The Dreaded Word “Submit” – December 17, 2017

I believe one of the hardest lessons in this life to learn is obedience.  It starts when we’re young.  As soon as a toddler learns the word ‘no’ it becomes his or her favorite word.  As a wife, the Bible calls me to submit to my husband.  Ouch.  It is still a struggle for me because I have a strong personality.

Now, before I get hate comments from wives on here, let me preface this by saying I don’t think submit means to grovel or to put up with physical abuse.  Jesus was a great example of what pure submission out of love for and obedience to the Father looks like.  For Him, it was doing the hard things, sacrificing His own comfort, and surrendering His will in order to save the people He loves and thus also obey the Father He loves.  He willingly left Heaven in order to come and suffer in this fallen, sinful human world in order to redeem His creation.

In Chapter 1 of the book of Esther, we read about King Ahaseurus, who reigned over several provinces, from India to Ethiopia (v.1).  He first threw a six month long feast for the nobles, then afterward, a seven-day feast for all of the people in Shushan.  Queen Vashti also threw a feast for the women of the royal palace.

The story continues, “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold.  But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him (vv 10-12).”

To be honest, when I read this, I really didn’t blame Vashti for being upset.  Her husband gets tipsy and then wants to parade her as his “arm candy” in front of all the people?  I might be pretty miffed too.  On the other hand, maybe he was proud of his wife and thought she was beautiful and wanted to introduce her to the people.

It made more sense when I read the next part.  The king apparently sought legal advice from the wise men on the matter, “and Memucan answered before the king and the princes:  ‘Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus.  For the queen’s behavior will become known to all the women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, “King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come.”  Thus there will be excessive contempt and wrath…'(vv 16-18).”

In this light it does make more sense, given Vashti’s position as Queen.  After all, her husband did not ask her to do anything that was immoral or disobedient to the Lord, he just wanted her to make an appearance before the people.  An equivalent example would be if the President was giving a banquet and the First Lady was ticked at him and refused to show up and everyone heard about it.  We’d be the laughingstock of the world.  And no, this is not a political statement,  just an example to illustrate the point that this account is making.

Because of her important position, her actions were disrespectful to and affected not just her husband, but the nobles and citizens of the entire community.

From my research, there are differing opinions as to exactly what the king’s intent was, and some contend that she was basically ordered to appear naked, which would then make her refusal completely justified.  But the Word doesn’t say anything like that that I could find.  It just says, “wearing her royal crown” to “show her beauty before the people and the officials.”  One would think wearing the crown means being in her full royal regalia, much like the Queen of England.

Assuming the latter is the case, then we can conclude that Vashti’s refusal was like a snub to the courtiers and citizens.  She ultimately lost her position as Queen because of this, and was later replaced by Esther.

The King could definitely be a cad, as Chapter 2 of Esther goes on to prove,  but I believe the greater lesson in this story is that we have all been placed by God into important positions.  I’m not a noble, but as a wife and mother, I’ve been placed into a position of influence over my children.  I also have influence with my husband, though I’m not in authority over him (even if I admittedly do act a little bossy sometimes!).  My children are watching how I treat their father.

Even more importantly, as Christians and as people, we influence those around us.  What would the world look like if we gave up our selfish desires more and thought of ourselves less and others more?  What if we were willing to obey God with all our hearts no matter what the cost, just because we love Him, just like Jesus did?  Submission isn’t such an awful word after all.

“Lord, I know that I am stubborn, and just plain pig-headed sometimes, and I’m sorry.  Please forgive me and help me to be more like You.  I pray that You would give me an obedient heart like Jesus, and that I would be willing to honor and serve You no matter the cost.  I pray that You would give me strength in this area, for it feels like I am weak.  Help me to serve You with a humble heart. I pray that others would see more of You in me, not for my glory, but for Yours, Father.  I pray that my children would see a mom who loves the Lord and lives it out with her actions, and that I would be a better, more loving wife as well.  I thank You Lord, that You’re still working in my life, and that You’re not done with me yet.  I praise You for You alone are worthy.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

 

November 12, 2017 – Praise God, He Loves Us Anyway

Are there times you feel unworthy or undeserving of the Father’s love?  I know I do.  I was saved as a teenager and my pastor’s wife, a lady who encouraged and invested in me so much, used to tell me, “God can use you.”  I remember thinking, God can use me?  Why in the world would He want to do that?  I still find myself feeling woefully inadequate for His work, even over 20 years later.

I believe that is precisely the point.  None of us are worthy of or deserve His grace, but that’s what makes it Grace, and that’s what makes His love even more profound.  He loves me anyway.  He sees everything I have ever been, all the things I have ever done or ever will do, and He says, “I love you.”

In Acts chapter 8, there is a story about a sorcerer named Simon.  Simon has been deceiving the people through his sorcery and claiming that he has the power of God.  But as the apostle Philip preached the real gospel message,  and Simon saw the real power of God at work through the name of Jesus, he believed and was baptized.

The text says that “…and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.  For as yet He had fallen upon none of them.  They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 8:13-18 NKJV).

As I was reading this, I thought, What a scoundrel.  But as I pondered the story, I started to wonder why Simon would’ve offered money for a Gift that was freely given to the believers at Samaria.  After all, the text says that “Simon himself also believed (v.13).”

My first thought was ok, maybe the guy thought he could make money and a name for himself by becoming a disciple, especially with the power of God to heal and perform miracles.  After all, he had made money and a name for himself by performing sorcery.  And that very well could’ve been a reason.  But I wonder too if maybe he felt he had to buy this gift from God because he felt unworthy to receive it like the other believers had?  This is pure speculation on my part, but part of me empathizes with Simon if that’s the case.

How often have you or I tried to earn God’s love?  Or felt that we have missed the mark so much in our life that He couldn’t possibly use us?  I have felt that way many times.  And when God has His arms outstretched just waiting for me to receive the gift of His forgiveness and grace when I fall short, how often have I said to myself, “I’ll try harder.  I’ll work more.  I’ll give more.  I must be able to make it up to Him somehow.”? Or gotten discouraged and thought, “What’s the point anyway?  Why should I even try?  I’ll never be good enough to do this Christian thing anyway.”  Yep, been there too.

But what I’ve learned is that He loves me more than I could even fathom.  Not because I’m great, but because He’s great, and because He’s a loving Father.  I can’t “earn” His love and I can’t buy or work for it, and praise God, I don’t have to.  Jesus did the work for us, we can just climb into our Father’s arms and rest.

Simon was rebuked by Peter for thinking that the gift of God could be purchased with money.  Peter told him he couldn’t be a part of their work because his heart was not right with God.  Peter urged him to repent and receive forgiveness (vv 20-23).

But listen to this, “Then Simon answered and said, ‘Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things {consequences of sin} that you have spoken may come upon me.’  So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans (vv 24-25).”

Simon repented and asked for God’s forgiveness.  The story doesn’t specify whether he continued on with the disciples to preach or not, or if he stayed where he was, but I believe that he was forgiven the moment he repented and asked for forgiveness.  There are varying opinions as to Simon’s relationship with God, whether he truly did believe or not, and only God knows his heart, but the message is the same.  While we cannot buy God’s love, it is a gift freely given and so is forgiveness when we reach out to Him with a broken, repentant heart.

Praise God, even when we fall, even though we make stupid mistakes, He loves us anyway.  His arms are open wide for anyone (even the messiest of us).

“Father, I thank You for Your gift of grace over and over again in my life.  I feel so undeserving, and indeed I am undeserving, but I thank You that You love me in spite of my mess.  I thank You that You’re not done with me yet, and I’m humbled that You would want to use me, out of all people, clumsy,  awkward, often prideful me, to work for You.  Not to earn Your love, but to be a part of the greatest work there is, and that is to tell others about Jesus and how much He loves them too.  And that if You can use me in spite of my mess, You can use them too.  I can never thank You enough, and I love You Father.  Thank You for loving me and never giving up on me.  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.

An Awesome God – December 15, 2015

Our God is an awesome God, He reigns, from Heaven above,

With wisdom, power and love – our God is an awesome God!” – Rich Mullen

I’ve got that song stuck in my head as I was thinking on this devotional for today.  I’ve sung the words to that song many times, but I don’t think I truly stop to think about them and what they mean as much as I probably should.

I like science.  It fascinates me, and I love hearing about new discoveries in medicine, or new species that have been discovered throughout the world.  Some try to use science to disprove the Bible, but for me science serves to strengthen my faith and affirm what the Bible says is true.

Have you ever looked at plant cells under a microscope, perhaps in a biology class or with one of those microscopes that come with those science kits that some of us got for Christmas as kids?  When you see how orderly they are, and arranged in neat little rows, it is astounding to think about the One who created them like that, and impossible to believe that the plant just evolved from nothing.

In 2 Samuel Chapter 7, God tells David that He has different plans than the ones David originally had, where David wanted to build Him a house.  Nevertheless, He is pleased with the thought because He knew that David’s heart was in the right place.  So the Lord promised David that He would make him a house, and foreshadowed Jesus’ coming kingdom after the lineage of David.  David then prayed a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God?  And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? (2 Samuel 7:18 NKJV).”

How many times can we say the same thing along with David?  “Who am I, Lord?  That you have brought me and my house this far?”  When you think about all that God has brought you through, and the many ways that He has worked in your life in ways that are personal to you, does it not bring about a sense of awe and wonder?  I can look back at many times in my life where things didn’t look good, the future looked bleak, and I just knew there would be no way I was going to get out of the mess I was in, and yet God showed up.  Over and over.  It’s humbling to think that out of everything and everyone in the universe, He loves you and I so much that even our little worries and cares are important to Him, and He wants to help us.

In the Psalms, David writes in Chapter 8, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that you are mindful of him? And the son of man that You visit him?  For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor (vv 3-5).”

It’s breathtaking to think about how little we are in the scheme of things.  Have you ever stood along the beach at night and gazed up at the moon?  I don’t live close to an ocean, but the beach is one of my favorite places to go on a summer vacation.  Standing by the vast, expansive shoreline amid the rushing sound of wave upon wave, and seeing a big, gigantic moon in the sky is both peaceful and humbling.  It reminds me how small I am in comparison.  Yet, when I think that you and I were (and are) important enough to God for Jesus to die for us, now that is awe-inspiring!

Luke 12:6-7 says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?  And not one of them is forgotten before God.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Our God is so big, and so vast, and so creative that He has made things and species of things that we haven’t even discovered yet, but this mighty God cares about even a sparrow, and tells us that we don’t have to be afraid or ever think that He’s forgotten us, because He cares about us infinitely more.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:16-17).”

The most amazing thing of all is that God, in His vastness, chose to make Himself small, and come down to us in the form of a human, His Son Jesus Christ, to pay for our sins once and for all so that we could be saved and forgiven.  Our Creator endured that agony and laid down His life for His human creation before He rose again and ascended back up to His throne where “He reigns from Heaven above, with wisdom, power and love.”  Our God is an awesome God indeed!

“Thank You, Father, for who You are.  When I think about the vastness of the sky, the stars, the universe, and galaxies we’ve not even found yet, I am amazed and awed that You who created all of that cares about me, and about all of us.  Help me to learn from You with a humble heart, and to offer my life – my time, my energy, my heart and all that life consists of, to You in worship.  Thank You so much for Jesus and His great love and sacrifice so that we could all be forgiven.  I thank You that because He lives, Father, we too can have everlasting life.  I pray that everyone would know about His precious gift, Lord, and I pray that we may give You praise each and every day for Your mighty power, and just for how wonderful You are.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

What is My Job?: Speaking the Truth In Love – December 2, 2015

Judge_meme

So I saw this online again today, and it bothers me because of the message it was used to convey within the context of a conversation that I was watching unfold.  A lady who is not a Christian took issue with another lady for posting about Jesus being the Way, the Truth and the Life.

So the lady who was chastised backtracked and posted this meme, and said that she needs to remind herself not to be so judgmental, that it is not her job to tell anyone what to believe.

So what does it mean to “judge”?  I think this is where things get misunderstood.  Is it “judging” if I see a good friend hurting themselves and I say, “Honey, your drinking has become a problem, and I am worried about you”?.  If the person really does have a problem, I believe that it is being a good friend or a caring neighbor.  I had loved ones do that for me at the height of my own problem, and though I didn’t get sober right then and there, it meant a lot that people cared enough to a) be concerned about me and b) tell me the truth.

When I tell people about the salvation of Jesus Christ, how He is the only One who could’ve paid for our sins, but that He did (praise the Lord!) and He paid for us in full so that we can know what true freedom in Christ is, I’m not telling them what heathens they are and how they need to be like me because I’m better (which I’m most certainly not).  Shoot, no!  If anything, I was probably one of the most heathen of the heatheny (I know, I made up that word, but I thought it sounded cool) and God loves me anyway!  So much, in fact, that He was willing to lay down His life for me, so that He could rescue me from that dark pit of despair and give me hope!  I want to shout it from the rooftops.

Yet, there have been times when I have been cowardly when I should have spoken up, and there have been other times when I’ve gotten angry and just run off at the mouth, spouting opinions and giving people a piece of my mind, when people don’t need to hear my opinion, they need to hear the Truth.  The Truth that really matters is Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 4:14-15 says that “we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ-from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (NKJV)

Paul is speaking to Christians here, and telling us that a hallmark of being mature as believers is being able to avoid being swayed by petty arguments and tossed about by deceit, but being able to speak the truth in love.  Again, at the end of the passage, he reiterates this, speaking of how if we work together in Christ (not alone but by seeking His will), it “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”  The way that people are reached with the love of Christ and the good news of Jesus’ saving grace is not by shying away from the truth and reality of the fact that we are all sinners, but sharing (speaking) that truth in love.

Here is where I think some of us (including me) get tripped up sometimes.  1 Corinthians 13:1 says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.”

It’s saying that even if you or I were the most articulate person in the world but we didn’t speak with love, all people are going to hear is blah, blah, blah.  I’ll use the analogy again of the friend who confronted me about my drinking problem.  Was she “judging” or was she speaking the truth?

According to the dictionary, the top 3 definitions of the word “judge” are:

  1. To form an opinion or estimation of after careful consideration
  2. To hear and decide on in a court of law; to pass sentence on/condemn; to act as one appointed to decide the winners of
  3. To determine or declare after consideration or deliberation

(http://www.thefreedictionary.com/judging)

My friend was not stating an opinion.  She was stating a fact based on her repeated observations of my behavior and its effects.  She was not appointed, nor was she trying to make a determination in order to condemn me.  She was simply speaking the truth in love to me as a friend.

In Acts 5:30-32, Peter and some of the apostles were brought before the council and got into trouble for teaching about Jesus.  They answered and said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.  Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are His witnesses to these things…”

We are witnesses too, once we have been changed by His love.  We can speak about how Jesus has changed us, and we can live a changed life.  This meme that I shared says, “You job is to lift the fallen, to restore the broken, and to heal the hurting.”  Jesus says in Mark 29-31, “The first of all commandments is ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus is the One capable of lifting the fallen, restoring the broken and healing the hurting.  Our job is to love Him, and to love our neighbor enough to reach out and tell them the Good News of a Lord who came to save, heal and change their life.  May we have the courage to do so.

“Father, I humbly ask Your forgiveness for the times I’ve spoken harshly and when I’ve spouted off without thinking about things that in the long run don’t even really matter.  Help me and my life to be a good witness of Your love, Your power and all that You’ve done for me.  Grant me wisdom and courage, Lord, that I may know when to speak the truth in love, and let me not be afraid to tell others about You and Your Amazing Grace.  Help me to also know when to sit down and be quiet, such as in a pointless debate or argument.  Take my words and my life and use them for Your glory.  I love You and thank You for what You’ve done in my life, and simply for who You are.  In Jesus’ name, 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.”

 

Just As I Am – November 28, 2015

Just as I am, without one plea,

but that thy blood was shed for me

I love this old hymn.   When I hear it, I typically think about how Jesus calls us to come “just as we are” and surrender ourselves to Him. How we don’t have to try to clean ourselves up in order to accept Jesus’ free gift of salvation – we can come to Him warts and all. But in reading Ephesians chapter 1, this song took on a whole new meaning for me.

I accepted Christ into my heart when I was 14 years old, yet I often struggle with anxiety in social situations, afraid that I’ll say something stupid or I find myself feeling awkward and at a loss for words, which makes me seem like I am being standoffish or snobbish, when in fact it’s just me being nervous. Then I walk away thinking, “I hope they didn’t think I was being rude.”

I think too often as believers we accept the gift of salvation, but because we still struggle with insecurities and the failings of being human, we struggle with prayer because we’re afraid we’ll sound stupid, or telling others about Jesus because we’re afraid it’ll come out wrong. Or we struggle with legalism because we think we have to do everything “right” in order to be accepted by God. Or with service because we feel that we don’t have the gifts necessary to participate in ministry. I have at different times with all of the above. Thank God He gives me His Word to remind me that not only can I come to Him just as I am, I am permanently accepted and love just as I am also.

Beginning in verse 3 of Ephesians 1, the apostle Paul writes, “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, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise and glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:3-6 NKJV).”

He’s telling us here that when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, God sees us as sons and daughters and made us “accepted in the Beloved [Jesus]” “to the praise and glory of His grace.” That’s the awesome thing about grace. We didn’t do anything to earn or deserve it, and because of that fact, we can’t do anything to lose it either. There’s no points or merit system. It’s all because He loved us enough to pay the price so that we don’t ever have to worry about not being accepted or loved.

Verse 13 and 14 tell us that, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

This tells us that once we are saved, we are promised an inheritance in Heaven. Where the Word says, “you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” I think of when my husband and I took our wedding vows. We made a promise to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, etc. until death do us part. Even more glorious here, is that God not only promises that we are accepted in the here and now, He has promised us a permanent residence in the Promised Land in our life to come.

We know that the Lord always keeps His promises; that’s why this is such a comfort when we struggle with anxiety, or with insecurities, or when we simply have days where we feel clumsy and out-of-sorts. We don’t have to worry about making a fool out of ourselves or whether or not our prayers are grammatically correct- He loves and accepts us just as we are.

“Father, I thank You for your unconditional love and acceptance of me, warts and all. Where sometimes all I can see is where I need to improve, Your grace abounds and reminds me that You are my ever-present help. I have nothing to fear from what people think, because I know that I am perfectly loved by a perfect Father. Please help me to love others like You love me, and not to be afraid to dedicate my efforts to Your service, no matter how feeble I think they are. Help me to remember that You are the one capable of taking five loaves and two fishes and feeding five-thousand, or a widow’s mite and multiplying it for Your glory. I love and I thank You, Father. Help us to give You all of the praise, honor and glory and to relax and enjoy life as it comes, for You came to give us life abundantly. In Jesus’ name I pray, 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.”

Hospitality vs. Protection – Responding in a Time of Crisis- November 18, 2015

In the aftermath of the senseless attacks on Paris, I along with many others, find myself trying to make sense of the senseless.  The best place I know to go is to God’s word.

In John 16:33, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

In this statement, he says that we will have trouble in this world, this is a sure thing.  Holding onto hope amid all of the fear and distress can seem hard, but I love what the last sentence says, “I have overcome the world.”  He lives, and He has already won the victory for us on the cross.

There are so many divisive political arguments taking place these days, both online and in other public forums, even in families.  I see friends and family members engaging in a contest of wills to prove who is right regarding whether or not we should let Syrian refugees into this country.

I have to bite my tongue, shut off my phone, or close the computer to keep myself from entering into these arguments.  I, like most of us, have very strong opinions on political matters, but this to me is not an easy issue to solve.

On the one hand, the Word says, “Let brotherly love continue.  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:1 NKJV).”

Some arguments are using the verse Leviticus 19:33 to justify a certain political position, as it states, “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him.  The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”  God here is speaking to the Israelites in the Old Testament regarding strangers who are already dwelling in their land.  Leviticus 18:26 further admonishes both the Israelites and strangers who dwell within the land to keep God’s statutes and not to engage in any practices contrary to His Word.

On another hand, and perhaps most ambiguous is when Jesus says in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”  This comes shortly after Jesus makes the admonition not to judge, and to look at the plank in one’s own eye before trying to get the mote out of your brother’s eye.

I had some difficulty understanding, so in writing this, I Googled another website:  http://www.gotquestions.org/pearls-before-swine.html

This provides a good explanation of what Jesus is saying here that I believe makes sense.  The article states that Jesus is explaining to believers the difference between judgment and discernment.  I don’t believe Jesus is telling us to lump everyone into one category or encourage prejudice.  Quite the opposite, as most of us would be considered Gentiles today, since much of the Old Testament is addressed to the Jewish people.  We are also not to turn a blind eye to those in need, but make every effort to extend to them the love of Christ, and above all, try to reach people with the message of the Gospel.

(I am happy to say, by the way, that I discovered through reading about all of the goings-on as of late that there are a number of Christian ministries that are ministering to refugees right now wherever they are, providing for their material needs, such as food and clothing, and a number of teams of medical personnel tending to health care needs.)

However, I don’t believe either than Jesus is saying that we as believers should trust people willy-nilly, because He knows that there are some who wish to destroy, to “turn and tear in pieces.”  An analogy would be that if a homeless, hungry, naked person showed up at my door in need of help, I would be remiss in demonstrating the love of Christ if I didn’t try to help that person in some way, whether offering food, or clothing or pointing them to a place that they could go for shelter, etc.  However, just speaking the truth here, I am most likely not going to allow that person to stay in my home and risk putting my children and family in danger from someone I don’t know.  This, I believe, is where the discernment comes in.

This quandary is by no means an easy one to answer, and I most certainly don’t know all of the right solutions, other than that I believe the best thing we can do is to pray and seek God’s guidance, (and volunteer to help in whatever ways we can),  and to pray for our leaders, whether or not we disagree with them.  And for anyone, citizen or refugee, who has not yet heard about how much Jesus loves them.

“Father, it is hard to put into words the anguish we feel at the pain and heartache experienced around the world today, both at home and abroad, because of all that has transpired.  It is easy to be afraid and disillusioned; yet You have given us hope that You have overcome.  Help us to remember that our ultimate trust, our Hope, is in You and You alone.  Be with our leaders, Father, that our country will turn toward You and seek Your wisdom.  I seek Your wisdom on their behalf too, Father, as I know that You are able to deliver us from any sort of trial that we can encounter, and that You are mighty.  Please bring Your peace and comfort to those that have been affected by these events, and to those that are being forced to flee their homes, Lord.  Please give us wisdom and guidance as to how we should help, how we as a nation should proceed.  Above all, help us as Christians to reach others, either at home or abroad with the love of Christ.  Thank You Lord for Your grace and great love for us all.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”