light expose it and melt it away. It may be an uncomfortable process but the joy that follows makes it worth it. May I ask you on a scale of 1 – 10, how are you doing in the area of forgiving others? Are you trying to protect yourself by holding on to some anger and hurt? Are you willing to develop a deeper intimacy with God by telling Him your hurts and letting Him heal them? Are you willing to let Him show you how to love those who hurt you with a bold godly love? It does not mean going back for more abuse, because godly love includes confrontation, with the hope of reconciliation and restoration. Godly love also includes consequences when others violate us. It is important for us to realize that as many times as another person hurts us with her actions, it will never be as many as we hurt the Lord. Our forgiveness cost the Lord His life – the question is are you and am I ready to forgive?
Prayer: Father, please teach each of us to be totally real and transparent with you. Help us to not bury hurts deep inside or let them fester. Help us to forgive as you did and to replace the feelings of hurt with your compassion and kindness. Most of all help us be people who love You and don't grieve you. Even the fact that you grieve over us is a reflection of your love for us. Thank you. Amen.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Grieve Not The Spirit

"And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, 
by whom you are sealed unto the day of redemption."
Ephesians 4:30--Part 3

When I first became a Christian, I had this concept of God being distant and angry. It never occurred to me God might feel grieved by what I do, rather than angry. But the verses say we can grieve the Holy Spirit! One of the important concepts for us to grasp is we don't want to concentrate merely on ceasing from sin. Apart from loving God and wanting to not grieve His heart we have very little motivation to change. When we talk about ceasing from sin, we want to replace sinful behaviors with godly behaviors.
Verse 27 says, "He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need." The reason we are not to steal is because we are called to be a reflection of our Creator. He is a God who gives gifts rather that stealing from His creation. I usually think about work in the sense that it pays bills and provides things we want. I have never thought of working with the motive of being able to share with those in need. When I think about working to share with others I think of books like Little Women where godly men and women took food to the ill and they made clothes for the poor. Sometimes I give a bag of used clothes to Goodwill or Mexico missions, but when I went to Mexico and watched the little girls playing, I pictured them in pretty little jumpers with flowers on them. The material would be new, brightly colored, and have that new stiff feeling to it. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if maybe God was calling me to provide more than my "leftovers."
Sometimes I contemplate going back to school and to work and I think after meditating on this passage I would have a motive that is more noble than selfish. I would do it to share with those who truly have needs, not to just buy more and more things. Do keep in mind that there are a lot of ways we could be stealing…are we giving our best to our bosses, pilfering things from work, misusing some one's property or borrowing and not returning?
Verse 29 is also a verse that deals with relationships. "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen." This verse parallels verse 28 in that it is instructing us to be centered more on the needs of others than on our own. While the other verse was instructing those who stole to replace their behavior with working with the intent of giving to those in need, this verse is telling us to pay attention to the needs of another person and then meet those needs with Godly speech. So often our speech consists of empty chatter, put downs, gossip, or slander. I think the gist of this verse is telling us to be focused on the other person so our speech benefits them. Empty chatter is just talk we talk to be heard with the motive of being the center of attention. "Put downs" are intentional hurtful things or jokes at the expense of others so we can feel more important. Gossip and slander are intentional acts of hatred that belittle others and direct the listener to think things about the other person we want them to think. There are a lot of other things like bad language and coarse jokes that don't benefit others either. The real key is that we need to be intentional in our speech so that it meets the needs of others–needs like edification, encouragement, exhortation, and comfort.
Do our words shame or do they build up another person when she is down or when she is struggling with doubts? Do they encourage a friend to forgive or do they fan the flame of a conflict she is seeking counsel about? Do they affirm their growth and bring laughter to their soul or inflict pain? Do they increase their joy or cause sorrow? Do they ask those hard questions that need to be asked to draw them back to the Lord or do that dismiss sin as no big deal? Is the Holy Spirit a part of every conversation we have or are we even mindful of His presence? Do we allow Him to direct us to discern a person's needs or do we ignore that voice drawing us to serve? 
He can show us how to use the gift of speech to meet other’s needs. One night my husband and I were in the car going somewhere after he had been out of town. We were both bursting at the seams with news and talking about the things that had happened in our lives while we were apart. After awhile I started laughing, because we were not responding to what the other person said. It was like two totally different conversations happening at once and neither of us took the time to listen or validate the other’s feelings or to respond to each other. I hope we can become so intentional so our words count. That seems extreme, but then we serve an extreme God who loved with intentional words and intentional actions. We worship a God who was so extreme in His love for us that He was willing to die. To be like Him we must be extreme.

Prayer: Father, how often we work with wrong motives or seek to have things given us. Help us work so we can give. How often we say words that are self-serving rather than benefiting those who hear. Help us love others enough to learn about people we communicate with so that we might meet their needs. You call us to put other's needs over our own, that is being a living sacrifice, isn't it? To live a life in which every word counts seems so extreme, help us grow into people who do that. Make us aware of empty words and self - serving speech patterns. Help us to love by listening and responding appropriately. Amen.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Don’t Give the Devil Access

"And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, 
by whom you are sealed unto the day of redemption."
Ephesians 4:30--Part 2

Verses 26 and 27 say, "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun set while you are angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." Sometimes we believe the lie that anger is sin and believe we are bad if we experience angry. That is not true. Anger is a God-given emotion aroused by something that displeases us. It is like a barometer saying something is not right and needs to be addressed. Anger is not sin, because God gets angry. (Look in Deuteronomy 9:8 20, Psalm 2:12, Numbers 25:4, Jeremiah 4:8, 12:13). The Bible talks about anger being kindled, which would indicate it is like fire and begins with a little spark and grows from there. Smoldering anger is something we call malice, which can burst forth like a wild fire and it becomes wrath. Today's passage is telling us to be angry, but not to sin. We need to understand that because our perceptions and emotions can be tainted by sin, it is really hard for us to do this. If we realize misusing our anger or sinning in anger grieves the Lord we might be a little more motivated to manage it in a healthy way. So, what are we supposed to do with our anger?
There are several things that we can do. Psalm 97:10 says, "You that love the Lord, hate Evil." In the New Testament we are told to love our neighbor, bless those who persecute us, pray for those who despitefully use us. So, we should hate evil, even be enraged by it, while at the same time loving the person behind the sin. Matthew 5:25 tells us when we have a disagreement we should settle it quickly. Matthew 18:15 tells us that when we have a problem with someone we should go to them in private. Let's stop and think a moment about what these verses are telling us. First, there are times we should be angry. Second, being angry and not sinning does not mean we are not to express the anger. However, it does mean we are to learn to express it in an appropriate way in a timely manner. It means we do that in private and in love. When someone hurts us, at first the anger will reflect a boundary that has been crossed in an inappropriate way. But if we stop and pray about that, before we address the problem, we will see that the anger becomes anger at the sin and the desire is to help that person deal with the sin that hurt us. Confrontation needs to be done in love with the hope of reconciliation…that takes time and effort and is not a hit and run thing.
We also need to realize that under the anger are usually more vulnerable emotions like fear, hurt, or frustration. The fear may be triggered when we are threatened emotionally, physically, or spiritually. Sometimes we want the anger to help us stay safe, but at other times we may need to face the fear and share our heart with someone who would benefit from our fear. Hurt may be caused by someone’s careless thoughts or actions and they may be more prone to change if we share our hurt rather than the anger covering it. If our anger is covering frustration it could be due to blocked goals and if we look at the frustration rather than the anger we may be able to discern how to approach the blocked goals to get what we need. If we look at what these emotions are and express them rather than the anger covering them, we may be more successful at achieving the changes we need. This is because we will understand better what we have been angry about, can help another understand the pain they have caused if we allow ourselves to go there, and sharing our pain may get us further in changing a relationship than sharing our anger.
Why is this important? First, in Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus says anger is the first step toward murder because it gives the devil a foothold into our lives. Because he seeks to destroy, he fuels it by the lies he plants in our heads. I wonder if we will ever know how many times Satan destroys communication among families, friends and churches. Anger, when it is not dealt with, smolders like a fire and is fanned by Satan and explodes on others or it becomes self-destructive. The way to quench it is to deal with the situations and relationships causing it. Anger that isn’t dealt with leads to things like bitterness, gossip, backbiting, slander, and even overreacting to other events. Godly confrontation, restoration of relationship and forgiveness puts out smoldering resentments that turn simple anger into bitterness that erupts into rage. Aristotle wrote, "Anyone can be angry, but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way is not easy." I agree with him. Sometimes we think it is powerful to aggressively express anger. However, to express anger by confronting friends in private in a loving manner that seeks invites God's work in their lives takes more strength and more faith than erupting at someone.
It is important for us to ask ourselves what makes it to deal with anger in the right way? Is it because we thought it was sin so we didn’t admit we were angry? Do we feel really vulnerable when we let someone know they’ve hurt us? Have we ever even seen anger handled incorrectly? If we’ve seen it mishandled, we may fear trying to express it. If we set our hearts on honoring and obeying the Lord and leave the results to Him, we can do what is right. To be honest, sometimes the results will be what we hope they will be and sometimes they will not, but it is in the obedience that we keep from grieving HIM!

Prayer: Lord, we thank You for the way you have made us! That includes emotionally. We confess to you that sin has distorted what makes us angry and how we respond to that. Help us to be angry at sin and to love the sinner. Help us to be angry at things like divorce, injustice and not caring for the helpless…your word says those things make you angry. Help us to use anger to reconcile relationships and restore a sinning brother. Help us to ask for forgiveness and to give forgiveness quickly. Amen.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Precious “Fear Not’s”

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, 
you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; 
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; 
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, 
and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD 
your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… 
You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you”Isaiah 43:1-4

I have become passionate about the “fear not’s” in the Bible. I know it is because I used to view them as admonitions, rather than encouragements. This I is one of my favorite passages, because it’s so obvious God loves us, even when we’re fearful. I used to perceive God as being angry and distant when I was fearful and as a result experienced shame, which kept me from going to Him in the midst of fearful circumstances. It’s so obvious in this passage God encourages the fearful and faint in heart.

In this passage He does several things. First, He reminds me He has redeemed me. This means I’m adopted, accepted, beloved, and secure in Him. Second He promises me He’ll be with me in trouble and that the troubles won’t overwhelm me. Honestly there are times I feel overwhelmed. But the truth is it is because at times I forget who God is and who I am in Christ. As I read these verses it makes it clear I will experience trouble and may be tempted to believe it is a sign I have been abandoned by God, but He promises He won’t abandon me. He will be with me and if I believe that I won’t be overwhelmed. He also promises when we go through refining fires, we won’t be burned. It may be painful to be refined, but in the long run, the refining process is bringing about the abundant life.

The thing I like most about this passage is God reminds me of who He is and what He thinks of me. “The Lord your God” has a connotation of belonging and intimacy. “The Holy One” has the connotation of His pure character and the fact that He can’t lie. “Your Savior” reminds me that He loved me so much that He took my sin into His body and died on the cross to save me from God's wrath my sin deserved.

“You are precious in my eyes!” Wow, those words are so powerful that they touch my heart at the core. I used to have such a poor sense of self worth, that I found it hard to believe other people were happy to see me. I remember becoming so uncomfortable and confused when people smiled at me and seemed glad to see me. It was no different with God. I assumed that when I came to Him in prayer that I bothered Him. How wrong that perception was! This verse says I am precious in His eyes. He delights in me the same way that I delight in seeing someone I love! And to be sure I got the message, God added that I am honored in His sight, and I am loved.

God’s instruction to fear not is not a heartless command given by a demanding God. It flows out of a heart that loves us, delights in us, and truly wants us to get the most out of life. We live in a fallen world and will experience troubles and go through some difficult trials God will use to refine our character, but if we take God at His Word and believe He is with us at those times, we will develop great intimacy as we trust Him to work all things to our good and His glory. How differently we will respond to those troubles when we truly believe He is with us, loves us, and considers us precious.

Can I encourage you to reflect on what you have thought and felt about your fear? How have you viewed God’s response to your fear? Do you believe that the “fear not’s” followed by God’s reminders are encouragements rather than admonitions? What does it mean to you and your life to know that you are precious in His sight?

Prayer: Father, thank you for promising to be with us every moment of every day. Thank you for speaking hope into our lives when we are afraid. Thank you for promising to help us through everything that we face. We love you and want to honor you even in the midst of our fear. Amen.

Deep Worship flows from Grace-filled Hearts

I love these verses found in Luke7:36-50: "…When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she bought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them…" They are a beautiful account of a woman who understood the love of Christ. The account tells us about her repentant heart that loved deeply because she experienced the forgiveness of Jesus for the sinful life that she had lived. 

In this story, Christ was invited into the home of a Pharisee named Simon, who had not treated Him like an honored guest was to be treated in that day. The customs of the time would call for him to have his servants wash Christ's feet and anoint His head with oil because He was considered by many to be a prophet, but neither was done. 

When she entered the home, Christ was reclining at Simon’s table to eat. She stood at His feet. She was a woman who was known for her sinful lifestyle. She was most likely a prostitute. As she stood there, her tears begin to fall on his feet and she took her hair, which was considered a woman's glory and wiped her tears from His feet. Not feeling worthy of anointing his head, she poured a bottle of perfume on His feet and then wiped it off as well.

Upon seeing the scene unfold in his home, Simon thought, "If Christ were really a prophet, he would have known what kind of woman was anointing His feet." Christ, knowing his thoughts, confronted Simon as only God could. He pointed out she had done what Simon had failed to do. He then used a parable to show that because she had been forgiven much, she was able to love much. She had been so humbled the grace Christ had shown her that she wept hard enough to anoint his feet with her tears. 

The self-righteous Simon could not comprehend that he, too, needed the grace Jesus offered. As a result, He didn’t experience Jesus' love, which lead to his failure to love both the Lord and the woman, both of whom were guests in His home. He strongly resented the woman's outpouring of worship. 

Ironically, the actions of each person involved revealed their hearts. It was the young prostitute standing in the presence of a Holy God, weeping and worshiping unashamedly, who in a bold action clothed with humility, wiped His “dirty” feet with her hair, continuously kissing them and covering them with expensive perfume. It was bold. It was loving. And, it was kind. It was the only way she knew to worship Him. 

When I struggle with sin, I tend to "beat myself up" and withdraw from the Lord. I want to hide from others and shut down my emotions so I don't feel the guilt and the shame that comes from hiding sin.  If an invitation is given to pray with someone about our struggles, I often remain in my chair worried about what others might think. She was different! She fully understood God’s grace and she, a sinful woman, publicly accepted it. Even more importantly, He accepted her worship. This woman's actions show us how to let the Jesus' light pierce the darkness of our sin. I realize that His grace has a way of hurting as it humbles us and pours His love into our hearts. It is in that state that we can respond with the same kind of bold love that she demonstrated through her act of worship. This woman's actions were a testimony of her deep understanding of God's forgiveness. 

By contrast, we have the Pharisee, Simon, who was embarrassed that she had entered his home and talked to his guest. He chose to focus more on the cultural morals that said that it was not proper for teachers of the Scripture to talk to women publicly, especially those labeled by their sin. In doing so, he failed to recognize the redemptive work done in her heart by the God reclining at his table. Because of his pride and his self-righteousness, he didn’t experience Christ’s love that was being offered to him. He refused to look honestly at His own heart and the sin residing there. He refused to acknowledge the harsh judgements he held on to. He didn't grasp that God’s love wasn’t based on his performance, but on the Lord’s character. Because Simon had not experienced Christ’s love, He could not love the woman as Christ did. 

The woman was guilty. She was guilty of very visible sins and her sin had had huge consequences on her life both relationally and socially. Simon was just as guilty. And, His sins were invisible ones like pride and self-righteousness which resulted in him showing a lack of love. His sins were just as deeply rooted in his heart as hers were rooted in her heart. Both were equally guilty before a holy God. It is interesting that both Simon and the nameless woman came face-to-face with Jesus, but sad that they responded so differently to Him. In Christ’s presence, she understood who she was, but he continued to deny who he was. She publicly recognized Christ as Messiah, while he silently questioned Christ’s deity. She was humbled by His presence, while he grew more indignant. She believed Jesus was the Messiah, he did not. Though, they both tried to publicly honor Christ—she through her anointing and him through his banquet, their actions flowed from very different hearts. Her heart was filled with love and grace, his pride and arrogance. 

Do we judge people the way Simon did? Do we look someone over as they come in our church doors and wonder what they are doing there? Jesus came to set sinners free. We would do well to recognize a girl’s inappropriate dress may indicate her desperate need of love and our eye rolls and whispers could drive her away from the very thing she needs. We would do well to recognize a guy cussing and talking rough needs Christ as much as we who know how to talk the language of the church. We would do well to remember God wants us to boldly and humbly approach him with the sin in our lives, trusting God's love is big enough to see the broken hearts beneath it. I want to be someone who worships as honestly and sincerely as she did in the face of criticism. We would do well to remember tears are not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith, they are a sign of worship in its purest form. 

Homesick


"All these people were still living by faith when they died. 
They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them 
and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that 
they were aliens and strangers on earth…they were longing 
for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not 
ashamed to be called their God".

Hebrews 11:13, 16

Have you ever thought you understood what faith is only to face something difficult or read something that leaves you trying to redefine it? Having grown up without solid discipleship, I realized I have had some misconceptions about Christianity and the role faith plays in it. For a while I thought faith was a feeling I had to muster up to get God to act in the way I thought He should act. However, He has shown me I cannot force Him into a mold or manipulate Him with prayer. Today I would define faith as a choice of taking God at His word and choosing to cling to Him no matter what happens from my perspective. When life is confusing, faith is choosing to believe He is still forever sovereign. When I am weak, it is choosing to believe He is my strength. When I feel forgotten, it is choosing to believe that He has His ears turned toward me. When I feel unloved, it is choosing to believe He passionately and radically loves me.
My main misconception of the Christian life was that once I trusted Christ that everything would always be easy. However, Hebrews 11 really makes it clear that is not true. The above verses say even though the people were still living by faith when they died, they did not receive the things promised. However, the reason for their joy is in the next phrases. They saw the promises of God and they welcomed them from a distance and embraced the fact that they were longing for a better country, a heavenly home. What does it mean that they "welcomed them from afar?" It meant they were anticipating Christ's return and preparing to welcome Him in the same way a pregnant mom and dad prepares to welcome a new baby into their hearts before she arrives. During my first pregnancy I was consumed with thoughts of seeing my baby for the first time. I dreamed of what seeing him for the first time would be like. I dreamed about nursing him and holding him close to my heart. The whole nine months my heart was focused on him. Even when I read the Bible, I was searching for how to be a good mom and how to raise Godly children. We are to live with that same kind of expectation for Jesus--deriving joy because we know His promises are true and He is truly coming back. We are to live with such a deep longing for intimacy with Him that we focus on His return. We can relate to Him now through Bible study and prayer. However, in the future we will see Him face to face and be able to touch His love-scarred hands. We will look into His eyes and see the tenderhearted compassion He has towards us. We will see the complete forgiveness and acceptance that He has told us about in His word.
Secondly, the people in Hebrews 11 longed for a better home. They knew a place where they would be no sin, no fear, and no tears was coming! And, in their maturity they recognized some promises would not be fulfilled until they had passed into the next phase of their lives. They knew they had to live with the painful longings of face-to-face fellowship with Christ as He gives us glimpses of Himself satisfying momentarily our thirst for intimacy in this life so that we long for the true richness of that eternally when we will get to heaven. Sometimes our longing to have deep intimacy with God will leave us lonelier than before we were saved. The difference now is that we know without a doubt we will someday be filled once and for all. 
The more our minds are focused on God, the clearer it becomes that this world is not our home. We will never again feel like we "fit in" like we did before we became believers. We have a different Father and speak a different language. We have a different purpose for living. Our desires and our dreams have changed. God has created in us a deep longing for heaven--an unquenchable homesickness that won't be relieved in this life. I have had a few bouts of homesickness that literally made me sick. First when I went away to college, then when my fiancĂ© was working in another state the summer we were planning our wedding and then the third time was when we moved from Mississippi. I have not experienced anything that was as painful as those three periods of time…my heart literally ached deep inside and nothing eased the hurt. What I am trying to convey is that faith is a wonderful and yet often uncomfortable experience. While we now have peace with God we also have a new set of emotions to experience. Feelings of alienation that sometimes accompany a sense of being accepted by God and not belonging to this world. Feelings of homesickness for Jesus face-to-face. We may experience the joy of knowing He is present in our lives, while at the same time painfully long to be with Him. With the new sense of purpose we also have a deeper emptiness that will only be filled when we are face to face with Christ.
Do you long to be face to face with Christ? Do you find yourself at times empty and sad because you long for a relationship with Him that is not marred by sin, separated by time, and His invisibility? Do you feel like an alien in this world and long for place to truly call home?

Prayer: Lord, please help each of us to trust you in the tough times as well as the good. Help us to set aside misconceptions about you and get to know you through your word. Help us to realize you truly are a person not a puppet we control by our "faith." Help us reflect you so much that we truly look like aliens living in a foreign land to the world. Please fill us so that we live boldly for you while we long for nothing but You. Thank you for your promises because they are true and sure. Amen.

What Love Looks Like

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another 
above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, 
serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 
Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, 
but be willing to associate with people of low position. 
Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. 
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 
If it is possible as far as it depends on you live at peace with everyone. 
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, 
for it is written; "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 
On the contrary; "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, 
give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals 
on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." -
Romans 12:9-21

John 13:35 says, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another." I can’t help but wonder if this was why Paul gave such practical advice in this Romans:12 passage that describes what love looks like--love is real, transparent, and sincere even when we are tempted to hide. Love abhors evil and clings to what is good even in the face of temptation. Love is being kind when a person deserves it and even when they don't. Love is not being conceited, but putting others first even when everything in us is crying out, "Me first!" Love is not robbing our bosses of time, but giving them our best even when they don't deserve it. Love is being passionate in serving the Lord and in serving others even when they are ungrateful. Love is blessing those that persecute us, rather than cursing them even in the face of their curses. Love is giving good even in the face of evil. Oh, those last two things require a great amount of trust in God to be our defender and to help us overcome an evil act with a good one. 
Love means staying engaged, not avoiding or running from another even when they are acting like an enemy. It is being willing to share in the emotions with others by rejoicing with those that rejoice and even weeping with those that weep. It is looking at all people the same even if the are rich or even if they are poor. It is looking at them the same regardless of the color of their skin even if it is different than our own. It is looking at the same no matter what educational level they have achieved. Love is being honest so our words are trustworthy. Lastly, love assumes responsibility to make peace with people even if they don't approach us. 
There are three things that stick out in verse 12. When I was going through a long painful trial I prayed with a friend and realized I was not living out this verse. I have not been rejoicing in the trial and my friend exhorted me to remember that God was a God of miracles and a God who changes hearts. I also realized that I could rejoice because of who God is--even though the situation appeared hopeless, I knew ultimately that my God was not! I had not been patient in the tribulation. I wanted the trial to end and I wanted it to end now. I wanted a quick and easy resolution. I wanted to experience peace immediately. However, to become more like Christ, to love like He loves, and to learn to face trials with courage and grace, I had to face the long trial.
I also realized during that time I was not being diligent in prayer. I had learned to pour out my heart to God, but I have neglected many things. I had neglected to praise him in the pain, to pray for those involved in the trial, to ask God how He would want me to respond specifically in specific situations in the trial, and to ask Him how He would want me to demonstrate love. 
How am I doing in the love department now? Better, but not perfect. I know now that to love sincerely requires God’s transforming power in my own heart. To be kind when I am tired and under pressure requires I let His kindness shine through me when I believe I have nothing to give. To keep working when I am exhausted means I allow God to help me stay focused and energized. Giving to other's needs and sharing in hospitality requires I make sacrifices and learn to depend on God to meet my needs. To rejoice and weep with people requires I be transparent and let them see God laughing and weeping in me. To love my enemies is a mark of maturity and is only possible when I walk closely with God. Elizabeth Elliot went to the tribal people who had murdered her husband to share Christ with them. I don't know if I could do that, but I want God to get me to the place I could.
No matter what my circumstances and trials--I know you are going through them, too--are we able to rejoice that we serve a God who is powerful enough to change the hardest hearts into loving and kind hearts, to calm storms, and heal deep wounds? Are we able to be patient in a tribulation and ask God to do His perfect work in us? Are we diligent in prayer, in both the good times and the hard times? When life seems hopeless it is time to praise Him for who He is to strengthen our faith. When our hearts hurt, it is time to focus on His love so our hearts can heal! When circumstances seem stormy, it is time to focus on faithfulness to keep us safe through the storm. His light shines the brightest during the darkest moments. Looking to Him enables us to see Him more clearly and become more like Him. Christ’s love shined brightest during His darkest moment, the question is, will ours?

Prayer: Father, You have loved us with a perfect, sacrificial, and eternal love. You have called us to learn to love as You love. Sometimes the only way we learn to do that is to go through a trial that strikes at our pride, overwhelms us, or breaks our hearts. Give us teachable hearts and help us to be patient in our trials so that we can be that ray of hope and love to other people. Amen.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Every Gift Counts

"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: 
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, 
but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, 
in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 
Just as each of us has one body with many members, 
and these members do not all have the same function, 
so in Christ we who are many form one body, 
and each member belongs to all the others. 
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. 
If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 
If it is serving let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 
if it is encouraging, let him encourage; 
if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; 
if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; 
if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully."
Romans 12:3-8

Paul begins this passage by telling the Romans to not think more highly of themselves than they should. Paul's basis for this statement was that he knew he had once been transformed from a man who had hated and tortured believers in the name of God into a missionary who introduced many people to Christ. He is reminding us we are all are sinners saved by a holy and righteous God not because we deserved it, but because it is His nature to bestow grace on people. It is because of this that God has called us and invited us into a relationship with Him allowing us to be called His children.
Next, he takes them to a more outward perspective as he reminds them they are all part of the body of Christ--the church. He reminds them the church is made up of many individuals who have different functions within the body. God gives each of us a unique blend of abilities, passions, desires, and experiences to do things that nobody else can do. He names some of the gifts in this passage (others are found in 1 Corinthians 12). The gifts that Paul lists are: 

prophecy--telling forth the truth according to the word of God 
ministering--coming along side of people and helping them
teaching--being able to understand and communicate God's word
exhortation--encouraging people to live obediently to God's word
giving--the ability to see needs and give abundantly to meet those needs
ruling--shepherding and helping believers mature
mercy--the ability to be merciful and forgiving beyond what is normal 

Spiritual gifts even flow over into our everyday lives. The way a mature believer reacts to a situation is controlled in part by their spiritual gifts. For example, if a child spills his milk, the prophetic parent would confront him for his carelessness. The parent with the gift of ministry would quickly bend down and help the child clean up the mess. The parent with the gift of exhortation would exhort the child to be more careful in the future. The parent with the gift of teaching would try to discern why the milk was spilled and help the child see that by not filling the glass so full he could prevent a future spill. The parent who has the gift of mercy would care more that the child might be embarrassed and experience shame and try to alleviate the uncomfortable feelings. The parent with giving would be more concerned with replacing the milk spilled.  
I had a friend named Cathy. And we decided for a period of time to study the Bible together. I was going through a rough patch and I needed that fellowship. She had the Spiritual gift of faith. When we first started meeting it was funny to me because she honestly shared how she could not understand how people had doubts about God because from the time she accepted Christ she had never doubted God, His love, or His sovereign plans for her life. We grew up in very similar family structures and didn’t experience Christ in our childhood homes. I loved her faith but I often found myself wrestling with the truths in the Word before they become a part of my core beliefs. 
Every time we met I could show her things from the scriptures we were studying that she didn’t know. It was only because I had grown in my faith by struggling to trust God's words. She in turn often exhorted me to trust God in the ways I hadn't. During one of our early studies I encouraged her to give freedom to others to express their doubts and she would be able to see God use her gift to speak hope and faith into their lives. I definitely benefited from her faith as did many others. I could express my doubts to her freely without fear of rejection and know that she loved me doubting Thomas that I was. I knew she accepted me and loved the encouragement she spoke into my heart. I walked out of our studies always filled with hope and a whole new perspective on faith. She in turn was safe enough with me to tell me she didn’t know how to say something to someone who had doubts so we would look up Scriptures and find answers and figure out a way to speak hope in a way that was beneficial to the hearer. She often asked asked me for my insight into passages we read and when it was one that I had struggled through I could give her all the ramifications of what that passage had come to mean in my life. It was a really blessed Christ-centered, body-life relationship! 
Let me ask you, what are your passions, gifts, and abilities? How can you use them to build up others in the body? Are you able to value your spiritual gifts and benefit from the spiritual gifts others as I did Cathy's? Do you value your spiritual gifts? Do you accept other's gifts as important as your own? Do you encourage others to use their gifts?

Prayer: Father, thank you for your grace and for taking each of us out of the muck that we use to live in. Thank you for gifting people with special abilities and placing them in the body of Christ as You desired. Thank you for the prophets, teachers, helpers, givers, and merciful people You have put in my life. Give each of us the courage and strength and insight to use our abilities and passions in ways that honors and glorifies You and build up the body. Amen.

Introduction

Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!