Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Living Sacrifices

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

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

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

The Courage to Forgive First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Loving Jesus Through the Least of These

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfectly Imperfect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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!