Friday, July 21, 2017

A Tidy Little Mess

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:17

I was reading the book She Reads Truth this morning, and one of the authors had written a few paragraphs of her theology of the gospel as a young adult. As I read it, I felt like she had been spying on me my entire life. I must share an excerpt from this book which is an excerpt from the pages of my life.

‘I was driven to be good. Determined to find myself approved by anyone and everyone who knew me. And I pulled it off pretty well…I worked hard for approval and succeeded, trusting my goodness to save me. I had nailed it and thoroughly missed it all at once, all the while living in complete and devastating darkness. I was a tidy little mess…I was living and breathing and putting all my eggs in the basket of an almost-gospel. A watered-down, diminished gospel that was really no gospel at all…At some point I asked myself would I really spend the rest of my life making up for where the cross of Jesus left off? I finally realized that Christ died for me…Plus nothing. Moving forward…with a heart of gratitude, I walked in the fullness of a gospel that invited me instead of needed me.’ She Reads Truth, p. 64-68.

I feel busted and exposed by her words! She gave expression to the hidden parts of my heart and mind, of which I wasn't even aware. She validated how my previous performance based pursuit of God’s acceptance was an ‘almost-true-watered-down-messy-little-gospel.’ It has been a challenging journey to dismantle my belief that I must earn love…jockey for my position in His family…sing for my supper to keep God’s favor. None of this is based on the cross. There is nothing we can add to the work to maintain fellowship with God. We do not have to spend the rest of our lives trying to pick up where the cross left off. There is no more work to do – it was done in the dark a couple thousand years ago. It was a decision whispered through the prayers of a Lamb who was spotless and a Lion who was determined to save us. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to our salvation. The price was paid, the Lamb was slain and eternity is ours with Christ. As we walk, let us walk in freedom and understanding that everything required has been fulfilled. We cannot alter it, lose it or get more of it – we have it all in Jesus.

When Jesus had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’” John 19:30.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Broken Pottery

Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.” Jeremiah 18:6.

I remember one day when my children were very young, I began the day feeling unsettled and irritated. I was in a rotten mood so everything they did got under my skin. In an attempt to make me laugh they did things that normally brought a smile or laughter. You know you are having a bad day when you try harder to stay mad than to get in a better mood. Somedays, being in a good mood just takes too much work! That was my day and thankfully one of few. I remember that by early afternoon I decided I had enough, and told the kids I was going to my bedroom. I’ll never forget what one of them said. They said, ‘Why Mommy, what did you do wrong?’ I remember silently thinking is wasn’t anything I did, more who I was that day.

Fast-forward 20 years to the season when my father-in-law who suffered with Alzheimer’s lived with us. It was a time of challenges for sure but the biggest thing I discovered during this time was who I really was. The woman I saw in the mirror was much different than the woman I had portrayed most of my life. The woman in the mirror had inner resentment for different reasons. The woman in the mirror walked around covered in guilt for hidden thoughts for the situation. The woman in the mirror took credit for things she did, instead of giving credit to God for pulling her through each day. I learned so much from that experience and am so grateful I am no longer that woman. I have other things that need refining but I trust God for this work. Bruce calls this ‘gentle discipline’ from the Lord. It is when God acts out of His great love for us to transform our hearts to genuinely match the person He designed us to be. ‘God moves in our lives because he loves us too much to see us continue in our sin, remain in a lukewarm spiritual state, or go unfulfilled in his purposes for our lives…God’s purpose through pain is to lead us to confront, remove, or change those habits, attitudes, and beliefs that keep us from growing into the full likeness of Christ.’ Finding God’s Blessings in Brokenness, Charles Stanley, p. 14.

I am still trying to discover the woman in the mirror – the woman who reflects Christ as God intended. The woman who reflects the Spirit instead of the flesh. I am constantly on the potter’s wheel being molded in His hands. Some spins have more pressure than others, but those are the ones that make the greatest impression on my life.

Remembering Two Things

He replied, ‘The man they call Jesus…put mud on my eyes…and I washed, and now I see’… Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath’… Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him. Jesus said, ‘…the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’” John 9:11-39.

If you have never read this passage you will truly be blessed if you read through it. It is full of spiritual principles that each one of us can apply to our lives. First of all, this was a man in dire need of healing as he had been blind from birth. His life had been a string of years of begging since that was the only way he received provision. He looked to others to provide for Him in his lack. Jesus stopped one Sabbath and provided a way of healing. No one can heal us except for Jesus. Our second principle is that Jesus may heal us in a manner that seems unorthodox and illogical. Thankfully, this man was desperate and followed the suggestion of Jesus. We must be desperate for Him instead of desperate for any other thing or person. He became a follower of Jesus and gave Him the complete glory for the healing. Lastly, the Pharisees refused to believe that Jesus was the prophesied Christ. They were bold enough to challenge Jesus, His position and His power to heal. We must trust Him if we are going to approach Him. How ironic is it that the beggar who could not see gained sight, and the ones who could see became blind to Jesus?

Aren’t we just like these people in this story? We are so blind to things in our lives that need the healing of Jesus such as bitterness, unforgiveness, selfishness or doubt. We beg and beg for release from our unloveliness, but will we follow the instructions God gives us to be healed? Will we grace ...believe? Will we trust Him enough to courageously walk out the journey He places before us? Or are we like the Pharisees who go around judging others to avoid their own walk? We use what little spiritual sight we have when dealing with others who are hurting. We are so focused on our own things that we miss the miracles that are happening right before us. We challenge Jesus sometimes because we see His work and power in the lives of other people, but not our own. When we don’t see the Savior saving us, we tend to demote Him and become blind to His presence. Just like the Pharisees, Jesus can be standing right in front of us and yet we miss Him. ‘It is possible for Jesus to be in our midst, and for us to still have a Pharisee heart.’ Finding I Am, Lysa TerKeurst, p. 62.

John Newton, who penned Amazing Grace turned from his faith as a young adult. Life’s challenges and painful circumstances led him back to God and his testimony is in the beautiful words of this hymn...'was blind but now I see.' Shortly before his death he proclaimed, ‘My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!’

“‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash’…So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.” John 9:7.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Re-creation of Creation

In the beginning, God…Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” Genesis 1:1-4.

This is one of my favorite passages and is the anchor of everything that has happened, is presently happening and what is to happen in the future. It is the creative work of God that continously cycles back around. I was considering these words this morning as it relates to my birth. It is a beautiful image to understand that ‘in my beginning’ He spoke me into existence and I laid in perfect darkness for 9 months. He hovered over my life, watching me develop into His daughter. Then at His command, He ordained my day of birth. As he commanded light to separate from darkness I entered this world. It was at that moment I left the perfect darkness, saw light for the first time and had to live in a world with imperfect darkness.

Fast forward to age 46 when God spoke His life-giving words over me again. This time He called me out of imperfect darkness…those areas in my heart that were sin-hardened. Once again, He commended His light to come into being, exposing my darkness and revealing places that were not attitudes and behaviors of the Spirit. He began His Psalm 119:130 campaign in my heart and mind. ‘The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.’ The simple is regarding that childlike understanding and spiritual judgment not yet matured. Through many daunting and painful experiences, He unfolded new understanding of His desires for me. The term 'unfolding' in this verse relates to God’s revelation, interpretation and sanctification (transforming of our hearts). It is through this creative work of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit that Light is separated from darkness…truth from lies.

God determines when each of us has a new set of circumstances that will unfold before us…new beginnings. He speaks situations into our lives that He will use to separate light from darkness. He continues to this day to hover over our lives and ‘call into being what wasn’t there before.’ He never rests…He is never content with who we are…He will continue to create…to separate…to illuminate. It is our responsibility to receive His revelations, meditate on His interpretation, and allow it to transform our hearts and minds. Through this we can impact our world around us.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” 2 Co 4:6.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Jaded or Invaded

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross over the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.’” De 30:11-14.

One of the truest ways to understand something is to experience the situation firsthand. I really never knew the grief of losing a parent until I actually lost one. Because I now know that pain, I have a deeper compassion for others going through that same journey. I have had many experiences in my adult life that have devastated me, some that have overwhelmed me and most that have defined God for me. The one thing they all have in common is the wisdom that I have ascertained through those experiences. They are the seasons that revealed who I really was and a call on my life to be the person God wants me to be. Whatever God commanded me to walk through He was faithful in equipping me with what I needed to endure. While these trials seemed too difficult for me, they weren’t once the power of God invaded the circumstances. Peace during the chaos was not beyond my reach when I reached for the right thing…Him. I could never have received these life changing truths by watching someone else go through it. Our hearts will either be jaded by our experiences or transformed in Christ through them.

We cannot expect to receive the revelations of God by wanting others to do the work for us. It is so easy to get stagnant in our faith and lazy in our pursuit of Him. We can certainly be inspired by the ‘ascension in heaven and crossing of the sea’ stories of others. But to be inspired is so much less than to be invaded by the first-hand presence of God. There is no proxy in faith, but a daily invitation to be present at the table with the Creator. No, God is right there with you, and in you and wanting to bring life to the dead places in your heart. When we speak with Him and meditate on Him, it activates His truths in our hearts which places it on our lips. We will have everything we need in all times if we stay closely connected with Jesus. He is our hope and our anchor in times of despair. Wherever we go and whatever we experience He will always be near.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139:7-12.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Help Our Unbelief!

Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.’ Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the work God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’” John 6:26, 28-29.

I find it interesting that right at the pinnacle of His success and impact, He calls the crowd out on their motivation. He doesn’t care about hurting their feelings or making them uncomfortable. He makes no apologies when accusing them of self-interest. His followers fail to understand that He came into the world to save souls, not to pacify people. They continued in their fellowship with Jesus inquiring about the manner in which they could fulfill God’s requirement. Jesus stated that the only work God required was that they believe in Jesus. This brings up two great points in my consideration of this conversation between Jesus and His followers. Lysa TerKeurst, author of Finding I Am formulates questions which I must consider and will also ask you for your consideration. ‘Why am I following Jesus? Is it so that I can get something from Him? Am I like the crowds who simply want their bellies filled? Or am I coming to Him because He is Bread to me? There is a difference in coming to Jesus for bread and because He is Bread.’ (p. 34) Talk about food for thought!

We also ask God through our prayers what it is that He would have us do. We search Scripture in hopes of understanding God’s will for our lives. He clearly tells us His requirement: It is to believe…to believe in Jesus…to believe that He is enough…to believe that through Him all things are possible. Jesus exhorts His followers even today that our work is to believe. I can’t help but to notice that believing and work certainly go together. It is work for the parents to believe that God has their prodigal child protected. It is work to believe that our medical issues can be healed. It is work to believe that sobriety can be maintained one more day. It is work to believe that we will not be in our situation for the rest of our lives. We cry out, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’ Mark 9:24. Believing IS work but the yield is enormous. The yield of work is transcending peace in a chaotic situation. The yield of work is comfort and rest in our grief. The yield of work is wisdom and guidance in a tough decision. When we approach Jesus as Bread instead of receiving bread we will get everything needed and exceedingly more than we can ever imagine.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bringing Jesus on Board

A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on water; and they were terrified… ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ Then they were willing to take him into the boat…They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.’”Excerpts from the shared testimonies of Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:16-21.

The dynamics of this situation are very interesting when considering it from an aerial view. The disciples had just returned from a very successful preaching tour where the power of God was displayed in very concrete ways. No doubt they came back with self-confidence and a greater sense of themselves. The feeding of the 5000 was immediately played out at their return, and they actually partnered with Jesus in this miracle. They left there and got in their boat to go to the other side of the lake, leaving Jesus alone on the shore. A storm arose and they became fearful for their lives, and straining to keep control of the boat while trying to navigate to safety. During their exhaustion, they looked up and saw a figure on the water moving towards them. They didn’t even recognize Jesus as He was coming to take control of the storm and their safety. He actually had to announce Himself to them. Scripture then tells us that they are ‘willing’ to take him into the boat. It also states that they were completely amazed that He walked on water. They had just witnessed Him multiplying 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish to the nourishment of over 5000 people. (The 5000 didn’t include women and children.) So we ask ourselves, ‘If they had seen Jesus perform that miracle, why were they amazed that He could do this miracle?’

Aren’t we the same way sometimes? Don’t we fail to see miracles all around us, because we are looking at our limited circumstances instead of our unlimited God. When the storms come out of nowhere we ‘strain at the oars’ taking the challenges on in our own strength. We are so busy looking at the waves we don’t even recognize Jesus in our midst. He’s there…He’s walking towards us…He wants to be invited into the boat. Will we be willing to bring Him on board and turn the oars over to Him? Will we sit in remembrance during our storms and remember other miracles and rescues He has done on our behalf in the past? Do we really believe in His constant provision even while we wait for a safe haven? The fact is that He is faithful and orchestrating the details of our lives whether we recognize it or not.

Let us all look for Him in our trials, invite Him in to take control and trust Him to safely navigate us home.