Living by Faith in the New Year – December 31, 2015

In reading from Hebrews today, I read some words that spoke deeply to my heart.  It’s wonderful how God sometimes speaks through His Word the exact message we need to hear – of comfort, encouragement and just the motivation to keep on keeping on.

Hebrews 2:10-18 says, “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.  For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying:

I will declare Your name to My brethren;  In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.’

And again:

I will put My trust in Him.’

And again:

‘Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.’

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.  For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted (NKJV).”

These verses tell us that we can trust Him because He is faithful, and because He has conquered death, sin and temptation.  He’s been in our shoes, and He knows what it’s like to live here on Earth; yes, in Him is our victory.  So, I ask myself, “Why are there times when I’m still so afraid to trust?” and, “When trusting is hard, will I do it anyway?”

The reason these words speak to me today so poignantly is that my husband and I got some great news yesterday:  We are going to have another baby!  I feel a mixture of joy and outright fear, because we had a miscarriage in mid-August of this year during the 5th week of pregnancy.

So, when I read the words that the Lord spoke through the prophets, “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.  I will put my trust in Him.  Here am I and the children whom God has given Me,” I felt the challenge to make this my prayer for the New Year.

Trusting is very hard sometimes, and especially when the outcome is not what we’d like.  As I read the words above, I asked myself, “Do I really trust God with my life and the lives of my children?  I say I do, but do I really?”  I think sometimes I’m afraid to trust because the devil wants to remind me of everything that could go wrong now or in the future.  Yet, I know, in my heart of hearts and through His Word, that He has our best interests at heart.  He has shown me numerous times in both my life and the lives of my children that He is faithful beyond anything I can imagine.

At times when I’ve read in the Old Testament how the Israelites kept wandering from God after He proved Himself faithful over and over – He parted the Red Sea and made water come out of a rock for crying out loud! – I’ve shaken my head in disbelief that they could forget how God had provided.  Yet, I laugh as I write this because don’t we do the same thing?  I know I do.  No sooner does God get me out of one jam, and then something happens that wasn’t what I wanted or how I planned, and I’m wondering if God forgot about me or I’m shaking my fist at Him.

I pray in the coming year that God would remind me (and all of us) of the ways in which He’s blessed us, and that we would cling to His Word of faithfulness, so that when the storms of life come, we will put our hope and trust in a God that we know to be good, loving, merciful and faithful.  One who suffered so that we could have life abundantly – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).”

“Father, I thank You for Your faithfulness, Your love and Your mercy.  Thank You for being with me every step of the way this year, and help me to put my faith in You the way that Jesus did in His example, both through His Words and in His actions.  I pray that I will trust You with all of my heart, with my life and my family, and know that You are good, and will never leave my side.  Please bring to mind all of the times in which You’ve been faithful, both to us and to the people in the Bible, and throughout history, Father.  Grant us an abundance of faith, and peace that passes all understanding, that we may shine Your light into the lives of others.  I pray that in all things we might glorify You.  Thank You for Your Hope and Your salvation and help us to remember that victory is already ours through Jesus.  May we dedicate 2016 to You.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

Can Others See Christ in Us? – December 20, 2015

I’ve heard and read some really good stories and sermons lately that are centered around the meaning of Christmas.  Some have described what things must have been like for Mary and Joseph as they knelt in the smelly stable and beheld the infant Jesus that starry night.  Others are wonderful reminders that the Holy Night at Bethlehem was only the beginning of what would be the greatest Hope of all for mankind – the Savior who was ultimately born to go to the cross, and then to rise from the dead in victory over all that separated us from God, to “…proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19 NKJV).”

I think about the wonder and excitement of that night, and of the Hope in that Message, and yet I’m also convicted.  Sometimes I wonder to myself, “How well am I doing at showing others the love of Christ?  Does my life make others want to know Him more?”  Sadly, often the answer is no.  See, I know that it’s nothing I did or could do that saved me, but His Gift is so wonderful, and His love so amazing, that it should show all over my face, in my words, in my actions, and permeate my life.  So, when I do things like snap at my husband, or have a hard time forgiving someone, or want to shake my fist at that person who cut me off in rush hour traffic, when I compare them to the Christmas message, I fall far, far short.  In fact, we all do.

Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But then in the next verse it says, “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (emphasis mine).”  That means the gift is free.  This passage goes on to talk about how we are saved through faith, that He has forgiven our sins “to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (v 26).”

What do we do once we have asked Christ into our hearts, thereby receiving this free gift?  What does the Word say about how to follow Him?

Titus 3:3-8 says, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.  But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.  These things are good and profitable to men.”

That last part tells us that because we have believed (not to be saved, but as a result of Jesus’ gift), we should be “careful to maintain good works.”  We should do this because it is “good and profitable” for others. God can use us to lead others to Him and be a demonstration of His kindness and love. Conversely, the enemy can use our example to push people away if we are not walking the talk.

Reading these words from the book of Titus this evening was a challenge to me – and perhaps it will be to you too, to think about ways that we can be a better demonstration of our faith in Jesus to those who may be outsiders looking in.  Maybe someone is undecided as to what to think about Christ, but because they see Him in you or me, they might be encouraged to take the step of asking Him into their heart and life also.

The good thing is, when we mess up and we fall short (which we do daily), He gives us grace and forgiveness, and he gives us His Spirit and His Word to help guide the way.  We’re never alone in any decisions we have to make, or any obstacles or crises we face.

Even the Apostle Paul testified to the fact that he struggled with not acting like a Christian at times.  He said, “…For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do (Romans 7:15).”  He then goes on to say, “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?  I thank God– through Jesus Christ our Lord! (vv 24-25).”

So, we will never be perfect this side of Heaven, sadly, but if we have Christ in our hearts, we have been redeemed and forgiven.  Let’s look at one way today that we can be a demonstration of His love to someone else.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:15).”

Lord, I thank You for the message that I read from Your Word today.  I am humbled and convicted.  Sometimes it’s so hard for me to do what You would desire for me to do, and please forgive me where I fall short, Father.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is indeed weak.  However, I know You have promised that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Please help me to lean on You and to be the demonstration of Your love and light in this world that You would have me to be.  I pray for those fellow believers who are reading this, Lord, that they may draw strength and encouragement from You as well, and that this message from Titus may have encouraged and motivated them as it did me.  I pray for those who haven’t yet made the decision to accept You into their hearts, Lord.  I pray that today would be the day.  If there is anything You would have us do today that could make a difference in someone’s life and will help lead them to You, please motivate us and move us to do so, Father.  I pray that we may bring You glory and honor in all we do.  In Christ’s most precious name I pray, Amen.

By His Grace – November 20, 2015

Today it seems that we are inundated with a lot of craziness going on in the world, and we ask, “Why?” and struggle to understand for sure.  I’ve also found myself reading or watching a news story and asking, “How in the world can people be so mean to each other?” and then thinking to myself, “I’d never do something like that, that’s terrible!”  Uh, oh.  Here’s where pride subtly begins to creep in.

In studying this morning, I was reading in John 14:36-38 about an exchange between Jesus and the apostle Peter:

“Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’  Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.’

Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You now?  I will lay down my life for Your sake.’  Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down Your life for My sake?  Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.'”

Can you identify with Peter here?  I know I can.  There have been times in my life where I’ve said, “God, here I am.  Wherever You want me to go, and whatever You want me do, I’m willing to surrender all to You.”

And then life starts to happen, and maybe I lose a loved one, or lose a job, or things don’t work out in my family relationships that way that I want them to, or I have a wayward child who walks away from the faith, or a miscarriage.  Then what?  I’m saying, “No, no, no!  Lord, wait a minute!  Now, you know I love You, but anything but this!  I want a refund – this is not what I signed up for when I said wherever and whatever.  I was thinking more along the lines of doing missionary work overseas somewhere, I think I can do that.  Or maybe helping the poor or the homeless.  Or helping clean the church toilets.  But not this!

Reading this passage between Jesus and Peter is comforting in a way, because it lets me know that I’m not the only one who has overestimated my faith and underestimated my, well, my humanness and my tendency to be a big baby about any type of pain.  And my tendency to be proud of my efforts and to look with scorn at everything that is going on and in my pride think, “I’ll never be like one of those people!”

What I’m learning to say, and this is after a lot of things that I have done in my life that I said I’d never do, and then seeing how my actions at those times hurt the people I love, is to say, like the apostle Paul, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain…(1 Corinthians 15:10 NKJV).”

So how, then, do we follow Jesus, knowing that it is our human nature to want to chicken out?  (See Romans 7:19)

Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise, the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.  For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

Then Paul goes on to say that “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28 NKJV).

I believe in essence what Paul is saying here is, “Yes, you [we] are weak, in and of ourselves and we don’t even know how to pray like we should, but we have the Holy Spirit helping us at all times.”

And for us as believers, God’s word tells us that He is able to bring about some good in every situation.  Not that all things that happen are good, by any means, but that God can bring good out of a bad situation somehow, someway.

Paul is telling us, “Yes, we will chicken out, we will get fed up, we will get discouraged trying to do things on our own, but by the Grace of God, we don’t have to!  When we become believers we are never alone anymore – ever!”

This has been encouraging to me to study and write this morning.  I needed to read and ponder these truths today.  Nothing can separate me from His love!  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phillipians 4:13 NKJV).”  I think that’s a reason to rejoice today!

“Father, I thank You for Your unending love, and Your amazing Grace.  I pray that everyone will know Your free gift of salvation and that the Truth shall set them free, Father.  I pray that we as believers may walk courageously and be free from fear, doubt, bitterness, and anything that would weigh us down and keep us from running a good race and finishing strong, Lord.  Help us through Your Holy Spirit not to be afraid to follow You, and not to turn our backs on You when trials come, but instead draw near to You and know that You are faithful to Your promises, and that You will walk with us through whatever we face, and can bring us peace and comfort during the hard times.  Help us to continue giving thanks and looking for the good, Lord, and draw us close to You, that by our lives You may be glorified.  In Jesus name I ask these things, Amen.”