Monday, December 7, 2009

What Is Eternal Life?--Christmas 3

"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee,
the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent."
John 17:3

Several years ago when I was a volunteer in our youth group I went on a short-term mission trip. During the trip, the youth pastor threw out deep questions for us to ponder and discuss through the day. One of his favorite questions was, "Do you know God?" That particular question haunted me every time he asked it. When I came across the above verse I became more intrigued by his question. Early in my Christian life I would have simply said eternal life is life that lasts forever and that is a true statement, but I have come to understand eternal life is so much more than that. This verse describes eternal life as knowing the only true God--the God that is found in the Scripture as well as knowing His son, Jesus Christ.

Every single book in the Scriptures speaks of God. In Genesis we see God as the Creator whose creativity knows no bounds. Just realizing there is nothing that wasn't created by Him blows my mind. The next four books contain God's laws that reveal His Holiness, His love, and our need of a Savior. They also point us to Christ who is the ultimate Sacrificial Lamb who fulfills the Old Testament sacrifices. We miss something significant when we view the law as only a list of "do's" and "don'ts." It reveals the character of God and His loving protection over us. God is the author of life and we were created in His image. He wants His image bearers to love like He loves. Loving means we can't murder because God is the God of life. God is truth and to bear false witness mars His image in us. God is a giver and if we covet and steal we give the impression that God is a taker. When we fail, we not only fail to bear His image, we grieve the heart of a loving God who views us as children. We hurt others who are watching us to see what the Christian faith is. We hurt ourselves because sin and its consequences has negative impact on us, our lives, and on our relationships to God and man. Sin, big or small, always has serious consequences.

The instructions on worship reveal to us that God is holy and we're not. This exposes our need for a Savior, giving us the knowledge we need to be reconciled to God. The next books are historical books and show us how God relates to nations. The books of poetry reveal to us the thoughts men had when the Holy Spirit was inspiring them and the creative freedom they had in pouring their hearts out to God. The next books, the prophetic books, continue to expound on Gods' judgment on sin, His sovereign plans for man, and the way they could be reconciled to Him. His judgement may seem harsh, but they were always designed to draw people back to His heart and to preserve His chosen people.

The gospels reveals God Incarnate through Jesus! If we walk through the pages of the gospels we see a God who partied, who wept, who deeply loved, who confronted both gently and boldly, who laughed, who prayed, who taught. and who was so humble He served those He created. Jesus rubbed shoulders with the unlovely, the hated, the hateful, the sinful, the self-righteous, the sick, the demon possessed, the poor, the rich. He served men, women, and children just like me. He served those who were seeking Him, and those who were not. He served both Jews and Gentiles.

Acts reveals how God relates to us as He indwells us through His Holy Spirit. He works in our hearts, melting the hardness caused by bitterness, pain, and rebellion. He empowers us to honor God with our lives, our words, actions, and our attitudes. The remaining books are letters the Holy Spirit inspired men to write to teach, encourage, exhort, and confront churches and individuals as they learned to walk as men and women reconciled to Jehovah God. Most of the epistles begin with doctrine that reveal the heart of God and what we posses as His children. The last part of the books appeal to us to live for Him on the basis of all we possess in Him. The Bible ends with the book of Revelation describing God's final judgment on sin and our glorious reunion with Christ--a reunion that will end pain, illness, death, sin, fear, and sadness once and for all.  

Which brings us back to the original question--"Do you know HIM?" There are so many possible answers we could give to the question. "No", "I am not sure", "I know about Him,." "I think I do." "I think I am starting to." "I know Him better than I did last year." Hopefully we are all honest enough and love Christ enough to say, "Yes, but I want to know Him more." If that is the desire of your heart, I have some suggestions that might help it become a reality. First, we can make a commitment to spend time with Christ daily by reading His Word in small chunks and meditating on it! If He is to be our closest friend, our heavenly father, our comforter, our teacher–we will spend time with Him to know Him. When we read His word, it will help to remember the words on the page are the expressions of the heart and mind of a living all-powerful, omniscient, tender, loving God. The words are truth, even when our circumstances seem to contradict it. We benefit by spending time in prayer, discussing with Him what we've read and everything pertaining to our lives and our relationships. We can ask Him to give us hearts totally devoted to Him and then sit quietly at His feet so He can remind us of the Scriptures and bathe us in His love. Sometimes, I sit next to my husband and he puts his arm around me and we don't have to talk to feel connected. But we often find that out of the silence we're sharing we're prompted to tell each other something we hadn't planned on saying. The same thing happens when we are silent before God. He brings to mind things we need to discuss with Him or by bringing to mind a verse or a name of someone He would like us to pray for. He gives us a strong sense of His presence and simply whisper His love into our hearts.
Lastly, a question that comes to mind when the pastor posed the question to us was, "How do I know if I know Him?" The following questions might help us discern that: “Do I cry over the things Jesus cried over?” “Do I rejoice over the things that Jesus rejoiced over?” “Do I get angry over the things Jesus got angry over?” “Do I think about the things Jesus thought about?” “Do I love the lost the way Jesus loves them?” “Do I love other people in my church the way He did?” “Am I humble enough to wash other people's feet the way Christ did?” “Am I adopting His perspectives on the circumstances in my life that He has?” And most importantly, “Do I want to know Him more?” So let me ask you this Christmas season, do you know Him?

Prayer: Father, You are beyond our comprehension. Yet, it is Your desire to for us to know you. Please place in each of us an unquenchable thirst for you. Please continuously turn our hearts and minds towards You. In Roman 11:33 it says "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" We praise You for the riches found in knowing You and accept that we will never be able to fully understand and comprehend You. Help us never to be discouraged by what we don't comprehend but thrilled by what You choose to reveal to us and through us as your image bearers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Sacrifice of Forgiveness

"Then the master called the servant in. "You wicked servant," he said, "I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? " In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
Matthew 18:32-35.

     These verses contain a part of a parable the Lord used to teach about forgiveness. I had come to think of forgiveness as only as exercise of the mind, but these verses strongly refute that. While forgiveness begins with a decision to choose to forgive, healing comes from emotional forgiveness that follows the head decision. In looking through the Psalms we see that David presented not only his godly thoughts and praises to God, but he also presented his ungodly thoughts. He shared his feelings of fear, anger, frustration, and anxiousness with Him. He expressed his frustrations and anger concerning other people with God. He told God not only what happened, but what he thought and felt about it.
     In our culture we often say we're not angry, but we say it through clinched teeth. As believers, we are especially guilty of this because we are taught that "good Christians" don't get angry, don’t feel or express hurt, and never admit to being afraid. We stuff, deny, and often bury feelings deep in side where they smolder, fester, and intensify. Sometimes our denial is so deep that we can easily say with our mouth that we have forgiven someone, but when we pass that person we find ourselves looking the other way, to avoid surfacing anger or hurt. Sometimes we experience anger coming out in unrelated situations and we don't understand it. At those times we need to sit down before God and ask God to create in us a clean heart. We also need to ask Him to reveal any buried bitterness and emotions that we have stuffed. Ask Him to let the emotions surface and talk to Him and a trusted mentor about them. One way to work through stuck feelings toward people is to choose to forgive them by writing out the following exercise:
"Lord, I choose to forgive____________________________, for___________________________, but__________________________________________________.
     Repeat the above exercise over and over until no more "buts" come to mind and you feel the peace of God instead of anger. It may take only a couple of times, but if the offense was very serious and caused a lot of pain it may take many times to reach the point of rest. As you express negative emotions to God, ask Him to replace them with His joy and peace and to help you see the person and the situation the way He does. If you have been hurt don't be surprised if you cry as you release the "buts" to Him. Don't be surprised if as you cry experience Him as your comforter. He delights in you even when you are crying – Psalm 56:8 says that He collects tears in a bottle! He knows that forgiveness is not easy, that it is sacrificial, and that it is painful, but keep in mind that no person will ever sin against us as much as we have sinned against God. Forgiveness is for our benefit – without it we cannot be in fellowship with God and become more like Him. Forgiveness doesn't mean we will forget, but it does mean we won’t use the offense against that person again.
     Forgiveness is also costly – it costs us our pride, our sense of fairness, our sense of justice, and our desire for revenge and it cost Jesus His life. He still loves us, even after all we have done and all that we will do in the future. He still desires an intimate relationship, still calls us sisters, and still calls us friends! Doesn’t His love compel us to be more like Him? If we become like him, we will learn to look at situations in which we are hurt as an opportunity to be more like Him, forgiving like He does. I do a similar exercise when I feel angry at God--I express the anger or disappointment to Him and ask Him to help me see things from His perspective and or to help me accept His sovereignty in the situation. Sometimes He does help me see it from His perspective. At other times, I feel like He simply asks me to trust Him and to cling to His goodness and His promises! And slowly I am realizing, I have always had irrational beliefs that if I can just understand something I can make it through. The truth is, I can make it through, because I can rest in the truth of God’s unfailing love. Some things in this life will never make sense. They just are…understanding them won’t lessen the pain they cause. But my God is big enough to heal my hurting heart.

Prayer: Father, sometimes forgiveness is so hard and so painful. It makes us vulnerable to emotional pain that we would rather not feel. It also makes us vulnerable to people and to getting hurt again. Please place in each of us the desire to be like You; even when that includes forgiving. Help us remember the cruelty of the beating that You received, the humiliation of being stripped and mocked, and the horrible cruel death You suffered for us so that our offenses could be forgiven. Help us to extend that same mercy and love to others no matter who they might be. To be like You, we have to learn to forgive like You do. Please give us the courage, the humility, the compassion, and the gracious hearts we need to be a true reflection of YOU! Amen.

Monday, November 2, 2009

One Very Thirsty Woman

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet without sin."
Hebrews 4:15--Story from John 4:4-30, 39-42

In this account Jesus and His disciples were traveling by foot through the country of Samaria when they stopped by a well to rest. Usually the Jews avoided this region, because they believed contact with Samaritans would defile them. While the disciples went shopping for food, a Samaritan woman approached the well where Jesus was resting. It was customary for people to get water early in the morning or evening when it the temperature was cool, but she came to the well around noon--the hottest part of the day. She was carrying her water pot and even from a distance Jesus noticed the slump of her shoulders, her eyes cast down, the lack of a spring in her step, and her face void of expression. He knew she came to the well at this time to avoid the disapproving looks and the rude comments of other women in her community. As she approached, she was surprised by Christ's presence and avoided His gaze.

As she began to draw water from the well, Jesus asked her for a drink. Surprised, she asked Him why He, being a Jew, was speaking to her. Glancing at the well, He told her that if she knew who He was she would have been asking Him for a drink of living water. She was puzzled by his comment. To her living water meant fresh pure water that was used for drinking. She glanced at Him, but did not recognize Him. He spoke to her again, asking her to her to bring her husband to see Him. She squirmed under His gaze and responded saying that she did not have a husband. He smiled ever so slightly at her discomfort and knowing her statement was a half truth. He caught her eye and held her gaze as He told her He knew she was five times divorced, now living with a man not her husband. She instinctively understood Jesus knew five men and declared her unfit as a wife and was amazed He was still engaging in a conversation with her.

However, she didn't realize He also understood that with each divorce her feelings of rejection had grown deeper. With each rejection she bore a growing sense of failure at fulfilling the role she was born to fulfill. We aren’t told why she did not marry the sixth. It could have been that she was afraid to marry him thinking it would save her the public humiliation of another divorce or maybe he was just using her for his own pleasure and she needed his provision. 

Christ recognized an unquenchable thirst growing deep inside of her--a thirst to be known, loved, and accepted. She desperately needed some one to see the ugly parts of her heart and not walk away. She needed to have some one care enough to instill in her the hope that she could become the woman God designed her to be. As she listened, she recognized Him, not just as a Jew, but also as a prophet and asked Him where people should go to worship. Maybe she was dodging the personal issues Christ exposed or maybe she was actually seeking truth. He answered her question and it was then that she became aware that she had met God. He knew she had been rejected repeatedly and she had a long pattern of sexual sin and He still loved her! He was different from the men she knew. He gave her His pure love, His righteousness and met her needs instead of demanding she satisfy His. He satisfied her thirst to be known, her thirst to be loved, and her thirst to be accepted. As a result, she was forever changed from a vessel of dishonor to a vessel of honor.

Christ not only went out of His way to offer His grace to this one rejected lady; He used her to offer it to an entire rejected race. We can know she was changed, because she willingly told the people in her community who had shunned her about her encounter with Jesus. We each have similar stories. We were separated from God by sin, and He sought us out, bringing us face to face with Him so He could offer us a relationship with Him. All of us were born with the same needs that she had. Christ meets those needs if we let Him.

Interestingly, Jesus, like the lady, was well acquainted with grief and rejection. He was cast out of synagogues when He began to reveal who He was. While His neighbor's questioned His heritage His brothers questioned His sanity. Religious leaders accused Him of being demon possessed and His own disciples deserted Him. His countrymen traded His release for that of a murderer and His Heavenly Father poured His wrath on Him for sin He did not commit – it was for our sin that He died.

He offered the Samaritan salvation because He understood the pain of her unmet needs and her life of rejection. It’s comforting to know that Christ was touched with the feeling of her infirmities and that He understands ours as well. He also understands the struggles we have with our weaknesses. He hates our sin, but He definitely understands the needs driving it. The question we need to wrestle with is, “Will we let God expose our deepest needs that drive our behaviors?” Sometimes we admit we sin, but we avoid facing the needs beneath because we it is painful. 
We can share our longing to be known and loved with God and trust Him to meet us there. We can let Him see the darkest parts of our souls and know He won't leave. We can confess our sin and know He still loves us. We can trust Him to mold us into women He intended us to be.In truth, we are all very thirsty women and He is the "living water" who can fill us with His love and goodness not just to the brim, but to the point that it overflows!

Father, I know that each of us has been rejected in some form or fashion and it truly hurts. Some have been rejected to the level of this woman and I cannot even imagine that kind of pain. I pray that You will heal those that are hurting and that each person will be comforted by the fact that You have felt the feelings of their infirmities and understand their failures and unmet needs. Please meet their needs and satisfy the longings of their souls! You are good and You are faithful! We love You…Amen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Unashamed and Testifying

"So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me, His prisoner. 
But join with me in sufferings for the gospel by the power of God, who has saved us 
and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done, 
but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus
 before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light
 through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher."
2 Timothy 1:8-11

In these verses Paul instructs Timothy to not be ashamed of the testimony of Jesus Christ. That may seem odd unless we keep in mind that the Jewish community often associated suffering with unconfessed sin and the early church suffered because of their faith. However, Paul knew that although God’s Son did not sin, He suffered tremendously during His life on earth. He suffered even more in His death because He paid for our sin. To demonstrate His love, Christ took on our shame and our sin and gave us His righteousness! I hope our desire is to not be ashamed to speak His name or to testify of His love and goodness. If we ever find ourselves in a situation in which we are ashamed I hope we will figure out way and turn back quickly. When we hurt, I hope we will rest in His love and comfort, praising Him in the pain. I hope we will never be afraid or ashamed to be mocked, ridiculed, or rejected for His name's sake because Jesus was not ashamed to call us friends, to be mocked, ridiculed, and rejected for us.

These verses point out how Christ abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. I remember receiving an email that said one of the men from a former church needed prayer. His 21-year-old daughter had gotten spinal meningitis and died very unexpectedly. They are a family who loves God. I want to quote a part of the email Glen sent out when she died. “"Britt is with the living and loving Lord, celebrating in wonderment the beauties of His heart, His hands, and His works --"This day you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43) -- "In Thy presence in fullness of joy; In thy right hand there are pleasures forever" (Psalm 16:11) -- God delighted in her homecoming and welcomed her -- "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15). Though we grieve (in the mist of a supernatural peace that under girds my family at this time), we do not grieve as those who have no hope (I Thessalonians 4:13), for we will join her in His future -- many lessons learned, many changes made upon us, miracles of comfort abounded -- the goodness of His heart and tenderness of His care was so obvious to my family, in the midst of anguish, despair, and sorrow…"

I have not seen Brittany's parents for years, but we have heard her dad, Glen, preach and know He loves God with all of His heart, soul, and mind. He has led many people to the Lord and will continue to do so. Because of Christ's resurrection, we each have the same hope Glen expressed in his letter. The pain and suffering in this world will be nothing compared to the fullness of God he will experience with Him in glory. In this life all of us will grieve, but we will not grieve as people without eternal hope. Because of Christ, our grief will not turn to despair, but it will lead us into a deeper intimacy with the God who passionately loves us! It will make us homesick for heaven.

Salvation is not just fire insurance to save us from hell. While we never want to get over the fact that in love Jesus took God's wrath for our sin, we remember He called us with a Holy calling according to His purpose and grace. Each of us has been called to grow in holiness and to develop and use the gifts Christ gave us. If we seek Him with all of our hearts He will reveal Himself and His plans. As we offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God, there is no safer place to be than in the center of His will. God may lead us to become a missionaries, teach school, come along side the hurting, encourage others to trust God, or exhort others to follow Him more intently. Maybe you will lead a person bound in sin into a relationship with the Creator. You don't need to wait until "you grow up" or until you are perfect, for God to use you. Life will knock you around and hurt at times, but in the center of His will, there is hope, purpose, peace, and courage to face whatever comes your way. I encourage you to reflect on Christ's life, death and resurrection and ask Him to reveal His purpose for Your life and then live life unashamedly knowing He holds you in His hand.

Prayer: Father, I praise You for abolishing death’s sting. Thank you for the tremendous testimony Glen has had over the years. Father, I also pray that each of us would be unashamed of the gospel of Christ, that we would willingly suffer loss for the sake of spreading Your word. Please give us the courage to proudly proclaim Your truth and testimony of Your love to those at home, at school, our neighborhoods, and even to those in our youth groups and churches that might need to be reminded. Teach us each to use the gifts and answer the calling to a life of service and a life of love. Amen.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Justified By Grace

"After the suffering of His soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied, by His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, and He will bear their iniquities."
Isaiah 53:11

The early morning air was still damp and chilly as Christ entered the temple. He sat down as a crowd began gathering around Him and He began teaching them from the scriptures. All of a sudden the sound of His strong clear voice was drowned out by a group of angry men as they drug a scantily dressed woman into the temple. A thud was heard as they thrust her into the midst of the crowd at the Saviors feet. There she sat trembling, both from fear and the cold with her eyes cast down, her countenance displaying the shame with which she was filled. Claiming they had caught her in the act of adultery, they pelted Jesus with questions, asking if they should stone her as the law required. He glanced around the crowd for the man of being caught with her, but he was nowhere to be found. She alone lay crumpled at His feet.

As Jesus looked into the face of the woman, His heart burned with compassion. He knew she was burdened by the weight of her sin and she had been trying to meet her needs in ways that would never satisfy a hungry, broken heart. Just as her partner used her for his own selfish needs and disappeared, leaving her to bear the brunt of their sin, Christ discerned she was being used again--this time by pious religious leaders. Their real problem was with Him and they were using her to trap Him. As the questions kept coming, Jesus bent over and wrote in the sand. The crowd grew quiet. If He were to tell them to set the woman free, He would be accused of not following the law. If He were to tell them the woman should be stoned, the people shackled by sin would be afraid to come to Him. He stood to face the leaders. Unwilling to play into their hands, He spoke quietly, but firmly. His words echoed into the stillness of the morning and into the coldness of their hearts; "He who has not sinned may cast the first stone." He sat down and again and continued to write with his finger in the sand.

In the presence of the holy Savior, even the accusers' stony hearts began to burn with conviction. Maybe each was remembering their sin or maybe they were being convicted of their collective sin of using this woman for their agenda of trying to expose Christ as a fraud. As their consciences were stirred, one by one, from oldest to the youngest, the men stole away. In the light of Christ's righteousness, those who had exposed her sin, realized they were just as sinful as she was. After her accusers were gone, the broken woman was left alone in the midst of those who had sincerely come to learn from Jesus. She realized that out of all the men there that morning, Jesus was the only one who had the right to condemn her. The silence grew as the angry men departed and the rest of the crowd waited to see what He would do. He stopped writing and looked around as He asked, "Where did your accusers go? Is there no one left to condemn you?"

She responded quietly, "No one, Lord."

He looked at her intently, but kindly, "I do not condemn you either; go and sin no more."

As she turned to leave, she noticed something in Christ's eyes she had not expected to see. Where she had expected to see judgment, she saw grace and forgiveness. Where she had expected to see anger, she saw compassion. Where she had expected to see hatred, she saw love. Where she had expected to see condemnation, she saw acceptance. She knew that while He hated her sin, He hated more what her sin did to her. The dignity that had been stripped by her sin and her accusers was restored in that glance. She had looked into the eyes of God – the God who had every right to condemn her, but had chosen to forgive her. She did not realize until later that Jesus would be the one to die on the cross to pay for the sin He forgave. Even though His forgiveness was freely given, His act of mercy cost Him His life.

Just as Christ bore the sin of this woman, He has born our sin. If any of us were drug to a public setting and thrust at His feet as she was, we, too, would find forgiveness. When we fail and the enemy accuses us and tells us God can't forgive this time, we know Jesus paid for it all. When we are feeling the guilt and come expecting to find condemnation, we will always find grace! The look of disappointment we often expect will never be there. But, compassion and concern will be. He has promised to never push us away, no matter how bad we blow it. He has born all of our iniquity, and his arms and heart remain forever open to us. I want to make sure I fully understand God’s grace and the depth of my sin, so that I never become like the men who were so hateful to this woman. I want to always be someone to draw others into His presence for the right reasons.

Can you relate to any of the people in this account? May He draw you to His feet and may you rest in His grace and His love.

Prayer: Father, thank You for Your mercy and your grace. Thank You for Your compassion and Your love. Thank You for Your acceptance and for restoring us to a right relationship with You. Thank You for restoring our worth as people that You created with a purpose. Help us never take for granted the forgiveness that was so costly to You. May we demonstrate Your grace and mercy to those around us as we learn to forgive as you do…it may never cost us our life, but it could cost us our pride, our own sense of fairness, and our "right" not to be hurt again. Amen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Outrageous Love

"He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her sheerer is silent, so He did not open His mouth."
Isaiah 53:7

If there were ever a man who deserved to live a life filled with joy, it would have been Jesus. He deserved to be clothed in royal robes, crowned with a golden crown, and handed a scepter. He deserved to be honored and respected. His character was marked by a righteousness no other man has ever achieved. Miracles, forgiveness, teaching, and healing that transcended from the physical realm to the emotional and spiritual realms characterized His ministry. He exhibited power and authority over nature, illness, death, and demons that taunted men's souls. More importantly a sacrificial unconditional love was the motivation for every act He performed and for every word He spoke. To begin to understand the depths of Christ's outrageous love we have to look past the life He lived to the death He died. It was in His life that He set aside His right to live eternally to experience our sin. It was in the death he died that His love poured out. He set aside His glory to bear the burden of all of our ugly sin. He chose to set aside His relationship with His Father to feel our deepest pain—separation from the Heavenly Father.

During His life, Christ expressed His love through teaching, confrontations, miracles. transparent relationships, and continuous prayer. He also chose to express His love another way. As He was arrested, tried, beaten, and crucified, He chose to love through a determined silence that spoke as loudly as the words He preached and as loudly as the actions he demonstrated. To prove His love to us, the same mouth that spoke the universe into being remained silent in the face of accusations. The same mouth that calmed angry seas remained silent as crowds mocked Him. The same voice that preached to crowds was silent during illegal trials. It was silent when the earth darkened and as sin was poured out on Him. The same voice that called a dead man out of  the tomb refused to answer false accusations hurled, refused to call down angels to help Him. The same voice that caused soldiers to fall back when they arrested Him was silent as He endured brutal beatings. 

He was God. He was innocent. He was sinless. He had every right to defend Himself and He had the power to walk away from the hate and the sin—yet He chose to remain silent, sentencing Himself to die. He even remained silent when soldiers took whips with sharp stones and bits of bones embedded in the end and beat Him, ripping His flesh wide open. He was silent when they put a scarlet robe on His bleeding flesh and jammed a crown of thorns onto His head. So enraged by the perfect life He lived, they slapped Him and pulled hairs out of His beard, hurling curses and spit at Him. They even drew lots to see who would get His clothes. He was silent as they placed His hands on the cross bar and hammered nails through His hands and His feet. With each clang of the hammer, the searing pain of the nails tearing through flesh and bones, emphasized His silence, As they picked up the cross and dropped it into the ground He faced faces filled with hate. He remained silent when the searing pain of nails intensified with each breath He took. He remained silent when His bloody, raw back rubbed against the wood grain. He remained silent as the thorns dug in His brow and the blood trickled down. 

Hanging suspended between heaven and earth every breath increased the pain, He did we could never have done. He looked at the people below him and broke His silence to ask His Father to forgive them. As our sin was placed on Him, a cold darkness blanketed the earth. Christ was thrust into another realm of pain He had never before experienced – it was the emotional pain you and I feel when we are bound by sin--He felt the same loneliness we feel when we walk away from God in guilt. He felt the same hopelessness and despair we feel when we no longer go to our Father to have needs met. He felt the same sense of being forsaken as we feel when we are buried beneath a mountain of shame. Jesus, alone for the first time in all eternity, was separated from His heavenly Father. Then and only then He broke His silence. It was not a cry for His release, but a heart-rending cry that rose up from the deepest parts of His soul. "My God, My God why have You forsaken me?" With a heart broken by separation, He died our death.

By looking at His death, we get glimpses of the depth of His love and we see the high cost of grace. He loved enough to die for fearful disciples who ran when He was arrested, to die for Peter who vehemently denied knowing Him, to die for those who arrested Him, for those who beat Him, for those who mocked Him, for those who hammered the nails. He even loved deeply enough to stay on the cross when sin made Him feel alone and forsaken. His outrageous love was enough to endure the cruelty of the cross for the joy of presenting us to His Father—not as sinners, but as beloved children, purchased and purified by His blood. He loved with a love so outrageous it killed Him. I want to remember that when I face trials and God seems silent. His silence has been one of the loudest declarations of His love we will ever hear. He has chosen to be a peculiar person, a priest, and an adopted child. He has promised to never leave me or forsake me. So, when He chooses to speak to me through His silence again, I want to hear what He is saying?

Prayer: Father, thank you for the love that Christ demonstrated to us in His suffering and His death. We also thank you for your forgiveness. Please help us love those who are difficult to love. May our commitments of love not be here today and gone tomorrow -- but be firm and steadfast through every circumstance imaginable. May we always experience Your love at it deepest levels when You seem to be silent. AMEN.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Avoiding Unwholesome Talk

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, 
but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, 
that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, 
with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, 
along with every form of malice. 
Be kind and compassionate to one another, 
forgiving each another, just as in Christ God forgave you."
Ephesians 4:29-32

One of the ways we can shine brightly in a world filled with darkness is by the words we choose to use in our everyday lives. Before people trust Christ, their speech is often characterized by angry, corrupt communication. Paul, who wrote Ephesians, is a good example of this. Before he trusted Christ, he was known for "breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord." After Paul trusted Christ, his words reflected a life governed by love and a passion to share the gospel. His words reflected a desire to teach believers how to relate to their heavenly Father and each other. 

The Holy Spirit, in sealing us as God's children, called us to a higher standard in the area of speech. Sadly our speech is not all that different from nonbelievers'. Our speech often reflects what's going on in us. To change speech we need to begin to keep our hearts pure by letting go of bitterness and working through our anger. Doing this has the potential of keeping us from evil speaking we might be tempted to do. We cannot get rid of those things without confessing them to God and asking Him to remove them and replace them with His tenderhearted compassion.

Pure speech is also easier if we are quick to forgive each other. I found this easier to do when I realized I have already sinned more against God than any person has sinned against me. The least I can do is to forgive those who offend or hurt me. While that realization excites me, it also makes me feel pretty vulnerable. It means I have to become willing to take risks and be willing to put myself in the position of being hurt again and again. To be honest, there are times I want to protect my heart and put up walls so thick no one can penetrate them. However, after I spend time sitting at Jesus' feet and experience His love, I find I don't want to grieve the Holy Spirit by building walls. After spending time with Him, I become more willing to love and risk being hurt. 

It is important to remember it is in living in Christ's presence, that the Christian life becomes more than a set of rules or a fear of making God angry. It becomes a relationship with a living, personable, loving God. I realize my actions can hurt Him because of the love He has for me. In His presence I am more willing to risk being hurt by forming Christ-centered relationships. In His presence, I am willing to risk ridicule by being “different” and using words that edify and minister grace to those who hear them. In His presence, I want to love as boldly as He does—even if it means rejection. I at times even get brave enough to risk a person's anger by pointing out the sin that hinders their relationship with God. 

I have come to realize to have the kinds of words I want in my mouth I have to walk with the Savior and let Him reveal the hurts with which I haven't dealt and allow Him to heal them. I've had to be humble enough to ask Him to replace anger with tenderhearted compassion. I've had to ask Him to melt my bitterness and replace it with His limitless forgiveness. I've had to ask Him to replace the fear of being hurt again with a bold faith that counts on His faithfulness to heal and sustain me with His love. I've had to ask Him to deal with my pride that handles relationships apart from Him. I have to let Him peel away the layers of self-protection so His love shines brightly through me!

Hebrews 10:24 says that we are to provoke one another to love and good works. I think that includes spurring one another to speak words that reflect love. I want the Holy Spirit to fill me so my words minister grace and love to those who hear them? May I encourage you to let the Holy Spirit strip you of the things you use as self-protection so the light of His love can shine brightly though you?

Prayer: Father, thank you so much for the intimacy that comes from having your Holy Spirit seal us into your family. Thank you so much for loving us and for dwelling in us even though at times our words and our actions grieve you. Thank you for the Spirit's work in our lives that melts anger, dissolves bitterness, and erases evil words before we speak them. Thank you for giving us the grace to forgive. Please fill us with Your love and let that overflow into words that edify others. Father, we live in a hurtful world where angry hateful words are hurled at us and around us daily. Please let Your truth and Your love reign in our hearts and minds so that we meet those words and situations with Your grace being protected by your love. Amen.

Monday, August 24, 2009

An Invitation To Rest

"Come to Me, all you who weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus spoke these words after He had been teaching and performing miracles in cities that didn't repent and didn't receive Him. He had denounced those cities and turned to the crowd following Him and invited them to come to Him. This was a new message that the crowd was hearing. It was the first time they were not given more laws and traditions to obey. They were simply invited to follow Him and to rest. How foreign this message must have been for those who had been bound by the laws and the traditions of the Pharisees. When Christ invited them to come to Himself, it was an invitation to come to a person, not an ideology, not a philosophy, and not an ever growing set of rules. It was an invitation to enter into a deeply intimate relationship with Him. 

The Jews who labored hard to keep the law must have been touched by His invitation. At the same time, the invitation had to seem strange because they greatly feared God and didn't view God as personal or approachable. I can so relate to that because, as a child, I had a distorted view of God. I knew He loved me and died for me, but I also pictured Him as distant and angry. I believed He was waiting for me to mess up so He could zap me. I didn't know what the zap would be, but I was terrified of it. While fear was a strong deterrent from sin, it kept me burdened down with the weight of trying to earn God's love and approval. It kept me from resting in His love and enjoying the opportunities I had to worship Him. 

Notice the word picture of the "yoke" used in the verse. A yoke is a molded piece of wood attached to two animals so they work together and go in the same direction. We are on one side of the yoke and Christ is on the other and we are going through this life yoked with Him. He is bearing the brunt of the weight of life as He is leading us in the right path. Just as a yoke was custom made to fit each particular animal, our yoke with Christ meets our specific needs and helps us to do the work we have been specifically called to do.

The verses also tell us Christ was "gentle and humble in heart." The Jews did not see Him that way, yet the gospels show those characteristics consistently. He left heaven and lay in a bed made of a feeding trough. He grew up the stepson of a Carpenter. He ate with prostitutes, tax collectors, and disabled people. He spoke with love and respect to people bound by sin. He intermingled with the despised Samaritans. He touched people who were sick with leprosy, blind both physically and spiritually, and those paralyzed and deprived of hope. He approached those bound by demons who were extremely different. Yet, His people rejected Him and He died the death of a criminal to demonstrate God's love to a broken, fallen world. When I am accused of something I've not done, my pride rises up and I'm ready to fight. Yet, He took our sin and died in our place on the cross to give us eternal and abundant life.

I love His invitation to learn from Him. We can follow His example to learn to love with a love that requires humility and grace. Humility brought us to the Lord. We came empty handed, depending only on His mercy and grace. One way to tell if we are walking in humility is to examine our attitudes. Do we look down on those who don't have money, use vulgar language, are disabled, or who have chosen a sinful path? Could we dine with various people and not worry about what friends might say? Hopefully, we can see past someone’s dress, language, race, sin or disabilities and see people who God created and deeply loves. During His life, Christ loved broken, selfish people like us. He wants us to do the same. Are we available and humble enough to allow Him to love through us? 

I love His promise of rest. We can be free from our sin to focus on God. We can be free from legalism to walk in His love. We can be free from people pleasing tendencies, relying on His love to empower us to love others.. We can be free from bitterness, experiencing peace that comes with extending grace and forgiving. We can be free from anxiousness, finding God's perfect peace. We can be free from discouragement, having hope. We can be free from hurt, experiencing healing. We can be free from fear and have Christ's boldness. We can be free from the weariness of self as we are transformed into Christ's likeness. We can be free of trying to earn acceptance and enjoy the acceptance that we already possess. We can be free from a lack of purpose and fulfill our God-given one. We can be free from trying to earn God's love and enjoy the love already poured lavishly upon us. The verb "take" implies something has been offered and that we must receive it. Christ has offered His teaching. It was not like the teaching of the Pharisees who added burden to burdens and guilt to guilt…it gives relief. It gives hope. It cleanses us. Our burdens become lighter as His love fills us and we live the life He created us to live.

Prayer: Father thank you for inviting us to come to You and for taking our burdens and our vain toil. Thank you for teaching us. You are gentle and humble…you washed feet, rubbed shoulders with the poor, touched lepers, restored sight to the blind, and taught the masses who were so hungry to learn. Thank you for your peace. We so need it in the face of storms. Thank your light and your truth, we need it desperately in this dark world. Thank you for loving us with an eternal pure love. It is so refreshing in a world that often hates. AMEN.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Obligations that Come with Privilege

"May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your, O Lord, my Rock, and my redeemer."
Psalm 19:14

Several years a go a great movie came out that was called, Ever After. There is a line in the movie that I believe illustrates an important Biblical truth. Danielle says to her beloved Prince who hated the obligations that came with being a prince, "You have been born to privilege and with that comes specific obligations." There have been times I've rejoiced in being born again as a beloved child of the King of kings. There have been other times I haven't liked the idea that as a believer I'm held to higher responsibility. Over the last several years God has been convicting me that being His child comes with specific obligations, especially when it comes to the words that come out of my mouth and the thoughts I think that no one sees.

To me, it is very scary to think my words not only have the potential to promote healing, encourage, or build up others, but they also can deeply wound hearts. It's even scarier to think the inappropriate thoughts I don’t take captive could rise to the surface and crush others’ souls. It is sobering to think I can choose to either speak a lie or choose to share God's truth. I can choose to damage someone's reputation by broadcasting faults or I can preserve their dignity by pointing out their strengths. I can push a brother who's stumbled away from God with judgmental words and attitudes. or I can get between him and the sinful path he is headed down with loving confrontation. But, scarier is the realization that my words can either draw nonbelievers to the Savior or they can drive them further away.

Even though our salvation is totally based on God and His grace, I believe, as God's children, it is imperative for us to assume responsibility for our thoughts and our words. Matthew 12:36 says that we will give an account for every word that comes out of our mouth and James 3:10 tells us that that we should not be both cursing man and blessing God with our mouths. Paul, in his Epistles, tells us to put away evil speaking, filthiness, and foolish talking. Proverbs also contain many principles about our words. For example: "A worthless person, a wicked man, walks with a perverse mouth"…"Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but they that deal truly are His delight"…"The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts."

Several conversations I've had with people over the years have reminded me we live in a brutal world. Students walk halls of schools in which vile language is accepted as the norm. Both teachers and/or parents tell them they will never amount to anything. Peers add to their pain by telling them that they are hated, stupid, or ugly on a regular basis. Women are sexually harassed in the school's hallways and in the workplace on a daily basis. Employers degrade employees with harsh words that tear at the heart. Hate is spewed in internet in posts for which their is no accountability.

As a parent, I wish I could take back words I hurled in anger at my children. In a world that is so perverse in its speech and in a world that takes delight in hurting others, we as children of God have an obligation as people born to privilege to make a difference in the lives of others with words carefully chosen that can be a soothing balm to wounded hearts. Our words carefully chosen can preserve another's dignity. Our words carefully chosen can provide correction while building others up. Our words carefully chosen can draw others closer to the Savior and to the heart of the Heavenly Father. Our words carefully chosen can allow us to fulfill the purpose for which we were created and to which we were called at salvation. Our words carefully chosen can save us from a whole lot of shame, grief, and regret later. 

It is important to realize the following verse is is more than a command. It’s an issue of the heart. Matthew 12:35-36 says "…For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things." What would it take for us to be a people whose hearts bring forth good and refreshing words? It would take us spending time in God's word and letting His Truth correct our thinking and softening our hearts with His love. It would take us sitting before God and asking Him to look inside and purify our thoughts that we may be afraid to face because they reveal the depth of our depravity. It might require letting God uncover buried hurts so He can heal them, because hurting people are people who usually hurt others. It might require we let Him heal our hearts so we aren’t so inclined to spew bitterness we feel on others. It may take us sitting quietly before Him and letting Him cut away our envy, desire for strife, and our pride. I don't think we can imagine the impact we could have in this world as God's Ambassadors if we became a people whose were passionate about honoring The Creator who purchased us with His own Son with our thoughts and with our words. If we become a people who seek to honor God above all else, we can become a people whose words reflect His heart, His love, and His hope. We can be people who cease to wound others, facilitating healing and reconciling a world broken and hurting. Are we willing to face and confess ugliness we hide and allow God to transform us? 

Prayer: Father, place in us a passion to honor You with our words. Give us words that facilitate healing rather than wounding people. Give us words that convey love, not hatred. Give us words that speak hope into lives of other people rather than robbing them of it. Give us words that will reflect Your love and Your truth rather than Satan's hatred and his lies. Father, look deep down into the deepest part of our hearts where only You can see. So often that is the place that our most shameful thoughts and attitudes reside. These are the thoughts that have the potential to overflow into our words and our actions. Look in side of us and examine our heart and reveal to us everything that is not Holy, that does not reflect Your character, and does not speak of your love. Purify us to be Your instruments of reconciliation, hope, and healing. Amen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Finishing Marathons

"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."
Hebrews 12:1-2

I have a friend who loves the word of God and with every letter from her I receive at least 3 verses. A couple of weeks ago she sent me a reminder to read these verses again. At the time, she had no idea how much I needed her reminder, but I know that my God did. When I got her letter I was burdened with unnecessary burdens and was struggling with my weaknesses and a terrible fear. My eyes were firmly focused on my circumstances and myself rather than on God and His power. But the verses brought me back to that place where my focus and my dependence were on God.

The word "therefore" always tells us to notice what was previously said in the text. The chapter before these verses contained a list of believers who trusted God and, as a result, had experienced great things. Enoch walked with God and skipped out on death. Noah built a ship and weathered a God-sized storm that destroyed the whole earth. Abraham left the security of home to live in a tent as he waited for the city God promised him. His wife Sarah's unbelieving laughter turned to joy as she nursed a baby when she should have been rocking great grand children. Moses' parents saved his life by floating him in a basket in alligator infested waters to grow up and to lead a nation through a sea without getting wet. An army flattened the walls of Jericho by marching and shouting while Rahab and her family’s safety hung on a crimson cord hanging from her window. Daniel slept peacefully with lions while his friends danced in a fiery furnace with out even smelling like smoke. Still others had great victories--victory over sin and others being made strong through weaknesses. Some were rescued and escaped death while others died leaving tremendous testimonies of faith. 

To live the exciting lives like these people did, I must be willing to lay aside every weight and the sins that entangle me. In the original language the author used an athletic term to paint a word picture. I mentored girls who were are swimmers and added resistance by letting the hair on their legs grow and wearing loose fitting shirts that caused drag during training sessions. Then for a race they shaved the hair off their legs, wore swim caps, and removed the big shirts so they had less drag in the water, having the benefit of stronger muscles produced in training. Here the author is telling us the Christian life is like being in a race and we need to get rid of anything that drags us down. That could be habitual sin, friends that distract us from God and His will for us, material things that draw our focus away from God and His will, selfish attitudes that display pride, or business that leaves no time for God. 

At the root of our weaknesses, our fears, and our sin often lies the sin of unbelief. When we are struggling, we might want to ask ourselves questions like: "What do I really believe?" "If I believe God is the comforter, why do I turn to other things to numb my pain?" "If I believe we are ambassadors for Christ, why am I surprised I don't feel at home here?" "If I believe God has forgiven me, why do I not forgive myself?" "If I believe God will never leave me or forsake me, why do I feel so alone when I am struggling?" "If I believe God is my strength, why do I not call on Him more?" "If I believe God has given me spiritual gifts with which to serve, why do I succumb to fear when faced with the opportunity to minister?" Doubt is not bad when I deal with it in the light of God's truth. In fact, the most dynamic faith is faith exercised in the face of doubt. Faith is a choice that gives me the opportunity to see God's power.

The author reminds me to run the race before me with endurance, keeping my eyes on Jesus, the very one who can mature faith. Christ has determined my path and has planted seeds of faith in me and is using the race to strengthen that faith. I want to set my eyes on Him for He is at the finish line, cheering me on. He is not waiting to see me fail. He is encouraging me! Does He have the right to tell me to endure? Yes, because He endured the cross and the shame of my sin for the joy of presenting me to His Father a child purified by His blood!

Everyday I want to pause and reflect. Where am I in the race that God has set before me? Have I laid aside the weights that can drag me down? If not, the race is a lot harder than it needs to be. Have I laid aside sin that hinders me, especially the sin of unbelief? If not, I'm missing out on experiencing God in so many ways it would take a book to describe them. and that book, the Bible, has already been written. Are my eyes on the author of my faith? If not, I miss seeing God cheer me on! I don't want to veer off course. His course is the quickest and most sure way to the finish line! I want to remember Jesus is the finish line. He is cheering me on with arms wide open--waiting to take me home.

Prayer: Father, thank you for putting the “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11. Thank you for the witnesses you have placed into our lives that have remained faithful and worshiped you even in the most difficult of circumstances. Thank you for enduring the cross and our shame so we could know you and live for you. Please help us to lay aside the weights that hinder our relationship with you and our service. Help us in times of unbelief to fully trust your word and your character. Thank you for setting our paths. Thank you for being at the finish line to both cheer us on and to receive us with open arms. Thank you that we all can be winners in this marathon called the Christian life. Amen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stuck by a Thorn

"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassing great revelations, 
there was given me a thorn in my flesh, the messenger of Satan, to torment me. 
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 
But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, 
so that Christ's power may rest on me. 
That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, 
in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
2 Corinthians 12:7-10

God gave His Apostle, Paul, visions of things to come. Those visions were so wonderful Paul found them impossible to describe. Visions could have become a source of pride, but God allowed Satan to give Paul what he called a "thorn in his flesh." We assume that the thorn was a weakness that was designed to keep him humble. We can better understand this passage by looking at the definitions of two key words. The first definition of a thorn is "a sharp stake used for torturing or impaling someone" which could imply that Paul's "thorn" was a physical pain, causing him great stress. The other word is "torment" which comes from the word "buffet" which means "to beat, to strike with the fist." When Paul was feeling the affects of his affliction, he literally felt like he was being pounded with a sharp stake. This description would indicate that Paul found it uncomfortable experiencing his human weaknesses. Other's believe his thorn was a weakness in his flesh. This makes sense, too, for when a person loves God like Paul did, besetting temptations are painful to the soul and can come upon us so quickly we feel we are being punched in the gut by pressure to sin. 

Sometimes we suffer because of our sin and at other times we suffer because of the sin of others. We may suffer because of God-allowed or God-orchestrated trials. We want to remember God uses trials to build godly character. My grandfather used to polish rocks to make jewelry. He put them in a tumbler with some water and sand and the rocks tumbled over each other and the sand for weeks. When he took them out they were no longer just ordinary rocks. They had become shiny, smooth rocks full of beautiful colors that weren't observable before. This life is God's tumbler and the sand is the various trials we experience in life. He is breaking away all that is not lovely or holy as trials and other people bump into us. As He wears away fleshly parts, it can hurt because He's deflating pride and putting us in the position to see how much we need Him. We want to remember difficult circumstances are always an invitation to intimacy with God, who delights in us and desires to bless us. One of the most significant blessings is His Grace, which doesn't just remove difficulties or just forgives us of sin. Grace is also the promise that God is and will continue to purify us from the inside out. 

Paul asked God to deliver him from his "thorn" three times, but the answer was "No"! However, God promised Paul His grace would be sufficient. Amazingly, Paul knew God had not deserted him. Maybe because of his heavenly visions, he understood this world we live in is a temporary home and would include pain and suffering. Paul didn't sin by asking God to remove the thorn; he obeyed Him by casting his cares upon him and asking others to pray for him. He had churches to visit, missionary journeys to take, letters to write, dangers to face, counseling to accomplish, sermons to write, and conflicts to settle. We can't blame him for wanting to be free of his “thorn.” However, maybe it was his " thorn" that commanded his continual dependence on God and intimacy with God that flowed from it that allowed God to manifest his power in Paul's weakness. Out of his dependence on God, Paul's letters were penned and those letters would not have been as rich and full of God’s mercy and truth had Paul not depended on Him. His sermons would not have had the same impact on the early church had he not been transparent in his walk. Paul’s words would not have had the same comfort for those suffering had his life been trouble free. Paul understood "thorns" served a purpose, while knowing the same God who can heal or remove them is the same God who has the right not to. Paul recognized in his weaknesses, he experienced God's glorious power. He faced weaknesses, insults, hardships persecution, and difficulty. 

I can so relate this to difficult relationships I've had. I can relate it to painful circumstances that left deep wounds now turned to scars. I can relate it to painful memories of failures that occasionally still haunt me. I can relate it to the times people misunderstood my heart and my motives and accused me of things I never thought of doing. I can relate it to the ever presence of an eating disorder that still at times beacons  me to follow it instead of God who I know loves me. I can relate it to the pain that rises in my bones that is a constant reminder of painful breaks and isolated months of healing. 

But this I know...when my body hurts, it is an invitation to receive God’s strength. When I am feeling depressed, it is an invitation to hang on to His joy, so that I don't despair. When I am feeling stressed, it is an opportunity to let Him give me His peace. When I am grieving, it is an invitation to let God turn my mourning into dancing. I know I when I struggle with physical weaknesses or with spiritual temptation, I can let Him walk me through it with His strength. God's power and peace and grace can only be comprehended in the backdrop of weaknesses, trials, and need. I am so thankful for intimacy with the all-powerful, holy, and exalted God who has invited me to call Him Abba—Daddy! I am thankful He is true to His Word.

Prayer: Father, suffering is so hard to write about. For me, it has been an invitation to intimacy with YOU! I am also fully aware that others suffer in ways I have not and in ways I never will. I don't want to be pretentious or discount pain, but I want them to know You are there. You promise You will be sufficient for them. Please wrap your arms around those who are hurting. Please open the eyes of those who are hungry to be loved to your pure and holy love and teach them to receive it and be satisfied with it…even during the briar patches of life? For those who serve You and struggle with the flesh, will you draw their minds to you when they are tempted so they experience victory? Please comfort those who are weeping and speak hope into their hearts. Teach us to glory in our weaknesses, to turn to you to be content in Your Grace and Your comfort. Amen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Sacrificial Love

"My command is this: Love each other, as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
John 15:12-13

Under the Old Testament law people were required to love others to the extent they loved themselves. In John 13:34 Jesus gave a new commandment to love other as He loves us. He reiterated it fully in the above passage. When Christ stated something more than once we know it was something He wanted us to understand and apply. Within the context of the passage, the church was released from having to focus on obeying the law to focusing on loving God and others and it is in that love that obedience to the law is fulfilled. What an awesome freedom God gives us in that we do not have to focus on a list of do’s and don’ts. All we have to do is focus on Him. 

As we experience His love and understand the sacrifice behind His love we will be able to respond to Him in love. We will also be empowered through His spirit to love others sacrificially as He loved us. I often ask myself if I would really be willing to lay my life down for Christ or my friends? It is hard for me to even think in those terms, because in our country we aren't often persecuted to that extent. I realize one of the ways I could test myself is to look at my life and my attitudes in the here and now. In doing that I determined I would never die for a friend…
  • I wasn't willing to defend when if she is being slandered.
  • I wasn't willing to give of my resources if she has material needs.
  • I wasn't willing to risk anger in confronting when sin is sinking its talons into her soul. 
  • Which I wasn't willing to listen when she's hurting. 
  • I wasn't willing to protect friendship at the risk of losing other friends.
  • I wasn't willing to love when I am not loved in return.
  • I wasn't willing to forgive when I am hurt.
  • I wasn't willing to be transparent at the risk of seeming imperfect.
  • I wasn't willing to love when it inconvenienced me.
  • I wasn’t willing to give up my tendency to broadcast another's faults, choosing to affirm her virtues instead.
  • I wasn't willing to seek forgiveness from whom I wrong. 
  • I wasn't willing to help carry heavy burdens.
  • I wasn't willing to stop and pray as needed.
As we look through the gospels, we see Christ gave up everything to rub shoulders with people like us. He loved people bound in sin, ravaged by illness, brokenhearted, impoverished, and full of emotional needs. He loved people in the face of extreme opposition, petty criticism, radical misunderstanding, and even in humiliation. He loved people in the face of hatred, when He was being beaten, had a crown of thorns slammed onto His brow, with each blow of the hammer that nailed him to the cross, and with each insult hurled as they spat in His face and as His blood stained the cross. He loved people even when the weight of our sin was placed on Him. He loved in the heartbreak of His Father's wrath being poured out on Him and He loved in His death. He loves us just as His Father has called Him to—sacrificially and completely.

If we are willing to die to ourselves and live unto God, He will love those He puts in our paths through us. We will find ourselves loving sacrificially and completely. We will find ourselves loving with a love that loves in the little things as well as in the big. If we love in life, we can rest assured we will grow enough to love in the face of death. 

The questions we need to wrestle with are: Do we truly at a core level believe Christ loved us fully and completely? Do we have the desire in us to love as He loves? If, not what is holding us back from having that desire?

Prayer: Father what an awesome calling…to love as Jesus loved has loved us. Please help us to learn more about the height, the depth, and the breadth of your love that we might be able to reflect that same love to those around us. Please give us the desire to love as you love and your strength to love as passionately as you love in life. Please also give us the courage to love as passionately as you did in death. Amen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What? Rejoicing in Suffering?

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the Glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given unto us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us."
Romans 5:1-8

There is so much in these verses to reflect on. First, at a time when we thought we were strong in our own power, God's Spirit began His work in our hearts. He knew we were without the strength we needed to live life for Him, so He sent His son to He die for us! How amazing that God chose to demonstrate His love while we were still deep in our sin. Just think, He didn't die for "good" people. He died for the ungodly! That means He died for the liar, the murderer, the selfish, the self-centered, the mean, the abusive, the neglectful, the critical, the jealous, the addict, the promiscuous, and the greedy. He even died for people so steeped in idolatry that they try to fill God-given needs apart from Him. God did not wait for us to get better, He chose to show us His powerful sacrificial love when we were at our worst, still selfishness, rebellious, and prideful. Then through faith in Christ's death and resurrection He declared us righteous, giving us His peace. We're no longer His enemies and have unlimited access to Him by faith. We can rejoice because we have a hope not based on us, but on an all-powerful glorious God, who defeated sin and death and who is forever true to His word.

He gives us the ability to approach trials with unlimited hope. The Bible makes it clear that in this life we're going to experience difficult circumstances, unmet needs, strained relationships, illness, and persecution. It also makes it clear there is an eternal purpose behind painful trials. Trials, no matter what they are, develop in us perseverance when we trust God during them. By persevering we will develop godly character, which will produce hope in our hearts. Essentially trials are personal invitations to walk more intimately with God. As I tell Him about my fears, worries, or frustration He strengthens me and gives me His wisdom and His strength. The very trials we want to avoid or end are the means in which we are allowed to experience God and His power. We need to realize that turning to God when things look impossible is what causes faith to mature and our relationship with God to deepen. Trials have the potential to increase hope in God, purifying hearts and minds as they bring to the surface things like doubt, unbelief, or anger caused by pride. As we choose to walk through tough experiences with God. we find Christ infusing His love in our hearts. Experiencing His love and His grace allows us to worship Him with pure hearts. The love the Holy Spirit sheds in our hearts allows us to feel loved, accepted and cherished by our heavenly Father. Then and only then are we able to understand His love enough that we can respond to Him in love and are able to love others the way He intended us to – sacrificially, completely, and without fear.

So, what will we do when we face trials? Will we choose to trust God and allow the Holy Spirit to refine us and fill us with His love? Will we stand firm and rejoice in the hope of the Glory of God?

Prayer: Thank you so much, Father, for sending us your son. Thank you that he was willing to demonstrate your sacrificial love for us while we were still in a state of rebellion and sin. Thank you for declaring us righteousness and giving us a sense of purpose. Thank you that even our trials have significance. May your perfect work of developing patience and a strong hope be done in us. Thank you for shedding your love in our hearts that we may experience it and give it away. Amen.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Divine Heart Transplants

"A new heart also will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you and
I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes,
and you shall keep mine ordinances and do them And you shall dwell in the land
that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
I will also save you from all your uncleanness."
Ezekiel 36:26-29

God's grace is so much more than being saved from hell. These words spoken through the prophet, Ezekiel, promise us that God's grace encompasses the removal of a stony heart hardened by sin. It also encompasses the giving of His Spirit to dwell within us to continually purify and cleanse us. I love what He says...

He takes away a stony heart…We no longer have hearts callused by sin, unforgiving attitudes, or self-protective life styles. Nor do we still have hearts hardened by scars covering pain from things done to us. Our hearts are renewed, which means they are now tender, continuously being cleansed, continuously being transformed, and continuously being healed. This is a never ending process in which Christ, Himself, is chiseling away at the hard parts and softening them with His steadfast incomprehensible love. It may be painful as He works, but He will make them beautiful in His time.

God gives us a new heart…In Christ we have a heart transformed by grace. It is a heart that is passionate for the things God's heart is. We have the capacity to love the things He loves and hate the same things He hates. Our new heart is like the one we see in Jesus--strong and bold, yet tender and kind, fully capable of loving unconditionally and sacrificially. With this new heart we find we weep over sin and death, and we get angry over injustice and hatred. We find we have tremendous joy over spring flowers, babies being born, people being born again. We have the potential to invite others to be as real and transparent with us as the disciples were with Christ.

God gives us a new spirit…Our new spirit makes it possible for us to have an intimate relationship with our God. It is a spirit that desires purity and goodness even in the hidden parts of our hearts that no one sees. Our new spirit, like His, is acquainted with brokenness, yet full of praises. It is weak in its humanness, but strong in His Strength. It is a spirit that lets go of the things of this world in order to seek the things of God. It is a spirit empowered by God to live in righteousness, easily convicted by the sin and selfishness that needs to be chipped away.

He has put His Spirit within us…. His Spirit is a "down payment" until the day of redemption. There is no place we can hide from Him or nor is there an escape from His love! When we are hungry for knowledge of Him, He resides within us so He can reveal Himself to us. When we are hurting, He is washing our souls with healing love. When we are grieving, He is comforting. When we are afraid, He is filling us with the courage that helped Jesus face the cross. When we are confused, He is there to counsel us. When we are emotionally drained…He is there to fill our empty tank with love and hope. When everything around us is unstable He is our stability. When the enemy attacks, He is our defender. When we are anxious He is our peace.

He is our God and we are His people…We are totally accepted by God and can bask in a sense of belonging! He has said we are His and it means He has purposed to give us eternal unconditional acceptance and a sense of belonging. There is nothing we can do to earn it or lose it. He has called us beloved, friends, children - rich terms indicative of intimacy! We belong to a family that is becoming what the Heavenly Father meant families to be.

He has cleansed us from our uncleanness…God has forgiven our sins and He will continue to transform our selfish hearts by accomplishing the work He began in us. He will help us live honestly and transparently before Him and others. He will lead us to walk in His righteousness and empower us to become more like Him. God has done all of this out of a Heart motivated by His love to shower us with His GRACE!

Prayer: Father, thank you for taking my hard heart and conforming it into a soft heart with your love. Thank you for healing my hurts and helping me to become bolder in loving others. Thank you for Your complete unconditional acceptance and enabling me to relate to You. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit that enables me to know you and to live for You. 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!