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.                  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sexuality God’s Way

"It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid 
sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body
 in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, 
who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong 
his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish 
men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.  
For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 
Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, 
who gives you his Holy Spirit."
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8

We often wonder what God's will is for our lives. In our search for His will, we often overlook the part of His will clearly stated in the Bible and we don't realize the far-reaching impact it has on us. The above passage was written to a church in a community plagued by sexual immorality much like our own culture. The passage says we are to be sanctified and avoid sexual immorality--that would include pornography, movies, books, or music that stimulate lust or promote premarital and extramarital sex. It is God's will we learn how to control our bodies in holy and honorable ways and it is sometimes difficult if we put the world’s garbage in our minds. It also means we need to be honest with ourselves about the things that trigger lust and avoid them. There are four reasons we should desire to walk in holiness.      
First, Christ's sacrifice should motivate us to want to please God. Paul says in I Thessalonians 2:4,  "Even so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who tries our hearts." Just as Jesus lived to please His heavenly Father, it should be our desire to please Him. Ephesians 6:6 says, "not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart."  This indicates our hearts should be in the right place so we don't just have an outward show of obedience.  
Second, to obey Christ is to express our love to Him. "If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15) When we trust God's commands concerning sexual purity, we recognize God's love and protection. When we obey Him, we show Him love and we will have joy flowing from a deeper intimacy with Him. 
Third, we are to glorify Him by a lifestyle that reflects Him. We can give up the tendency towards perfectionism when we understand God is more glorified by the changes He makes in our lives than the self-righteousness we try to achieve. As we choose to walk in obedience, relying on His strength, He changes us. He calls us to live pure lives because sex, outside of marriage, is not love. It doesn't honor the other person and it doesn't honor us. It’s selfish, exhibiting rebellion toward God. To possess our own body requires that we recognize how our bodies are wired and be willing to give up or avoid whatever causes us to stumble.    
Fourth, we want to obey God because we love Him and want to live a pure life. We want to obey to escape discipline. God promises to discipline those He loves. God desires purity from His children and He exposes sin and leaves us in its consequences. When we understand we have a love relationship with Him, we will not want to grieve Him or dishonor Him. God has provided His Holy Spirit who will strengthen us, putting holy desires in us, enabling us to carry them out.   
We might want to poss and figure out where we are in the realm of personal holiness? God has made each of us with sexual desires so that He can bless our marriages. Anything outside of that is self-destructive as it separates us from His blessings. When I was a volunteer youth worker, young girls often asked me, "How far is too far?" I didn’t know what that would be for each girl, but I did know that they would never look back and regret holiness and purity. Some of the girls took ownership of their bodies and set godly boundaries, some bounced back and forth between godliness and sinfulness, and some chose to be promiscuous thinking they would feel loved, and some stated boundaries and said "no," only to give in and do “more” than they wanted to do. We need to teach our young women to have a sense of ownership of their bodies and have a truthful perception of how she is made. When a man asks for sex outside of marriage he is asking for something that is not ours to give--"What? Know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have of God, and you are not your own?  For you are bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." It is not only okay to tell men, “No!” It is good! God set our boundaries for us as a protection of our hearts that can be deeply wounded when we allow guys to use us and discard us. We live in a culture where men push and even demand sex, believing it is their right. Women’s boundaries need to be really strong as we remember godly love does not want us to dishonor us or God. Anyone that rejects us for godly standards is rejecting the Lord's will for his life and ours. We have a loving God and we can always rest in His love and His protection.    
Prayer:  Father, it is wonderful to know You have given us Your spirit to enable us to live holy lives set apart to You.  Help us to be God-pleasers in the way we handle our sexuality. Amen.

Struggling Against Sin

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, 
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, 
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, 
who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, 
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 
 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, 
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, 
you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood."
Hebrews 12:1-4

When I reflect on my life, I often feel frustrated that I haven't grown as much as I hoped I would. I tend to do this at the beginning of the year, on my birthday, and other times that mark the beginning or ending of a season of life. I always hope I will be more mature than I am or further along in dealing with the issues in my life. With self-reflection it is easy to grow weary and lose heart, especially when one is a perfectionist like me. There are several principles in Hebrews 12 that enable me to "run the race" successfully and with joy. 
First, I am to get rid of everything that hinders my ability to live the Christian life. That could include people, things, and negative thoughts. It is good for me to stop and think about whether there are people in my life that steer me away from the life I desire to truly live. It is good for me to consider whether there are people I allow to influence me to not love people I know God has called me to love. It is good for me to honestly consider whether movies or TV shows I watch influence my view of holiness. Good to examine my thoughts to see if there are negative thoughts that plague my ability to see myself as Christ does. It is wise to look at my thinking to see if there are doubts creeping into my life that keep me from using the spiritual gifts that God has given me? Am I seeking after things of the world or the things of God? 
Secondly, I am to get rid of the sin that so easily besets me. Some commentators interpret that to mean personal weaknesses. Others interpret the "sin that so easily entangles us" as the sin of unbelief. I am thinking that they may be one in the same. At the root of besetting sin is the fact that I often have a need that I don’t believe God will meet. For example, when I am struggling with some behaviors it is because I am plagued with insecurities because I don't believe in my heart of hearts that I am radically and unconditionally loved by God. This can influence us in many ways. Women often struggle with gossip because we don't understand and full trust our acceptance in Christ, so we deal with our fear of rejection by damaging others reputations to insure our place among our friends.  
Next, He reminds me that I haven't resisted sin to the point I have shed blood. I believe this is a reference to Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wrestled with the desire to do His own will and to do His Father's will so hard that capillaries burst and blood tinged his sweat. When was the last time I wrestled so much with the desire to honor God in the midst of a temptation that I sweat drops of blood? I wish I could remember even one time I resisted to that point, but to be honest I can’t. To live a life that honors God, I must be willing to resist strong temptation that comes my way. I must accept that the Christian life may not feel easier as I grow in my desire to be like my Heavenly Father.  
          Finally, I'm commanded to keep my focus on Jesus. He is the one who is able to mature my faith. I can’t increase my faith apart from Him. I can only choose to trust God and His word in each circumstance I face. If I keep my eyes on Jesus, what do I see? I see His love-scarred hands that are open wide to me. I see the scars on His brow, reminding me He bore the curse for me. I see the stripes on His back, reminding me He came so that I could be healed. I see His love filled eyes that are full of acceptance rather than the condemnation I expected to see?
I am afraid I forget my name is on His lips, inviting me to spend time with Him. I forget that in His presence my fears and concerns melt into adoration and praise. I forget when I pour out my heart to Him, My bitterness is turned into perfect peace. I forget that I see in Him a power strong enough to overcome death. When I look at Christ and His glory, I want the path He laid before us. When I look at Christ, I can't be satisfied with any love, except His pure and holy love. When I think of His holiness I want to rid myself of anything hindering my relationship with Him. When I am focused on Christ, I desire to get to the place that I resist temptation to the point I sweat blood as Christ did in the Garden. 
Where is the focus of your eyes? Is it on the world, yourself, or Christ?  What entangling sin do you need to cast off? How deep is the root of unbelief behind that sin? The God who died for you designed the race you are to run – have you entered the race?  

Prayer:  Lord, You are holy good and You gave so much to reconcile us to Yourself.  Please help us to see all that hinders our relationship with You and give us the courage to get rid of it. Please help us see even the roots of the sins that entangle us and help us to resist the temptation in order to see Your strength manifested in us. Please help us to keep our eyes focused on You and to allow your perfecting work in us. Amen.

Living Expectantly

"Joseph and Mary took Jesus at eight days old to Jerusalem 
to present him to the Lord. Now there was a man in Jerusalem 
called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting 
for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 
It had been revealed to him before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 
Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. 
When the parents brought in the child, Jesus to do for Him 
what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took Him in his arms
 and praised God, saying: Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, 
you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen 
your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 
a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel…"
From Luke 2:21-38.

I love this story about Simeon. God had promised him that he would not die before the Messiah appeared. He was living a righteous life and was devoted to God as he waited expectantly for God to fulfill His promise. The day Mary and Joseph took Jesus to be circumcised the Holy Spirit prompted Simeon to go to the temple and he saw the baby, Jesus, and he took him in his arms, declaring the Messiah had come. 
We celebrate Christ’s birth as Christians. We celebrate His resurrection on Easter. We believe Jesus came and lived a perfect life and died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sin. During communion we look forward to His coming back for us. But, I believe God wants more. He wants us to live expectantly in the same way Simeon did. There are several ways we can live expectantly. 
First, we can live expecting God to work in our lives and our hearts. This means we expect Him to purify us and finish the work He began in us when we accepted Him as our Savior. Second, we live remembering our real citizenship is in heaven and eagerly await Jesus' return and His transformation of our lowly bodies into bodies that are glorified. Third, we remember we will be caught up with Him to live with Him forever. Fourth, we remember Christ is preparing us a place to live. 
We can get glimpses of heaven by reading through Revelation. It is a hard book to understand, but there are some beautiful descriptions of heaven, the songs that will be sung and the Savior's glory and power. The Bible talks about Him wiping away our tears and tells us we will be forever free from the pain of sin and the pain of death. This means that there will be no more sadness, despair or depression. There will be no more colds, flu, or pneumonia. There will be no more loved ones dying of cancer or heart failure or accidents. There will be no more internal struggle with the desire to do right and wrong at the same time. We will no longer suffer due to sinful choices of others–no more terrorists’ attacks, no murders, no molestation or rape, no theft, no gossip or slander, no addictions, no eating disorders, and no physical, emotional, or spiritual abuse. We will live in heaven with the Lord forever and be able to love the way we long to love. We will not only be surrounded by God's love, but by the love of those, who like us, will have been forever changed to be like Christ. 
I confess in my everyday life, I don’t live expectantly. I know Christ is active in my life, but I don’t live expectantly looking for His work in and through me. As a result, I miss out on the joy of watching Him work. I also tend to lose sight of the ways He is refining me. As painful as His refining process can be, it is one of the biggest proofs that I am His. When my mind wanders, I long for it to it wander to Him. I want to live in anticipation of His return in the same way Simeon looked for His Messiah. I know His return is a sure thing, just as His birth was and I desire to be like Simeon, holy, devoted, watching! I look forward to having this aging, aching body changed. I look forward to losing this deceitful heart with which I was born that so often believes the enemies lies. I look forward to living in the presence of His perfect love and His perfect righteousness being manifested in and through us. I can't wait to live under His benevolent Kingship. I can’t wait to be away from the sin and the hatred that is so prevalent today. I can't wait to escape this life where people love so imperfectly love and deal with conflict so destructively.  
He is coming back! If I live expectantly, my life will surely take on new meaning. I will witness more of God's handiwork in my life and in the lives of others. I will experience His love more consistently. I will love more deeply, forgive more readily, and rest more often in His peace, and experience more joy that transcends the yucky circumstances of life. God's promises are just as sure now as they were in the days of Simeon. Oh, I want to be a Simeon--faithfully awaiting my Lord!

Prayer:  Father, thank you for sending Your son to live among us to reveal Your love. Thank you for the promises that you will purify us and that He will return again to take us home with Him. To sing praises in heaven with people from every country, race, and economic level is something we look forward to. Help each of us to live in anticipation of your return in the same way that Simeon looked for his promised Messiah. 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!