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.


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!