Friday, December 21, 2012

Learning to be Kind to All

"And the Lord's bondservant must not be quarrelsome, 
but be kind to all, 
able to teach, patient when wronged, 
with gentleness correcting those who are 
in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance 
leading to the 
knowledge of the truth, 
and they may come to their senses and escape from the 
snaire of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." 
2 Timothy 3:24-26

Have you ever been talking to someone about God’s Word. only to find that he or she wants to argue with you about the truth?  If not, how would you handle it if you did?  Even more importantly how would you handle it if the person claimed to be a believer? That was the situation Timothy found himself in as a young pastor. In this passage Paul tells Timothy how he should relate to those people who were in opposition to the truth he was teaching. I have noticed people who disagree with doctrine often look for things they can use to negate another person’s view. Sometimes they say things that could cast doubt on a pastor’s teaching, especially if the comment were made to a new believer who was not grounded in truth or someone who is struggling in their relationship with God. The advice Paul gave Timothy is very applicable to us when we find ourselves in relationships with quarrelsome people.  
Let’s look at the word “bondservant.” In Paul’s day a bondservant was someone who had been a slave for a period of time in order to pay off a debt. At the end of the debt they were to be set free. There were some people who had been indebted to a benevolent master and when they were set free they would pierce their ear as a sign that they were choosing to stay with their master so they could serve him out of love and gratitude. That is the kind of people we want to be. Understanding Christ bought us with His blood our of the slave market of sin. He reconciled us to the Father, which can bring about a gratefulness that creates in His people a desire to serve Him out of love rather than obligation. 
Next, Paul tells Timothy that as a bondservant he must not be quarrelsome. It is interesting that this advice was given in light of quarrelsome people opposing Timothy’s teaching. He advises Timothy to be kind, able to teach, and patient when he was wronged. Notice that he does not tell Timothy to ignore the offence. He says he is to correct those who oppose him, but he should do it with gentleness. When somebody snaps at us or opposes our opinions and words, what is our natural response? What is their natural response when we snap back at them?  When we react at an emotional level, it seems our pride gets wounded and we cling to our opinions even harder, making us less open and less teachable. Paul was pointing out, that by maintaining a gentle kind spirit, Timothy could remove himself as the point of rebellion and increase the chances that the truth he spoke would be heard. He was also reminding Timothy that even though he was God’s mouthpiece, it was up to God to change hearts and minds. 
Lastly, he points out that people who oppose the truth are people who believe the lies of Satan. He lays traps for people and then uses them to do his will. When we are face to face with someone, we want to remember the real enemy is not the person, it is Satan or his demons. By keeping this in mind our pride quiets and we can gently tell the truth and then let their battle be with the Lord, not us. I don’t know if you are like me, but sometimes when I am frustrated by a situation in which I feel powerlessness, I find myself projecting anger toward someone who has nothing to do with the situation. When our oldest son was young he had a friend come over to play. She was about 8 years old and had an accident on a bicycle. When her dad came to pick her up she expressed strong anger at him because she was hurt. We were both surprised, but we realized she was really only angry that he was not there to comfort her. We might be facing a quarrelsome person who is in the same boat. They may have been hurt and Satan may be taking advantage of their pain to get them to argue with God or the person who hurt them and their anger gets displaced on us. Being kind and gentle in the presence of a quarrelsome person is not easy! It is a supernatural act that can only be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. 
Is there a quarrelsome person in your life right now? How have you been dealing with the person? What could you do differently in light of today’s Scripture? How hard would it be to be kind, patient, and gentle when someone is arguing with you over Scripture or other things you know to be true? I think it might help us if we can remember that the goal is not to win an argument, but to invite the person to repentance and restoration. If we can let go of pride and assume a humble stance, we have a better chance of reaching this godly goal than if we are argumentative. This also prevents us from being used by the Enemy in his efforts to keep the person in bondage. One of the most practical statements we can use with others is, “Help me understand why you believe that.” By using that we remove ourselves from an argument and place ourselves in a situation to learn why a person thinks or feels as he does. Then we know better how to approach him with the truth.  

Prayer: Father we love you and appreciate all that you do for us. Thank you for your instructions on how to relate to people. Help us to be gentle, patient, and kind to people who are trying to pick a quarrel with us. Help us to care more about their hearts than winning an argument. Help us to remember that our real enemy is Satan who is like a roaring lion seeking who he can devour and use for His own purposes.  Amen.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Do You Believe Me?

“Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?
If I am telling you the truth why don’t you believe me?”
John 8:46

A few years ago we baby sat a 7-month-old chocolate lab for one of our sons. She was a precious dog because she had a sensitive conscience. When we were gone for awhile and then came home, she would respond one of two ways. If she had been good, she would run to us and jumps up on us, putting her front paws on either side of our waists for hugs. It was a literal hug--we know this because when she saw my husband and I hug she pushed us apart and “hugged” each of us! If she had behaved badly, by unrolling a roll of toilet paper, dumping a trash over, or chewing on a shoe she would head to the back door when we walked in the front door with tail between her legs. She looked so pitiful with her head down. I have known people who had the same kind of conscience Hazel did. No one has to confront them, because they tell on themselves. I have also known a couple of people who were caught in sin and so guilty, but they could throw out words like the verse above and challenge any one who didn’t believe their lies. The above verse was spoken by Christ who invited people to examine His life to be He is who He says He is — both God and man.

Look at the first part of the statement. Christ invited the crowds who were against Him to prove Him guilty of sin? I don’t know about you, but the idea of saying that to someone causes me to cringe. Others would not have to try hard to find the sin in my life. If they followed me around, they could see just how often my motives are selfish. They would not have to wait long to hear an unkind word or gossip slip out of my mouth. They would not have to wait too long to see that I spend more time seeking love rather than giving it freely. They would not have to talk to me for long before some hint of a disrespectful attitude or doubtful spirit surfaced.

On the other hand, think about Christ who was perfect. Nothing He did was wrong. He never had to apologize for His actions or words. He did the right thing every time at the right time. There was not a word that came out of His mouth that was rude, crude, untruthful, slanderous, or backbiting. He never had to apologize for a word hastily spoken in anger and never had to feel the sting of regretting words he could not retract. He never related to others in sinful ways. He always loved them and treated even the most sinful and sick with dignity and respect. He was gentle and kind and went out of His way to offer forgiveness. Even though He spoke strongly to the Pharisees, He was forthright and had the authority to confront them because they were religious leaders who were keeping others in bondage with their burdensome rules. As a man, He never touched or looked at woman in a way that and made her feel uncomfortable or used. He showed women affection without any impropriety. He never had to confess adultery or lust. He never lashed out in anger. He never had to be thankful no one could read His thoughts. He never had to confess sin. He never had to ask forgiveness for breaking a promise or doing something late. He continued to persevere in love in the face of misunderstanding, face of slander being hurled at Him. He loved those who denied and betrayed Him. He loved in the face of hatred, facing His own death with courage. He laid down His life so He could reconcile us to the Father.

Since no one could prove Him guilty of sin, it is odd that sometimes we have difficulty believing His word. Think of some of His promises and invitations. Come boldly to throne of grace in your time of need.” How often do we wait because we are ashamed and we come timidly with our head hung down like our dog did? When I read the words “come boldly” I think of a little child who has been nurtured and is so confident in his parents’ love that no matter what he does he runs to them expecting acceptance and joy on his arrival. I knew a student that could not believe someone would not rejoice over him and everything he did. I always wondered if how I perceived him was accurate and if he knew he came across that way. Then when he shared his testimony he said that he thought He was the coolest person before he came to know the Lord and learned to recognize his sin. He shared that after coming to know Jesus, he knew he wasn't so cool, but He was loved sacrificially by God. We can approach God with that kind of confidence only when we are humble enough to recognize it is because of what Jesus did that we have access to Him. He meets us where we are at, not because we are “cool” but because He is faithful to His promises.

I have a really hard time wrapping my mind around Christ’s perfection. I don’t know how to even describe it. But, I know it helps me believe what He says in His word. I know He will never leave me or forsake me, because He doesn’t lie. He forgives me, because He said it is finished as He died in my place on the cross. I believe Him when He says I am a work in progress and He is not finished with me yet, because He is faithful. I believe Him when He says He delights in me and sings joyful songs over me!

I am thankful the sinless One took on my sin and died in my place, bearing the Father’s wrath for me. His actions tell me I am worth dying for. Have you examined His life through the gospels? Do you believe He is who He said He is? Do you rest in His great love and offer Him a sacrifice of praise? If you doubt, it is okay…examine the Word and allow it to strengthen your faith! He is trustworthy and true!

Prayer: Father we praise You for You holiness. We praise you because no word You spoke was ever
spoken in haste…always timely and appropriate. We praise You as the sinless one who loved in through Your actions and in the ways You related. You were bold in your love and in the way you confronted sin. By comparison we are sinful and rely solely on your grace. Thank you for taking our shame and giving us your righteousness. Please help us reflect your character. Thank You for the promise of completing what you have begun in us. Amen.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Escaping the Snares

“And the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome,
but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 
with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, 
if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the 
knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and 
escape from the snares of the devil, 
having been held captive by him to do his will."  
2 Timothy 3:24-26

Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which you repeatedly tried to make something work, but couldn’t? I was in that situation when I first started playing computer games. I would try a game and when I would lose it I would try again and again. I didn't know why I continued to fail until I watched my daughter, who was 10 at the time, play “Pac Man.” As I watched her, I noticed she tried something new at each stage of the game until she had gone through every level and obtained a high score, where as I tried the same thing over and over.
As I look back at my life, I realize I have struggled with the same sinful pattern repeatedly and tried repeatedly to resolve them, but I had been trying to resolve them the same way and my way didn't work. I felt like a failure and wondered if I would ever be able to overcome besetting sin. I would commit to stopping something every morning during my quiet time, but by evening I had done the very thing I had committed to stopping. It was like being trapped in a snare. I realized I was trying to stop simply because I knew I should, but I didn’t really have godly sorrow over the sin or a heartfelt desire to give it up. I just tried to do it because it was the right thing to do. The above verse contains an important principal dealing with growth and besetting sin.      
First, I need to understand God is the one who works repentance in our hearts. Sometimes we are given to feelings of deep shame for not being more godly. It is often at those times that we try to muster up strength within ourselves to overcome sinful patterns, only to find we fail over and over. We may also find ourselves wanting to give up a sin and holding on to it at the same time, ashamed of this ambivalence. It was when I meditated on this verse I realized repentance is a grace God extends to us. As we confess to God and ask Him to cleanse us, He begins that cleansing by granting us repentance--a change of mind about sin with which we struggle. As we bring to Him the struggle of our ambivalence, God can quiet the desire for sin and help us overcome it. He will eventually change our love for specific sins to a hatred for it. Repentance has as its core God’s goodness and God's love manifested in us. As we grow to love God and others, we grow in our desire not to hurt God or His creation and we sin less. Shaming ourselves never helps us overcome sin, but focusing on God and how we can demonstrate love to Him and others does. As we catch glimpses of His holiness we will be compelled to confess our sin, crying out to Him for victory.     
Secondly, understanding God grants repentance will help us as we relate to people. Some of my struggle has been in relational patterns pf confronting someone in my power and having the relationship remain the same. God has called us to confront, but if nothing changes, we need to look at how we confront. We need to realize a confrontation is useless if we don’t bathe it in prayer and love. We should pray for our own heart, so we approach another in humility, love, and gentleness and are not trapped in the sins of a critical spirit, bitterness of heart, and contempt. Then we should also pray for the heart of the other before we approach, that God would prepare their heart for repentance. It is never the words we speak that changes a heart, it is the Holy Spirit's work of grace. We are simply to obey God as humble, loving truth speakers and then let Him work in the heart of the person. We too often want try to induce an immediate change, but if we do it in our own power and timing, the change is usually external and temporary. If we bathe the process in prayer and leave the results to God, He can transform the person’s heart and the change invoked will be internal and work out in an external way we can see. We also need to confront with God’s truth, because His truth is what the Holy Spirit uses to convict and set free.  
As we contemplate God's Word we want to ask ourselves, "Am I trying to muster growth and overcome sin in my own power or am I seeking the Lord, prayerfully reading His word? Am I confessing my sin and allowing Him to work an act of grace in my heart, resulting in true repentance?Am I praying for those I need to confront? Am I willing to be God’s messenger, letting Him do the necessary work in their heart?" We can tell the answer to the last question, by how responsible we feel for the person’s choices. Let us remember to not get in the middle of the relationship God wants to develop with another person. Let us continually encourage each other to love God and to seek to bring Him honor and glory by our lifestyles. 

Prayer: Lord than you for working in us an act of repentance that caused us to change from unbelievers living for ourselves to believers living for you. Please continue to reveal our sin to us and help us to be honest and to confess our sin so you might continually work acts of repentance that cause us to become more like you. Amen. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Living Sacrifices

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, this is your spiritual act of worship."
Romans 12:1

Sometimes we realize we’ve grown cold or have strayed from our walk with the Lord. We find ourselves wanting to recommit our lives to the Lord and to gain back a sense of intimacy and belonging we have had with Him. There is nothing wrong with this desire, but we need to remember that recommitments don’t get us more love or forgiveness from the Lord. In fact, it is because of God's mercy that Paul encouraged the Romans to offer their bodies as living sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God. We want to understand what a holy and pleasing sacrifice is. 
First, we are called to be holy because God is holy. We were created in His image and restored to a right relationship with God when we accepted Christ. That is positional holiness. With that restoration comes a responsibility to grow in personal holiness. For some, that means we need to repent from outward obvious sin and replace the sin with godly behavior. For some of us it may mean we need to repent of sin that is internal—like ungodly thoughts, self-centered attitudes, or pride. Simply put, sin is anything we do or think that's contrary to the character of God. The way to become more like Him so we reflect His character is to spend time with Him. We can ask the Lord to examine our hearts because we have the tendency to deceive ourselves. We’ll never be perfect, but in the relationship we have with God, we have the ability and the power through faith to walk in obedience. As believers, we have the ability through our relationship with God to reflect His character. It may take a lot of prayer, accountability, and faith to overcome sinful patterns, but it’s possible.
There are several ways we can offer sacrifices to the Lord with our bodies. With our mouth we can offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. We can offer eternal life to those we know by sharing the gospel with them. We can offer prayers for others. With our ears we can offer a sacrifice of listening to God and others. With our hands we can offer service to others and meet their needs for the Lord, which in God’s economy is the same as doing it for Jesus. With our bodies we can work so we can help to meet the needs of those who can’t work. With our bodies we can offer friendships that are centered on the Lord by giving our time, energy and our hearts to those in need of relationship.
I think the most important part for us to give is our heart. Christ has called us to love God with all of our heart, mind, strength, and soul and to love others as He has loved us. It is a command, not a suggestion. In James, God talks about loving without hypocrisy and Paul echoes the same sentiment when he tells us that we should love sincerely. When my husband and I were in college we knew each other because we hung out in the same circle of friends. At first I mostly felt neutral about him and tolerated him, After we talked in-depth, I remember thinking I would never want to date him, much less marry him. Then one day we were at his fraternity house throwing a party for some orphans and one of the orphans was severely handicapped. All of a sudden, he grabbed on to his private parts and started dancing in a circle because he needed to use the restroom. All of the guys, except my husband, turned away and pretended they had not noticed. My husband went over to the kid, picked him up, and took him to the bathroom. When they came out he had not only washed his hands, but his face as well. He had even taken the time to comb his hair and tuck in the little guys shirt. He looked totally different. I realized that day my husband had character that the others did not. He had reflected God's character by loving the little guy who was needy, not self-sufficient, and different. I believe that is the kind of love the Lord has for people. He loved the lame, the blind, and the deaf. He hung out with the poor, the sinful, and the unimportant ones. He cared for those who were being tortured by demons or struggling with health issues everyone else ignored.  
When we read the gospels, we see His disciples would have even been difficult to be around at times. They had doubts. They argued like little children. They judged others harshly. They were put off by children coming around Jesus. They fell asleep in the middle of prayer meetings. They denied knowing Him. They lied when others asked about their relationships with Him. They ran when the going got tough! One even betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Yet, He chose to wash their feet, an intimate act of service that expressed His honor for them.
Some good question to ask ourselves at the end of the day are: “Who have I loved in Jesus’ name today?” “How did I demonstrate that love?” “Did I trust Jesus with all areas of my l8ife today?” “Am I being honest with Him about my struggle to be like Him?” “Would I be comfortable asking Him to examine my heart right now?” “Is my life an act of worship?”

Prayer: Father, we thank You for Your word and for Your love. Thank You for Your mercy. Help us to understand what it really means to be a living sacrifice for You. May we honor you in all that we do, , or think! May your character be imprinted on our lives today. Amen. 

The Courage to Forgive First

One of the best lines I've heard about forgiveness didn’t come from a sermon. It came from the TV show, Mad About You. It was said on the last show of the series. In a previous episode the main characters, Paul and Jaime, had separated. Their daughter, Mable, had invited both of them to the premiere showing of a Broadway show she had developed. Their friends all arrived before them and strategically chose their seats, leaving Paul and Jaime no choice, but to sit together. At the end of the show everyone decides to go for pie. Paul and Jaime are left standing there feeling awkward and not quite sure what they should say to each other. Paul finally asked Jaime if she wanted to go have pie and she says no. He turns and reaches for his stuff and when he turns back towards her to say goodbye she leans into him and kisses him. He closes his eyes and when she pulls back from the kiss he stands there for a moment with his eyes shut and then asks her if she just kissed him. She tells him no and he opens his eyes, smiles, and tells her he did not think she did. He then asks her again if she would like to go for pie. They walk out arm in arm and the daughter comes on screen to say that he took her for pie and then he took her home and never left again. The daughter then makes the statement, “There is no greater act than being the one who kissed first." I love that statement. To me if I could change it a little I think it states a clear principle from Scripture. “There is no greater act of courage and of love than to be the first one to forgive." 

We are to forgive as Christ has forgiven us. What does that mean? It means when we were still in our sin and were His enemies He left heaven and came to earth to initiate a relationship with us. He made that possible by paying for sin so we could be redeemed, forgiven, and reconciled to Him. Of the people I have known over the years, the most forgiving people are those who understand God's grace and forgiveness in deeply personal ways. They have came to terms with their own sinfulness and then the extent of God's forgiveness. By contrast to the scene above I read a true story of a couple who had an argument one day and exchanged some really hateful words. The wife went upstairs and they never spoke to each other and never slept in the same bed again. It's sad they lost years of companionship, conversation, hugs, laughter, comfort, and yes, kisses. This was because neither had the courage to be the first one to "forgive." Neither had the courage to be the first to move back towards their spouse. Neither had the frame work of experiencing the grace of God for their sin. 

God's word tells us to forgive"And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven you." (Ephesians 4:32) But, God know that forgiveness is never easy. It is one of the bravest acts of love we can extend to another person. In the face of hurt and anger it requires a willingness to risk more hurt and more rejection. It requires us to crucify our pride, our right to take revenge, and our desire to carry out our sense of justice on another. It requires we put to death the desire to cause another person to feel the pain we feel and then some. It requires trusting God to give the strength to be kind when we feel like lashing out. It requires strength as we allow God to give us words of grace seasoned with salt instead of just spewing the hateful words that pop into our minds in the moment. It requires trusting God to provide healing for heart wounds not only for past and present hurts, but our future ones as well. It requires that we trust Him to provide a way to rebuild broken relationships. 

We want to understand that forgiveness does not mean just putting one's self back into unhealthy, sinful relationships. For God has instructed us to lovingly speak truth to one another and to exhort and encourage each other to grow. If we look in the Gospels at what Christ said to people as He dealt with them we see forgiveness and we see truth telling. Along with expressions of forgiveness and acceptance He told them to go and sin no more. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we don't address issues that hurt us. However, it does mean we address them in a way that invites reconciliation and a correction of the relationship so each person and the relationship honors God. 

When we are struggling with a conflict with someone close to us we want to do some self examination. Could it be that our pride and/or theirs prevents us from restoring the relationship? If we long for the relationship to be restored, do we have the courage to "kiss first" by moving towards the person instead of withdrawing? 

Some of the sweetest relational intimacy is born out of brokenness that is healed as we work through conflict and extend forgiveness. Christ loved us first and out of that love He died for us, initiating forgiveness and restoration. I wonder are I...willing to do the same for another? 

Prayer: Father, thank You for sending your Son to demonstrate Your love to us. Thank you for forgiving us of our sin and for initiating our reconciliation to You. Even in the midst of our broken relationships and our deepest hurts, give us the courage to be willing to extend forgiveness and reconciliation to others first. Please search our hearts and show us when pride rears its ugly head and hinders our ability to forgive. Please heal our hearts so we’re passionate enough in our relationships to be the first one to forgive and seek reconciliation.  Amen.    

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Loving Jesus Through the Least of These

"Jesus was beaten with whips and handed over to the soldiers to be crucified.
The governor's soldiers took Jesus into the governor's palace,
and they all gathered around him.
They took off his clothes and put a red robe on him.
Using thorny branches, they made a crown, put it on his head, 
and put a stick in his right hand. Then the soldiers bowed before Jesus 
and made fun of him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 
They spat on Jesus…Then they took his stick and began to beat him on the head.
After they finished, the soldiers took off the robe and 
put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified."
Matthew 27:26-31

We can’t read the above passage without seeing the depravity of man at its worst. The intent of the heart, not in the hands of its Creator can become vicious. The beating Christ took would have left him close to death. Yet the soldiers decided to have fun at His expense. After clothing Him in a robe and jamming a crown of thorns onto His head, they pretended to bow before Him as if to honor Him. When they rose they spat on him and took the "scepter" they had placed in His hand and beat Him with it. I can't help but wonder if the soldiers played off of each other in a pack mentality. Sometimes we have a way of doing that. One of my children who had been caught doing something wrong told me later he was just hanging with friends and it did not seem like a big deal until they were in the middle of doing it and he all of a sudden realized what they were doing was wrong and was a big deal. Maybe one lone soldier would have had compassion for Christ, but as a group they humiliated and degraded Him. Somehow in their depraved minds, they believed they were looking courageous and more powerful by what they were doing—yet when I think about how much strength and power it would take to mock a half dead man—it does not seem impressive at all.

The real power demonstrated that day was in Christ and His Father. Christ could have called down legions of angels or He could have spoken a Word and they would have fallen back in a dead faint. He could have cut them to the quick with the things He knew about each of them, but He held His tongue. God the Father showed powerful restraint as He watched the scene unfold. This was the beloved Son with whom He had eternal perfect fellowship and He is hurting and being mocked by the people He had created. He is being mocked for His plan to save them from their sin. He could have sent fiery hail down from heaven as He did in Egypt. He could have shaken the rocks around them and crushed them. He could have spoken from the heavens as He did at Christ's Baptism. I’ve been puzzled over the fact that Jesus silenced the men in the temple who wanted to stone the lady they had caught in adultery, but then chose not to defend Himself even though He was innocent. If anyone had the right to say, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone," it was He. It is amazing that when Christ spoke those words for the lady the men dropped their stones and left one by one. Yet, in defense of Himself the sinless man spoke not a word.

The soldiers’ actions fulfilled prophecy. It would be easy for us to look at the soldiers as cruel men for what they did to Christ. Yet, so often we are just as guilty of doing the same thing to Christ. Remember the words—“I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me?" By mocking Christ and making Him look small the men were trying to make themselves appear more powerful than Him. Each of us has been guilty of doing that at some time. We may not have spit on someone, but we haven’t we tried to feel better about ourselves at someone else's expense? Perhaps by belittling someone through gossip? Perhaps we tried to look smarter by calling someone "stupid" or "dork." Perhaps we looked down our noses at the way someone was dressed or made fun of a handicap or mental disorder? Perhaps we acted like a bully, made fun of another student's answer in class, their performance at work, or even just rolled our eyes arrogantly at the comment of another.

I wonder if I am the only one wondering how I could have said something or done something. I get I have come from a fallen state and live in a fallen world. (Psalm 51:5) I get that I am growing slowly and surely in Him. However, it scares me that apart from God. I have the potential to be so depraved and so vicious. When Christ faced the soldiers He was in a sense facing me. How will I treat Him today? By that I mean how will I love Jesus? How will I treat the least of these? Will I belittle Him by treating someone with disdain or will I love Him by encouraging others? Am I willing to love even when others aren't or will I stand in the crowd judging, ignoring, or pretending I do not see?

Prayer: Father, it hurts to see all that Christ went through for us. He suffered so much humiliation for us. Thank You for the promise that someday every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Help us to be conscience of the fact that how we treat others is how we are treating Him—the one who was beaten, mocked, and killed for us. Amen.

Perfectly Imperfect

"With one sacrifice he made perfect forever those who are being made holy."
Hebrews 10:14

I love this verse because it is a verse that actually mentions salvation and growth in the same sentence. Satan loves for us to be focused only on one aspect of our salvation at a time. When we focus only on the initial salvation--being saved from the penalty from our sin--we can be content in our sin knowing Christ paid for it. On the other hand, when we focus only on sanctification process of growth, we live in fear and don't enjoy our relationship with the Lord. Some even keep trying to earn salvation and never enjoy the peace that is available because of the finished work of Christ. When we forget about the future promise of being free from the presence of sin in our lives and in the lives of others we can end up feeling despair.

First, let's focus on the first part of the verse. With Christ’s death He made us 
perfect forever. Do we really believe that? Do we believe that Jesus took all of our sin in His body suffered God's wrath for our sin? John 1:29 says, "…the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." These verses indicate God is not waiting for us to mess up so that He can write it in a book to hold over our heads. He is not keeping score. The truth is He has taken our sin away forever--never to use it against us. That is an amazing truth! Scripture talks about us being clothed in righteousness. A King has adopted us and when we arrived in His Kingdom we were given a new set of clothes befitting the King's kids. It would not make sense for us to have put these new clothes on top of our old dirty smelly rags. The king totally took our clothes of unrighteousness away! God totally takes our sin and clothes us in His righteousness. That is grace and mercy all rolled up in one.

What we do with the knowledge of His grace and mercy is crucial. Shouldn’t we become better

people? I would suggest that the answer to that questions is a resounding, “Yes!” But, it is not to secure or prove our salvation, it is a response of love to His radical love. Becoming better people won’t make us any more saved or anymore loved. When we trusted Christ, we were adopted and became His children. We were sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of Redemption. Nothing we do will ever add to that and nothing we do can diminish that. We can have complete and perfect peace with God, because there is now no condemnation for those in Christ.

However, He has left us here on earth to glorify Him and to reflect our Father's nature to those in

the world. God could have instantly transformed us or taken us to heaven, but He chose not to. It is as we serve each other out of love that He is glorified. It is as our bitterness is transformed into forgiveness that He is glorified. It is as our anger is turned to peace, as our fear gives way to courage, as our selfishness is replaced by gratefulness that we will glorify Him. It is as our judgmental attitude is replaced with graciousness, as our condoning sin is replaced by speaking His Truth in love, and our hatred is replaced with sacrificial love that He is glorified. It is growth, not human perfectionism or remaining in sin that glorifies Him. It is as we are changed and molded into His likeness so that we reflect His character to the world around us that He is glorified.

God did all of the work for our salvation on the cross and is simply drawing us to Himself. He has instructed us to renew our minds with His word and instructed us to love each other. He has exhorted us to serve each other and to examine our hearts so that we can rid ourselves of the sins that entangle us. Is that too much for Him to ask, in light of what He has done for us? Sometimes we mistakenly think it is. We need to remember there is no shame in being human because Christ created us, He knows we are but dust. He knew we were born in a fallen state and we would sin every day and He still chose to die for every sin. Yet, He asks us to pursue Him, His kingdom, and His righteousness so men will see our good deeds and glorify Him. What is the benefit of it all? It is through a day-by-day, moment-by-moment walk with Him that allows us to become more holy and develop a deep intimacy with Him and it is through the intimacy that we experience His love and His power. Too often we forget the most important benefit of knowing God, is God Himself.

Are we basking in His sacrifice, but taking advantage of His grace? Or have we forgotten that His sacrifice was once and for all and trying to earn His "favor" through our lives, depriving ourselves of His peace? Hopefully, our pursuit of holiness is born out of a heart that is truly at peace with its Creator. Hopefully, our pursuit of holiness is born out of a desire to express love for Him and a desire to abide in the presence of His love. Hopefully, our pursuit of holiness is born out of a desire to make Him known through a lifestyle that reflects a heart forever changed by Love. We have been made perfect and we are being made holy; are we fighting the process or joining it?

Prayer: Lord, You are so gracious to have made us perfect forever. You are also gracious in making that holiness a practical reality in this life. Help us to keep our eyes focused on Christ and to never grow tired of growing. Help us to live in such ways that You are glorified in all that we do or say. Amen.

Monday, September 10, 2012

That Our Joy Might be Full

"These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you, 
and that your joy might be full. "
John 15:12

As a young adult, I was so afraid of God's sovereignty that I literally robbed myself of the joy that I now believe He wanted me to experience. I remember wondering things like: “What if He wants me to be single?” “What if He wants me to be a missionary to Africa?” “What if He wants me to marry someone who liked to move a lot?” “What if He wants me to have two children when I want six?” I came across the above verse a few years ago and I have been intrigued by it ever since.

Christ told the parable of the Vine and the Branches to His disciples and in that parable He says He wanted them to stay plugged into the vine so His joy would fill His disciples until it overflowed. It was a shock for me to realize Christ wanted His joy to fill us! That means that no matter what we go through in life, He wants His joy to remain in us and for that joy to sustain us through the difficult things we experience. I don’t know about you, but for me, “joy being full” doesn’t sound like a thread of joy to barely hang on to.

As a young adult, I had the perspective that if I was faced with something hard I must be doing something wrong or that maybe God was angry with me. Sometimes I think I even bordered on believing God did not love me as much as He did others. That faulty belief system meant whenever I experienced emotional pain I had to do something to become a better person to get the pain to stop. That mindset left me pretty worn out. Verse two of Chapter 15 says it is when God sees fruit in our lives that He begins to prune us so we can produce even more fruit. That means when He sees us begin producing godly characteristics like love, peace, self-control, righteousness or sharing Christ that He will begin to refine us even more so we might produce even more fruit.Could it be that the trials and temptations we face that are not of our own choosing are not a punishment, but a pruning? They are a loving and intentional method God uses to transform us. God continues to prune us of the things that hinder our potential to produce the quantity and quality of the fruit He desires us to produce.

It is His desire for us to love with His love not a worldly love. That means He may bring a series of people into our lives that challenge us and that we will have to work at loving them as He does. If He wants to produce the peace that passes understanding in us, He may have to put us in situations that require facing fears so we can experience His peace in circumstances that don't warrant peace. If He wants to produce kindness in us, He will more than likely bring people to whom we will have to work hard at showing His kindness so it becomes more natural for us to do so.

He also points out in the parable that the way we have joy is to remain in Him. This means we are to be dependent on Him. Just as sap flows freely from the vine into the branches feeding and making the branch healthy and productive, the Holy Spirit fills us, enabling us to produce godly character. Apart from Him, we cannot live the Christian life and produce godly fruit He desires us to produce. Apart from Him, we cannot forgive from the heart, we cannot love the unlovable, or overcome the weaknesses of our flesh. To live for Christ requires supernatural power that can only come from being in a right relationship with Him. It also requires we do what we can to have our minds filled with His thoughts and surrendering our will so that it will conformed to His will. As He works in our hearts and lives through us, it will be reflected in the way we act, think, react, and talk and it will impact our relationship with Him and with everyone with whom we come in contact.

In closing, Christ's goal for us is to glorify our Heavenly Father by bearing much fruit. When we fulfill that goal the outcome is always joy! As God prunes and as we become more like Him, we will experience joy to the fullest. When vines are being pruned, they cut off all the little tiny twigs that sap all the nutrients away from the fruit, not the big branches needed to bear fruit. The question each of us should ask ourselves is, “What are the fruitless twigs in our lives?” Could they be our business? Could they be the misconceptions we have of God? Could they be unhealed hurts? Could they be unbelief, fear, bitterness, unhealthy friendships, enemies, stress, addictions, worldly desires or worldly viewpoints? If none of these touched a vein in us, we can ask ourselves what stands between us and God or what takes our energy and our focus away from Him. If we can relate to things on the list, we don't need to "beat ourselves" up. It is more beneficial to be curious and to accept our humanity. That we can see them and identify them is proof God is at working in us. We will spend the rest of our lives trying to balance jobs, family, and friends. We will spend the rest of our lives learning about God and still not have internalized it all. We will spend the rest of our lives learning how much the Lord loves us and delights in us and the rest of our lives laying our hurts, our doubts, our concerns, and our fears at His feet. We will spend the rest of our lives learning to love friends and enemies. If we have a weakness in the flesh or an addiction we will spend a lifetime walking closely to Christ to have victory. We will spend a lifetime studying His word and letting it give us discernment about the world. The question that needs to be asked is, are we willing to persevere that we might be more fruitful in order to find our joy?

Prayer: Father, thank you for providing a way out of our sin. Thank you that Christ's desire was for us to experience His joy to its fullest. Help us to trust the pruning process and help us to grow in obedience so that we might produce more fruit and be filled with Your joy. We praise you for You are good, You are Holy, and You are perfect in all of Your ways! Help each one of us to abide fully in you. Amen.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Be Careful Little Eyes

"I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl."
Job 31:1

When I read this verse, I automatically thought of the children's song, “Be careful little eyes what you see." In our sexually charged culture it is really important we do just as the children's song suggest. I probably would change the words to something like, “Be careful grandma eyes what you see!” Too often we tend to think of lust as being only a "guy thing." But in all honesty over the twenty years I spent been in volunteering in youth work and the last eight years of ministering to adult women I have come to realize many women have a major struggle in this area. Some of them have been molested and unfortunately that woke up their sexuality very early in life and in very distorted ways. Others have simply been exposed to pornographic material and the exposure left them struggling. I have a friend that said she only saw it once and it continued to plague her for a very long time. In light of our sexually driven culture, I think it is important to be careful about what we put in front of us, because what we see with our eyes will have a huge impact upon our souls in ways we can't even imagine.  
Pornography can strip us of a sense of modesty. We may begin to dress in tighter dresses, shorter shorts, and lower cut blouses because our modesty has been distorted by all the "skin" we see on the screen, in magazines, and in books. This can also be impacted by the style of clothes that we find available in stores. When we dress and carry ourselves in less modest ways, we experience guys looking at us in sexual ways and interpret that to mean that they like us when they are simply lusting. Oh how I long for us to be women who find our worth in being God’s creation, rather than in turning heads. I long for us to find our worth in Christ's pure sacrificial love and not be seeking acceptance in worldly ways. Hopefully, our Christian brothers and the men in our lives are making covenants like the one found in Job 31:1. But we can show godly love by modest dress that doesn't emphasize our bodies and by modest behavior that invites them to know our inner heart. If the men in our lives blow it, I hope we don't get a thrill out of it, but speak the truth to them in love. 
One study I read says that the number of women struggling with pornography is growing rampantly. It is available 24 hours a day via the Internet which offers anonymity and affordability and instantaneously. It allows people to go to greater areas of perversions because there is no accountability or other people around. The study says more women are struggling with it as their children are growing and husbands are working long hours. In addition, lust is associated with the romance novels women read. The relational interaction depicted in those and in soap operas can be stimulating and provocative because they include immoral sexual content. In addition, just as pictorial pornography is deceptive because it is often airbrushed and shot from all sorts of angles that belie the normal human body of a woman, romance novels does the same thing with the relationships of the characters. They are always perfect, not human. Both tend to leave us with the desire for more than any human can give.
Pornography, both pictorial and relational are on the rise. There are several reasons for this. First, we have many broken homes and needs are not being met so people go to wrong places to have those needs met. Secondly, it is a sick, but lucrative industry that targets vulnerable people in an attempt to entice them so that they can make money. Third, because believers are to be the reflections of God’s love to an unloving world, Satan will do all he can do to distort love and marriage. Fourth, sexual addictions and strongholds are hard to break and unless they are broken it will take more perversion to satisfy those entrapped. Lastly, even though we live in a culture that is busy I feel that people are becoming more and more isolated and losing the ability to relate to others in healthy and satisfying ways. It is important we as Christian women foster godly relationships with our spouses, boyfriends, or friends that are guys. It is also important we foster healthy relationships with other Christian women. In our culture deep relationships have become difficult to foster, but they are necessary because they offer rich connection, sanctifying accountability and encouragement that helps us grow in our relationship with God and others. 
What kinds of images do you see that lead you into temptation? Why do you suppose those images affect you? Have you set boundaries that protect your eyes and your soul? Has what you seen affected your modesty and your struggle with maintaining godly relationships or a pure marriage? We want to make sure we are guarding ourselves the most when we are alone and in the privacy of our homes. If we are struggling, it is wise to seek accountability with a trusted friend. I have seen God do wonderful things when people are humble and bring the struggle to the light. 

Prayer: Father, our world is saturated with sexual things and even other things that distract us from spending time with You. Please help us to guard our eyes and to seek healthy relationships that will enhance our relationship with you. Please break strongholds and encourage those who are struggling. Thank you that your power is stronger than our weaknesses and our humanity. Help us to honor You by living in the safety of your boundaries and walking in your strength for victory over temptation. Amen. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Am I Being Wise or Foolish?

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them,
may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 
Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them,
will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand."
Matthew 7:24-26 (NAS)

What would have happened to mankind if Noah had not chosen to obey God by building the ark? What affect would it have had on history if Abraham had chosen not to leave his home and go to the land to which God called him? What would have happened to the Jewish nation in Egypt if no one had believed God and chose not to brush blood from a lamb on the posts of their doors when the Lord passed judgment on Egypt? What would have happened to Rahab when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down had she not chosen to hang the scarlet thread from her window? Probably a more important question is how would it impact my world if I hear God's Word and then choose not to act upon it? How will it impact my family, my church, and my friends? How would that impact future generations?
The passage above tells me that the only difference between a wise person and a foolish person is that the wise person believes God's word and then chooses to act upon what He believes and a foolish one either choose not to hear or chooses not to act upon it. What that seems to be saying to me is that knowledge itself does not make us wise. However, it is the choosing to act upon it that does. If I am really going to be honest I have to admit that there are teachings that I definitely am obeying pretty consistent. But there are also times that I might be tempted to be content to hear and not act up on what I hear. There are times I hear people even say that there are portions of scripture that they dismiss as irrelevant or outdated or that they just think they can get away with it because of grace. However, God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and His eternal truth and principles don’t become outdated. A lie is still a lie today. Hate is still hate.  Murder is still murder. Adultery is still adultery. Fornication is still fornication. The Great Commission, the command to love each other sacrificially, and the instructions to serve each other with our spiritual gifts are still valid. They did not go away simply because time has passed. 
When God called me into relationship with Him, He did so in love. It was such a deep and compassionate love that it demanded a response from me. Amazingly according to His word, to love Him is to obey Him, to not just read His word but to live it out.  I have come to realize that obeying God's word sometimes takes great courage. Moses had it when he confronted Pharaoh and asked him to let his people go. Joshua had it when he went into the Promised Land in the face of the giants that lived there. The Israelites had it when they defeated Jericho by marching around the city and blowing horns. That still amazes me that men who were trained to fight battles obeyed God and simply marched! Young David had it when he killed the giant, Goliath. Daniel had it when he obeyed God and was delivered from the lion's den. His friends had it when they obeyed and were delivered from the furnace. Peter and Paul had it when they preached sermons that caused thousands of people to be saved in the face of persecution. Christ had it when He chose to go to the cross for you and for me. Why then am I so tempted to disobey when God’s will clashes with mine or when it is uncomfortable or scary to obey?     
I know that sometimes I think obedience to God doesn't require as much courage for me as it did for the saints mentioned in the Bible, especially in Hebrews Chapter 11. But it really does. If I commit to loving God with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength I will be so different in the way I think, the way I speak, the way I act and react, and the way that I relate, because I will be governed solely by love. Because I live in a God-rejecting, often unbelieving and hate-filled world, when I live a life fully devoted to God I will stand out and be a blessing pointing many to Christ, but I will also be persecuted by those who hate God and the holy standard that He represents to them. Many don’t want to be reminded by my words and my lifestyle that they are disobedient to the one who created them and loves them with such a passionate love that demands a response from them too. A life devoted to God will condemn them even when I am acting in love and treat others with kindness.    
It takes lots of courage to live out one’s faith. It takes an inner strength to reject the pleasures that we often confuse with love and the appealing temptations this world offers for the eternal things God gives. It takes greater strength to stand up to gossip than it does to join in it, to offer forgiveness rather than retribution, to say no to sexual temptations than to give in to the desires of my body and its chemistry, to push down the sinful urges I was born with rather than to give in to them. It takes greater strength to treat others with love and respect than it does to push my own agenda, greater strength to push down my self-centeredness to put another's needs first, to honestly and respectfully work through conflict to become unified in Christ than to win an argument at the other person's expense, and to edify others when I am filled with human feelings of insecurities and jealousy. Lastly, it takes great strength and courage to confront in love and invite other’s to live in His light rather than silently suffer for fear of abandonment.  
Hmmm….I am wondering if you are a wise person or a foolish person? What will you do with God's word this week? Will you be courageous enough to live it out? It is ok if you are afraid, because without fear courage can't exist. It is okay if you feel ambivalent about it, just be honest with God, and then choose to do the next right thing. Most importantly, will you demonstrate that love Him through your obedience, He who made you and who died for you through His own obedience? May we grow wiser day by day as we renew our minds and choose to act on what He teaches us. May we have the same impact on our world as the Saints of old did!

Prayer: Father, we thank you for Your word and Your instructions. Help us realize that the world has a distorted view of wisdom and strength. Help us to choose to live in such a way that we are wise in Your eyes and strong in your might. Help us to apply your word daily to our lives. Help us to be transformed in our minds and help us to conform our will to Yours. Amen.          

Fragrance for Dark Days

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ 

and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him."
2 Corinthians 2:14

Have you ever faced a situation or watched the news on TV and wondered why God does not intervene? We may find ourselves asking that question because we live in a world where we receive news instantly and are bombarded with stories of abuse, terrorism, poverty, hunger, disease, murders, kidnappings, and other painful things. Some of us even have firsthand knowledge of these terrible things. For me, the questions often surface when I see the face of a starving child on TV, listen to a news report about a baby whose parents shook him to death, or hear of a man who has brutally molested, sodomized or raped a child. They also surface when I hear that a student killed another student or hear hateful words people use to kill the spirit of others. I wonder shy God didn't do something. The more I study the Scripture, the more I believe this is an inappropriate question, because God did do something! He sent His Son so He could redeem us and when He redeemed us He put a new heart within us. He gave us His Spirit to renew our hearts day by day. He instructed us to let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking, to be put away from us along with all malice. He told us to be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving just as Christ forgave us. In the gospels He went so far as instructing us to love our enemies. He wants us to make a difference. We are to spread knowledge of Him to the world. We are not to just do that by teaching the Scripture but by living it out through our actions and our words. 
So what does that mean for us at a personal practical level? When we are around those who are slandering and gossiping and biting each other, God wants us to use words that affirm and build others up. If we are in the mist of people who are in a hurtful conflict, God asks us to be the first one to use kind words, the first one to seek forgiveness, or the first to offer forgiveness another. If we find ourselves in a strained relationship, God is asking us to make a difference by not accusing or blaming, but speaking the truth in a loving way that invites reconciliation and healing. If we encounter others who foster hatred, God desires is to overcome it with loving acts He does through us. If we know someone who is hurting, God desires to comfort her through us. If we know someone who is lonely, God desires to offer fellowship through us. If we know someone who is hungry or needs clothing, God wants to provide needs through us. If we feel we need a more spiritual atmosphere, we called to create it.
Even when we think back on something as tragic as the terrorist's attack on September 11th we realize in the face of something as hateful as that was. the Spirit of God rose up in people to counter the hatred with loving kindness. Look at the money that poured in. Look at the number of Christian counselors that gave of their time to help people deal with shock, trauma, and grief. Look at the endless hours firemen and policemen put into looking for survivors and bodies of those who died. One of the reasons God may have chosen not to remove evil from our world is so that His goodness would shine all the more brightly in the face of it. I said at the beginning that I thought the question, "Why doesn't God do something?" was inappropriate. God indwells in believers and gives us the capacity to love as He loves, forgive as He forgives and to overcome evil with good. The more appropriate question when hard times come might be "What is God is calling me to do?” God has chosen to indwell believers and if each one of us rises to the occasion and asks what He would have us do, He will be visible through us. As His people, we don't have to ask why He doesn't do something, but instead we must be willing to do what He asks. As His people, we don't need to be overwhelmed by the dark, evil times–it is merely a backdrop for His glory to shine brightly through us. Am I shining bright enough for you to see?     

Prayer:  Father, thank you for saving us. You have called each of us to put on the new nature that reflects Your nature to the world the same way that Christ bore your image to us.  Help us to love boldly in the face of hatred.  Help us to forgive in the face of bitterness.  Help us to feed in the face of starvation.  Help us to be gracious in our speech in the face of backbiting.  Help us be humble in the face of pride.  Help us to be gentle and kind in the face of accusation.  Help us to shine in the face of darkness.  Amen.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On Loving God

"and who also told us of your love in the Spirit."
Colossians 1:8--Part 1

As we remain in God's love, His Spirit is free to produce His love in us. The love produced will be both vertical towards God and horizontal towards other people. John, in his letter of First John, supports this by saying that we love because He first loved us. So often in the church we hear the phrase that Biblical love is an action word and that is only half true. I believe love is also an emotion. Today I am looking at love as both.
As a Christian I am aware God's nature is love. I know His love is unconditional, sacrificial, eternal, unchanging, and unending. I know it is sweet and it demands a response from me. I also know that all of His other attributes operate with the scope of His love, never independently. When I feel "dry" emotionally, I understand if I "reconnect" with God by spending time with Him I will be filled with His love and I will both sense His presence and enjoy the feeling of being loved.
The questions I use to discern if I am spending adequate time at His feet are: “Am I walking close enough with God that His Spirit is free to produce His love in me?” “Do I desire to demonstrate my devotion to Him by my actions and my lifestyle?” “Am I as delighted today that I am His child as I was in the past?” Am I trying to live the purest life possible for Him so He is glorified by my life or am I trying to see how much I can get away with?”     
1 Corinthians says love is patient. Am I patient with God? Have I thought about how I could demonstrate patience when we are waiting on Him to answer prayer or to guide me through the storms of this life?
Love is kind. How do I show God kindness?  Are my prayers full of kind words of praise or are they full of demands?
Love does not envy, boast or demonstrate pride. Does God get the glory for the good in my life? Love is not rude or self-seeking. Am I passionate about God’s glory or seeking it for myself? Do I listen when God speaks or think about what I want from Him?  Is my love for Him based on what I hope to gain from Him or is it an overflow of a grateful heart that experiences Him? Love is not easily angered. Do I find myself angry with God when I don't get my way or get something in my own timing? Love keeps no record of wrongs. Am I praising God for his sovereignty even when it means I am going through painful circumstances? Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. What is it I really delight in--the things of God or the evils of this world? Love always protects. I don’t think I can protect God, but do I protect my time and my relationship with Him? Love always trusts. Do I truly trust Him? Do I know enough about Him from His word so when circumstances are confusing or painful I trust Him? Do I trust His boundaries and the love behind those boundaries?
Love always hopes. Am I secure enough in my relationship with the Lord to have a firm confidence He will accomplish His will in my life even if in the moment it doesn’t look that way? Am I confident He will fulfill His promises? Love always perseveres. Do I have a stick-to-it-ness in my relationship with God or do I live only for "mountain top" experiences?  Am I consistent in loving Him on the "humdrum" days as I am in the exciting days?   
The love described in I Corinthians 13 is definitely shown through actions. But I as I reflect on Christ at the end of His life, He demonstrated His love by dying for me when I was still a sinner. He spent time in the Garden of Gethsemane in passionate prayer about the cross. His cries from the cross were also full of passion. His love even though demonstrated by an action was motivated by passion! A person won't die for people He is not passionate about. He won’t ask His Father to forgive those who crucified Him unless He felt passion for them. I know we have been called to be living sacrifices in Romans 12. That means I am to die to my own selfishness wants so I can love and serve Him on a moment by moment basis. I won't do that unless I develop a passion for Him.
I invite you to join me in self examination to see if you are passionate about God? Does it show up in your devotional-prayer life, in your speech, and in your willingness to sacrifice for the opportunity to know Him more? Does your passion govern your reactions to life?  When your mind wanders, does it wander to Him? 
            In closing, I must confess to you that as I am writing this I am extremely convicted. Loving God with all my heart, mind, and soul can only happen as I let His Spirit control and transform my life. It is not something we can muster up within us ourselves. It comes from spending time with the Lord and letting Him fill us and teach us about His love. 

Prayer:  Lord help each of us to remain in love with You. Not just in or action love, but a love that is motivated by passion from a heart filled with your passion. Please bring about whatever needs to happen in each of us to have a strong abiding passionate love for You. Amen.  

Friday, May 25, 2012

Remain in His Love

Most of us have wondered how much we are really loved. Amazingly, God tells us the answer to that in John 15:9-12. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this; Love each other as I have loved you." Christ tells his disciples that He loves them just as His Father loves Him. When we think about that it has a lot of implications. Jesus was loved with an eternal, radical, unconditional, abiding, consistent, and bold love. It was a love that motivated Him to action and it was a love that was sacrificial. Christ demonstrated that love for us in His life and His death. His Father demonstrated His love for us by sending His son to pay for our sin and by giving us His Holy Spirit as a seal, comforter, and teacher. 
What does it mean to remain in His love? Christ tells us that if we obey His command we will remain in His love. At first this seems like God loves with a conditional love. However, it wasn't a condition as much as recognition of the way we react when we sin. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they hid from Him and He pursued them. Peter left his ministry and returned to his fishing profession when he denied Christ and Christ pursued him to restore him to ministry. As children, we hid form authority figures when we did something wrong. And as adults, we are no different than the Biblical characters who hid. If we are honest, we probably still have a tendency to want to hide the things that we feel shame over from friends and mentors. For me personally, my hiding comes from the fear that I will be rejected if I share the “bad parts of my heart.” But the more I understand about God and His unconditional love, the more comfortable I am sharing my faults with Him and the more I trust He will help me grow. 
          The main thing God wants us to do is to love one another as Christ loved us. That means He wants us to extend grace and speak truth. It means accepting a person where they are and then gently reminding them what God wants them to become. If someone shares a struggle, we need to accept that that is where he or she is at the moment. If we listen and love first, we earn the right to encourage him or her to let God remove the struggle and replace it with godliness. We are more helpful when we remind them that their God is bigger than their struggle. If someone shares that she is struggling with temptation, we can accept the truth of the struggle with out judgment and then offer support and accountability as we remind her that her God is bigger than her sinful urges. If someone is struggling with an addiction we can remind her that her God is bigger than the angst of addiction and walk her through the struggle. If someone is struggling with sins of the tongue, we can remind her God is big enough to help her control the impulse to use the tongue in a negative way. We can encourage a person to get to know God, who is powerful enough to change even the worst of sinners. 
          When we are struggling, it is wise to make sure we are real and have people who love the real us. They can’t if we wear a mask to cover our struggle with sin. We know it is risky, but we are called to live in the light and confess our sin to one another. Sometimes fear drives us to wear masks so others won’t reject us. The truth is that some people won't love us if we are real no matter how hard we try to get them to. Little children who grow up in a secure environment are great because what you see is what you get. They are happy one moment and angry the next, silly one moment and crying the next. We need other believers in our lives that allow us to be that real. If we cover up our struggles with love, temptation, anger, and forgiveness, we don't give the people God places in our lives the opportunity to love the real us—when someone loves the “fake person” we present, we still feel unloved. We need people who not only accept our goodness, but our "badness" as well. And we them to be bold enough to encourage us to work through our struggles and grow in Christ. If we love each other, we remain in Christ's love and we will experience His joy and our own joy will explode. 
           When we feel unloved, we can be real with God about that and cling to the truth that Christ has loved us in the same way and the same depth that God has loved Him. We can trust His love no matter what we have done or what we have thought. When we feel unloved, we can remember the time we were most aware of His love and know that love is still radically true. We can look for hidden sin and confess it and know that forgiveness is sure. We want to be like John, the apostle, who stayed as close to Christ as He could. We want to abide against His chest where we can hear His heart beat and listen to His words--"as the Father has love me, so I have loved you.   

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for loving us like You do. Help us to remain in Your love and to love others in the same way. Help us to remember when we fail and want to hide that You want us to remain by confessing it to you. Lord fill us with strength to know and understand you love.  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!