Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Walking in the Light

That which we have seen and heard we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ. And these things we write unto you that your joy may be full. This, then, is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth; But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Part 2--I John 1:3-9

Today I want to focus on experiencing the joy that comes from walking in the light. "Walking in the light” means reading God's word and choosing to obey it and the principles in it. Walking in the light also means living honestly with God, ourselves, and with others about our struggles and our doubts. Often bringing our struggles or our doubts to safe, mature Christians is all that is needed to overcome them. It is human to want to hide and cover sin, but that always leads us deeper into it. When we hide or cover sin, we hinder our growth and dull our consciences, which give Satan a foothold into our lives. It is in this state that we can get uncomfortable with other Christians and think we have problems with them when in reality it is the God who indwells them that is making us feel so uncomfortable. If we aren’t careful, sin will have soon destroyed our fellowship with God and with other believers. Sin robs us of joy and we end up not feeling close to God. Sin also causes us to wear a mask and pretend to be something we aren’t, which causes us to feel disconnected from those we perceive as close to God. Sin robs us of such rich joy.

We have got to keep in mind that God is faithful and loves us regardless of what we do, but He does ask us to show Him our love by our obedience. Are we doing what He asks us to do? Are we not doing what He asks us not to? If we choose purposely to sin we make our relationship one-sided as far as love goes. God continuously loves us, but we may not be showing Him love. That distorts our relationship with Him and we lose joy. Loss of joy affects our emotions at a lot of different levels. I have watched people begin to drink or numb their pain as they made the decisions to end their marriages. They didn’t want to face the fact they were breaking vows they had made to God or the fact that they were hurting their spouses and their children.

If we want to know God and have His joy in this life, we have to be aware of the sinful bent we have and choose to put God's will above our own. As we do that He will continue to cleanse us and mold us into His likeness. If we stumble we confess it and confidently return our focus to the loving faithful God. As we do that God and His grace will become more and more real to us and our fellowship with Him, our families and our Christian friends will become more exciting and fulfilling. We would be so in love with God and so loving and kind to each other that the non-Christians would be "knocking" at our doors asking how they can have what we have.

In closing, "fellowship" simply means what it says. Two people in such a close relationship that it is like they were in a ship going in the same direction. One summer I was in a Kayak with a girl named Lauren. I was in the back and inexperienced. Everything started out great until we got into a cave and I did the opposite of what I needed to do. As a result we ran into a wall and it hurt her. As long as I did the right thing at the right time and we paddled together we were flying! Without close communication in the tight little cave what I did worked against us. That is the same thing in a body of believers. When we are going in the same direction as God, we can enjoy His love and joy and get a lot done. Also, we will enjoy the fellowship with other people because we are all headed in the same direction – and that direction leads us toward God. However, when each of us is going in our own direction the result is always going to be chaos and pain. We would do well to remember that the church is like being in a boat. We must learn to communicate and work together to keep going in the same direction. When we blow it we need to extend grace as Lauren did. When I ran Lauren into the wall, she didn’t get angry and bail out on me. Instead she forgave me and talked me the rest of the way through the cave. She graciously instructed me and used her strength in my weakness and together we made it through the cave. I wonder, if you are “walking in the light" and enjoying fellowship with God and with others following Him?

Father thank you for providing us a way to have a deep and intimate relationship with You. Please give us the courage to walk in the Light of Your word. Give us the courage to live transparently with others. Thank you for the body of Christ and the potential for fellowship with you and with each other. How exciting it is that we can have sweet relationships with others by moving closer and closer to You. Please bring to our minds Your truths and precepts that we might walk according to Your ways. Amen.

Fullness of Joy

"That which we have seen and heard we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ. And these things we write unto you that your joy may be full. This, then, is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, That God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth; But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Part 1 - I John 1:3-9

I find it intriguing that John desired for people to experience joy. Because of this, he shared what he knew about Jesus with the people in his life so that they could have a mature relationship with god that would result in joy. John knew that He was loved by Jesus and he loved people. His greatest desire seems to be the desire to relate to others around things that had eternal value. He also wanted them to experience true joy through an intimate walk with Christ.

One of the things that John wanted us to understand that was that we don't want to deceive ourselves in to thinking we no longer have the propensity to sin; we still have a bent to do wrong. Some people call it the flesh, some the old man, and some people call it the sin nature. John points out that if we deny our sinfulness, we are essentially calling God a liar rather than resting in His grace on a day by day basis. In fact, the closer our fellowship is with Christ the more aware we become of His holiness and of our own sinfulness. It is important to recognize our sinfulness, because if we aren’t we can begin to sin in small ways, which has the propensity to drive us towards sins that have much more serious impact and consequences. For example, a man who commits adultery does not wake up one morning and decide to go out and commit adultery. A drug addict did not wake up one morning and decide to become an addict. A girl involved in a premarital sex does not wake up one morning and decide to find a guy to have sex. Instead, it comes about through many small decisions.

John desired for his friends to have complete joy in Christ. He pointed out that to have joy they needed to confess their sins and be able to walk in the light. Confess in its original language means to agree with God about it. That means naming the sin specifically to God. It means statements like, "Father, I have been involved in gossip. I have lusted after a guy, etc." It would also include things like unholy thoughts or hateful attitudes. God forgiving our sin is not something that we should view as a license to keep on walking in a sinful path, but to agree with God about sin means that we also take it as seriously as He does, because it impedes our fellowship with him and hinders our ability to love as He loves. Grace is free to us, but we need to remember that definitely it cost God. It cost Him His Son. If we really believe that Christ took the wrath of God for our sin on the cross, why would we want to continue to play with that sin? When we sin we are sinning against a holy, righteous, faithful, and very loving God.

The rest of the story is that when we agree with God we also have to agree with God that it is forgiven. Some of us hold on to our sin and/or look for ways to punish ourselves when Christ already took our punishment for us when He died on the cross. If we are focused on past sin that we have already confessed we will be more apt to repeat that same sin. Change does not come from our beating ourselves up, it comes from the renewing of our minds with God's word and our focusing our minds on Christ. Christ did not die so that we would continue dwelling in our shame and guilt -- He died so that we could be full of the joy that comes from knowing we are completely forgiven and completely and forever loved and accepted.

It is good for us to pause and think about where we are in our relationship with God? Are we able to experience joy because we are honestly confessing our sin to Him and basking in His grace? Or, are we abusing God's grace by purposely choosing to in sin? Are we finding joy in His forgiveness or are we continuing to dwell in the shame and guilt? Are we spending enough time in His word to allow Him to transform our minds and place His Godly desires in us? Do we have the same heart towards our friends that John had towards his? Do we want them to have the joy that comes from knowing the Lord and walking in His truth? Oh that we would truly recognize all that Jesus has done for us and come to know His heart intimately so that we would not be able to stop talking about Him.

Father, thank you that it is Your desire for us to experience joy in our relationship with You. Your holiness exposes our sin and we ask you to search our hearts and reveal the deceptive parts of them. Help us to remember that when we confess our sins You are faithful and righteous to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We bask in your grace and Your love. Please transform our minds and conform our wills to walk in obedience to your word. Give us the heart that John had towards his friends. Give us the desire to see them walk in truth and to have the joy that comes from confessing their sin. Give us the boldness to share Christ with unbelievers and confront sin in the lives of our Christian friends. Amen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Loving through Obedience

"Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me;. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and show myself to him."

John 14:21

God loves me unconditionally, I know that for sure. All I have to do is think of what I am like when I am at my very worst. All I have to do is think of the things that I have done that I don't want anyone to know about, those words I’ve spoken in haste that I wish I could eat, and the thoughts I think that I am thankful that no one else can hear. God sees it all and yet He still sent His son to die for my sin. John 12:46 says, "I am come as a light into the world, that whosoever believes on me should not abide in darkness." It is not God's intent for us to live in darkness. He has illuminated and exposed our sin and desires that we confess it and accept His forgiveness. That Kind of love demands a response, but if I am really honest I have to ask myself if I really love God? I claim to, but how do I show it? For awhile I went to the extreme and berated myself for my failures thinking that it would prove my love by showing how sorry I am when I sin against God. However the above verse points out just how wrong that perception was. His desire is for me to express my love for Him through my obedience.

As human’s we all have certain things that we interpret as love. Some people like to be touched and some prefer gifts. Some like conversation while others appreciate acts of service. Still others cherish being told, " I love you." I could spend all day talking to my child, but if she needs hugs to feel loved and I don't hug her she will not know I love her. Well, God in His grace and in His goodness has told us if we want to show Him our love that we should obey His commandments. Obedience is God's language of love! God loves it when we talk to Him, worship Him, learn His Word, and serve Him by serving others. But in 1 Corinthians 13 it is clear that without love none of those things matter. If the intent of my heart is not to obey Him all of those other things don't really matter -- they are empty works. So what does it mean to obey Him? There are so many commands, but today I will touch only on a few.

First, Ephesians 6:1-2 "Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. Honor thy father and mother…," One way to love God is to obey your parents and to honor them. He placed you in their lives and He did it with your best interest in mind. He doesn't ask you to honor them if they are perfect or to obey them when we feel like it. I have been very blessed with my kids honoring me. There are times that I have had to correct them and they were teachable. Even at the times I didn't handle everything right, they showed me grace. Parents are learning to parent as they raise kids and it is a godly thing for a child to be willing to learn, respect and forgive their imperfections. They have a tremendous responsibility and will answer to God for how they parent; be sure you let them obey God. Honor is more of an attitude of the heart…the silent treatment, the looks, the stomping don't reflect honor.

Sarah, Abraham's wife, is a beautiful example of how a wife should honor and respect her husband. She honored her husband even though he didn't always protect her…she chose to respect him even when he didn't deserve it and God blessed her for it. I can show God my love by respecting my husband.

Ephesians 4:12 says, "Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, impurity." God gave this command to Timothy who was a very young pastor leading a church. It is applicable to us as well. Paul says that we can be a shining example in the way we act, love, and relate or trust God. It does not matter if we are 15 or 80, we can be an example to those around us. If our church is a healthy church there will be baby Christians 23 can help grow by choosing to live in a way that our actions, love, faith and your purity point them toward deeper relationships with God. In the moral climate of our world, the opportunity to shine bright is enormous when we obey God. Is it always easy? NO WAY! But when it is hard and we have to depend on Him for the motivation and the strength to obey we develop a real and intimate relationship with Him.

I have to ask myself if I really love God, would others know it by my life? Would they know it by how I speak? Would they know it by the way I forgive? Would they know it by the way I treat others? Would they know it by my actions? There is one more consideration that I think is important to me as a woman. I Timothy 2:9a says, "In like manner, also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with Godly fear and sobriety." I believe it is okay to be feminine and stylish and yet dress in a way that would not cause a Christian brother to stumble. We can use our creative abilities in dressing and still reflect the purity of God. Would they know it by the way I dress?

I am so thankful for the New Testament in that Christ took the focus off of the Jewish law and put it on loving Him, others, and ourselves. I can choose to move away from sin any time I am focusing on love by asking myself if the words I am about to speak, the actions I am about to carry out, or the thoughts I am thinking are loving.

Father, I pray that each one of us will come to understand more and more about your love and that we will respond to your love with obedience. May we learn to love you with all of our hearts, minds, and our souls and seek to honor you in everything that we do. You deserve our best efforts, our loyalty, our praise, and most of all our obedience. We love you, help us to obey you in good times and in bad! Amen.

The Real Enemy

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."

Ephesians 6:10-14.

There are times that I am feeling so stressed with the cares of life. There are times that I am struggling with trials and facing what seems like unending temptation. There are times that I am facing conflict that seems to have no resolution. From these verses I can see that it is so important to realize that Satan may be behind the stress and that it is he who is the true enemy. He would have me believe I am not capable of working through life’s stresses, unable to stand up under trials, not strong enough to have victory over temptation, or find a solution to the conflicts that I face. It is Satan who baits the hook in temptation and tries to real me in. He is the one who wants me to feel like I am rejected in the face of persecution, not Christ. Satan uses stress to draw my attention away from my God. He entices me to put too many irons in the fire and then mocks me because I all of a sudden find that I feel so distant from God. He discourages me from seeking God's guidance in what I should be involved in. Satan would like me to be so busy that I don't have time to pray, to read God's word, to be patient with people around me, or to get adequate rest which goes a long way in helping me face temptation. It would help me to remember that my spirituality is not measured by my business, but by the fruit of the spirit that is evident or is lacking in my life. It is measured by the way I love or fail to love both God and the others He puts in my life.

When I am facing conflict, it will help if I realize Satan is the one behind the conflict, not the person I am in conflict with. If he can stir up conflict in my family, my church, or among my friendships, he can destroy my witness. Conflict in this life is inevitable, but when I deal with it in a way that both parties are winning there is a potential that all parties concerned can be bonded even more tightly together revealing Christ's love to others. It will take compromise to preserve and tighten godly relationships, but through that pride is broken down and the integrity of our witness is preserved. Satan knows how to tickle my pride and my self-centeredness, convincing me that the enemy is a person and that I must win to be okay. He makes it difficult to hear and we end up twisting each other's words into something they were never meant to be. He excels at stirring up anger instead of humility. Oh that in conflict, we could sit and pray together so that we can identify the actual problem and work together to resolve it. Satan's tactic is to try to turn godly love into selfish hatred – that way people will not see Christ as someone they need or a Christians as someone they want to become.

James also makes it clear that in trials and temptations that Satan will be the one baiting us. When we go through a trial or say no to a temptation it is an opportunity to love God through obedience. It creates intimacy with God as we rely on His strength to say no to the things with which our flesh struggles. It is also an opportunity to abide in God’s precious protection. I would do well to remember that God's intent is for us to be given a chance to stretch and grow and to see how He operates in our lives, not to see us fail. God is faithful and He is good no matter what the outcome of a trial is. God is God and He is not bound to a system of rules that requires Him to work things out in a certain way or in a certain time frame. He has infinite wisdom, infinite creativity, and infinite knowledge about me, my circumstances, and others. He will do things in a way brings glory to Himself, reveals more of Himself to us, and transforms each of us into His likeness.

If we are facing persecution…we need to remember that Christ was hated. He promised that as we learn to walk like Him and talk like Him and love like Him that the world would hate us, too. When we are rejected for Christ's sake it is not us that they are rejecting us, it is Christ and His values in us that convict them. Because of that we should remain gracious and kind in the face of persecution and continue to make moral decisions that honor God. We are called to love and to pray for our enemies and that will take depending on the Lord for strength and courage.

I wonder if you are growing close enough to God to gain His perspective? Do you see your enemy as a person God has called you to love? Are you able to walk intimately with God through temptations and trials? Do you live with the perspective that there is a spiritual realm that we do not see and that is where the real battles are being fought? Joni Erikson Tada has shared that when she was still confined to her bed and seeing no purpose to her life that a precious friend pointed out that her faithfulness and prayers were being witnessed in the heavenly realms. Do you have that kind of spiritual perspective? I hope that we can each grow in that perspective and take joy in this sometimes difficult journey that we call life.

Father, we so often forget that there is a spiritual realm that we do not see. So often we think the enemy is the parents that you have given us to protect us, the teachers you have called to teach us, our spouse who doesn’t understand us, or the friends you have sent to confront the sin in our lives. Please help us in our relationships and in our circumstances to remember to saturate our minds with your truth, adorn ourselves with your righteousness and salvation, and to shield ourselves with faith! Please help us to adopt your perspectives of our situations and the people in our lives. Let us honor you in all that we do and say. Amen.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Delighting in God’s Law

"for in my inner being I delight in God's law;"

Romans 7:22

Two questions Christians often struggle with are: “Does it matter if we sin if we are already saved by grace?” “If so, how can we overcome sin?” If we are really honest with ourselves I believe we know intuitively that sin matters for two reasons. The first one is that we are created in God’s image, and because of that Sin will naturally bother our conscience. When we think about what it means to be created in God’s image, we realize that it means that we are to be a reflection of Him. Because God is truth, life, holy, and just, when we lie, murder, have sex outside of marriage, and take revenge we know in our heart of hearts that we don't reflect God's image. Second, because the payment for our sin required Christ’s life, we know that sin is serious business in God’s eye. Sin can be defined as disobedience as well as missing the mark. God is perfect and we fall short of reflecting His glory. That sense of shame we experience so early in life is because we don’t measure up to God. What we need to understand though is that after we are saved we are reconciled to God and our purpose in life is restored. One of the signs that we don’t take sin seriously is that we find ourselves not deluging in His law.

One of the best answers does it matter if we sin after salvation can be found in God’s response to Israel when they went into the promised land and became seeped in sin. Jeremiah 7:8-10 expresses God's thoughts, "Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods who you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?" In the same way Israel had a new purpose in the Promised Land; we need to realize that God gave us a new purpose when He saved us. We should ask ourselves if we truly believe that God delivered us from our sin to still do the same sinful things. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared for us to do beforehand.

Another reason God desires for us to grow in righteousness is found in Jeremiah 6:7. It says, "As a fountain wells up with water, so she wells up with her wickedness. Violence and plundering are heard in her. Before me continually are grief and wounds." God loves us and one of the reasons He gave us the law was because He knew that sin hurts us. God often talks about healing in conjunction with turning from sin. When our sin goes unchecked and we grow more sinful we will eventually reach a point in which we are in deep pain. It truly is gracious of God to desire to heal us of pain that we have chosen to inflict upon ourselves.

So, how do we overcome sin? We are humans who are born with a bent to do wrong and we will sin every day and yet God says to be holy as He is. How do we bring together the truth of our sinfulness in this life and our calling to holiness? There are three principles that can help us grow in holiness. They can be summed up by three words: honesty, obedience, and faith.

Honesty--I John 1:9 says to confess our sins. Confession means agreeing with God about who we are and what we have done. Also James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to one another and to pray for each other, so we need mature believers we can be transparent with. We may not have victory because we are afraid to be real with others about our struggles. As we confess our sin to God and to others we will be humbled which gives us a chance for the desire to be like Him to take root.

Obedience--I John 1:7 also says that we should walk in the light. God’s truth is the light. If we walk in the truth of what He has revealed to cleanse us and reveal more. It gives us the opportunity to compare our actions and attitudes with who we are and confessing what does not match up. It helps us have the opportunity to choose moment by moment to do what is right over what we usually do. We also need to understand our weaknesses and not put ourselves in situations that promote failure. When we are tempted to sin, we need to choose to behave according to what we desire to be, not what is natural or feels good.

Faith--Do we believe God and trust that His plans are good? Do we trust His unfailing love enough to be real with Him and know He will not walk away and that He will help us grow in holiness? II Peter 1:2-4 says, "…as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." Do we truly believe that His power is greater that the strongest urges we feel to sin? The Bible is full of promises that we can trust. It is important to realize that there is no sin in temptation. For the Christian it is an invitation to walk more intimately with God and see His power manifested in our weaknesses. So if we desire intimacy, but believe that our sin stands in the way, we can rebuke that lie and talk to God about the temptations we experience and learn to depend on His power to overcome it. When we are willing to do that, He helps us weed out the sins by the root.

Are you hurting and think sin can ease the hurt? Think again, one of the names for our God is counselor. Sin offers temporary relief, but taking our pain to God deepens that relationship which can promote the healing we desire. Do you want a deeper sensitivity to sin so that you can honor God more with your life, it is ours for the asking? Don't get bogged down in guilt, but simply be honest with God. He delights in healing, empowering, transforming, and teaching us how to walk with Him. If we continually offer Him all that we are, He will continuously be in the process of molding us into the image bearer He created us to be. As we grow in obedience and the desire to know God, we will truly come to the point of delighting in your laws because we will understand in the deepest parts of our hearts that the law reflects the nature of our God.

: Father, we come to You as sinful people simply redeemed by the blood of Jesus. We confess that we often excuse our sin. Help us assume responsibility for it. Help us to believe You have truly given us all that we need to live lives that are glorifying to You. Please redeem our mistakes and work them to our good. Humbles us, purify us, and fill us with the desires of Your heart. Help us fulfill the works You have created each of us to fulfill. Amen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sacrificial Friendship

"And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose, and went to David into the forest, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said unto him, "Fear not for the hand of Saul, my father, shall not find you; and you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; that also Saul my father knows."

1 Samuel 23:16-17.

I love the words that Jonathan said to David. David was hiding in the woods and Jonathan went to him to meet his need of some major duty encouragement. In doing this, Jonathan risked his own life because King Saul was a brutal man and could easily decide to have his own son killed. Jonathan encourages David by reminding David that God had anointed him as the next king, which meant he knew that David could not die. Lastly, he tells David he has made it clear to his father he supported God's plans for David. I wonder if I am truly the kind of friend who strengthens or encourages others, especially when it might not be the popular thing to do in the moment.

In Romans 12:1 we are encouraged to be living sacrifices. As members of the "body" or group of believers we are called to live for God, which takes both time and energy. Being a living sacrifice actually requires us to die to our selfish wants and desires to meet the needs of others. It may mean giving up a CD to feed a hungry person. It may mean giving up a movie to spend time with a hurting friend. It may mean getting up 15 minutes earlier to help someone out at home. It may mean taking time from TV to write an encouragement note. My life has been rich with people who sacrificed time and energy to encourage me. Some babysat my kids so I could go to the doctor or date my husband. One friend gave us a car when ours was falling apart. Others gave up more exciting events to love my kids by reading to them or taking them to the park. It has also been rich with Bible teachers who sacrificed time to answer my questions and friends who prayed with me when I hurt. I truly want to be that kind of person to others.

In our culture we don't often have to take huge risks to share Christ or minister to friends. Yet, I have seen students who were criticized by friends for reaching out to students who were not a part of the "in crowd". Some students caved into the criticism, while others have shown tremendous courage and stood by the less popular students. Is there someone we need to encourage in the Lord and have held off for fear of what others might think? Jonathan feared what God thought more than what his own father Saul thought. As a Christian we may find that encouraging a friend in the Lord means we run the risk of criticism, imprisonment, or even death. Remember His Word, " If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:32b) and be of good courage.

Jonathan reminded David of the truth. David had been anointed by God to be the next king and that meant Saul could not kill him. For us that principle has many applications. If we have a friend who is discouraged by sin, we can remind her that they are forgiven when they confess their sin. If a friend has been rejected, we can remind her that the creator of the universe loves her and accepts her. If a friend is facing hard circumstances we can remind her that God will walk her through this hard time and that it is okay to be real with Him. If a friend is feeling her life has no purpose, we can remind her that she is a minister to others, God's co-worker, the dwelling place of God, God’s ambassador in this fallen world, and that she was appointed to bear fruit. The New Testament is full of exhortations to love each other, to speak truth to each other, to comfort one another, and to accept each other as needed parts of the body.

Lastly, Saul defended David to his father. We know it took great risk on Jonathan's part. How often are we guilty of gossip or slander? Even worse, how often do we allow others to assassinate someone else's character so we can feel like we are a part of the “group?” Our silence makes us just as guilty as those who spoke. One of our kids was lied about and gossiped about on a mission trip. The youth pastor sat every student down and talked to them. It was awesome to see the people who started the rumors apologize and even more awesome when others came forward and apologized because they had done nothing to stop it. I have seen other's who are were so wounded when they were slandered and no one stopped it or apologized that they left the church. Sadly, some of those who spread the slander are also often guilty of saying those who leave the church must not be real believers. My prayer is that we become a body of believers committed to what is right, honorable, and pure and that we develop the courage to offer grace and to defend others being slandered and rejected. I hope we can become like Jonathon who knew that Saul hated David and risked his own life to defend him. I wonder if we are willing to risk rejection by defending someone who is being slandered. Jonathan did not believe what Saul said about David and he told his father that. We should do the same. God is gracious in giving us the gift of friendship, but along with friendship comes the responsibility to sacrificially love with courage, grace, and truth. Are we willing to do that?

Father, thank you for the people you have put in our lives to encourage us. Help us to recognize our opportunities and to be selfless enough to make sacrifices of time to be encouragers. Give us boldness and gentleness and the courage we need to take risks that you might call us to take for others. Amen.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Unspeakable Joy

"Whom, having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls."

1 Peter 1:8-9

I find the word “joy” to be a very interesting word. In looking it up in a Bible dictionary, I found out that it is considered an attribute of God and a work of God in the life of the believer. We often equate happiness with joy, but the truth is that they are two distinct emotions. Happiness is a warm fuzzy feeling that depends largely on what is happening in our lives…good health, congenial company, pleasant surroundings, having healthy friendships, etc. the emotion of happiness cannot coexist with unhappiness. Joy, on the other hand, is a positive emotion of contentment and trust that is not dependent upon our circumstances or the company we are keeping. It is dependent on our knowing God and taking Him at His word. It can co-exist with sorrow.

We have several Biblical examples of that -- Isaiah 53:3 says that Christ was a man of sorrows and that He was acquainted with grief. Then Hebrews 12:2 says that for the joy set before Him He was able to endure the cross. Another example is when the crowds that Paul and Silas were preaching to turn against them rather than accepting Christ. They beat them and threw then into prison. Yet, at midnight the other prisoners heard them singing praises to Jehovah, the God for who they were imprisoned, yet trusted. In 1 Peter 1: 6-7 Peter wrote to Christians who were dispersed because of their faith and encourages them to rejoice even though they were feeling sorrowful because of their many trials. This was because Peter fully understood that the trials of their faith that the dispersed people were experiencing gave them an opportunity to bring glory and honor to God as He produced His joy in them. He then points out that while they continue believing they had joy unspeakable!

The last couple of years I have contemplated the whole concept of joy. It seems some people are born with a natural tendency toward it and can always look at the bright side of things while other people are born with a "darker" personality and have to work at maintaining a joyful perspective. However, if we believe what the Bible says it is very freeing to realize that deep joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That means it is not something that we are responsible for mustering up on our own. As a person matures in Christ and grows in their intimacy with Him, joy will become more and more apart of them and more and more visible to those around. That does away with the misconceptions that if we are good enough our life will be blessed and we will have more joy. As we grow and learn to trust Christ a supernatural unspeakable joy will begin to permeate our soul. Is it really possible to have that in the face of persecution, trials, illness, hurt feelings, or grief? It has taken me a while to reach this conclusion, but I would say without a doubt that the answer is "Yes!"

I realize that at one point in my life I thought God would be more glorified if He would intervene and change some of the painful circumstances I have experienced, heal people I love and have prayed for, or instantly free me or others from our struggles with sin. Over the years I have come to believe that sometimes the greatest miracles of all are the miracles that take place in a person’s heart. Maybe God leaves fearful circumstances because He glorified more when He can turn my fear in to courage. Maybe He leaves me in the middle of hurtful circumstances because He is glorified more when He can heal me of hurts and teach me to be gracious and forgiving. Maybe God doesn't instantly free me from all of my struggles because He can be glorified more as He shows Himself to be my strength in the face of my weaknesses giving me victory in the face of temptation.

Maybe in God's economy the glory of something He has created or changed outwardly is not nearly as glorious as a radical change of heart. Maybe God is glorified more when I or someone else has joy in the middle of "manifold trials", because that joy is born out of a heart that has experienced and accepted the perfect unconditional love of God in the face of adversity. I know my joy is deepens when I chose to keep my mind focused on my Creator and have accepted the truth that the Lord is perfect even in His sovereignty over His creation. Thus, God is truly glorified when joy is perfected in us through the trials and temptations that we experience as we learn to praise, honor, and rest completely in God…revealing to those around us that we truly do believe in a God who in all of His majesty and glory and power is ever faithful and true to His Character and love.

Father, help each of us to be like the people that Peter was writing to. Even though they were facing tremendous circumstances and trials they had found Christ to be a living hope. They loved Him in the face of their trials and they found unspeakable amounts of joy in knowing Him and thereby brought honor to You in how they responded to life. If we face trials please use them to bring honor to yourself. Help us to see them as an opportunity to know and walk with You. Give us hearts that are joyful and seeking after you continually no matter what is happening to and around us. Help us to be like Paul and Silas who are found continuously praising you even in a dark place like a prison. Thank you for your love and your faithfulness to us. Amen.

Clouds of Glory

“…For He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Matthew 5:45

As a child I went to church on my own. I don’t know if I heard some bad theology along the way or if I just developed it on my own due to my tendency towards skewed “black-white” thinking patterns. Basically, my skewed theology was that if I was good enough I would begin to have a problem free life and it would be filled with all sorts of blessings and I would mostly experience happiness. 

It was a long time before I found people with whom I felt safe enough to to ask questions about the Bible and even longer before I found people with whom I felt safe enough to share the disappointment I have felt towards God because I wasn't finding the Christian life easy. In fact, I have experienced many trials both in the past and as a believer in church even though I exhausted myself trying both to do what I thought He wanted me to do and to be what He wanted me to be. Sadly, even as I am writing this I know as hard as I was trying hard to be good, I had secret sins I committed, I remembered the ugly words I’ve screamed in anger, the even uglier thoughts I silenced before they came out of my mouth, the harsh judgments I’ve pronounced against others, and how many times I have refused to face pain by holding on to bitterness as I refused to forgive. I was recently at an American Association of Christian Counselors conference and took a lot of good workshops on how to help people who are in emotional pain. As always, when I am taking workshops I can’t help but reflect back on my healing journey, especially my relational journey with God. The above verse was such an eye opener for me. It helped me to accept that the abuse I endured was not because I was a bad little girl and to see the trials I've faced as a believer have not been the result of being a bad “Christian.” They were simply the result of living in a fallen world with people like me who a tendency to sin. As long as I live I know I will experience both God’s sunshine and His rain.

But an interesting thought I've had is that the word storm is often used to illustrate trials in our lives. Some of the storms can be little storms, but some of them can feel like emotional hurricanes. I think it is interesting that the verse above doesn’t place a judgment on the sunshine or the rain. Both of them are needed for life to be sustained. I realized awhile back I needed to change how I viewed the Christian life. The truth is God never promised me a problem-free, trial-free, or pain-free life. As long as I'm alive, I will experience storms along with the brighter times. 

After thinking about that truth the Israelites came to mind. They were being led by God out of Egypt by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day to guide and to protect them that maybe God has a very different view of clouds than I do. Then I came across a devotional by Jill Briscoe and she penned the term clouds of glory. Because I find Israel’s journey out of Egypt similar to the Christian life, I couldn’t help but wonder how my outlook on life would be different if when I first begin to view a “storm clouds forming on the horizon” if I viewed them as clouds of glory instead of just trials or storms to endure. It might seem odd to call it clouds of glory, unless I think of what the trials accomplish in me. They give me a chance to exercise faith so it matures and strengthens and becomes a part of the core of my being instead of fluctuating from a double-minded position, changing with the wind. They give me the chance to grow in my character as I develop qualities like patience, endurance, and perseverance, all of which ultimately result in me having joy. Sometimes clouds give me the chance to grow in my relationships as I realize trials in the context of relationship expose my selfishness, my self-centered tendency to make life all about me, my tendency to bear grudges and mete out grace sparingly, and my tendency to love poorly in the face of conflict. 

I think by preparing to learn and to lean into God as storms begin to brew and to commit to fully trusting Him that the storms have the potential to accomplish the work God is attempting to do in me. As I exercise faith, I allow His character to be formed in me and learn to love as He loves. And as He is glorified, the “Storm Clouds” of this life will truly be seen as clouds of glory. As I look at the clouds on the horizon as potential clouds of glory I am drawn to His word and His promises in the face of storms and I will walk with Him through them. He will protect me from the self-destructive ways that come from trying to do life apart from Him and help me find purpose in what He has called me to I endure and thrive through. The protection always comes from walking closely with Him in the midst of storms and continuing to walk upright when others might crumble. It comes in letting Him empower me to love others in ways that I am not capable of doing without His help. It comes in letting Him empower me to forgive what I I believe is unforgiveable. It comes in believing He loves me and cares about all that pertains to me. It comes in knowing His intention is never to harm me, but to continue the work that He began when I came to Him by faith. 

Father, I pray that every storm cloud I face will truly become a cloud of glory as I learn to cling to you in all trials whether situational, events, relational, or spiritual. I want my life and my responses to what happens in it to bring glory and honor to you. Amen.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Both God and Man

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…And the word became flesh and dwelt among us…"

John 1:1.14

A question that I need to ask myself is, “Does the truth of Christ being God in flesh cause me to stand in awe of Him? “ The truth is Christ took on flesh so He could reveal the Father's love to each of us by paying the penalty for sin. That ought to rock my world. But there are times that I just take it for granted. After all it is the union of Christ’s two natures, the human and the divine, that made it possible for each of us to have a kinsman-redeemer who could legitimately take our place when He paid for our sin. Yet, I have to admit that I don’t fully comprehend the fact that Christ is both fully God and fully man -- everything that God is Jesus is as well, yet Jesus is fully a man. It is all beyond my comprehension, but I am glad that Jesus came.

It is amazing that back in eternity past a plan was born in the heart of God. The Creator, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Sovereign God, chose to veil His Glory. He chose to leave the vast beauty of His heavenly home to grow in the dark confinement of one of His own creations. While His heavenly position entitled Him to be born in a palace and wrapped in purple linen, He opted to be born in the middle of a sheepfold, and wrapped in swaddling clothes – the clothes usually used for wrapping a dead body pointed to his purpose from day one. He by-passed a golden cradle for such a simple manger, which was prophetic of future role as God's sacrificial lamb. He chose to limit His limitless abilities and powers to show us He understands our limitations and in doing so He has been able to fulfill the role of a sympathetic high priest. He faced every temptation we ever have or ever will have, yet He was without sin. Simply put, He loved us by becoming a man.

It is hard to comprehend a love so outrageous that it motivated Christ to leave His heavenly home and become dependent upon His creation. It is also hard to understand why He would choose to grow up in a home with half-brothers and half-sisters who did not recognize Him for who He was or what He came to do. It is hard to comprehend a love so outrageous it would cause Him who spoke the universe into place to limit His creativity and become an apprentice in His step-father’s carpenter shop. There His infinite creativity was limited to one medium, that of wood. Rather than speaking things into being, He chose to limit Himself to using human hands -- hands that became dirty, callused, and rough just like ours. At the same time, his rough hands could tend to the fine details needed in the carpenter’s shop. These same hands revealed God's tender compassion by being gentle enough to bless children, restore sight to the blind, restore life to dying flesh, and that motivated him to heal the hurts that were buried deep in men's souls.

It is hard to understand a love so outrageous that it motivated God to take on a human body and experience needs like ours -- hunger, thirst, and sleep. He also experienced our emotional needs and asked His friends to pray for Him when He was facing the cross. It is even harder to understand a love that would motivate Him to set aside His own needs to meet the needs of the crowds that pressed in on Him. They needed food and He provided it. They needed to be healed and He touched them. They needed comfort and He wiped away their tears. They needed knowledge so He taught them. They needed courage so He encouraged them. When they needed acceptance He demonstrated His acceptance of them. His disciples needed rest He took them aside to get it. They needed freedom from spiritual bondage and He set them free from demons that vexed them. They needed love and He loved them with an eternal steadfast love that never once wavered.

It is hard to comprehend that the same voice that He used to speak the universe into place is the same voice that comforted people, expressed forgiveness, and offered blessings. It was the same voice that comforted two sisters whose brother had died that turned around with power and majesty and ordered him out of the tomb. The voice that spoke with the authority to legions of demons spoke so kindly that it healed the deep shame of adultery when a guilty woman was cast at His feet. It was His eyes, capable of seeing everything, that penetrated the hardest heart. His eyes that sparkled in the early morning light as He prayed shed tears when His friends grieved. His eyes, the only eyes that had a right to condemn, were used as instruments that delivered His grace. For as a man, Christ gazed into the eyes of people broken by pain and by sin and conveyed the loving heart of God -- a heart full of tender mercies and passion so outrageous that to demonstrate it fully He chose to become a man. What are your thoughts on the truth that Jesus is both God and Man? What are your thoughts on His outrageous love?

Father, sometimes we forget how much You love us and understand us. Your word says that Christ demonstrated Your love by dying for us, but He also demonstrated love by living among us. By His life we know we have a sympathetic "high priest" praying continuously to You on our behalf. He understands us! Help us to see the mercy and grace you continuously show us in our relationship with Christ. Help us love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, reach out and touch the untouchable just as Jesus did. Let our hands be instruments of comfort, our voices instruments of truth, and our eyes instruments of grace revealing sacrificial love and acceptance. Amen.

The Goodness of God

"Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?"
Romans 2:4

Have you ever thought about what causes you to repent and confess your sin? The verse above tells us it is the Lord’s goodness that leads us to repentance. The context of this verse is a charge to the Jews to be accountable in their lifestyle and evangelism rather than judging the people who were not Jews for their past pagan practices. The Jews had become exclusive rather than evangelistic and had a hard time accepting the idea that God’s plan of salvation included people of all nations, some of which had a lot of different practices. That would be the equivalent of our coming to understand that no sin is too bad that Christ's death is not sufficient enough to cover it. Emotionally, I think that sometimes we have a hard time handling that. How do we feel if a murderer, a wife beater, a child abuser, a drug addict, or a prostitute, or a homosexual gets saved? When Romans was written, the Jewish believers were struggling to accept that some of the people who had come from nations that used temple prostitutes and child sacrifices were now being born again into the body of Christ.

But wait, Paul, himself, had been responsible for the death of many Christians before he met Jesus on the Damascus road. If we are honest, we can understand what the Jewish people may have been feeling. We can choose to look at each person we meet as someone that Christ died for and the truth is that the more seeped in sin each person is the more each needs the Savior. Real Christianity is nice and neat, it is downright sticky. If we are obedient to the command to go into the world we will bring in new believers who may dress, talk, and who have been living very differently than those who have grown up in the church.

We need to realize the Christian life is a series of choices that we are called to make. The more we get to know Christ and His goodness the more our decisions will include repenting of our sinful actions and even the hidden attitudes of our hearts. All of the letters Paul wrote began with doctrine that helped people understand more fully what their salvation meant. Ephesians tells us things like God chose us to be adopted by Christ and that through Christ we are accepted, redeemed, and sealed by the Holy Spirit. Colossians tells us that God has already delivered us out of the power of darkness and made us partakers of the inheritance of the saints! In his letters, after Paul expounded on doctrine, he gave specific instructions on how to live and relate to each other. He believed if he taught them more about God's goodness that they would want to continue to grow in holiness. Paul understood that grace is not getting Christ to love us more by our "good actions." It is understanding that He already loves us and forgives us and letting that love motivate us to change.

As children of God, we are told that we will be disciplined because we are loved. Hebrews 12:6,10-11 says, "For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives…For (earthly fathers) chasten us after their own pleasure, but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His Holiness. Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them who are exercised by it." Understanding God's goodness will help to come to repentance, but understanding that sometimes our stubborn rebellious hearts come face to face with His relentless stubborn love and He will discipline us. He wants us to be partakers of His holiness…not just act right! He wants us to enjoy peace that only comes from His righteousness in us, conforming our hearts to His, resulting in humble righteous acts and relationships. God designed us to live a certain way and that was distorted when Adam and Eve sinned. It is God's goodness that wants us to be restored to Him through Christ and wants us to partake of His holiness. There is more joy in serving, witnessing, loving, praying for healing, and teaching the word and seeing lives changed than in all the sin we can be involved in. God knows that and He will discipline us to bring that about so we can experience His great joy.

Lastly, there are times God's goodness will lead us to confront a friend or a friend to confront us (James 5:20). Confrontation needs to be done with love, grace, humility, and truth. Confrontation is more successful when we include a reminder of the goodness of God. I try to let the person I am confronting know I care more about them and their relationship with God than their behavior. When we are confronted about sin we need to remember God sent that person to us and not get angry with her or him. It is God's desire for us to have intimacy with Him and He will expose that which hinders our relationship with Him. Confrontation can actually leave us feeling loved and motivate us to change if we understand the purpose it serves.

Some questions we should ponder are: How has God's goodness led us to repent? If someone enters our life bearing the marks of sin, will we remember that it is God's goodness that leads them to repentance, not our harsh judgments? Is there anything that is not holy in our life hindering our relationship to God?

Father, thank you for your goodness and the fact that it leads us to repentance. Help us to see your goodness as well as your holiness. Help us to see our sin in light of your goodness, that we might grieve over what grieves your heart. Help us to confront others with your goodness when you call us to speak truth. Help us to accept confrontation as your goodness to us. Melt our pride and purify our hearts, that we might humbly hunger and thirst hard after 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!