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

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

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

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

And again:

I will put My trust in Him.’

And again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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.”