Monday, December 23, 2019

Who Worships a Baby?

After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

So who really worships a baby? These were grown, educated men who fell down in the presence of the infant Jesus. When this Scripture was read aloud, I had to wonder at the freedom and devotion that moved the magi to worship Jesus. They did not worship out of forced submission or acquiescence. Their worship was not grudging, resentful, or jealous. The worship of the magi was costly in time, money, and effort; lavish expression and absolute disregard for self-exaltation.

The price only began to reflect the worth of Jesus. They had no way of knowing, no way of comprehending the value of Christ. None of us does. God in flesh? Who can fully comprehend it? Perhaps they were resting on this promise:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

This--this is what brings worship, praise, and adoration. Jesus became a man. God in flesh dwelt among us. Incomparable. Unfathomable. The omnipotent One: Almighty. The omniscient One: all knowing. The omnipresent One now, by choice, limited to a human vessel. Good. Always, wholly good. Light, without even a shadow of darkness. Love that encompasses and redeems the guilty. Grace personified. This One chose to come to us. Confined to a physical vessel in a world ruled by His supreme, unseen enemy, Jesus would experience and walk among His creation. Unheard of!

He would then give Himself over to be wrongly charged, beaten, abused, spat upon and gruesomely executed, receiving in His spirit God's judgment and wrath for the sin of the world. We cannot begin to bear the weight of our own sin, how can we begin to understand Jesus' love for us?

This is who the Magi worshiped. This is who we worship. A baby? Briefly. And in that wee One was the promise of eternity, the life of God eternal, the hope of the world. He was worthy of the magi's adoration. He is worthy--worthy of more than we could ever bring or hope to entrust to His care. That is why we worship. Knowledge of the Holy One moves us to trust and obedience. Who am I to know or say what is just, right and good? Absolute? In the presence of Majesty, I loose my hold, my demands for my desires, my way, my limited ability to know what is best. I bow, submit, and confidently place my heart and life at the feet of the Master.

There is liberty in acknowledging Christ and my rightful place. There is joy, peace, contentment, grace--all the good and none of the bad. Worshiping Jesus is a win-win. Dying to self and receiving His payment for my sin--as one little girl said, is "too good to be true." The only thing I have to lose is myself, my desire for sin, destruction, madness, and folly.

Where is your worship today? You and I always worship something. May we, like the magi, give of ourselves--uninhibited, unhindered, unreservedly.

He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. (Colossians 1:15-23)

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Value of Dependence

We get caught up in our own everyday lives and seldom see past the end of our own nose. Jesus knew that. He knew the heart of man, the thoughts of man, the tendencies of man. We simply don't get it. That's why it's such a miracle when God reveals what's there but beyond our grasp. We won't see it, we won't see the truth of who God is in and through it, apart from His help.

"All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

Did you get that? You're not hot stuff. I'm not hot stuff. We don't "got this." Jesus does. When I have a revelation into God and His character, it's not about me, it's about Him. It's not my insight and wisdom, it's His. If I have come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, it's not because I'm an outstanding individual or have something to offer. Jesus had just said,

“I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight."

Jesus thanked God that we are not wise or intelligent. Instead, those of us who see, know and come to Him are "nepios," infants; children. If you "get" God, that describes you. God is pleased when we see our need, rely and depend on Him, cry out to Him, call on Him, rest in Him. He is actually not impressed with individuals who are characterized by taking care of their own problems their own way. God is not impressed with clever people, hard-working people, or problem solvers. He responds to those who cannot. Who see and admit to their limitations and ask Him for the grace to accept His hand and purpose in and through infirmity.

That's the beauty of Jesus' birth. In the art that abounds this time of year we see the Madonna figure with the Christ child. Jesus was dependent. His birth in a cattle stall was humble: Jesus never had a place of His own. He was constantly dependent on others--first His parents, then those who followed Him (including women) and provided for His needs.

The story of Christmas, the revelation of Jesus Christ, is not about insight or character. It's about innocence, desperation, and dependence.

How dependent are you today?

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life... (Philippians 2:5-16)

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Look What's Coming!

This last summer we took on a large remodeling project in which we removed part of the house--the kitchen, laundry room, and family entry--and rebuilt it. During that time we learned to be flexible and go about everyday tasks differently.

Now we're back in the house and I'm enjoying a larger, warmer kitchen. Yesterday I expressed gratitude to God for things like a dryer vent that doesn't snake through the crawl space and clothes that dry rapidly, for heat that touches my toes when I stand at the kitchen sink, for being able to set down packages inside the back door.

There are areas of the addition we haven't moved into yet, but I can easily imagine. Our bedroom closet, circa 1911, is the size of a coat closet the two of us share. The process of choosing, removing, and replacing clothes is the same, but the ease of a walk-in closet is exhilarating. Isn't it the same with Heaven? So many of the tasks and people we enjoy that are tainted with sin, will repeat themselves in glory without blemish. Can you imagine?

Can you imagine singing in the congregation of saints? Voices so strong yours is lost in the melody of lives saved from abuse, torture, loneliness, grief, and sin-sick bodies to praise our King? Can you imagine living the truth of God's Word and precepts without a hint of self? Free from bondage to personal desires, longings, and demons? Above all, can you imagine the very real, enfolding presence of our precious Lord, in glorified flesh, for eternity? We experience His presence in the person of His Spirit and Word, but to see Him, touch Him, hear and speak to Him personally? We can only imagine.

Today, when sin makes life difficult, once you're done complaining and groaning, take a moment to praise God for what's in store. It's exhilarating! Thoughts of eternity give us fuel, courage, and love to move forward in spite of wickedness, self, and sin. They move us to share and live out our confidence before others as a gift and ministry. It's not ours alone. It's meant to be shared.

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.

But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:5-18)

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Faith: When I Disagree

A few different thoughts have been going through my head lately. Here are a couple. If anything strikes your fancy and you'd like to hear more, send a comment or let me know.

1) Faith isn't faith if I agree with God. Instead, my faith is tested when I disagree or don't understand and I obey anyway: i.e. Abraham offering Isaac on the altar.

2) My response to Jesus reveals much. While the unclean spirits told Jesus to leave them alone and depart, the crowds sought him even in desolate places.

3) I have been much more aware lately of how much worry is created by fear of being inconvenienced. In the end, I will lose nothing more than comfort, but that seems to be the end goal--and I find it sad that my desire is so fleeting and empty compared to what God has in store through difficulty, inefficiency, and inconvenience.

Here is a list of bullet points re: faith, (I am lacking creativity, time, and prose this morning):

  • Abraham rose early the next morning, (He didn't wait. He didn't barter. He got up and went.) Genesis 22:3
  • He split wood, took 2 servants and his son and went to the place God told Him (note: He didn't choose a "better" place or one that suited his idea of a good idea. He went exactly where God told Him to go.) Genesis 22:3
  • Abraham told the young men, "we will worship and return to you" (He did not think less of God; He trusted God to spare his son because God has promised and delivered Isaac once--he was the promised son. Abraham believed the impossible--"that God is able to raise people even from the dead," Hebrews 12:19.) Genesis 22:5
  • Abraham put God's plan into action (He did not waver or change God's revealed plan; he obeyed completely) Genesis 22:6
  • Even in the midst of conflicting emotions and circumstances, Abraham believed God would provide ("Where is the lamb?" "God will provide for son.") Genesis 22:7-8
  • Abraham acts in apparent conflict with the character of God to do the will of God: "Abraham bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar...stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son" Genesis 22:9-10.
  • Abraham expected God's intervention. When God called, "Abraham, Abraham!" he said, "Here I am." Genesis 22:11.  (How very different than Adam and Even's response to God's call, "Where are you?" Genesis 3:9)
  • Abraham looked for and applied God's solution. (When God intervened, Abraham looked, went up and took the ram, offering it in place of his son. God's solution required action, effort, and sweat-equity, but provision was generously, miraculously supplied) Genesis 22:13.
  • Abraham's response was not one of resentment, but worship. (He had seen God in a new, amazing, personal way and he now called God by a a new name, "Jehovah Jireh," the Lord will provide.) Genesis 22:13-14
  • Abraham, and all the nations, were blessed as a result of his faith and God's provision. Genesis 22:16-18

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Signs of Growth, Gifts of Grace

Before Bible study this morning, I vacuumed floors. Not because I'm a Neat Nelly but because of necessity. In one room a full-length mirror lay broken on the floor. In another a potted plant had fallen off the shelf.

It occurred to me that, in the days of young children, this would have been a disaster. A catastrophe. Broken glass and small feet. Black dirt and carpet.

But not today. Today I was alone. Thankful I didn't have clambering, half-dressed, hungry children. Thankful I had a full-size trash bag to scoop up the mirror, frame and (almost) all. Thankful no one had watered the plant before it fell.

And in that moment I realized that past trials have given me grace and patience in today's trials. The first time you find a cat in the clothes dryer, it creates a bit of panic. The next time you know what to do and it's not as concerning.

Isn't God good to teach us, stay with us, remind us of His constant presence and work in and through our lives?

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. (James 1:2-18)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Quick Fix

As I sit this morning, with broken water pipes, company, children, harvest--life--I can't help but ask God to fix things. There are dishes, hands, and clothes to be washed. People to feed and care for. God says, "No" or "Wait" (which means "no" for now).

And I am reminded that life here will always be broken and limping. God comes to my aid. I am thankful. And something else goes wrong. And I pray. And He answers.

But what I need, more than a repaired water main, more than settled laundry, dishes, and children, is a settled heart; a heart that is content with or without pleasing circumstances; with or without fixes and affirmative answers to prayer. This morning what I need, all I need, is Jesus.

I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 
(Philippians 3:8-13)

As I read this passage today, it turned inside out. Why did Jesus lay hold of me? What is the prize of the upward call of God on my life?

The upward call is that I, by faith, would be conformed to His death, living not in my own strength but in the power of His resurrection through the fellowship of His sufferings. Jesus laid hold of me that I would glorify and live for Him instead of myself. God's will is to use the life of Christ in my body, at this time of history, in this geographical place, with these people so that, as believers live out the life and purpose of Christ, He manifests Himself across the world.

It's not about fixing things, enjoying life, or making it easier. It's about living daily His death, suffering, and resurrection in trust and faith. I can rejoice when things go well and I see the hand of God in each and every blessing. I can also rest in difficulty, praying continually, trusting that God is working something even greater in the difficulties.Paul continues to write:

Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)

Thursday, October 24, 2019

As You Go

Jesus said to make disciples "as you go..." The other day I distributed flyers for our local after-school Bible club (Good News Club) as I ran errands... at the grocery store, local Mexican restaurant, Dollar store, post office, bank. It wasn't a burden. It wasn't tiresome. It was a joy and I knocked things off my to-do list as I went.

The gospel is like that. Jesus wears my body, personality, abilities, interests, relationships, resources, limitations. Where I go, He goes. He speaks. He helps. He loves. He cares. He listens.

Seek opportunities, you'll be amazed where He will lead you to be His hands, feet, eyes, ears, and mouth.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Monday, October 7, 2019

When Ministry is Dangerous

"Ministry" can be an ambiguous, dangerous word when it describes who I am more than how, or what, I do. As an identity, it compartmentalizes and encapsulates parts of our lives, presuming to represent the whole.

"What is your ministry?"
"How is your ministry?"
"How do you do ministry?"
"What does your ministry look like?"

You hear these questions at the coffee shop, in the church lobby, over the phone, in emails, and at conferences. The questions--and answers--define what you struggle with, how successful you are, how you spend your time and energy: who you are.

It is easy to throw ourselves into the lifestyle and role of "ministry" in an effort to answer questions well, represent ourselves (and God) well, and live a life blessed by God. If we're not successful, we seek to fix what's wrong, worried that we look bad and we've made God look bad--right? (Not right--but right?) If we're not careful, we find ourselves serving "the ministry." How do we know? It drives our thoughts, decisions, sleep (or lack thereof), diet, family time, priorities,  hobbies, relationships, and schedule. Ministry is a dangerous god. Mimicking God's creation and chosen order, it quietly slithers in, sharing intimate space in our thoughts, directing our life.

What if, instead of "ministry," we thought about, spoke and asked about the Lord Jesus? How much more valuable to include others: those who have a job title and those who don't; those who are paid in a ministry position and those who aren't; those who are extrinsically successful and those who aren't.

"How is your walk with the Lord?"
"How has the Lord been using you in His service? Blessing you? Challenging you from His Word?"
"What is the most rewarding part of your relationship with the Lord right now?"
"How has God been convicting you? How is He working in your life?"
"How can I pray with/for you right now?"

It may or may not have anything to do with others and their perception, but it will refocus us on God instead of ourselves. Talking about "ministry" keeps the spotlight off my heart.

What if we were brave enough, courageous enough, to say, "This isn't 'ministry,' this is 'life.' And as He allows, I will fill every last corner of it--every relationship, activity, hour, and accolade--to the edges with a desire to please, honor, and multiply His grace."

"...sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence...." (1 Peter 3:15)

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Our world is broken, tragically unjust, given over to oppression, pain, and hopelessness--without Christ. The reality of God's Word, however, is one of wholeness, justice, freedom, grace, and hope. Through redemption in Jesus Christ we have a renewed purpose, to live out our original design: representing God's image. Because of sin, we will never fully represent Him here on earth, but through the indwelling Spirit, with dependence on the Word of God and support of His people, He promises to change us.

One of the most powerful antidotes to depression* and anxiety is the reminder of what is true: God is loving, He is kind, gentle, slow to wrath, good, powerful, faithful... Instead of allowing my mind to wander and follow it's own depraved (or lazy) path of sorrow, God has given me what I need to retrain it: the promises in His Word (2 Peter 1:3) and His presence (Hebrews 13:5-6). Jim Berg, in his book, Changed Into His Image, refers to this as "arguing myself back to reality."

We can change our mind! God created it as an elastic, adaptable organ. Connections (known as synapses), create paths that can be reinforced or recreated much like a two-track dirt road. Repeated thoughts form a highway, or river-like structure, with fingers reaching as far as time and control allow. New thoughts take time and intentionality--which is why we must be disciplined and on guard, sober-minded. "Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13). 

Here is a link to Bible verses that remind us of the goodness and constant love of God through Jesus Christ:

When in doubt, argue yourself back to reality! God is who He says He is. He will do what He says He will do (Hebrews 11:6). He knows our weakness and frailty, our struggles and suffering. We can be honest with ourselves and honest with God, humbling ourselves and asking for His help. As Scripture identifies sin, we can repent without shame. As we need comfort and strength, He will provide. Over and over, as I bask in His presence and Word, He has promised to meet my need. He will not disappoint.

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
He raised His voice, the earth melted.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.
“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah. (Psalm 46)

*This is not to the exclusion of medical help. Seeking professional help is recommended and encouraged.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

A Spiritual Whole30

Yesterday I felt defeated. I had worked and prayed for hours over a project only to realize that, although the work was sound, I had the wrong focus. Feelings of failure, inadequacy, and waste darkened my outlook. It was difficult to change gears, address immediate concerns, and remain disciplined. Everywhere I looked I saw my limitations and recognized my inability to do or complete what I set my hand to.

These are moments I need the gospel. I need to be reminded that I am always inadequate whether I feel like it or not. I am weak, limited, and unable to shape my world. It's a reminder that I need Jesus. I am not my own savior and never will be. God, in His grace, draws me back to Himself, working circumstances, relationships, even my stubborn heart, to seek and follow Him in spite of it all. He has seen my inadequacies and superseded them in Christ.

Yesterday was also the end of the Whole30 diet at our house. One should never end a diet the day after a holiday. I did not end well. One of my big take-aways is that there is a disconnect between my mouth and stomach. My stomach and body really don't care what food tastes like. Their needs and satisfaction depend on a different set of values than my taste buds. As long as they're fed and the quality is adequate, they work properly. Energy levels stay level. Thinking is clear. All systems are "go." My superficial desire for sugar, in all its forms, has no lasting value. It is, in fact, detrimental to my overall health and performance.

In the same way, we are quick to satisfy feelings and emotions, catering to their whimsical desires, when what brings balance is sound thinking and doing. Filling my mind with the reality of God and His promises affects my spiritual outlook and energy level, providing motivation and initiative apart from emotion. I can give in to quick bursts of emotional highs and seek them as a means of enjoying life, or I can settle in to the deeper truth of God and persevere based, not on my own desires, but God's.

What if we reset our spiritual appetite with thirty days of whole nutrition from God's Word--no podcasts, articles, zippy tunes, Facebook, Netflix, Youtube or Hulu. Instead, we would take a 30-day fast from modern interruptions of fast spiritual sugar and concentrate on the whole foods of Scripture, prayer, meditation, fellowship, worship, and evangelism. Could we do it? Would we? How quickly would we find ourselves reading other's thoughts, seeking regurgitated truth, longing for entertainment?

Just like daily eating, I must discipline myself, by the grace of God, to fix my eyes on a higher goal with an eternal perspective. My desires and wishes, on their own, are warped and self-centered. But a mind fixed on God's nature, goodness, holiness, and might changes my appetite and brings satisfaction. He alone has true value and worth.

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

You turn man to destruction,
And say, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday when it is past,
And like a watch in the night.
You carry them away like a flood;
They are like a sleep.
In the morning they are like grass which grows up:
In the morning it flourishes and grows up;
In the evening it is cut down and withers.

For we have been consumed by Your anger,
And by Your wrath we are terrified.
You have set our iniquities before You,
Our secret sins in the light of Your countenance.
For all our days have passed away in Your wrath;
We finish our years like a sigh.
The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Who knows the power of Your anger?
For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath.
So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Return, O Lord!
How long?
And have compassion on Your servants.
Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy,
That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!
Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us,
The years in which we have seen evil.
Let Your work appear to Your servants,
And Your glory to their children.
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90

Monday, August 26, 2019

Who I Am and Why it Matters

Years ago, our pastor cautioned me, "There is only one inspired Book, everything else is written by sinful people. Identify their bent and you can use it all to God's glory." That has been helpful advice. No matter whose material I read, study, or listen to, I look for the author's Achilles heel and it puts things in perspective. The extension is that you and I have our own Achilles heel--and it affects how we view life, God, and others.

Some individuals view everyone and everything in life with suspicion. No matter what happens, they have to be on guard lest they're taken advantage of.

Some see God's Word as a set of rules to be followed. It's about doing this and doing that. Though they long for grace, they don't seem to find it.

Others play their way through life. The more the merrier; eat, drink, and make happy, for who knows what will happen tomorrow?

Still others fight, forcing and pushing limitations and circumstances in an effort to overcome and experience personal accomplishment.

In all of this, life revolves around me--my likes, dislikes, desires, comfort, convenience. I fail to admit it and become defensive when caught, but I honestly think life would be better if it met my standards and expectations.

The key, then, is knowing myself as I come to God's Word, and being willing to change. It's not about reading the Bible religiously, rarely missing church, and staying on my best behavior. God desires transformation and change, not appearance.

I will receive God in the same way I come to Him. If I come proud, stiff-necked, "it's just who I am and nothing's going to change," I will receive rebuke and live under regulations until I am broken and bereft. God opposes the proud--and His Word will work to break those who fall on it. If I come to God broken, helpless, and desperate, I will receive grace and help in my time of need.

A true sense of myself exposes my inability and weakness. A true sense of others reveals their inability and weakness. But a true sense of God lends to greater trust and reliance; a lack of fear, anger, despair, and drive for personal pleasure or potential. He does control it all. He is all wise, all knowing, all loving, and all powerful. I can rest and stop striving.

God is not looking for people who have it all together. He is not out to get us or take advantage of our willingness and need. He is not about me having my own way or experiencing accomplishments. God is about Himself--because He is the best, the most, the greatest, the purest. He is the mold we were created to image and only in Him and His glory will we fully live our our original design. Apart from Him, we are nothing. But in all things He will be glorified. He's just that big; just that grand and glorious.

What is your Achilles heel? The sooner you and I bring our true selves to the Word of God, ready to be healed, the sooner He will effect His goodness and grace in our lives. Choose brokenness. Seek. Knock. Ask. Be a beggar...because you are.

I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul will make its boast in the Lord;
The humble will hear it and rejoice.
O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
And rescues them.

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
O fear the Lord, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him there is no want.
The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;
But they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.
Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Who is the man who desires life
And loves length of days that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil
And your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
And His ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
To cut off the memory of them from the earth.
The righteous cry, and the Lord hears
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones,
Not one of them is broken.
Evil shall slay the wicked,
And those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned. Psalm 34

Monday, July 29, 2019

Accountability and Community

I am more and more convinced that the Christian life revolves around community. God is self-existent in community: Father, Son, Spirit. He created people in His image: male and female created He them.

Each week I am blessed to interact with women who pray and live life with me. We don't need another Bible study or teaching time. We need a place to be honestly raw, to ask questions, to follow, encourage, cheer, and admonish one another. We need loving kindness, forgiveness, wisdom--the hands and feet of Jesus--to intersect with our everyday lives.

Years ago I stumbled on a group of women who practiced accountability. I asked a lot of questions,  prayed, went home, and began asking women to join me. There are 3 of us who meet weekly for about an hour and half. We text and call each other regularly with prayer needs, concerns, and praises.

The group has changed with time and location, but the beauty of ministering to one another remains unchanged. If you don't meet regularly with others, this is a call to prayerfully consider practicing what it looks like to be the body of Christ...

Here are a number of articles that I have found helpful and directive:

How to Start and Maintain Accountability Relationships

Why We Need Accountability

Accountability Questions

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:4-21)

Friday, July 5, 2019

A Wedding Vow

Sometimes it's difficult to see God's goodness. Every sermon, devotion, passage of Scripture seems to criticize and judge our failure. We may have a sense that if God doesn't meet our every whim and desire, He doesn't love us.

Instead of living life through past experience and relationships, God's Word calls us to truth.

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

This teaching of Jesus follows 32 verses on marriage--both a parable and specific teaching. We are not called to love ourselves (contrary to what some say); we are to consider ourselves in light of God and others.

Recently I was challenged to apply marriage vows to my relationship with God:

"I, ________, take you, Jesus Christ, for my Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health..."

With God as the Center of my life and affection, His Word communicates His loving, caring character. He shapes and redirects my thoughts and affections. When God says, "This is right and good," I have a choice. I can push my own agenda and definition or I can ask God to help me wrestle renegade thoughts, emotions, memories, past experience and present desires into submission. "God, I may not understand, but by faith I confess (agree) that this is right and good." When God says, "This is wrong, evil, and wicked," again, I can choose my own standard or ask for His help in wrestling those thoughts, emotions, past experience and desires, into prayerful submission, "Yes, God, I confess (agree) that that is wrong and evil."

The question is not whether my experience or feelings are true. They happened. They are real. The question is "Whose standard is true?" A look at my thoughts, behavior, and choices reveals what I believe. Am I living by my standard or God's?

God's standard accurately measures right and wrong where my perspective, experience, emotions or desire, vary from time to time, person to person, circumstance to circumstance. When I acknowledge God's Word as absolute truth, it is followed by commitment. "I, Sydney, take You, Jesus Christ..." He, the Word, the Word made flesh, the Living Word, is "My beloved...and I am his...." (Song of Solomon 2:16, 6:3).

That leads me to believe and live by His written Word regardless of personal circumstances or performance. He has already proven His love for me, bought me back from the slave market of sin at the cost of His life, exchanged His righteousness for my unrighteousness, and pledged his undying presence from this day forward. How foolish and ignorant to think He wouldn't love and care for me: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health!

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;  who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Practice Makes Perfect..or Not

I am not a runner and I never have been. I used to tell my friends, "If you see me running, you'd better run, too, 'cause very wrong."

The last few years, I've been inspired to at least exercise--and I've tried to learn how to run: Couch to 5K (tried and failed),  online fitness programs, books on body stewardship and exercise basics. I've tried. So far, practice hasn't made (anything) perfect.

Once, in the fitness room of a hotel, I struck up a conversation with a young girl. "Never give up," I puffed. "When you feel like giving up, remember this old lady on the treadmill and keep trying."

That scene sums up life. We look to and are encouraged by those ahead of us who don't give up. When we don't see spiritual growth the way we'd like, we keep trying. When others outshine us in performance or excellence, we keep going. When life isn't all we thought it would be, we press on. Why? Not because practice makes perfect, but because practice equals faithfulness and faithfulness represents our God and Father.

God is faithful to us. He sent Jesus. Jesus, who faithfully completed the work of the Father and continues to intercede for us. God the Father, through Christ, works faithfulness in our lives by His Spirit and through His Word. Because of God's faithfulness, we, too, can be faithful. He never gives up!

Even knowing we will never be perfect here on earth, we can strive for daily fellowship with God, examine our hearts and lives, intercede for others, serve selflessly, give generously, live righteously. Our efforts are not dependent on our will power, self-effort or sufficiency, but "our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

In a practical, personal way, I may have found something that works. I'm still trying. Maybe "None to Run" for those over in weight and old in age will push me over the edge. There's always hope... And, whether or not I succeed in running a 5K before retirement, I have confidence that God is building my character, directing my steps and preparing me for an eternity of blessing.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Hope and Our Final Destination

I was quite grumpy the other day. Due to house construction, we've been without air-conditioning on humid days, without water, sewer, lights, power--coming and going--and I was absolutely tired of the inconvenience.

The new project is coming along lovely, and it's very exciting. It's fun to imagine what it will be like to have a real kitchen again, laundry, and additional bathroom space. But until then, each day is an adventure.

And that's when I thought about Heaven. Life here on earth is difficult, unpredictable, wearying.But for those who have placed our faith in Jesus, it's only temporary. We can see glimpses of what's coming. We can anticipate with joy and excitement. We can look forward to life in a perfect world with our perfect Father--and that gives us hope, joy, endurance, and purpose.

Next I thought of our teen helper, Dan. Dan works by the sweat of his brow alongside us, pulling electrical wire, picking up trash, reworking landscaping. He puts in long hours, but he does not have the same hope we do. He will not enjoy the blessings and benefits of our new home. He's working, but he's not part of our family. Instead, he receives a wage. If Dan wanted to live here, he would have to leave his own family--that's pretty drastic for simply living in a different house. But if Dan's faced destruction, pain and suffering in his current home, if we were seeking his best and could promise perfect acceptance, approval, love, and a future, it would be crazy not to.

In the same way, anyone who works for God expecting a wage will miss the prize. The wage is very different than being part of the family. Only those who are part of God's family will spend eternity with Him and one another. And the only way to be part of His family is to receive Jesus as one's Savior from sin. It is only by turning my back on a sinful, destructive heritage and choosing God's that I enter His family by faith.

A person can believe a lot of things and not belong to God. For example, I can believe that

  • God created the world
  • God is the Ruler of the universe
  • Jesus is God's Son
  • Jesus is perfect
  • Jesus died on the cross for sin
  • Jesus rose again from the dead
and not be a Christian. Each statement is true--and many believe them. But (give me a minute) Satan believes them, too. Look again:

  • God created the world
  • God is the Ruler of the universe
  • Jesus is God's Son
  • Jesus is perfect
  • Jesus died on the cross for sin
  • Jesus rose again from the dead
The difference between Satan and God's children is personal belief and submission to these truths. Have you, personally, by choice, placed your trust in Jesus Christ alone as payment for your sin? Anytime we believe salvation is a matter of Jesus and church attendance, Jesus and baptism, Jesus and sacraments, Jesus and good works--we're still working. We must practice--remind ourselves--to let go of our perceived contribution to salvation. It doesn't work that way. You and I have nothing to bring except our sin. God provides faith. God removes sin. God imputes righteousness. And by faith, we become members of His family and joint heirs with Christ. We have a hope and future worth living for...and dying for.

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
And whose sins have been covered.
“Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 

Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:2-8, 13, 23-24)

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Gift of Worship

God prepares the way for worship.

When we want what God wants, when we pray and ask for what God wants, when we seek after and pursue what God wants, He is sure to answer.

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.1 John 5:14-15

Hezekiah had a heart to worship the Lord. He had a desire to put God first and that meant making changes. So he did. He removed objects of false worship and restored objects of true worship. He removed access to false worship and restored access to true worship. He removed routines of false worship and restored routines of true worship.

To say we worship God without committing the objects, time, access and routines of our lives to Him is falsehood. We are not worshiping God if our priority is family. Sports. Entertainment. Work. Children. Ministry. Material goods. We may look nice on Sunday morning; shut down the arguments before exiting the vehicle, sing at the top of our lungs, greet people on our way in and out, but if God is not at the center of our every day lives, He is not at the center of our worship.

Where is God in each day? Is He the staple of your thoughts? The first thought when you awake? The last thought at the end of the day? Do you pause to thank Him for meals, gifts, people, suffering? Is praise the language you speak? Is prayer the breath of your heart?

He is worthy. No worship or praise of our Heavenly Father is wasted, lost, or regretted. It is what we were designed for--it is our eternal hope and joy. It is the cry of our lives. Worship is fulfillment of our calling; the only accomplishment of human achievement. It is only moments of betrayal and vanity that are lost forever.

Sing to the Lord, all the earth;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and joy are in his dwelling place.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come before him.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
    Tremble before him, all the earth!
    The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
    let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!
Let the trees of the forest sing,
    let them sing for joy before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior;
    gather us and deliver us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name,
    and glory in your praise.”
Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting. 1 Chronicles 16:23-36

Thursday, May 23, 2019

No More Curious George

When our children were young, we spent a lot of time reading about Curious George. Curious George, the monkey kidnapped from Africa by the Man with the Yellow Hat, got into trouble over and over: calling the fire department, painting without permission, making boats out of newspapers instead of delivering them, etc.

At the end of each story, George found a way to make up for his mistakes. He was pitied, forgiven, and restored based on his cute-factor and efforts. It took awhile for me, as a parent, to see and recognize that same pattern in our children. Like Curious George, they thought they could make up for their sin by doing something extra. That's true for many of us.

How often, when we realize we've hurt someone or said something harmful, do we attempt to win them over with kindness or generosity? Or, if we felt the slight was deserved, we reach out to someone else, putting our best foot forward?When I see the wickedness and the evil in my heart, I work to convince myself I'm not that bad; I'm not all bad; it's going to be okay.

The truth of the matter is, I am that bad. It's not okay. We cannot pay for our sin. We can't make it up, cover it up, or fix it. It is what it is.

I don't like that very much. I'd like a different plan. But that's God's plan. I don't like that plan until... Until I'm on the other side of the equation and I've been heinously sinned against. Then I think that's a good plan. Justice is good. Justice is right. There should be punishment for wickedness and evil. Because when one person sins against another, the victim lives with ongoing consequences. The wrong(s) can't be undone. They don't go away. It is part of the sufferer's identity and everyday life. The consequences of sin are very, very real. The cost of sin is always carried by the sufferer, not the offender. God does not take sin lightly. He will always exact justice. Always.

Here is a picture of God's judgment from the book of Isaiah: a sinful, unrepentant nation is trampled in the mud, "like straw in the water of a manure pile." The passage goes on, "And he will spread out his hands in the middle of it as a swimmer spreads out his hands to swim, but the Lord will lay low his pride together with the trickery of his hands."(Isaiah 25:10-11) Living on a farm, I understand that graphic word picture. It's creative. Inescapable. Awe full.

God does not overlook, excuse or ignore sin. He always sees it. It is always a stench in His nostrils, an eternal offense against a holy, righteous God. Regardless of who is involved or affected, God's Person, character, and nature are affronted. He alone is Creator, Ruler, Judge. We, each one of us, is accountable for every word, every action. And we fall short.

There is no hope. No rescue. No easy fix. No relief.... But God.

Because God sent Jesus to pay the cost of our sin against Him--a price only God can afford--we have access to forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a decision, a transaction. The offending individual admits his sin to the one he sinned against (God and ____), agreeing it is egregious, shocking, wrong. He then asks for forgiveness with the understanding that it is not an obligation but a gift. Because of Jesus, God will forgive and cleanse from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Because of Jesus, we can forgive those who sin against us. Forgiveness, then, is "sending away," sin: the punishment is removed, peace is restored. The estranged are reconciled. God is glorified.

That's why the Curious George fix doesn't work. There is no admission of wrong, no Jesus, no reconciliation or forgiveness. Just George. And George is not enough... You, and I, are not enough. We need, must have, can only depend on and trust in, Jesus.

 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

God's Love Through Others

I received a text from a friend and was reminded that God often shows His love through others with:

A word fitly spoken.
A gift or thoughtful card.
Withheld judgment.
An act of kindness.
A gentle rebuke.
A morsel of truth.
A gift of time.
A hug.
Unselfish interest.
Follow-up questions.
A shared memory.
A wink.
A smile.
A raised eyebrow.

Freely we have received. Freely give... (Matthew10:8)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. 1 John 4:7-21

Monday, May 13, 2019

Making Connections

God combines situations, people, and His Word in unique ways in each of our lives--and part of the fun is, as a para-professional friend taught us, is "making connections." Each time small children would raise their hands eagerly, he would encourage them, "If you're making a connection right now, show me with your fingers (interlock fingers from each hand) and we'll talk about it later."

Here's my latest connection:
- The book of Ephesians was written to the corporate local church. It is lived out by individual as a group, but it's not about "me." It's about  how to glorify God with unity of purpose and direction as a local church body (living out the fullness of Christ here and now).

- Suffering is best done together. People in our world experience unspeakable acts of evil and wickedness. When one suffers, we all suffer. But to suffer alone does not 1) allow for healing, 2) bring closure, or 3) glorify God. Together we come alongside one another and bear each other's burdens (Galatians 6:2-5). Only Jesus was called to suffer alone. He then created a Body, the Church, to suffer together. He is in it with us.

- Baptism and the Lord's Supper (Jesus' ordinances) can only be done together. In order to be baptized, someone else has shared truth and instruction (Matthew 28:18-20). Discipleship cannot be accomplished alone. Baptism requires that someone else joins you in that body of water. And, it's done before an audience of witnesses. The Lord's Supper is a picture of shared suffering and celebration--all centered around our Lord, Jesus Christ. Baptist and the Lord's Supper require a local church.

If you are trying to obey the Word of God alone, you are not living in obedience to the heart of God. His Word is written to groups of people who live, worship, and fellowship as a unified entity (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, the introduction of the Pauline letters). That is a work of God's supernatural filling and equipping--all of us, with our own sin nature, desires, and experiences--submitting to one another as we submit to Christ.

If you are suffering alone, God instructs you to find others. Let them be Jesus to and with you; allow them to direct you to Jesus, His Word and character. God wants to bring grace and healing, but He uses Spirit-led individuals. That's how He works--through people.

If you have not embraced the beauty of unity in a local church, you are not walking in step with Jesus' final instructions to His people. One person alone does not reflect the image of God. God is a unified Person of individual Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. He created Adam and Eve "in His image: male and female He created them.""There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Get on board, little children! There's room for many a more.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

It's Not Fair

"I hate it! It's just not fair." You might think she was talking about March Madness, a life situation, or relationship. No, my friend was referring to the book of Jonah.

"The people don't deserve God's mercy. They're wicked and He's going to use them to judge His people, but He's willing to forgive them? It's not fair."

"Jonah doesn't want to be there. He's resentful and angry, but God shows Him mercy. It's not fair."

And as I sat in church last Sunday participating in the Lord's Supper, I had the same thought. "It's not fair."

Nothing about Jesus is fair. He didn't deserve to die. But He died in my place. He doesn't deserve my punishment, but He took it willingly. He doesn't have to call sinners to repentance, but He does. He doesn't have to live in us and with us, but He persists. He doesn't have to intercede for us constantly, but He daily bears our burdens. He will keep a human form and its righteous scars for eternity. He humbled Himself to become our Servant. He works for our benefit. He does what we cannot.

Praise the Lord above, He's. not. fair.

For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 8:5-11, 18-21)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

It's What We Do: Follow Our Heart

The problem with the Disney adage, "Follow your heart," is that we already do. Jesus said it this way, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). We only need look at our words and actions to see our heart. Do you love entertainment and pleasure? There is your heart. Do you love escape, comfort or lack of conflict? That is where your heart is. Do you love food and self-indulgence? Your treasure reflects what you truly love. Are your decisions driven by what other people might think? Behold your god.

It's a painful truth. We go, do, speak, and decide based on what we want most... Truth be told, it happens to each of us, time after time, day after day. Grocery shopping ("I'll just pick up..."; "Ooh, there's Tom. I hope he doesn't see me..."), working ("If I ______, then I can get ____"; "I'll just take care of this so Bob will _______..."); going to church, ("Kids, once that car door opens..."; "Oh, hi, Gladys! It's SO good to see you!").  As my husband says, "Want to know how I know?" Because I've been there. It's where I live. That's my address.

As I spend time with good people, church people, family people, single people, I am convinced that we all struggle to understand Jesus. He is not an add-on. He is not a life-insurance policy or immunization against hell. Jesus is a way of life. He is life. Receiving Christ is more than assent. It is surrender--giving up my plans, my desires, my way, my heart--to His, recognizing that my way is tainted, insufficient, and cursed.

In our clouded, temporary, sinful way of seeing things, we have an understated apprehension of our sin, Jesus Christ's perfection, payment, and work. There is too little Christ; too much us. He is. He is everything good. He is all things. He holds all things together. He is the express image of the invisible God. He became sin for us. He conquered all that lies between us and our Creator. He is the way. He has made a way.

The choice is one of staying or going. Being or not being. The loving is in the doing.

Doing is not being. But being is doing. I can pretend, I can look, sound and act like a Christian, but that does not mean I am. However, when I have been bought by the blood of Christ, I look, sound, and act like one because I am. I'm His. In the end, what does that mean? Only God knows those who belong to Him. But we can know as we examine our hearts--the knowing is in the being.

 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’" (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB)

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’" (Matthew 22:37)

Sunday, March 3, 2019

All to Jesus I Surrender

If we buy the fact that God is perfect, then we will want to be everything He created us to be. And if we agree that God created innocent man in His likeness, that we are corrupted by sin, but He has made a way to redeem (or buy us back), then we will cooperate with His work in our lives.

Not only does God tell us how to behave--which is where we usually get hung up--He tells us what to think and how to feel.

True? True.

So what does He say about our thoughts?
  • "...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." (Philippians 4:8)
  • "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." (Isaiah 26:3)
  • "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." (Colossians 3:2)
Most of us have to admit we spend much less time thinking the way God thinks than the way we do. Trouble, worry, anxiety, and frustration are a result of not thinking about what God has given us to think about. He's already done the thinking and planning for us-! ..but He's not doing it "my way!" Too often we want things He hasn't given us, we don't want what He has given us, or we want them done a certain way by a certain time. Instead of trusting Him to do what is best-- because He loves us!--and the proof of His love is Jesus. What would keep Him from giving us less than best when He already paid such a high price?  (Romans 8:32) Instead of trusting His love, we fight for what we, in our limited knowledge and experience, think would suit us better.

And what about our emotions? God says,
  • "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." (Philippians 4:4)
  • "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." (Romans 12:15)
  • When we sin, "Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom." (James 4:9)
While teaching Matthew 6--do not worry--our pastor said, "What is important to God? What weighs on His heart? Are those the things you're worried about? Or are you worried about things He's already promised to take care of?"

Do my worries and concerns line up with God's? How do my responses to people and circumstances reflect His? It's important, not because I "should" or "have to," but because God's perspective is true. It's right. Good. Perfect. Healthy.

Adopting God's view and response to myself, others, and the world gives me freedom. Balance. Purpose. Dignity. Beauty. Seeing the world and my circumstances through His eyes makes life so much easier! I can trust Him to take care of my needs (Philippians 4:19). And even if it seems impossible, I can be content regardless of my comfort level (Philippians 4:11). The truth is that I can't see, think, feel, and respond the way God does on my own. I need His help. That's what the Bible means when it says "all things:" I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).

So, whatcha thinkin about?

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:5-11)

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Ripping Out Stiches

The cold continues--and evenings have been spent working on the latest crochet project. Until. Until I stopped to check my progress and realized it's more and more lopsided. One side is shorter while the other stays the same. And I didn't notice until I was 8 rows in. 8 rows of twin-sized afghan! It didn't happen all at once. It happened row by row. So what to do? Rip, rip, rip. All those stitches, all that time, gone.

The same thing happens in our spiritual lives. We live, strive, work, and push forward. But when we fail to stop and evaluate, or even consider, where we've been, we risk getting off track--and staying off track. The longer we wait to look back and look up, the farther we travel, unaware we've wandered.

That is the power of proper comparison. Not comparing ourselves with others or our finite expectations, but comparing ourselves with the template of the Word of God. Am I on course? How has God been using circumstances to reveal His character and Word? What has He been teaching me? If I don't know--or if there's no real answer--it's time to stop, take a backward glance, and, perhaps, rip out a few stitches of incorrect thinking, motives, plans, hopes, even dreams.

The difficulties of life are intended to reveal our hearts. What do I really want? What was I hoping for? What means the most to me?

And when those tainted, brief, lesser things are burned away--when God says "No"--I am left with the truth: Jesus must be all the world to me. In my heart, there are many times that He's not. I struggle to keep Him there. I know He should be. And as I rip stitches, as I grieve lost time and opportunities, God reminds me of His faithfulness. When I am faithless, He is faithful, for He cannot deny Himself,  Christ in me, the hope of glory. So I press on. I start again, checking the pattern more closely; following the directions more carefully; taking heed to myself and my choices. And trusting God to bring the increase.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

When Life Stops

We've been socked in with snow and freezing rain for a couple of days now--AFTER a 3-day holiday weekend. It's a small picture of what I've been wrestling with this month: stuck with no direction.
As a wife and mom, life has been full of change. I was married young and there was always a path forward: college graduation, teaching, raising children. I'm near the end of that trail and struggling with not knowing what's next. The last few years included additional classes and a published book. And now, here I sit. In the snow. With quiet. And no clear path in the "what's next in my life?" scenario.... And I realize how spoiled I really am.

God and I have done some talking, "What next, God? Where do I go from here?"

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might," Ecclesiastes 9:10. In other words, do what I've given you to do.

Laundry, meals, and dishes? Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Youth ministry, counseling, prayer, meeting other's needs? Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Home improvement, companionship, support for husband and family? For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

Volunteer work in the community and schools? I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22)

And as I run through the list of what I've been given, I find I'm not fighting the fact that "there's nothing to do," like a bored child--although I feel that way sometimes--instead, I'm fighting a desire for importance and identity. Having added time with little direction, fewer boundaries and no clear end point brings an awareness of what I've enjoyed for so long: being out and about, seen, known, appreciated; getting to know new people and places, anticipating adventure. The opportunities that lie ahead are points into a nebulous future. I'm not satisfied. I want a line. Now. But God is drawing me back to the foundational truths of my identity in Christ; of the need to choose humility and lowliness and acknowledge Jesus as my only Source of importance. And it's good.

Although it's not the hardest thing I've ever done, it's a bit of a desert. My prayer is that I, like Caleb and Joshua, will move forward in faith, grateful for manna, content with today's routine, seeking to please the Lord in the small things, waiting patiently, fighting the inner man who desires sloth, gluttony and makes excuses for both--even if it's 40 years--because I am confident that God's got this. And, as you've been saying since paragraph one, but were too polite to blurt, "It's not about you." You're right.  And that's where this has taken me. Stop. Look. Listen. Live.

The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

I will bless the Lord who has counseled me;
Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.
I have set the Lord continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will dwell securely.
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. (Psalm 16:5-11)

Monday, January 14, 2019

Insights for a New Year from Candy Crush

A few weeks ago blogs and posts were flying about New Year resolutions--do you, don't you, will you won't you? Some promoted health and self-improvement; some prompted godliness and character. It's good and wise to evaluate our lives. That was part of Jesus' instruction to Paul regarding the Lord's Supper. We need to stop, reflect, and examine our hearts regularly.

Candy Crush. That's not the most graceful segue way, but it might get your attention. With the idea of New Year resolutions swirling, my daily routine includes a few rounds of Candy Crush. It fills short, undetermined moments of waiting and can be picked up or left behind. In a world where laundry is never done, meals are consumed, and dishes run in cycles, it's rewarding to have a small corner of life that keeps moving forward.

Image result for candy crush

So what does that have to do with the New Year? I often log in to a game and make mindless matches, just to pass the time. Failure after failure, life after life, and I'm done. Game over. The next time I remind myself to look at the goal, posted in the upper corner. "Oh!" I mutter. I had no idea.

And that's the point of this post. We can mindlessly set resolutions, seek to improve our lives and responses, but if we never stop to compare our decisions and movement with the goal, we are no better off than before.

Jesus is the Source, the Means, the Goal.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:7-14)

PS--As a result, this author has placed Scripture memory verses in more strategic places as a result. Knowing Christ changes our goals, outlook, decisions, mindset...our very lives!