Monday, December 23, 2013

Straight Up Gospel


Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body
so that you obey its lusts,
and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin
as instruments of unrighteousness;
but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead,
and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

Romans 6:12-13


Take a good look at the picture above.  If you are in Christ, this is a portrait of you.  

Dead, then alive.

What I love about these verses is it reveals the motivation behind call to chase after Jesus.  At first glance, it looks like another religious baseball bat - stop doing this and quit doing that because one day you'll have to account for yourself before a holy God.  But is that what it's really saying?  

Let's make some observations:
  • these verses are written to believers (this is a given)
  • therefore, Christians CAN let sin reign in their bodies after salvation
  • Christians CAN obey sin by acting on its lusts
  • Christians also CAN offer their bodies in a way that makes them partners with sin - we can be the instrument sin uses to accomplish its evil
  • But we also HAVE THE ABILITY to offer to God the truth of our condition - we are alive from the dead
  • Just in case you missed this - we are ALIVE FROM THE DEAD
  • therefore, we CAN offer our bodies in a way that we are partners with God for righteousness
  • Bottom line - in Christ, we have some choices and we are not accountability-free
Can you see it?  We are called to battle against sin because we have been given new life.  Notice it doesn't associate the works with salvation in a way that implies the works make or keep us alive - we've already been made alive from the dead and in response to that truth, Paul urges us to battle sin as an offering to our life-giving Savior.

Let's put it this way:  Once dead, now living.  Now living, instruments of either righteousness or unrighteousness - either way, we will present ourselves to God.  

Our motivation is not the accountability - that's a works salvation mentality.  Our motivation is what He has done in us - dead to alive.  The accountability is still there, but the motivation is now out of love, not fear.  

Does this make sense? 

This week we have a wonderful opportunity to worship and offer ourselves as instruments of righteousness to our Lord and Savior. So what exactly does that look like in your life?  How can you partner with Him as an "instrument" for righteousness?  What sin are you clutching in your hand that you can release for His glory?  Is it anxiety or worry?  Is it lust or addiction?  Is it unforgiveness or bitterness?  

All of these sins produce unrighteousness in our lives.  As you sit with your family, sharing gifts and creating memories, decide to stop presenting your body as an instrument for unrighteousness and because you are alive in Christ, start acting like it!

Merry Christmas and may you all be captured by the grace and mercy extended to us two thousand years ago...



Monday, December 16, 2013

Abide


I am the vine, you are the branches;
he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit,
for apart from Me you can do nothing.

John 15:5


I have a garden on my property but I'm not a gardener.  I have a friend who is a gardener and technically, it's his garden and I get to cheer him on.  And he's a really, really good gardener.  So my gardening knowledge is pretty limited but I feel like I've tagged along on his journey, so let me tell you about our grape vines.

It's a rather large lot, so my friend has large strawberry patches and an area for the raspberry bushes.  We have boxes for the vegetables (everything from beans to tomatoes to lettuces to onions, etc.) and a large corner for asparagus - that stuff grows like crazy!  And another couple of spots for zucchini, patapan, pumpkins and watermelons - all which need space to spread itself out.  

And then there are the grape vines - one long fence with six posts.  We planted a vine at the base of the four inside posts and then waited for them to do their magic.  Grape vines are grabbers and crawlers, so as the plants grew, they went up the posts and then began to turn to their left and right and spread out along the wire fence.

Now, my friend told me not to expect any fruit the first year or two. The plants were too young and needed time to mature.  After the first year, he pruned the plant all the way back to the original size - the base of the vine was thickening but all the branches were cut away.  So during the second summer, as the plants were starting to grow, we were spraying for weeds and got a little too close to the vine and killed it.  

Back to step one.  It was about then that another friend gave me some vines as a gift and these vines were a success.  So in their second year, they started to produce fruit.  As I watched the fruits begin to grow, I was pretty excited - little clusters of grapes hanging all over the branches - this was going to be a great harvest!  Then, one night, just as the grapes were about ready to be harvested, a raccoon visited my garden.  It might have been a herd of raccoons, because the devastation to that harvest that occurred in one night was amazing.  That raccoon apparently pulled off each grape, one by one, squeezed the skin off each grape, ate the innards, and dropped the skin on the ground.  THOUSANDS of grapes eaten in one night.

Ugh.

So we pruned the branches back to the original vine and the next year we cranked up the electricity in the outer fence line before the grapes were ready to be harvested.  The outcome? Success! A bountiful harvest!

So here's what I've learned:
  • the vine is the source of life (poisoning the vine killed everything)
  • the branches need pruning for good fruit production
  • the fruit comes from maturing branches and are evidence of a healthy plant
  • raccoons are bad 
Jesus tells us that He is the vine - we must abide IN Him to bear fruit.  He says that apart from Him we can do nothing.  This reminds me of my favorite verse, Gal. 2:20 - I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives IN me!  The life of a believer is to be completely absorbed by Christ - we are in Him, He is in us. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.  If this is the reality of your life, then fruit production will be natural.  Joy will flow, self-control will dominate, love will rule the day, peace will be evident, patience will come naturally, you'll be one of the kindest people you know, goodness and gentleness will go hand in hand and your faithfulness to the Lord and His Word will be easily identified in your words, expressions and actions.

So what is the key to a life like this?  How do we bear fruit?  Abide.  We have to abide in Christ.  We have to live in Him.  We have to immerse ourself in His Word, talk to Him all day, think upon the things that are important to Him, watch TV with Him, take Him to the grocery store with you, place Him at the dinner table with your family and ask Him if that outfit makes you look fat.  Don't be alarmed at the pruning process either - it's for your own good and for better fruit production.  

Abiding means to be with on a regular basis.

The gospel is Jesus in my place - Jesus took my punishment and gave me His righteousness. But the gospel is not just a one time event - it doesn't end on the cross.  The gospel is for every day - Jesus now lives through us and abiding simply means choosing to let Jesus be in your place on a day by day, moment by moment basis.  

For apart from Him, we really can do nothing.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Are you a Self-Deluder?


But prove yourselves doers of the word, 
and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
James 1:22

We are master deluders - we can smile and shake the hand of someone we can't stand rather easily.  We say we're fine when we have a pounding headache.  We laugh at jokes that aren't funny.  And we swipe our credit card when there aren't funds to cover the charge.

We can fool those on the outside, but it's hard to fool yourself, right?  Apparently the answer is "wrong," according to our verse in James.  Apparently we can delude ourselves, as well.

Scary verse, wouldn't you say?  Looking at the context we see that James uses a mirror illustration to prove his point.  He says that those who hear God's word but don't act on it are like those who look in a mirror to start their day but then forget what they look like as the day wears on.  We envision ourselves fatter or thinner, prettier or uglier, cleaner or dirtier than we actually are, but when we look in the mirror, it reveals the truth. 

James warns his readers not to live deluded - thinking they are something they are not.  When you know what God's Word says but do not act on it then are you a true follower of Jesus?  When you know what He says but make excuses why you can't do it, are you deluding yourself into believing you are a Christian when really you are not?  

Let me clarify something first by answering this question - what makes you a Christian?  We know it is not by our works of righteousness that we have done, but solely by the mercy of God that we are saved.  Jesus exchanged places with us on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin - it's what He has done, not what we can do in regards to salvation.  

But salvation has a response; it has a transforming power. The faith God gives us to believe the gospel also transforms us into the image of our Savior.  So from a human perspective, we are called to respond - intellectually (repent of our sin and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord), emotionally (worship Him in spirit and in truth) and physically (take up our cross and follow Him).  Our response will indicate our loyalty.  So the response is not what saves but it reveals our salvation.

I don't want to overlook an important word in our verse above - "prove."  If you prove something, you are showing - you are revealing.  Your actions speak louder than your words and this proving is not for Jesus and it's not for the world - it's for you.  In Philippians 2 Paul warns us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling - he's not scaring us into saving ourselves.  Jesus alone saves, but he is trying to sober us up about the intellectual, emotional and physical response to the gospel.  

If the gospel hasn't changed you, then it hasn't saved you.  

So are you changed?  Do you hear the Word of God and respond in obedience?  Or do you have an initial response but then as life goes on, that response gets choked out by the busyness or troubles of life?  James tells us that the proof is in the activity - your actions prove where your heart is.

Be a doer of the Word, don't just hear it and think that hearing alone is evidence of salvation.  Herod heard the truth preached and even enjoyed it, but it didn't transform his life. (Mark 6:20)  Don't delude yourself...









Monday, December 2, 2013

Through Him


I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

This is one of the most misused verses in all of scripture.  It's the Christian superhero motto and to many it basically means we are invincible because we have Jesus.  It's probably the poster verse for the works salvation gospel and it gives the believer the false understanding that they are unstoppable.  Here's the problem - the verse has a context and without the context, you are manipulating scripture to fit your personal goals and desires.

Here's a cold bucket of truth - you can't do all things. You're not Superman.  You're not God and you're not invincible. 

Sorry.  I know it's the holidays and I should be more upbeat, but in truth, this verse is really a great one for the holidays.  So let's take a step back from this verse, read the context and see if we can figure out what Paul was talking about when he wrote it.

"But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction." Phil. 4:10-14

Paul is nearing the end of his letter to the church at Philippi. Apparently, they were unable to help him earlier (financially or with support), not that they didn't care but they didn't have extra to share.  But now they were helping him and he was expressing gratitude.  In his thankfulness, Paul explained to them that he had learned the secret behind contentment - the ability to live in abundance or in suffering need was Jesus - He was the One Who gave the strength in all things.

Strength to be content, to love, to forgive, to be patient, to be bold, to be quiet, to hold his tongue and to speak truth.  Strength to deal with hunger and with runaway slaves, with snake bites and shipwrecks, with Roman soldiers and with prison cells.  Strength to walk in the light, no matter what the road looked like.  Strength to weather the storm and bathe in the sunlight.  No matter what the circumstance, Paul was able to do all things in contentment because it was Christ in him Who empowered him.  

This verse is really talking about the ability to obey, follow and serve Christ despite your current circumstance because the strength to do His will comes from an intimate relationship with Him.  This is the secret to contentment.

So how does this apply to you today?  Do you make excuses as to why you cannot be content where you are?  Do you start your excuses with words like, "If only I had more money..." or "If only I had a better husband/job/church/house/child/health/friend, then I could..."?  Or what about, "If only I knew the Bible better..." or "Well, next year I'll be in a better financial position to help..."?  Or how about, "If only I wasn't so hurt..." or "If they say they're sorry, then I could move on, but until then..."

My list of questions could go on and on.  Bottom line, if you lack contentment, you need to turn your eyes on Jesus and follow His lead.  He doesn't want excuses, He wants faithfulness. Despite your circumstance, He wants to replace your anxiety with joy.  Don't let the hustle and bustle of the gift giving season overwhelm your contentment of where the Lord has you right now - whether in want or in abundance, learn contentment and lean on His strength to do all things Christlike.

And the best place to start learning contentment is at the foot of the cross.  Stop trying to pay your own way to heaven and fall upon the grace of your Savior.  Find rest in Him and put your faith in what He has done and not what you cannot possibly do.  Then chase after Jesus with abandon - for it is no longer you who live but Christ Who lives in you.  How can you not be content when your life is not your own? He bought you, He dwells within you, He empowers you and He leads you to the places where you can see Him more clearly - follow Him!  Find your contentment in exactly where He has you today.

You can do all things through Christ - you can be content exactly where He has you - because He will provide the strength to endure all things.  




Monday, November 25, 2013

Family Devotions?


This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, 
but you shall meditate on it day and night,
so that you may be careful to do according to all that is in it;
for then you will make your way prosperous,
and then you will have success.

Joshua 1:8


The wandering in the wilderness had come to an end.  Forty years of living in the desert, burying one member of your family after another until the ones the Lord would not allow into the Promised Land were finally passed.  Can you imagine being that last one?  I can imagine you would have felt pretty targeted as the younger generation stared at you, waiting for you to die...but an unfaithful generation would be left in the wilderness and an new generation would now possess the land.

Joshua and Caleb had earned the right to lead the people into their new digs because of a great display of faith decades earlier.  When others saw giants, they saw prosperity.  When others saw fortresses,they saw potential.  When others ran in fear, they stood fearless.  When others denied the power, they declared the name of God.  They were faithful, when the rest were faithless.

And now it was time to enter the land.  A great battle stood before them, but God was leading them so they chose to simply follow in faith, believing God's plan was better than anything they could come up with - they acted on His instructions, setting aside their feelings, having the confidence that God would show up in a big way.  And of course, He did - walls fell at the sound of trumpets, their enemies ran in fear and the land was theirs for the taking.

But before Joshua declared to the Lord, "All that You have commanded us we will do, and wherever You send us we will go," he listened to the instructions of the Lord and here's what God said:  Know my Word so that you will be successful.  That was basically it.  If Joshua would marinate himself with the Word of God, if he would let it seep into his every thought, then he would be controlled by it and it would produce success in his life.

Does this command still resonate as truth today?  If we know the Word of God, does it affect how we live?  Does it make our paths straight?  Does it bring comfort in the storms and stability in the trials of life?  Does the word of the Lord enlighten, convict, reveal the heart of God and bless us?

When I was a young girl, I went to a friend's house to play after school and stayed for dinner. After dinner, the father took out God's word and read from it before we were dismissed from the table.  I really liked that and when I got home, I asked my mom why we didn't read from the Bible after dinner each night.  My mom furrowed her brow and replied, "But Kristen, we do more than that.  We talk about God's word all through dinner, in the car after school, while we are at the grocery store and even when you are getting ready for school."  And then she went on with what she was previously doing.

I thought that was a lame answer at first, but then I started to open my ears to the conversation that was going on in my home and soon realized she was right.  The discussion of God's word was constantly on my parents tongues - what they were reading, how it applied to life, what the pastor had taught on Sunday, what mom was learning as she prepared to teach ladies study, what dad was teaching to the men on the train rides into work, what the word said compared to current events, and it went on and on.  The word of God had soaked into my parents lives and it was such a natural part of their conversation that I didn't even realize that it was a big part of our conversation.

So how does the word of God affect your conversation in your home?  I still think dinner devotions are a great idea, but if that's the only time your children hear you talk about the Lord, then maybe it's more of a tradition than a lifestyle.  God told Joshua to make His word a constant point of conversation and I believe there is great benefit and protection that comes from this instruction.  When you are asked a question of a friend, a child, a spouse - a great response is, What does God's Word say about that?  Be that person who runs to the Word for answers, rather than relies on their own experience and feelings to guide them. And by the way, this means you need to be IN the Word to be able to talk ABOUT the Word...see how that works? 

As we head into Thanksgiving this week, what a wonderful time to start incorporating the Word into our conversations.  If you need a good example of examining your life to see the hand of the Lord, check out Psalm 118 and then write your own psalm of thanksgiving and share it with your family...

May your holiday be blessed with hearts of gratitude and praise for the goodness of the Lord in your lives!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Memorize?


How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Your Word.
With all my heart I have sought You;
Do not let me wander from Your commandments.
Your word I have treasured in my heart that I might not sin against You.
Psalm 119:9-11


Scripture memory is hard work.  Period.  But show me in life what is of value that takes no effort?  
  • Parenting?  Yeah, right...it might be easy to make a baby but carrying it for nine months and getting it out is not necessarily a piece of cake!  Then you have 18 years of molding and shaping - I don't care how sweet the child is, parenting is a sleep-deprived, battle-of-the-wills, because-I-said-so, God-given responsibility to produce responsible, tax-payers who, Lord-willing, will fear Him. Not easy but the potential for great joy and blessing is commiserate to the amount of effort applied.
  • Singing?  This one is on my mind because of the concert last night.  Some people wake up and sing like a bird - there is still great effort that goes into performing.  Yesterday, it took nearly a hundred volunteers, a bus load of equipment, a well-rehearsed though talented group of musicians, sound techies, and a bus driver, a versatile and patient babysitter, a sketchy night's sleep on a bus full of men and two babies, and schmoozing with a crowd of strangers for Meredith Andrews to use her God-given gift.  Was she a blessing? Yes, but it was with great effort!
  • Soccer? Practice.
  • Cooking? A series of failures leads to success.
  • Marriage?  Really? Do I need to record the effort it takes to have a good marriage?  Come on, friends...
  • Your job?  Effort.
I think you get the point.  Life takes effort but when you put effort into it, you can have a great relationship with your children, you can use your giftedness, you can hone your skills, you can feed your family, love your spouse and keep your job all for God's glory.

Memorizing the Word has great value - you can carry it with you all day long when it's in your heart.  When you're struggling, the Word can comfort you and give you something to put your mind on, rather than on your struggles.  It reveals the character of God and it gives you direction for life.  The Spirit uses His Word to encourage and guide, strengthen and convict.  But if you don't know the Word, if you don't put the effort into studying and memorizing, its power in your life is dramatically minimized.

Our passage today comes from Psalm 119, where every verse tells of the benefits of the Word of God.  In these few verses we see that the Word of God is a protection in our lives - helps us keep our ways pure and keeps us from sin.  Hiding the Word in our hearts, or memorizing scripture, takes effort but the rewards are great.

May I challenge you today to not only memorize the above passage, but go and read the whole chapter of Psalm 119.  Yes, it's the longest chapter in the Bible and it might actually take you 10 minutes to read, but you can do it!  If you do, you will have a greater appreciation for the Word and its value in every day life.

Question for the day:  Do you love the Word because of its transforming power or are you not sure what I am talking about?  

Now go and read Psalm 119.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Study Skills


Be diligent to present yourself approved to God 
as a workman who does not need to be ashamed,
accurately handling the Word of truth.

II Timothy 2:15


I have a friend who is my father's age.  He was one of my father's best friends and when we moved to Michigan from Chicago twenty years ago, he and his wife moved up here as well.  When my father died, I have often thought that he suffered more than my mom or myself, because we all had each other but he lost his best friend.  Dad's been gone for 14 years and this friend of my father's has stepped in at various times in life and been a grandfather to my children and even fatherly to me.

As much as I love him, we don't see eye to eye on everything.  Studying God's Word is one of our contentions.  He is a hunter/fisherman/outdoorsman and in comparison, he thinks I am an academic.  Many times he would stop over to help tutor the children after school to find me with my Bible and notebook open, madly taking notes and studying. When I asked him why he never studied his Bible, he said that God created us all differently - some experience God through nature (hunting, fishing, etc.) while others he gave an academic mind (me and my father).  Those people tend to enjoy God through studying.

That all sounds good and well if II Timothy 2:15 hadn't been written.

(Go ahead...read the verse again.)

You see, studying the Word of God is not just for academically-minded people.  We are instructed to be diligent (persistent, consistent, faithful) in our study (handling of the Word of truth) because this allows us to prove who we work for and it helps us not be ashamed.  Interesting choice of words, don't you think?  

To accurately handle the Word of truth, you need to start by actually handling the Word of truth.  We have been given a precious love letter from God and instead of leaving it unopened on our desk, we are to read it with passion and with purpose.  I know that some parts of scripture are hard, but we have been given the Holy Spirit to help us understand and we shouldn't cower in fear.  God wants us to know Him, to grow in Him, to have confidence in Him and to imitate Him - this all requires accurately handing the Word of truth!

As we learn more about God from His Word, we will walk in faith more effectively.  We will be identified with Christ more easily and we will find obedience more readily.  But even more interesting, we will not have to be ashamed.  We won't be embarrassed because we don't know the One we worship.  We can have confidence in Him as we study the Word, because we know that God is who He says He is and He never changes. The world has many questions about God and we can again cower in fear or step up to the plate and answer their questions because we KNOW the Word!

There are so many benefits from personal study and yet so many of us simply do not do it.  May I make a simple suggestion?  It doesn't have to be rocket science.  Like our gal in the picture above, there is no reason to bury yourself under a sea of commentaries.  Just get a notebook, a pen and your Bible for starters.  Pick a gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John).  Read the first story and make some observations in your notebook - observations about God.  Who is God? What does this passage reveal to me about His character?  Who is Jesus? What is Jesus teaching, doing, saying, etc.?  Do I see the Holy Spirit in this passage - what is He doing?  Just look for God and make observations about Him.

You can really start that simply.  If you want to know Him more, start in a book that clearly tells about Him and make some observations.  Remember, this is not a race. You are on a journey with God - ask Him to reveal Himself to you and then work your way slowly through a gospel - and see God show up in a huge way.

Now if you want more depth to your study, I have provided the links to a series on How to Study the Bible in March of 2012.  Check them out and see if they help.  

Bottom line - just get going!  You've got to start somewhere and I PROMISE you, when you get started and it becomes a process/habit for you, you'll struggle giving it up!  It will energize you, it will enhance your prayer life, it will make you a nicer person and it will transform you into the image of Jesus...it takes effort, but it's definitely worth it!

Remember, this is not a suggestion...really.  We are instructed through the Word to be in the Word and to know the Word and be diligent in how we handle the Word.  

Blessings!


Monday, November 4, 2013

A Study in Definitions

All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness; 
so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

II Timothy 3:16-17

Today is going to be a very simple word study.  I'm going to pull words from our verse, define them from dictionary.com and then put the definitions in a working order so that we can simply understand what this verse is declaring. By the way, we are not going back to the Greek, so this is NOT a translation of this verse, just a practical paraphrase with the desire to understand what is written.  

Sound good?

Word list:
  • All - the whole of (100% word)
  • scripture - sacred writings of the Old or New Testament or both together
  • inspired - literally God-breathed - animated by the Spirit to do something - by divine influence
  • profitable - beneficial, useful
  • teaching - doctrines or precepts
  • reproof - to criticize or correct, especially gently (interesting, huh?)
  • correction - something that is substituted for what is wrong or inaccurate
  • training - the process of developing habits, thoughts or behavior by discipline and instruction
  • righteousness - acting in an upright, moral way; virtuous
  • adequate - fully sufficient, suitable or fit
  • equipped - to furnish or provide whatever is needed for use or for any undertaking; prepare
  • good - morally excellent, virtuous, righteous, pious, of high quality, excellent, right, proper, fit
  • work - a task or undertaking
So let's put this all together:

The whole of the Old and New Testaments is literally brought to life by God and is beneficial for understanding doctrine, for gentle criticism,  for addressing what we have wrong or inaccurate in our lives, and for the development of virtuous and moral habits, thoughts and behavior; so that the man of God may be fully sufficient and fit, furnished with whatever is needed for him to accomplish morally excellent, virtuous, excellent, and proper undertakings.

Did that help?  Does this verse make you want to study the scriptures so that you can be fully equipped?  It almost sounds like we naturally are deficient and need the instruction of scripture to head in the right direction, doesn't it?  Hmmm....

If we truly believe the claims of this verse, my friends, we cannot sit idly by and live our lives in a mediocre fashion.  The pursuit of righteousness as imitators of Christ has been made fully possible through the combination of the gift of the complete Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let's not neglect such an awesome calling!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Good Shepherd


My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish;
and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
John 10:27-28


Apparently sheep are not overly smart animals.  

They are constantly hungry and because they are creatures of habit, they will mow down the same trail until the ground is nearly ruined.  They are skittish and frightened, and completely unable to defend themselves - no claws to fight with and though they have teeth, they are not agile enough to attack with them.  They tend to follow the crowd, so if one sheep goes in a wrong direction, the rest will follow.  They also don't lay down willingly - they are constantly scrounging for food and forget to rest.  They are susceptible to pests and disease and unless they get help, they easily get sick from infestations.  

Now, rather than get defensive that Jesus referred to His children as sheep, let's take a look at what a good shepherd looks like and then see what we think.  By the time Christ is born, we know that the shepherds were the outcasts of society - a job mostly held by those who couldn't get work anywhere else, because it wasn't glamorous or easy.  It was said that the lowest of the low were shepherds.  So when God sent the first birth announcement to shepherds, it was a statement that Jesus had come for even the worst of men.  

But just because shepherds were on the low rung of the social ladder at the time of Christ doesn't mean they were always like that - remember, David was a shepherd. And it doesn't mean that their job was unimportant - the job of a shepherd was vital, not only because the sheep provided sustenance and wool for the community, but also because the sheep were used to draw men closer to God through the sacrificial system.  Sheep were immensely valuable.  So don't discount the job of a shepherd - he was guarding something highly valuable.

So here's a quick description of Jesus as the Good Shepherd:
  • He makes the sheep to lie down (Ps. 23:2)
  • He leads them in green pastures and to quiet waters (Ps. 23:2,3)
  • He leads them in a way that they do not fear (Ps. 23:4)
  • He anoints their head with oil to keep the pests away (Ps. 23:5)
  • He protects His sheep (John 10:7-10)
  • He sacrificially lays down His life for His sheep (John 10:11)
  • He takes ownership of the sheep and knows them personally (John 10:14)
  • He is important to the sheep and they know the sound of His voice (John 10:27
  • He gives them life (John 10:27)
  • His sheep will never die (John 10:28)
  • His sheep are completely safe in His care (John 10:28)
Considering the high price paid for the sheep, we can assume that the sheep are valuable to the Lord.  We do not have a neglectful shepherd.  We have a Good Shepherd who loves us, leads us, knows us and protects us.  What do we have to fear as long as we are in His care?

Thoughts to ponder today...




Monday, October 14, 2013

Intolerance vs. Truth


Jesus said to him, 
"I am the way, the truth and the life;
no one comes to the Father but through me."


And with that simple statement, Jesus became the most intolerant person who ever lived.  At least that's what the world wants you to believe.

Christianity is grounded in the truth that God exists, that sin broke our relationship with Him and the only way to restore it is to put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, who paid for our sins on the cross.  Now, if there were multiple gods with multiple demands, then I guess you could pick and choose which ones you wanted to spend eternity with and follow a multitude of ways to reach the various gods.

But there aren't multiple gods. There is One. And in His Word He says there is only one way to reach Him - through His Son.  

Today, believing this is not the problem, as long as you don't force your belief on anyone else.   If you choose to speak out against other religions or have the audacity to condemn other "ways," then you have a problem.  You are labelled intolerant, because if truth is relative you are forcing your truth on others...this is a big problem and it's a lie that Satan is using to keep the lost.

By the way, truth is not relative.

Okay, so let's rein this in a bit.  Here are some basic truths for you to understand:
  • Jesus IS the only way
  • If the world doesn't run after Jesus, they are going to hell - a real place of suffering
  • We have been given truth to steward and our call includes being a light in a dark world
  • As we shine the light, Jesus also warned us that we will be rejected, even persecuted
  • But hiding our light under a bushel is neglecting our call and is also a detriment to a dying world - would you keep the antidote from a victim dying from poison? 
  • And finally - you understand the gospel because God has given you the faith to not only understand it but to believe it - without this gift of faith, no matter how bright your light is, it is going to be misunderstood, ridiculed and rejected - and that's really okay
So, embrace the call to stick out like a green fish in a bowl of goldfish.  Be a light, give the truth, point to Jesus and live your life in a way that attracts the searching.  It is a loving thing to be a truth speaker and this truth stands above all:  Jesus is the ONLY way to the Father.  It's an intolerant message - intolerant of any other method or religion, but a necessary message nonetheless.



Monday, October 7, 2013

3:16


For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Undoubtedly the most famous verse ever.

I almost feel ridiculous blogging on it because in 500 words what could I possibly expound that would do this truth justice?  But, since I am committed to marinating on our verse pack, I will faithfully continue on...

What do you think of the Monopoly Game card above? I googled "John 3:16" and this is one of the images that came up.  Let me start by saying I went to the website on the card and I don't think that address has anything to do with this card, so don't bother going there. This card is supposed to be kind of a tract of sorts - a way to catch someone's attention.  And yes, the claim is true but it doesn't come near to representing the truths in John 3:16.

Let me list a few of the deep truths in this verse:
  • It starts with God - If we had written it, we would most likely say something like this:  For when man was completely dead in his sin and helpless, God loved and gave.  We like to start with the focus on us, but this verse doesn't do that - the one to focus on is God
  • God loved - He not only loved but He "so" loved - He loved so much.  It is a deep, eternal bond that flowed from the Creator to the created.  We struggle to love in this way.  We tend to love conditionally - romantic love starts out very sacrificial (we're willing to give up our time, our hobbies, our phone minutes to be with the one we love), but quickly becomes difficult to give when our rights are overlooked or we feel neglected or our attentions get diverted to children or others.  When God loves, it's forever
  • God loved so He gave - His love caused an action. What actions come from your love?  Compare the action toward your husband and to your children, or your parents and your friends. Which relationships in your life cause sacrificial actions and which cause hoarding actions?  Does your love cause you to give of yourself or take?
  • God loved so much that He gave His Son - the closest, most intimate relationship He had - He willingly gave His Son because of His love for us.  For us parents, this is hard to wrap our minds around - I think we would give our lives for our children but to give our child for someone else?  It's mind blowing.  Of course, we know that Jesus, as Creator, willingly laid down His life for His children, so there are more aspects to this story, but in this verse, remember the focus is on the Father
  • Belief in Jesus removes eternal death and brings eternal life - the love of the Father in giving the Son causes the opportunity for saving belief.  Just read that line again because it is rich in theology
I think we often focus on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in salvation without taking the Father's role in account.  This week, as we review this verse (because most of us will already have it memorized), rest in the deep truths of the actions of the Father.  Turn your heart to Him in thanksgiving for the sacrifice He made on our behalf.  I get the fact that the Father and the Son are One, but this verse tells us that the Father loved so much that He gave His Son - Jesus did not suffer alone in our salvation story.  We see God as the source of wrath but let us not miss the fact that He suffered in giving His Son, as well.  It was a sacrificial love that sent His Son and there is always suffering in sacrifice.

Just think about it for a while - don't let this truth escape you and may it turn your heart to the Father in gratitude for such a great price that was given and paid for your salvation.

Monday, September 30, 2013

An Honest Wage


For the wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life
in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23


How much do you make?  

Kind of an intrusive question, don't you think?  But it is a question that drives the American dream.  We find our worth in our compensation - if we are entrepreneurial, we work hard at whatever we do (whether blue or white collar) to increase our value and bottom dollar.  Our worth is tied to our success which is tied to our wages.  If we are valuable to a company, they pay us well - they give us salary increases and bonuses.  If we are paid on commission, then our wage is determined by our hard work and success in driving sales.  If we want to improve our income, we get more education which takes us to a higher level of competency which earns a greater wage.  

We want the wage that we earn to be consistent with the value we offer.  If we aren't paid enough it affects not only our ability to live to the level we believe we deserve but we also won't last long at a job.  Is it possible that our value is intrinsically connected to our wage?

Now, there are exceptions to this rule and I am presenting a very worldly mindset, but then again - I did say this was the foundation of the American dream.  Here's my point - our wage is important to us.  So let's flip this on it's head and take a quick look at our spiritual wage.

Two weeks ago we discussed the fact that there is no one who is righteous and last week we saw that all of us are sinners and fall short of God's glory.  Our verse today tells us that our sin has earned a wage and that wage is death.  But here's the problem - there is no pay scale when it comes to sin.  

If there were a pay scale, then "death" could be somewhat negotiable.  For example, when you look at your life and the choices you have made, undoubtedly you can see sinful and selfish times that have earned the label "sinner."  But when you look at others', your level of sin is no where near theirs - you're not a drunk, you don't do drugs, you have only slept with a few people outside of marriage, you rarely overspend and your language is pretty clean in general.   You think of eternal punishment and assume that you would probably end up in the first or second circle of hell (see Dante for more understanding), rather than one of the lower levels that's hotter and more severe.  

And then there's the person who lived the wild life, slept around, had bad language and was at one time a habitual liar but now has cleaned up their act.  Maybe this is you.  So you start to play the scale game.  All your sin gets put on one side of the scale and now your good works are put on the other side - going to church, praying, clean language, hard work, upstanding living - given enough time, you can tilt the scales in your direction which makes the wage for your sin seem to diminish.

(Insert annoying buzzer sound here)

All of this is stinking thinking.   We start with the wrong comparison.  When we stand in judgment before God, He doesn't compare us to other sinners and He doesn't compare where you came from and where you ended up.  

He compares you to His Son - perfect, holy, righteous, pure and good.

So how do you compare?  

Yeah, me, too.

This is why the wages of sin is death - not levels of death, not easier death than other deaths but just plain death.  In the light of a holy God, our sin earns complete and utter separation from His presence.  This is the bad news - so stop comparing yourself to others or your previous life and look at Jesus.  Then and only then will your perspective be in the right place.

This is the bad news.

But there is good news - the FREE GIFT of God is eternal LIFE in CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD!  The choice of words in this phrase is downright hope and life-giving!  First of all - it's a FREE gift.  We don't earn this one - we've already earned a wage that has determined our destiny.  This is a costly gift that is free to you - eternal life, life forever - through the blood of Jesus Christ.  He was paid the wage you earned - He took on your death so that you could have life.  

Jesus in my place.

Friends, let's be realistic today on what we deserve and what we've been given.  God's mercy and grace are on display in the life of the believer who lays down their pride and looks at themselves properly.  When we understand that we bring nothing to the table, only then can we truly appreciate what has been given to us.  

Decide today to life a life of gratitude for the free gift of eternal life provided to you by Jesus Christ our Lord.




Monday, September 23, 2013

A Great Understatement


For all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 3:23


God, in His infinite wisdom, understated this truth.

There is a broad chasm between God and man - falling short is true but doesn't bring to mind the Grand Canyon that separates God from man.  But I think that God did this on purpose because of our pride.  If God had said this: "For all have sinned and are completely spiritually bankrupt, destitute, disgustingly vile in any attempt to do anything worth the notice of a Holy God, and just basically worthless," - yeah, how many flies would that attract?

But in His goodness, He tells us that we fall short.  Even the most self-righteous among us have to admit they are not equal to God.  And seeing that we miss the mark is the first step in repentance.

Don't get me wrong - there is plenty of scripture that when put together gives us a much clearer picture of our condition:
  • There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, not even one...(Romans 3:9-12)
  • You were dead in your trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1)
  • All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment...(Isaiah 64:6)
  • The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked...(Jeremiah 17:9)
As we grow in Christ, as we spend time with Him and see Him for Who He truly is, the Spirit brings us along in our understanding of just how great the chasm actually is...or I should say, was.  Though I know I deal with sin so much better than I did before, my understanding of the effects of sin in life and the high price paid for my sin has grown exponentially. 

But the starting block for a relationship with God begins with a simple understanding that sin separates us from a holy God.  As He kindly puts it, we fall short.

Religion in general is meant to bridge that gap.  Religion sets up a system by which you can appease the wrath of an angry god.  Some religions tap into the spiritual or mystical qualities of a higher power while others simply promote righteous living and penance (personal payment) as the way to reach God.  But if the truth is that we fall short, then the efforts we make by definition cannot be enough.

That's what sets Christianity apart from religion.  Religion says, Here's a system by which you can find God.  Christianity says, Here's a God who's already done it all for you.  And unfortunately, because of our pride, we like religion better than God's way because it makes us feel less helpless.  But religion - all religion - falls short.

Way short.

Religion focuses on what man does and Christianity focus on what God does.  Religion makes man the star of the show, while Christianity makes Jesus the star of the show.  Which one appeals to you?  We all like the thought of saving ourselves, but what does God say?  All our attempts fall short.

Fall short - there it is again.

So why try to live righteously then, Kristen?  Well, hang with me and the good news is right around the corner.  We are going to continue to unpack the truths of some core verses over the next few weeks and months which will bring you to the answer of that very question...


Monday, September 16, 2013

Start with the Right Assumptions





As it is written, There is none righteous, not even one;
there is none who understands,
there is none who seeks for God.
Romans 3:10-11


We are image bearers of God.  

As image bearers we were inherently righteous in our creation.  Our minds were crisp and clear.  Our ability to comprehend and grow was not inhibited by physical or mental impairments.  We not only understood our calling in life but we had an uninterrupted connection with God.  Seeking Him was not because He wasn't present - to seek Him meant to learn from Him.  He was everywhere, He was ever-present, He was personally relatable and He was completely understandable even though He was God. 

But sin changed everything.  

Our righteousness disintegrated and what was once a desire to learn so that we could imitate was replaced with ignorance, selfishness and rejection.  Sin brought not only physical and spiritual death, but also mental death as well.  As Paul quotes from the Psalmist in his letter to the Romans, because of sin there is none righteous - not even one!  No one understands or seeks after God.  His point in the letter is that the Jews are not exempt from this description - Jew and Gentile alike are dead in their sinful state.

Now, some of you are already squirming in your seats because you can clearly remember your search for God.  If you searched for God, does this fact negate scripture?  Or do we need to investigate a bit further?  

One of the reasons murder mysteries are so popular is the human mind is predisposed to learning.  Because we were created to know God and to be taught by Him, that desire to learn and grow hasn't disappeared because of sin, but the directions in which we search have become horizontal rather than vertical.  I love CSI shows - I love watching the cases develop through the gathering of clues and I am especially happy when I figure out the criminal before the show reveals it.  Whether through visual media or written text, we are constantly seeking, growing and learning...just not naturally towards God.

Romans 1 tells us:
  • Creation reveals the existence of God but in our sin we deny Him
  • We choose not to honor Him or thank Him, but rather declare our foolishness as wisdom
  • We choose to worship the creation rather than the Creator
  • Our understanding is darkened by sin and rejection which leads to futility, unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, arrogance, etc.
  • When confronted with truth we reject it and bring judgment upon ourselves
Now we see the cancer that sin is - it has replaced the perfect relationship we had with God - it has not only replaced the relationship but has affected our mind and our ability to seek and understand.  

So back to your question about seeking after God - how was it you beat the odds and "found" God in your search for truth?  Well, let's compare scripture with scripture and see how God answers that question:
  • "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws (drags) him..."  John 6:44
  • "For this reason I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father..." John 6:65
  • "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven..." John 3:17
  • "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those that believe on His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God..."  John 1:12,13
  • "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give it to you..."  John 15:16
Summary:  God granted you the ability to come to Him.  He dragged you to Himself, choosing you because He willed it.  We have to understand that our search for God began with God and His work in our lives.  Being dead in our sin, He made us alive together in Christ (Eph. 2:5).  It's His work, it's His will and as much as we want to take credit for having master investigating abilities, it's not about us and all about Him.

The truth of the verse above is something that as we grow in Christ becomes clearer and clearer.  We cannot understand without God's intervention, we do not seek without His dragging and we cannot be righteous without His Son.

To God be the glory.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Straight Paths


Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5,6

Has the Lord ever asked you to do something outrageous? 

Like get out of the boat and walk on water? Or feed thousands of people with a loaf of bread?  Or take a threatening message of destruction to a powerful world leader?  Or leave your family, friends and everything you know to go to a distant land?  Or give the gospel to a man who has hunted you down because of your love for Jesus?

Okay, so let's make this a bit more personal.  Has He ever asked you to deny yourself?  Or to submit to your husband?  Or to return a blessing for evil?  Or to pray for your enemies?  Or to forgive when the wound is still fresh? Or to spend time with Him daily when life is so busy you hardly have time to spend with yourself?

I have some sweet words for you today, ones that will soothe your soul.  So stop, take a deep breath, release and read the verse above.  It's okay if you've already read it, read it again.

We live in a world that bombards us with messages contrary to Proverbs 3:5, 6.  It tells you that your own understanding is all you need to survive:  Trust your instincts.  Follow your gut.  What's your heart telling you? But God in His Word explains to us that our understanding has been darkened by sin and our natural instincts are for death, not life.

Dave and I just came back from a vacation in Italy.  If I am anything, I am consistent and here's something you might not know about me - I am directionally challenged.  I consistently head the wrong direction when left to my own senses.  If you tell me to go north, I'll head south - no doubt, unless I have some kind of directions in front of me.  We would be walking in Rome and Dave would say, "Let's go back to the Spanish Steps." I'd turn left as he turned right.  His sense of direction is almost a spiritual gift - seriously, it's supernatural how he can find things.  He gets a sense for direction and just goes.  Me...not so much.

As we were sitting in Detroit waiting for our last flight home, we were at our gate and it was probably 90 minutes before one of the attendants would come and man the counter, and because we had just arrived from Rome, we still needed to get seat assignments.  Instead of waiting until right before the flight, I announced to Dave I would go find a Delta information counter and get our boarding passes.  So I got up, turned left and walked all the way to the end of the terminal - no counter.  I came back and told Dave we were out of luck and would have to wait.  He shook his head, got up, turned right and was back with the passes in about 5 minutes.  At one point he started to ask me, "Why did you go that wa..." and stopped. He knows by now there's no explanation for my sense of direction.

So guess what?  I have GPS in my car.  I have this little button I can push to show me North, South, East or West.  And I have a husband who navigates a majority of the time.

Now, you might laugh at me but here's the connection - our sin nature makes our ability to understand life and make decisions about as successful as me finding the Delta counter. There were times that Dave would say, "Turn here" and it made no sense to me at all, but then all of a sudden we were at the Spanish Steps!  It's a lame picture, but that's the best I have this morning.  

We are called to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and follow Him.  Acknowledge Him - recognize that He has instructions for us and then act on them.  We are told not to trust ourselves and our own understanding - even just believing that statement can be hard!  But He loves us and knows what is best for us - He knows the best path to walk on and if you set your eyes on your Lord and Savior, your life will be much different than one where you follow your gut.  

And by the way, you cannot trust the Lord or acknowledge Him without being in His Word.  Don't sit in your chair, waiting to hear the still, small voice - let the Word of God permeate through your life by immersing yourself in and marinating in His book to you.  Too often I have had women say the Lord told them something that is completely contrary to the Word - what is going on? We do not need to be lazy here - get in the Word and get going! (Okay, done with the Momma Wisen rant...)

So when God says to deny yourself, don't lean on your own understanding or what the world has ingrained in you - acknowledge that His way is the straight way and choose to obey.  When He tells you to submit or pray or bless or forgive, choose to obey.  Give your ways to the Lord and see where it takes you.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Invitation


As I sit at my kitchen table, the third wave of storms have passed through and there is a calm outside, as if nature is anticipating number four.  It's been quite a week with the heat and this rain is bringing relief - not just to the thirsty ground but also to the high schoolers at Camp Harvest, as well as thousands of other campers and vacationers in western Michigan.

And fall is on my mind.  Not just fall, as in cooler weather and changing leaves, but also THE fall, as in, "Welcome, sin and rebellion - you can call our hearts "home" for the time being."  Yes, I know it's strange - rain, heat, summer, fall and THE fall, but it is a true glimpse into the mind of Kristen.

This summer we've been studying THE fall and the consequences of sin on woman's mindset.  Last night in our study one of the speakers went off on birth control and though I wasn't at study (I'm on babysitting duty as my children are counselors at high school camp), I have been waiting for the complaints and concerns to flood my mailbox.  I don't think the women were condemning the use of birth control, although I know several of them would if we gave them the chance. I think the rant was more to inform us that the concept of birth control was birthed out of the feminism movement that said, "I'm going to have sex whenever I want it and no one's going to tell me how many children to have.  My body, my choice."

I found the history interesting and it made me again think about THE fall.  I have this theory - every day we get further from THE fall, we get more corrupt and more wicked.  Think about it just in your lifetime. Think about the television shows you watched as a child and what your children are now exposed to - it's getting worse and worse.  It's not that sin has a worse consequence, but rather it's just that we are getting more and more wicked in our sin.  And that's probably the real reason why every is so angry all the time - will it get better before Jesus returns?  Nope.

Which brings me to this post.  We are going to be studying Genesis at ladies study this fall.  For several of you, you've already heard me teach this, possibly multiple times.  Sorry about that.  Being at a new church in a new area, I really feel it's time to get back to the basics and teach the beginning of things.  Just as this summer's study has poured over just a few chapters and been a real eye opener, the study of Genesis as a whole is life changing.

When I was younger, I loved Genesis because I loved the stories and the history, but the sinful, bad choices of most of the main characters really bothered me.  It was like, Come on, is this the best guy you could find for the job?

Now, with some age and experience under my belt, I see Genesis much differently.  I love it because it reveals the heart of God to redeem sinful man.  Our self-centered, self-protective, self-promoting selfishness only produces pain, hurt, guilt, shame and death.  God produces righteousness in all that He does and believe it or not, He chooses to accomplish His purposes through broken, sinful man.  Genesis starts with perfection and then quickly crashes into what is our reality. But God's involvement throughout the whole book gives hope to the hopeless and life to dead men walking.

So, ladies, consider yourself invited.  We'll be studying on Monday evenings and Tuesday mornings alike, starting September 9 and 10.  Sign up at church so we can get a good count to order workbooks and then get yourself ready to drink from a fire hose.  Genesis is so rich and full of truth, you'll need to make extra space in your head just to hold it all.

I

can't.

wait.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Evidence of Salvation


I noticed the other day while running errands that in general people are pretty angry.

If you don't agree with me, do your own observation.  But my experience was that faces are angrier than usual. Brows are furrowed, tempers are short - even people driving alone in their cars look ticked off most of the time.  The other day Dave and I were driving home and were on an open stretch of farmland.  We came up behind a car and the man stuck his hand out to wave us past him.  Then I realized he wasn't just being friendly but was rather agitated at us.  What had we done?  Apparently, he was having a bad day.

So if someone observed you, what would they see?  Anger? Impatience? Depression? Frustration? Anxiety or worry?  Or would they see joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness?  Would they see self-control and faithfulness?  I think you see where I am going.  Believers typically should display the fruits of the Spirit.

I was listening to a sermon in the car, again while running errands, and Chuck Swindoll said that if you wanted to truly know if your were saved or not, the evidence of true salvation was a "burning passion for obedience."  Yes, we are called to bear fruit but the true evidence is a God-given, Holy Spirit driven, passion for obedience to the Lord.  He said that when you wake up in the morning, your first question would be (if you were a true follower), "How can I obey God today?"  When faced with a choice of obedience or disobedience, there's not even a discussion.

He also greatly emphasized that this passion was evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.

So, does that phrase describe you?  Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness like Jesus talked about in the beatitudes?  Does pleasing God and living for His glory drive your day?

I will admit, it made me pause and think and I think it should make all of us pause and think.  I work with enough struggling people within the context of counseling at church, that I see that passion and I also see the absence of it.  When faced with that "choice," what does the discussion in your head look like?

Okay - a short blog but hopefully one that makes you think.  Oh - one other note:  let's say you don't have that driving passion for obedience?  What should you do?  Get on your knees and ask God for it.  Confess your sin, declare Him Lord, beg for His Spirit to rule your heart and then live like it.

And then be sure to come to church on Sunday as Dave begins to explain the practicalities of change and obedience from Ephesians 4...(shameless plug)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Love Never Fails (Love- Part 16 - really, it's over now)


"Love never fails:"
I Corinthians 13:8

A young man finally finished his graduate education and was ready to hit the architectural world running. Ever since he was a child, he was a builder.  He loved Legos and K'nex, and found mathematical concepts easy throughout his schooling.  He loved to study structures but especially unfinished ones - he would wander around the city looking for construction sites to stare at.  He found an entry level position at a well-knows architectural firm and began working his way up the corporate ladder until he finally became a senior designer.

So when he was given his first project to design and oversee, he was thrilled to find out it was a suspension bridge - his specialty! The city was looking to update a worn out bridge over a river that ran through the center of town with a modern, wired suspension bridge. And he loved every minute of it - from the design to the bidding to the construction - it was a dream come true.  He was leaving his mark on the city - he would drive his children to the bridge one day and tell them, Daddy built this!  

As the project was coming to an end, concerns arose over the safety of the structure.  It was, after all, a suspension bridge, and the city officials were uneasy that they had made the right decision.  After all, the designer had never overseen a project, start to finish and the bridge would be used by thousands every day.  The architect was contacted and the stability was questioned.

But the architect wasn't worried. He had done the math, he knew what load the bridge could hold, he knew it was stronger than it needed to be and that even in strong winds, the bridge was sound.  Simply stated, it would not fail.  

So the day before the bridge was to officially open, he brought the city officials out to the site.  He ordered 15 semi-trailors, loaded with concrete block and had them waiting to cross the bridge.  He was going to put the suspension to test, but the test wasn't for his benefit - it was for the benefit of the city officials.  One by one the trucks started crossing the bridge, until at one point, the entire bridge was filled with semi-trucks, and guess what?  Just as the architect had known, the bridge easily held the weight and the fears of the city officials were put to rest.  They officially declared the bridge to be safe and opened it to the public.

Long story, short explanation - at the end of the recipe for love, a three word declaration is made:  Love never fails.  The construction of the recipe for love, if followed correctly, is as reliable and dependable as the construction of a suspension bridge that is mathematically sound.  The bridge cannot and will not fail because it is designed with strength.  In the same manner, the love that God has described in I Corinthians 13 is designed to be fail-proof.

Worldly love and godly love are two very different things.  The recipe for worldly love is something like this:  take some warm fuzzies and add emotions, candle light and soft music, a field of flowers to run through and a bit of danger, plus it would help if there was hair to blow in the wind, but it's not required.  Mix together and eat immediately because it gets old quickly and you have to throw the pot away when you're done and get a new pot to mix your love in to get the same effect again.

Godly love looks like this:  a CHOICE to be patient, kind, humble, patient, selfless, self-controlled, holy, protective, trusting, hopeful and faithful.  If any one of these ingredients weakens, the other ones step up and fill in the gaps so that love has no choice but to succeed - it never fails.

I think you get the picture.  

Love is not a feeling but a choice and given the immense example Jesus Christ has laid before us, plus the sacrificial love of the Father to give us His Son, plus the power of the Holy Spirit given to us to enable us to love like Christ, how can love fail?  

Your reduction sauce is ready - it's time to serve it up. There's plenty of it and you are instructed to be liberal in serving this tasty delight.  It should flow from of your words, your facial expressions, your actions, your thoughts, your emotions and your intentions.  It's a high calling but you have an infinite resource to draw from, so get going - make the choice to love your neighbor, family, enemies and friends in the same way Christ has loved you.

And then see what happens...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ingredient #13 - Faithfulness (Love - Part 15)



"...endures all things..."
I Corinthians 13:7

If I was writing the recipe for love, I would probably throw in as my last ingredient, "endures most things."  I mean, come on, can love really endure all things?  What about unfaithfulness - not just in marriage but friendship has its share of unfaithfulness, doesn't it?  What about sorrow? What about cheating and lying? Stealing?  What about...well, let's go back to lying.  Lying stinks and in a relationship, lying can be the final nail in the relational coffin, so to speak.  Does love have to endure lying?  Does love have to endure distance?  Cold weather?  Being let down?  Moving?  Gossip?  Habitual sin?  Come on, love has to have an end to its rope, doesn't it?

Not according to God.

True, sacrificial, You-Before-Me love endures ALL things.  It loves through good times and bad, it forgives easily and restores quickly.  It doesn't demand its pound of flesh to get even - it endures anything life and relationships throw at it.  It is completely and utterly...faithful.

Love doesn't falter, it doesn't waver, it doesn't trip.  

It doesn't thin out, it doesn't have runs in it and it doesn't tremble. 

 Love stands firm, continues to flow, and provides stability when the ground is shaking.

Love endures all things. 

All.

This has to be true or else the gospel will fail.  If our example is Jesus Christ, then we have to confidently believe that love can and will endure all things.  There is nothing outside the bounds of God's love for us and we know this is true when we look at the cross. I guess I need to clarify - there is only one thing outside the bounds of God's love and that is rejecting His love.  But His love freely flows to us because He paid the full cost of it 2000 years ago.  

If love does not endure all things, then we could lose the gift of salvation. Something might happen and Jesus would finally say, "I am finished! I can't take it anymore!  It's just not worth it!"  But instead, Jesus said, "It IS finished," and at that point, love endured everything that it possibly could endure.  Jesus isn't suffering anymore.  He paid it once and for all (Hebrews 7:26,27).

Within faithful love, we see patience, kindness, trust, humility, unselfishness, protection, holiness, self-control and hope.  All these ingredients bond together in our reduction sauce because of the enduring faithfulness of love - it's always there and it can withstand anything.

As for us, though we are limited, we are still called to endure all things with a love that surpasses understanding.  The world should look at us and think we're crazy.  Without Christ, this love is not only impossible but incomprehensible.  But we can only love this way with our eyes on Jesus.  If we turn them to the world, we will quickly have a faithless love - a love that depends on the other's actions and not on our ability to choose to love.  If you wonder why your love falters, get an eye exam and find out where your focus is spending time.

As love bears, believes and hopes all things, when others let us down, then love endures all things.  We do this constantly to God and guess what?  His love continues on.  

Stop for a moment and go grab a spoon.  You need to taste your sauce...it's hot and bubbly, and has reduced to a thick gravy (sorry, Fred) that will change the lives of those you choose to feed it to...do you have that spoon yet?