Monday, February 14, 2011

Precious Reconciliation

"Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ."

- 2 Corinthians 5:17-18

One of the things I hate the most is when I have a broken relationship and cannot mend it. On the other hand, when a broken relationship is mended I experience all sorts of emotions including intense relief and unspeakable joy. The most important relationship I have ever had mended was the one that I have with Jesus. Before I accepted Christ as my Savior, my sin made me an enemy of God and in a sense the relationship I was created to have with Him was broken. The passage above makes it clear that I have been reconciled to God, not Him to me. That is because I was the one who sinned against Him, thereby breaking the relationship we were supposed to have. I, just like Adam and Eve, had the tendency to hide and withdraw from Him because of my sinful heart. There are three scriptures that explain my need to be reconciled to God. First, Colossians 1:20-21 says that I was alienated from God, hostile in my mind, and was engaged in evil deeds. It is interesting to note that at the time these verses were written that gentiles were alienated from God because the covenants God had previously given were given to the nation of Israel. Hostile in mind means that I was hateful toward God in my attitudes and choices. It is so easy to want to minimize the evilness of our sin. But the reality is that sin is a hateful action towards God. When we continue in sin it indicates that we resent His holy standards and His commands. Because those commands reflect His character, we are resenting and rebelling against Him. John 3:19-20 says, "…loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest His deeds should be exposed." Isaiah also says it pretty eloquently in Isaiah 59:2, "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear." Oh, that I would never lose sight of the grace that Christ offered me. He has reconciled me to our Holy and loving Father. I have been given the opportunity to be in a relationship with the very one whom I have offended and with whom I have been an enemy. That is grace.

When two people are at odds it is usually easy to see that each person had a part in the conflict that separated them. But in my broken relationship with God, I was the only one who had done wrong. This is because God is holy and just. His wrath against sin must be appeased in some way. According to Jeremiah 10:10, God's wrath is not a laughing matter, but a scary one, "At His wrath the earth quakes, the nations cannot endure His indignation." Those who refuse to accept Christ have the wrath of God remaining on them. Christ died to appease God's wrath towards mankind, which is what has enabled me to have an intimate relationship with Him -- "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him." (Romans 5:9). Occasionally I get so used to the idea of reconciliation that I am no longer grateful for it. That is when I need to read and meditate on Isaiah 53 and the accounts of Christ's crucifixion. The physical suffering He endured is hard to fathom, but the emotional suffering impacts me to the core. He was falsely accused, His trials illegal, brutally beaten, and mocked by the men He came to die for. I think the most crucial part of the story is the anguish that He had to bear as our sin was laid upon Him when He bore the full brunt of the Father's wrath for our sin. The way I came to comprehend the significance of it was to think of a time in which I came back from a place where I had a spiritual "high". It is one of those times I felt so close to God that I never wanted to sin again because I was so in love with Him. Then I messed up. The anguish and pain at how easily I could sin after having been so close to God made me sick and made me feel alone. Then when I think how Christ must have felt when the sin of the entire human race was laid upon Him. The words He spoke in that moment -- "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" -- were spoken with such passion and desperation. His words would reflect our own cries had He not died.

While I want others to understand the payment that was paid, I also want to remind them to bask in the knowledge that God's love for them motivated Him to provide a means for their reconciliation. Romans 5:8 says, "God demonstrated His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." It’s hard to understand that while I was enjoying my sin that God chose to send His son to die for me. It’s even harder to understand why His son would agree to lay His life down for me so that I can be brought into a right relationship with God. I hope that I never forget that our eternal life with God required a bloody violent sacrificial death. I hope I never forget that God's demonstration of love required that He and His beloved Son face rejection. I hope I never take for granted my imputed holiness, which required Christ to take on my sin. I hope I never forget His desperate cry from the cross when I utter the precious words "Abba -- Daddy." Doesn’t that kind of love demand a response of passionate obedience from me?

Father, thank you for choosing to reconcile us to You through Christ's death. We know we do not deserve it Your act of grace. Please help us to never take our reconciliation for granted. For it was by the blood of Christ that we were given the titles of friend, children of God, and joint heirs with Christ. Help us to love You with passionate obedient hearts that are full of thanksgiving. Amen.

The Process of Growth

"Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another; and for all men, just as we do for you; so that He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints."
- 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13.

I often feel confused about what part of the growth process, as a Christian, is my job and what part is God's. I have often struggled with those concepts and feel that I am finally getting some understanding about it. As I have begun to understand God's role and my role it is amazing how much more exciting my relationship with Christ is becoming. There are two things mentioned by Paul that are God's responsibility that I use to try to muster up in within myself. The first thing that he asked God to do was to cause them to increase and abound in love for one another and for all men. As I think about these verses I want to try to figure out how God does this work in me.

Not long ago I did a blog on loving God with all of my heart, mind, soul and strength and my neighbors as myself. I saw that in 1 John that I was told I love Him because He first loved me. True scriptural love comes from a heart that has recognized, accepted, trusted and experienced God's love. Out of the overflow of experiencing His love we learn to love Him through obedience and faith. We then learn to let that love be our guideline in how we treat and relate to others. I find that when I am the most confident of God's love and acceptance that I am really secure enough to take risks in loving others. Biblical love is a supernatural act of God within the heart of a believer.

The second thing God does is to establish my heart in holiness. Again, personal holiness or righteousness is not something I can make happen on my own. For when I try that, what comes out is self-righteousness. I clearly understand the positional righteousness that was imputed to me when I trusted Christ to be my Savior and He took God’s wrath for my sin. I get that when He looks at me He no longer sees all the sins that I have done, He sees God’s righteousness in me instead. Second, I also understand in a head-sorta-way that God saves me continually from the power of my sin. My job, as near as I can discern, is to come honestly before God and spend time in His word and prayerfully choose to obey it. (Romans 12:1, I Thessalonians 5:16-24!) As I am spending time with Him, God will impart His character and His desires for me into my heart. It is like an elderly couple that have been married for so long that they look and act alike. If I spend enough time with Him, I will begin to walk and to talk like Him. My confession will flow out of experiencing His holiness through His Word and His Holy Spirit. He abides in me and can change my heart so that no sin will have power over me, but I have to be really honest with Him about the sin that has been such a stronghold in my life. It has taken me awhile to understand that my “mask of perfection” does not glorify God, but my honest transparency with Him and with others that He puts in my life does. He is glorified when we let Him replace our fear with His boldness. He is glorified when we let Him replace our anger with bold love, humility, and firm but gentle rebuke that invites reconciliation rather than seeking to wound. He is glorified when we become timid and turn to Him and let Him give us His courage to speak truth into every situation. He is glorified when He wants us to teach and we turn our inadequacies over to Him so He can do something through us. He is glorified when we are tempted with sin and turn to Him for the strength to say no! In summary, He is no less glorious because of our humanity. Rather, He is glorified when we come to Him in our weaknesses and let Him work in us.

So I have to honestly ask myself, “Am I trying to muster love and righteousness up apart from God?” If so, I need to make a conscious decision to try it God's way. I will greatly benefit by spending time with Him by reading His word and praying about what I read. How I desire Him to make His word come alive in me personally and desire for Him to show me what He desires for me specifically. When I read His Word I want to respond to it by making application to my life so that I can integrate His truth into my life where it becomes part of my soul.

As I study the Bible, I notice how God loved people and dialogue with Him about the reality of His love for you. I must daily ask Him every day to fill me so that I love Him with all that I am and ask Him to love others through me. I am thankful that I can be totally transparent and real with God. For there is nothing in me that is so evil that it will keep Him from loving me or keep Him from changing me so that I can be more like Him. If I am not bringing things to the light of His word by confession and transparency, He is not obligated to do anything towards changing me. When I am craving intimacy with God, I can choose to turn to worldly things or I can acknowledge what I am craving as I sit at His feet and let Him overwhelm me with His love. When I am tired of sin and want to be more like Him, I need to set aside my tendency to dwell in that ugly place called toxic shame and come boldly to God and spend time saturating my mind with His thoughts and trust His Holy Spirit to work His righteousness in me. Today I choose to ask God to let me see others He has called me to love through His eyes. They are people just as broken and confused as me, who, in the hands of the Master, can be transformed and molded by His perfect love and His redemptive work…are you willing to join me in being a part of the process?

Prayer: Father, thank you for being a God who will establish our hearts in righteousness and love. Thank you for the transforming power of your word and your Holy Spirit. Father, cause us to crave time enough with you that we begin to look like you, act like you, talk like you and even think your thoughts. May we be people that when we let our minds go idle, the automatically go to thoughts of you. Amen.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Speaking the Mystery of Christ

"Praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds; That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward them that are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man."

Colossians 4:3-6

I love the transparency of the people that are found in God's word. This passage was written by Paul who had been on many missionary journeys and literally spent his life witnessing to others about Christ. At the time that he wrote this letter to the Colossians, he was in jail. Yet, he did not let that affect his thinking or his emotions. He humbly asked the Colossians to pray that he would have "open doors" to make the gospel known and that he would speak in a way that God would have him speak. Satan wants us to think that if we are living a life that is pleasing to God, that our lives will be easy and problem free. But the truth is that the people in the Bible endured hardship, suffering, and persecution as they lived lives that were pleasing to God. Some of them even died for their faith. I have a tendency to forget that when the early Christians accepted Christ they were often persecuted and disowned from their families. Paul did not ask God the questions I probably would have, "Lord, I’m witnessing to all of these people, starting churches everywhere I go, and serving you and other faithfully, Why are you allowing all of this hardship? Why am I being punished?" Instead, he trusted God’s sovereignty and asked the Lord to "open doors" so he could continue to do what he knew that God had called him to do.

It is obvious that Paul followed Christ's example in always doing what pleased his heavenly father. Paul knew Christ never sinned and was persecuted for healing, feeding, teaching, speaking the truth, and loving people. So Paul did not let the persecution stop him from doing the right thing. He obeyed God in the face of conflict, persecution, and even in the face of false allegations. Some responded to Paul's message and trusted Jesus as their Savior, but others hated him and wanted him dead. Still, Paul daily made the choice to obey and follow Christ in the midst of it all. It amazes me that in the middle of his trials, Paul remained more concerned that people hear the gospel than his own discomfort.

Paul's exhorts the Colossians to be wise towards those in the world. He instructs them to let their speech be always gracious and seasoned with salt. Someone who has come face to face with God’s grace should become more gracious in his or her actions and speech. With speech I am including their body language. When we first joined a large church I was really hurting and overwhelmed by the size of the new youth group that we wanted to be volunteers in so I would slip in early and sit down. As a result I would brush quickly by the youth pastor. One day he took my hand to shake it and he did not let go until I turned and looked at him face to face, eye to eye. In his eyes, I saw kindness and godliness and as a result I began to let God heal me. The pastor did the same thing at a later date after we had had a hard conversation. His body language and facial expressions continued to express acceptance and care as did his words.

I love Paul’s use of the words "seasoned with salt". We often think of salt as seasoning, but it is also a preservative and a mineral that is necessary for life. In Biblical days it was also used as an astringent to clean wounds. The people hearing Paul’s instructions would have known all of these uses for Salt and would have interpreted his words in light of what they knew. I get excited when I think about it, because the gospel does all of those things! Just as each of one of us likes a unique amount of Salt, he tells us we need to be wise and sensitive to people so that we can give them what just what they need, not what they think we need. That means being sensitive to give someone the right balance of grace and truth that fit their unique needs. Some people respond to straightforward truth, others to a more gentle presentation of the truth. As God's people we are called to discern how to respond to each person.

As one of our children was turning 16 we had had several misunderstandings with him over his choices of friends. Hoping to bridge the gap we had a surprise birthday party with both his school and church friends. He floated comfortably back and forth between the two groups helping them feel comfortable. I wished the Christians at my son's party would have mingled and shown God's love and acceptance to his school friends in the same way that he did. However, most of the night we had a polarized party with only our son moving between the two groups. The same thing occurs in our youth groups and in our churches. As we welcome new students and adults many of us simply look over the visitors as if our territory is being invaded. We should be careful as we build a "spiritual family" that we be inclusive of those who walk in our doors for the first time.

I wonder if we would treat the people Christ related to the same way that He did? Would we welcome a known prostitute, a thief, or a beggar? Would we pray for a student hearing the gospel if we knew he killed someone while driving drunk or if we knew he dealt drugs? Would we embrace a girl broken by the fact she had an abortion or the guy who took advantage of his girl friend sexually? I am becoming more and more aware of the confusing balance God has called us to – we are to boldly speak his truth as we compassionately and radically love the lost. We should be humble enough to ask other’s to pray for us to have open door to speak the gospel and the wisdom to know how to balance grace and truth in such a way that we radically impact our world with the gospel.

Father, thank you for Christ and Paul's examples. They loved people and yet walked in a way that honored and glorified you. Give us wisdom to speak your truth in the midst of all circumstances whether they are good or bad. Help us to be able to give an answer from your word to each person you put in our path. Help us to be your ambassador's--so secure in our relationship and our heavenly home that we do not hesitate to make other's feel welcome and comfortable around us. Father, if people reject us for reflecting You to them, give us the grace to keep on loving them. Help us to love as Christ loved us. Amen.


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!