We’re All Guilty – December 19, 2017

I wish I could think of a better or more positive-sounding title, but this one about sums up the lesson I took from 2 Kings, Chapter 10.

Honestly, this was a hard chapter to read and an even harder chapter to write about because I think of God as a loving, merciful God, who sent Jesus to save us, but sometimes I forget just how holy He is, and the magnitude of what He saved me from.

The beginning of the chapter tells us that wicked Ahab had seventy sons in Samaria.  King Jehu wrote letters to the rulers of Jezreel, to the elders, and to those who had reared Ahab’s sons, challenging them to a fight.  His letter reads:

“Now as soon as this letter comes to you, since your master’s sons are with you, and you have chariots and horses, a fortified city also, and weapons, choose the best qualified of your master’s sons, set him on his father’s throne, and fight for your master’s house. (vv 2-3).”

But the text goes on to say that the rulers and elders were afraid of a battle with the king, so they acquiesced, saying, “We are your servants, we will do all you tell us; but we will not make anyone king.  Do what is good in your sight (v 5).”

So King Jehu writes them another letter, saying, “If you are for me and will obey my voice, take the heads of the men, your master’s sons, and come to me at Jezreel by this time tomorrow (v 6).”

Was Jehu expecting the elders and rulers to actually do what he asked?  I’m not sure, but the sarcastic tone of the first letter suggests that he may have been upping the challenge to battle, perhaps thinking that they would appoint themselves a king from Ahab’s sons and go to war with him.  Then again, maybe he knew they wouldn’t.

Regardless of Jehu’s intent, the rulers and elders were more than willing to kill Ahab’s sons in order to save their own skin.  This, even though some of them had helped raise Ahab’s sons!

They slaughtered Ahab’s seventy sons, put their heads in baskets and sent them to Jezreel  (v 7).

Jehu made a speech the following morning.  He said, “You are righteous.  Indeed I conspired against my master and killed him; but who killed all these?  Know now that nothing shall fall to the earth of the word of the Lord which the Lord spoke concerning the house of Ahab; for the Lord has done what He spoke by His servant Elijah.”  The story goes on to tell us that Jehu killed the rest of Ahab’s family,  acquainances and priests.  Then later, he killed the remaining members of Ahab’s family in Samaria (vv 11-17).

This part gave me pause for a minute.  If God is loving and merciful and good, how could He possibly sanction such a massacre?

Well, to understand,  we have to get to the bottom of the reason God was angry at Ahab and his family.  They were not nice people.   They were Baal-worshipers who practiced and condoned the practice of rituals such as sacrificing of children in the fire, ritual prostitution,  and other terribly heinous, lewd and violent acts.  Not only had they turned their backs on God, but they were responsible for the slaughter and destruction of innocent lives, whether they participated in it directly,  or whether they condoned, encouraged and allowed it.

Not only this, but God had sent Elijah to warn Ahab that he was only bringing destruction to himself by participating in Baal worship (1 Kings 17-18).  Think about it, even after all that he had done, Ahab could’ve changed the course of his fate by turning from the idolatry and heinousness of Baal worship, and choosing to follow the Lord.  God had a multitude of patience with him and gave him a chance to put a stop to the awful things that were happening, but Ahab wouldn’t listen.

This story gets even sadder, as we shall see.  Jehu ultimately destroyed the temple of Baal and all of its worshipers, thus putting an end to the atrocities as the Lord had warned Ahab to do earlier.

God said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in doing what is right in My sight, and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart, your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.”  It goes on to say that “Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin (vv 30-31).”

What was the sin?  It was allowing the golden calves that were still at Bethel and Dan.  Basically,  he got rid of one system of idolatry and allowed and condoned another.  He knew God’s truth and exchanged it for a lie.

I started thinking how this applies to us in the present day.  Our actions have consequences.  We can choose to squander our health with addiction,  unhealthy habits, reckless behavior, etc and the end result is years of life lost and pain to those we love.  We can choose to commit a crime and be put to death or serve time in prison.  We can choose to turn away from the Lord and miss out on the untold joy and blessings that come with choosing to follow Him.

The bad news is that we’re all guilty of disobeying God in some form or another.  How many times have I, have we, hurt others out of selfishness, anger, pride?  But the good news is we have Someone who loves us so much that He saw humanity, even in our worst moments, as lost sheep that need a Shepherd.

After the reign of Jehu, Israel continued to get worse.  The world continued to get worse.  Sound familiar today?  There is no way politics was ever going to change people’s hearts.  Humans would still, and do still, operate from selfishness and sin a lot of the time.

God knew we needed more than an earthly king.  He knew we needed divine redemption.  He knew we needed forgiveness. He knew we needed One who could break the chains of destruction and sin in our lives.  He knew we needed hope.  He knew we needed Jesus.

Do you know that He loves You so much that He is willing and able to help you, right now, to have a clean slate, a fresh start?  No matter where you are in life or geographically, no matter how far down you have gone, no matter what you’ve done?  Like Ahab, He loves us so much, He is calling us – calling us to follow Him.

If you’ve never heard the good news, let me tell you.  See, God knows we’re guilty. He knows that no matter how hard we try we’ll never be perfect.  But because He’s holy, atonement is required for our sin.  See, that’s why Jesus stepped down from Heaven and came and endured ridicule, scorn, being cold, hungry, and ultimately nailed to the cross.  He did it willingly.  No one forced Him to.  He could’ve said, “Nope, never mind.  Those people just aren’t worth it.”  Oh, but friend, He loved us so much He didn’t want to leave us like this.  He thought you and I, even with all our mess, were worth suffering and dying for.  Then, after He gave His life for us, He rose from the dead after three days and promised to prepare a place for us in Heaven, a wonderful place where there won’t be any more sorrow or tears.  And He doesn’t leave us here on earth like He found us either.  He came to break those chains of sin that hold us back, whether they are addiction, anger,  fear, whatever they are, He promises to change us and never leave us, to walk us through this life and on into the next.  He said, “The thief [Satan] does not come except to steal, and to kill and destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

But like Ahab, like Jehu, we have a choice.  We can say yes or we can say no and turn away.  But He promises that if we accept His gift of forgiveness, salvation and hope, He won’t let us down.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).”

Father, I thank You for Your wonderful Gift of grace.  I pray that I would honor You with my actions.  I know I sin on a daily basis, Lord, but I thank You that You never leave me, and I’m sorry for the ways in which I fail.  I know I could never repay the debt of love I owe You.  I just come to You with a humble, grateful heart and I thank You, Father, for Jesus and for my salvation.  I ask that You show me anything in my heart that is not honoring to you and help me to change it.  I want to be faithful, I want to follow You.  I pray for anyone reading this who has never known You or Your great love and mercy, that they would make the decision to put their faith in You, Lord, and therein find hope and forgiveness.  Help us all to know You more.  In Jesus name, Amen.

 

 

 

A Father’s Delight – December 26, 2015

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas!  It’s been a busy week around here, as our youngest son’s 10th birthday was three days before Christmas and I still hadn’t finished my shopping yet that day, so I was among the last-minute people braving the holiday crowds in the stores and parking lots.

All of the hustle and bustle was totally worth it, though.  Like the kids, I was looking forward to time for everyone to open presents.  I wanted to see the smiles on their faces and hear the squeals of delight as they got at least some of the things that were on their Christmas wish lists.

Do you think God does the same when He blesses us with something special?  I wonder if He watches in delight as we savor a special gift, or an opportunity that we’ve prayed for, like a pregnancy test that has two lines, or an announcement of a long-awaited job opportunity, or the moment you meet the person who will be your spouse.  I bet He’s smiling when we admire a beautiful sunset or when our eyes (especially our kids’) light up in the winter after we wake up to a snow-covered yard.  And I bet He cherishes those moments when we bow our heads or lift up our hands in prayer and say, “Thank You, Father,” and give Him a heavenly hug.

1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (NKJV).”

When we look at all of the beauty of nature, or into the face of a newborn child, His Love is written all over them.  His love was also written all over a blood-stained cross – and His love was the Hope that appeared to the disciples a few days later when they thought that Hope was lost.

After Jesus had been buried for three days, Mary Magdalene and another disciple named Mary (possibly Mary of Bethany) came to see the tomb, and were surprised to see an angel.  “But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.  Come, see the place where the Lord lay.  And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him.  Behold, I have told you.’

So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.  And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’  So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him (Matthew 28:5-9).”

Can you imagine the look of delight on His face as He shouted, “Rejoice!” and surprised them with His presence?  He had come to announce the greatest News yet:  that victory had been won.  And He gave us the greatest Gift of all: salvation.  We have good reason to rejoice, and Jesus told the disciples that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).”  He loves us so much that when we finally come “home” and ask Jesus into our hearts, He has a big celebration over each one of us!

A book by a Christian author once (can’t remember the author or title) stated that through His death and resurrection, not only did Jesus rescue us, but He also played the biggest practical joke in history on Satan!   It’s true if you think about it.   Just as the devil thought he’d won, Jesus got up and walked right out of that grave, even leaving the linen handkerchief that had been around His head folded neatly off to the side (John 20:7).

We can rejoice not only in knowing that victory is ours if we have placed our faith in Jesus, but that there are even greater things to come.  Jesus told the disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:3).”  He’s with us today, and we’ll physically be with Him in Heaven one day.  I can’t wait to see what great things He has prepared for us up there!

As we get ready to go to bed tonight, I hope we’ll pause and think of some of the greatest gifts/blessings that we’ve been given this year, and tell our Heavenly Father “Thank You,” and “I love You.”  I believe that will bring a big smile to His face, and to ours too!

“Father, I thank You so much for so many ways in which You’ve blessed me, big and small.  I thank You for Christmas, and for Jesus and His great Gift of hope and salvation, and for the victory that has permanently been won over sin and evil.  Please help us to keep the joy and wonder of Christmas in our hearts all year long, and to share that joy and wonder with others, Lord.  I pray that our faces will light up when we think of You and how good You are, and that we will smile more each day as we grow closer to You through Your Word, Father, and it becomes more and more real in our lives.  I thank You for grace, and for a brand new day each morning.  Help me to appreciate and make the most of the gifts that You’ve given me, and to offer You praise and glory.  Let me turn my blessings into praise to You, my King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Faithfully Serving – December 19, 2015

Sometimes I wish I had a maid…and a chauffeur, especially now that I have two teenagers…and when my kids were younger it would’ve been nice to have a nanny to change diapers and clean up the kids’ messes.

When we think about what it means to be extravagantly wealthy, often we think of having bodyguards, a butler and a maid.  We dream of getting rich and being waited on hand and foot, and not having to get our proverbial hands dirty with the menial things.  No, I know that when I get rich (ha!), I’m going to travel and enjoy life and not have to worry about bills or measly things like cleaning the toilet or doing laundry.  No more Hamburger Helper for me!

I say this in jest, of course, as the chances of that are actually pretty miniscule.  But I guess it all depends on how one defines wealth.

In the book of Nehemiah, the king gave Nehemiah permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city’s walls after they had been destroyed.  He led a team of people in the effort to reconstruct.  Chapter 3 lists the names of the people involved in this repair effort, including the names of some of the daughters and sons of those involved, who also joined in the construction.  Since these are included in the Bible, I figure these efforts must have been important to God.  Nothing that we do for Him goes unnoticed.

In verse 5, however, it says, “Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.”  This is the only place in this chapter where it lists those who did not join in the effort.  It’s also of note that these men were nobles, higher-ups perhaps, who seemingly did not want to do the dirty work.

When we picture nobles and kings, we think of people being served.  That’s why the Kingdom Jesus described was such a foreign idea to people at that time, and even goes against our human tendencies and traditions today.

In Matthew 20, the Word says, “But Jesus called them over to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (vv 25-28 NKJV).”

Two of the disciples’ mother had just come to Jesus and asked that her sons be granted the privilege of sitting on either side of Jesus in the Heavenly Kingdom.  They misunderstood, still thinking of a kingdom the way we do, that it was about nobility, pomp and circumstance.  Yet, Jesus showed them and us a better way, and a better kingdom – one that would involve much sacrifice and service, but one that was immensely more rewarding.

In John, Chapter 13, when Jesus was washing Peter’s feet, Peter answered Him and said, “You shall never wash my feet! (v 8).

Then it says, “Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’  Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’

Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’  For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean.’

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?  You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (vv 9-17).”

In essence, He is saying to the disciples that if they truly want to be great, they should serve one another.  By extension, He is saying the same thing to us today.  He came to be an example of the kind of servant leaders we should aspire to be.

I admit, it’s a hard concept for me to apply a lot of the time.  My natural desire is to want to be first in line, get ahead in traffic and in the workplace, and just generally get my way first, before I think about anyone else.  I think it’s just our human nature.  But Jesus admonished us to love other and put others first by serving them.  This is one way that we can bring His light into our dark world.

Let’s take a look at what it means to truly be rich.  Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”  Further on in this chapter, it says in verse 7, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”

Jesus gave us the greatest Gift of all:  Himself.  He has promised to those who believe that we have been redeemed, forgiven, blessed with every spiritual blessing because of the riches of His grace.  We can’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, but He loves us so much He wants to come and make His home in our hearts.  If you haven’t yet received this free gift, I would encourage you to talk to Him in prayer and ask Him to come into your heart and be Lord of your life.  He is waiting right there where you are with arms wide open.

Let’s think today of how we can serve someone close to us, or perhaps even a stranger, and show them a little of God’s love, as it draws closer to the Christmas holiday.  Then, let us keep Jesus’ example in mind all year long, as we go forward with the new year and think of new and creative ways that we can be of service.

Like the servant in Matthew 25, at the end of my life I want to hear God say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of our Lord (v 23).”

“Father, I thank You for Jesus’ example of service and love.  Let us today give all of the praise and honor to our King of Kings, who alone is worthy.  Please help us today to be a blessing to someone by serving them, and remind us during the holidays and all year long of ways that we can continue being of service.  I pray that You would raise us up as godly leaders in our homes, our families, our churches, our schools and our world to bring Your light to those that are in need of hope.  Show us how we can best honor You in the areas of service that You have for us.  Remind us each day how truly rich and blessed we are, perhaps not with money, but with so much more than just the material.  We have faith, hope, love, forgiveness and a Savior who never leaves our side.  I thank You once again for Your grace.  Let my life bring You honor.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

From One Procrastinator to Another – December 8, 2015

I’m a big procrastinator.  I’m trying to get better about it, but  I’m still not where I want to be yet.  Today was a good case in point.

I happen to have one of the most hard-headed teenage boys on the face of the planet (my husband lovingly reminds me that he takes after his mom, but I think surely he must be joking…maybe).  He’s on the wrestling team, and really enjoys telling me about the different types of wrestling holds (I think he told me about one the other day called the Chicken Wing or something, and all I could think about was KFC).  I’ve been having to prod this same child to turn in his homework assignments and keep his grades up in order for me to continue letting him participate in wrestling.  Some days I just have to say, “God, I need the patience of Job not to lose my temper because I’ve already told him the same thing four times!

So, he has a wrestling duel tonight, and reminded me again (yes, he reminded me earlier this week and maybe the end of last week too) that we needed to have his doctor sign a paper stating that he is cleared to wrestle since he has a body fat percentage of less than 7% (eats like a horse, but has the metabolism of an elephant, essentially).  This is a school requirement.  Oh, and I didn’t mention that I have had the paper sitting in my e-mail folder for over three weeks, but just hadn’t gotten around to taking it to the doctor’s office to get it signed because, I mean, there are so many more important things to think about, like getting the Christmas tree decorated and paying the gas bill for Pete’s sake!

Anyway, I spent the better part of three hours today going to the doctor’s office, who informed me that they needed a copy of the sports physical he had done at the chiropractor’s office back in September, and that it was also time for his well-child exam, and then making a trip to the school, and then back again to the doctor’s office.  We finally, through much deliberation and having to clarify exactly what the paper was for, were able to get it signed (thank You, God for letting me jump through this hoop for my son today, even though I should have done it two or three weeks ago!).  And he’ll get to participate tonight, never knowing that it has been like an episode of the Amazing Race for me, except without the prospect of winning the million dollars.

I think I’m often a procrastinator with God too.  I sense He wants me to do something, or I know His Word tells me to do something, like forgive when I’m still angry, for example, and I’m like, “Come again?  Did you really say that?” or, “Oh, yeah, about that…um, I forgot?”

Then there have been times too when I’ve been like Jonah and just flat out run from God.  Jonah, if you recall, was told to go to Ninevah and preach the Word to the people there.  But in Jonah 1:3, it says, “But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.  He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”

That was Jonah’s way of saying, “Time for me to bounce.”  When God was first asking me to try to reconcile with my husband after our divorce, that was my first reaction.  I was like, “Is that really God telling me to do that?”  And then later, I was like, “Lord, I don’t think I can do that.  What if it doesn’t work out?  I’d rather just fly to Africa or somewhere.  Put me on a plane far away from here and it’s all good.”

Later on in Jonah’s story, the men on that ship ended up throwing him overboard once they realized that God sent the storm because of Jonah’s disobedience.  Then Jonah was swallowed whole by a whale and ended up in the whale’s belly.  From the whale’s belly, Jonah prayed. He says,

“I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction and He answered me.  Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.  For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me.  All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.  Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’  The waters surrounded me, even to my soul.

The deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head.  I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever.  Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God (Jonah 2:1-6).”

Jonah was ultimately vomited out onto dry land after calling upon God, and when God asked him a second time to go to Ninevah and preach, he got up and went.

Sometimes the Lord has to give me a swift kick in the rear or a wake-up call to get me to do what He wants me to do.  Yet, even when I procrastinate, or just flat-out run from God’s calling like Jonah did, He might have to get my attention if I’m going the wrong way, but He’ll ultimately lead me safely back to dry land just as He did with Jonah, and this is because He loves me.  It’s during those times in my life that I’ve been able to say with Jonah, “Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.”

I like the song “Waiting for Tomorrow” by Mandisa.  If any song is a motivator, it’s definitely this one.  The first verse and the chorus goes like this:

“Maybe tomorrow I’ll start over/ Maybe tomorrow I will finally change my ways/Said the same thing yesterday/Don’t know why I’m so afraid/To let You in, to let You win, to let You have all of me

I can’t live my whole life wasting/All the grace that I know You’ve given/’Cause You made me for so much more than sitting on the sidelines/Don’t wanna look back and wonder if good enough could’ve been better/Every day’s a day that’s borrowed/So why am I waiting for tomorrow?”

Procrastinators, let’s unite!  Time to get up and follow the leading of the Lord.  What are we waiting for?

“Father, help me not to procrastinate when it comes to being obedient to You and Your Word.  Help us to realize the time is now and the time is today to do what You would have us to do.  I pray that if anyone reading this doesn’t know of Your great salvation through Jesus Christ, that they won’t wait a minute longer to ask Jesus into their heart and begin a relationship with You, Lord.  Every day is truly borrowed, and all that we have is on loan from You.  Help us to use our gifts, our time and all that we are and have for Your glory.  Thank You for the many times that You’ve reached down and rescued me from the pit of darkness and despair.  Help me to seize today and use it to make a difference for Your kingdom.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Our Story, His Glory – December 1, 2015

Are there things you look back on that make you hang your head in shame or regret?  Do you wish you could blot some of your most embarrassing moments from your memory?  I know there are times I look back and I cringe at things I have said or done and think, “Wow, really??”

The good news for all of us is that in God’s hands, our past can actually become a tool for His ministry.  He can bring good out of even the most improbably sad or embarrassing moments of our lives, our biggest faux pas.

For a long time, I struggled with an addiction to alcohol, and this was even as a Christian.  I tried my best to hide the effects of my drinking from co-workers and from church friends and other friends that I thought might judge me.  As my drinking progressed, there was no longer much hiding it from anyone.  My children and husband lived with me, so although in the early stages I hid the cans and bottles from them, I didn’t do it for long.  I was really just one walking hypocrite, and felt totally ashamed, guilty and depressed.

Then, on one particularly bad drinking spree, I thought that it would be a good idea to post about my struggle on social media.  There was all of my business out there for friends, family, business associates and co-workers to see, some of whom didn’t even know me that well.  I know now that it was a cry for help – I was reaching out to anyone and everyone who might understand.  I was tired of hiding and trying to pretend that I was doing okay on my own.  The weight of trying to keep it all in caused me to collapse.  I also posted numerous statuses on Facebook crying out to God for help.  However, in the days that followed, I would wake up hungover and unable to remember what I’d said (or typed), but I just felt utterly humiliated, ashamed and depressed.

Several friends and acquaintances (even from work!) responded and told me that they were praying for me.  Some even related their own struggles.  It took a long time to get over the shame that I felt, and I had a ways to go before I would finally be able to find sobriety, but the mask was off.   Once the initial shock and humiliation of what I’d done sank in, I began to feel relief.

I hope and pray that by sharing my past and my struggles, someone else may find the courage to share also, and come out of the dark into the light.

Today I am sober, not because of anything I’ve done, but it’s solely by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in my life.  Many times I thought I was ready to quit drinking, and I sincerely meant it, only to reach back for the bottle when things got stressful.  Other times, I had prayed for deliverance from the alcohol addiction, only to find that I wanted another drink more than I wanted to get sober.  I can’t really explain why or how I am sober today other than by His power.  And perhaps that is how He had to deal with me so that I am unable to boast about anything I’ve done or how I got myself out of that situation, as I am so prone to do.  I think He knows that my pride and my self-sufficiency will kill me if left to my own devices.

In Romans 6:4, the word says “that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should also walk in newness of life.”  I love that we get the chance to walk in newness of life!  Newness!  Meaning that the old, the past, the scars, no longer have dominion over me anymore.  “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin may be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. (Romans 6:6 NKJV)”

Now this doesn’t mean that we won’t sin.  After all, we don’t become perfect when we accept Christ, just forgiven.  But this does say that I no longer should be a slave to sin.  Therefore, I need to be vigilant about participating or partaking in anything that may lead to bondage.  This is why I don’t even take one drink of any kind of alcohol now, as I know that there is a high probability that it would lead me back to being alcohol’s slave.

I want to be clear that it is only by His grace and what Jesus did on the cross that we are saved, through faith alone and not of our own works.  I was saved as a teenager, and the Lord promises that there is nothing we do or could have done that can cause us to be “unsaved.”

What Paul is saying in this chapter is that because of Jesus’ gift of us, and the price he paid for our freedom, we should not be like pigs returning to the mire, but should live for Him.  I didn’t do that for a long time.  I was still living for me.

Paul goes on to write in this chapter to the Romans:

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  Certainly not!  Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:15-16)”

And then further on he writes, “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?  For the end of those things is death.  But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:21-23).”

Addiction was leading me straight toward an early death.  But thank God through His Son Jesus, I no longer have to walk that way.  And I no longer have to hide or hang my head in shame, but can bow my head in humble gratitude and adoration and say, “Thank You, Lord.  Let my story become Your glory.”

“Father, I thank You so much for the opportunity to walk in newness of life.  I thank You that I no longer have to live in shame, guilt and fear.  Be with those reading this, and whatever our struggles, help us to remember that in Your hands, the victory is won and those struggles can be transformed from instruments of shame in our lives to instruments of healing and ministry.  I want to give You the praise and the glory, for You alone are worthy.  Help us to find freedom in any area in which we still struggle, and to look back on the past with peace rather than regret.  Bring to rememberance the ways in which You’ve been faithful, even when we haven’t been, and how You’ve carried us when we didn’t have the strength to walk one more step.  Let my life bear fruit toward holiness and give You praise.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

 

Getting into the Christmas Spirit- November 30, 2015

My family and I got in the Christmas spirit last night after we got home from our relatives’ house after a busy and fun Thanksgiving weekend.  The kids wanted to put up the Christmas tree, which in the common tradition we typically put up right after Thanksgiving.  My son wanted to listen to some Christmas music, and we had fun picking out songs, everything from the Transiberian Orchestra to Wham’s “Last Christmas,” and the old favorite “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

My new favorite Christmas song over the past couple of years though is one by a group called Cloverton, set to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” but with the verses written to reflect the Christmas theme.

The last verse gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes, as it captures the enormity of what Christmas really means.  It goes like this:

“I know You came to rescue me;

This baby boy would grow to be

a man who’d one day die for me and you.

My sins would drive the nails in You

That rugged cross was my cross too.

Still every breath You drew was “Hallelujah!”

Today, I just want to share this song with you and encourage you to think about what Christmas means to you.  I hope you are as touched and encouraged by it as I am.  We can be thankful that because He did come down to rescue us and pay for our sins in full, we can also say, “Hallelujah (which means ‘Praise the Lord’)!”

“But God commends His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8 (NKJV)

“Thank You Lord, for the enormity of Your gift to us.  Help us to reflect on this more as we near closer to Christmas time.  I thank You that because of Your great love and mercy, You took my cross upon Yourself, and carried the burden of my sin, and willingly laid down Your life for me.  I also thank You that the story doesn’t end there, but that You won the victory for us forever.  Help me to live today saying “Hallelujah” with every breath I take, for You are worthy, and I can’t thank You enough.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

 

Loved by Our Maker – November 23, 2015

Do you know how much God loves you?  I mean, I know you’ve probably heard a preacher or someone tell you that, or have heard the song, “Jesus Loves Me,” but do you really know, deep down in your heart how loved you are?

I’m still amazed whenever I read or think about or realize how much God loves me.  Even after all of the times I’ve messed up, or gotten angry and turned my back on Him, or the years when I lived in addiction – He never stopped loving me, or thought of me as less than anyone else.

I grew up being taught the notion that I was “lucky” if I could find a man who would help me out with the kids or the house, and that it was my job to take care of my husband.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not some hardcore feminazi or anything like that, and my husband and I love each other dearly.  I am, by the way, blessed with a husband who is a good father, and we make a great team helping one another out.

But, why was I expected to take care of my husband, when and if I got married, but I was supposed to consider myself “lucky” if he helped take care of me and the kids?  I guess the notion I walked away with was that as a woman I was lower on the priority list.  My family didn’t attend church, or speak much about Biblical principles, so when I came to know Christ, and began studying His Word, I was amazed and continue to be amazed at how much He loves us.  All of us.

The more I read the Word, the more I realize I’m not alone in the way I felt back then.  Women in the Jewish culture were regarded much the same way.  This wasn’t the way God intended, but was how the culture viewed women in society at that time.  I think of many other cultures today around the world where women or minorities in that society are treated as second-class citizens based solely on their gender or ethnicity.

Yet, when we come to the story of the woman at the well in John 4, Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water.

The story continues in verse 9:  “Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’  For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink”, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

He is telling her that He is not looking at gender or race, but that He is able to refresh and revive her soul.  He breaks down those racial and gender barriers to look at who she is as a person.  He knows that she is missing something in her life, as later in the exchange, as they get to talking more, He acknowledges that she has had five husbands, and that the man she is currently living with is not her husband.

He doesn’t say this to condemn her, but to point out her need for salvation.  He also comes right out and tells her at the end of the chapter that He is the Messiah she has been looking for.  How many of us indeed have tried to fill a void in our lives, with food, alcohol, drugs, relationships, work, things, etc.?  Do you know that Jesus can fill the God-shaped void in your heart?

Even after I became a Christian, it was easy for me to fall back on tangible things and people rather than putting my full trust in God.  For a long time, I didn’t.  I trusted alcohol to take away the pain, or the boredom, or for confidence to mask my insecurities.  But I found that after awhile, it turned on me and became my worst enemy, threatening to destroy all that I held dear.  I realized that only God could give me the joy, the sense of purpose, the security and the comfort that I was always looking for.

We see again God’s great love and mercy in John 21.  Peter had not too long ago denied Jesus three times, and was probably still feeling guilty, even though by this time Jesus has risen from the dead and is again spending time with His disciples.

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’

He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’

He said to Him, ‘Feed my lambs’ (John 21:15).”

Jesus goes on to ask Peter this question two more times, responding each time with “Tend my sheep,” or “Feed my sheep.”  At one point in the passage (v 17), it states that Peter is “grieved” because the Lord keeps asking him this question.  It’s hard for us to know what he was thinking here, but I’d guess that Peter was probably feeling ashamed, thinking that the Lord had a good reason to believe Peter didn’t love Him.

I think this passage is a good example of the Lord’s mercy.  I believe that just as Peter denied Jesus three times, He is giving Peter the chance three times to tell Him that He loves Him.  And He is letting Peter know that He still wants Peter to preach His Word, that He still wants to use him in ministry.

I just love this story, because it shows that God wants to use us too, no matter how badly we may have blown it in the past.  In His hands, even our most embarrassing mistakes can be a great testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness in our lives.

Jesus loved all of us enough to die for us – men, women, old, young, every race and nationality.  He simply says to all of us, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).”

“Father, I thank You today that You loved me enough to die for me, and that You’ve promised You’ll never leave me or give up on me.  I thank You that You still want to use me and my life for Your glory.  Please be with each person reading this, and help him or her to know just how much You love them too.  Help me to be a good steward of the time and blessings that You have given me.  Help me to be a good wife and mom, too, Lord, that I won’t be selfish with my time or love toward my family, but that I will be the woman You created me to be, and that I will serve those I love out of a pure heart.  I thank You that Your love for me doesn’t depend on how well I perform, and that I’m not graded on a curve.  You know me inside and out, and because of Your faithfulness, I can always depend on You.  Show me the way in which I should walk today, and may I give You the glory.  In Jesus’ 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.”