Monday, October 31, 2016

How Big is Your God?

"In whirlwind and storm is His way, 
and clouds are the dust beneath His feet..."
Nahum 1:3b

My God is pretty big.  In general, "big" is not even close to describing my God.  You know how when you walk, sometimes dust gets kicked up by your feet?  Yeah, that's what the clouds are in comparison to my God.  He's super big.

The book of Nahum is a short and to-the-point kind of prophecy. Not much is known about the actual man, Nahum, but his message was not only clearly laid out in four simple chapters, but it's already fulfilled in the destruction of Nineveh in 612 bc.  Just 150 years after Nineveh repented before the Lord when an acid-washed Jonah unwillingly declared God's pending judgment, we find the little gem.

So why do you like this book, Kristen?  To be honest, (which is really how we all should live our lives), I haven't delved into the depths of the riches of this book, but I did stumble upon it's first chapter and was captivated by its description of God.  So, let's just take a read of it's first 8 verses:

A jealous and avenging God is the Lord;
The Lord is avenging and wrathful.  
The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries,
and He reserves wrath for His enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
and the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
In whirlwind and storm is His way,
and clouds are the dust of His feet.
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
He dries up all the rivers.
Bashan and Carmel wither;
the blossoms of Lebanon wither.
Mountains quake because of Him and the hills dissolve;
indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence,
the world and all the inhabitants in it.
Who can stand before His indignation?
Who can endure the burning of His anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire
and the rocks are broken up by Him.
The Lord is good, 
a stronghold in the day of trouble,
and He knows those who take refuge in Him.
But with an overflowing flood
He will make a complete end of its site, 
and will pursue His enemies into darkness.

What a description of our God!  It would be a mistake to think that only the words in blue are for the believer.  Yes, I love the words in blue, but the full description is needed to understand the beauty of the blue words.  God is jealous, avenging, slow to anger in the context of waiting to bring judgment, powerful, in control, and no one can stand before Him.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that He is good and He is protection for those who take refuge in Him.

That refuge that we take in Him is pretty important.  Often we look to different saviors, ones that aren't big at all and have no power - who can't stand before God.  In the midst of the storm, even when God is destroying a nation because of their wickedness, God, in His grace, still promises to care for His faithful.  Kind of like that message, don't we?

So here's the question for today:  Not now big is your God but who are you taking refuge in?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Grace and Holiness

And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either.  
Go. From now on sin no more."

John 8:11

The story is familiar.  A woman, caught in adultery is brought before Jesus.  The pharisees ask Him what they should do with her, thinking they have trapped Him.  If He instructs them to stone her, He will be arrested by the Romans for usurping their law, but if He instructs them to release her, He will be violating the Law of  Moses.  Jesus' response is, of course, brilliant, as He states, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."  One by one the quieted pharisees walk away and the only One who was truly sinless extends forgiveness to the woman. And then He tells her to "sin no more."

How exactly was she supposed to do this?  She wasn't suddenly perfect because of an encounter with Jesus, was she?  Was Jesus implying by His command that she had a choice of how she lived her life?

It is in this one command of Jesus that we see grace and holiness meet.  Grace and holiness are strange partners.  Holiness demands justice, which in this woman's case meant stoning.  But grace displays the gospel, giving her life back to her.  So does grace nullify holiness? How in the world do those two get along because grace wins every time, doesn't it?

I think many of us live our lives believing that the grace of God, given to us through Jesus and His sacrifice, has nullified the holiness of God.  Grace has turned a Master/Slave relationship into a Father/Child one, which is more casual, more accepting, more forgiving.  Here's how we rationalize it:  God is holy and we cannot meet His standards.  Therefore Jesus stepped into our place, took on our sin and paid the price.  We are helpless because of sin, but since God loves us and chooses to shower us with grace upon grace, He no longer expects us to live up to His standards.  He knows that in heaven we will be free of our sin nature but until then, He's willing to extend grace to us to get us to eternity. After all, His grace is greater than all our sin, right?

Paul asked and answered it this way in Romans 6:  "Are we to continue in sin so that grace should increase?  May it never be!"  A casual attitude toward sin comes from a misunderstanding of grace and holiness. It comes from an entitled mindset that says, sin is no longer that big of a deal to God because I'm covered by Jesus.  Wrong.

Let's jump back to the scene of Jesus and the woman.  He tells her that He will not condemn her and then He says, "Go. From now on sin no more."  Her actions that brought her to that point were sinful. He was instructing her to walk away from her sin.  To choose righteousness.  To not identify herself by the sin of her past, to not embrace the brokenness of her sinful choices, but to walk in the newness of life which is basically choosing God's way over her way.  Holiness.

In Leviticus, over and over God instructs His people to be holy, because He is holy. He wants us to set our eyes on Him, to imitate Him, to walk in His footsteps and to abandon our sin.  How can we possibly do that, you ask.  We can walk in holiness because of God's grace.  

We are able to walk in holiness because of the payment Jesus made before the Holy God of the universe.  The truth of the gospel is life transforming because it empowers us to choose righteousness and holiness over sin...and God expects us to make this choice.  Not only has He cleared your account, but He has given you His Word to instruct you through life and His Spirit to help you understand.  You should not remain, crawling through life as a caterpillar, but rather He is transforming you into something way more beautiful.  

God's holiness brings us to our knees for salvation.  But His grace does not nullify His holiness - it is His holiness that transforms us.  Let us not forget the holiness of our God when we approach the throne of grace.  Let us choose to present ourselves holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service. Let us choose to go and sin no more because living within that instruction is the fastest way to see true transformation in our lives.  And let us commit to remember God in His holiness on a daily basis, as a constant reminder of the grace that has been showered upon us and the call to a better life. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Strange Things That We Do

For the word of the cross is foolishness 
to those who are perishing, 
but to us who are being saved, 
is is the power of God.

I Corinthians 1:18

One of the things that the world can't understand is the church's obsession for the cross and with good reason.  There's nothing glamorous about a cross.  As a matter of fact, the words "horrific, torture, humiliation and cursed" are better descriptors.  I never understood why Madonna (the singer, not the...well, you know...) always wanted to wear crosses, since she was not a Christian and her religion of choice was an offshoot of Judaism, which rejects Jesus as the Messiah. Why is wearing a cross fashionable for her? Why is it fashionable for anyone outside of Christianity?  It's not a symbol of beauty or honor, but rather, to the world it is a symbol of humiliation and punishment.

Paul tells us in I Corinthians, for those who are dying, the cross is foolishness.  For believers, however, the cross is the power of God.  The depth of the riches of the truth of the cross are impossible to understand without the Holy Spirit. The world doesn't stand a chance in trying to figure it out on their own, and yet they will still wear them around their necks, tattoo them on their bodies, dangle them from their ears and make dresses out of them.

But the church...we love the cross.  We get the cross.  We understand our need for the cross.  And we are so thankful for the cross.  

Last winter, we were planning out the Good Friday and Easter services, including talking about staging. We had an apple theme, drawing a connect to the death that came from the disobedience in the garden, to the new life we have in Christ through the cross, so we put this huge cross in the center of the stage and filled it, first with apple cores from the walk-thru, and then with fresh, whole green apples.  Do you remember?  

On the morning of Good Friday, I called our worship pastor and threw out a suggestion.  We have this white sash that hangs on the cross on Easter, but this past year, we didn't take it down, so it had hung there for a year.  I had an idea to enhance the cross for Easter morning.  So we took down the sash, and after the Good Friday walk-thru was finished, we decorated the cross.  When I say "we", I mean Pastor Chris and the ladder.  

As I stepped back to see the finished product, it struck me how Christians do the strangest things.  Wrapping vines and flowers on a 14 foot cross, a symbol of suffering and death, risking life and limb, doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  But then Easter morning came and the gasps that were heard when the body of Christ entered the sanctuary were actually audible.  And trust me, at that moment, it made sense.  

I know the things we do as believers are foolishness to the world and I'm okay with that. Every time I get a strange look because of what I am saying or what I am reading or humming or giving or wearing or choosing to do with my life, it is a reminder that I am an alien in this world, that my home is with the Lord.  I am also so thankful for the church, not the building but the people. It makes being strange not so lonely.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Treasure Hunt

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 12:34

Jesus said this.  

He also said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it."  That pearl stole his heart and he gave up everything for it.

Often we think that our heart is our emotions - our hearts are moved and we act in compassion.  Our hearts are filled with love for our children or grandchildren - we can't imagine life without them.  But do we really want to live by our emotions?  Do our emotions drive our decisions?  This is a dangerous way to live.

In truth, the heart of man is driven by the mind.  We do what we do and feel what we feel because we THINK what we THINK.  When we act in compassion, it is because of a thought process, not a mere emotional response.  We love our family because they occupy our minds.  So when Jesus says that your heart and your treasure are intrinsically linked, we might actually have a treasure box filled with things that surprise us.

Let's try to flesh this out.  Jesus is saying that what we set our minds on is what we treasure.  So if we set our mind on Jesus, it is because He is our treasure.  Like the man who set his mind on that pearl, when we put our focus on Jesus, it is because He has great value.  Within that context, it is possible to set our minds on our families, our work, our homes, our hobbies because we see them as opportunities to serve the Lord, our great treasure.  We can also set our minds on these things, above Jesus, turning our treasures into idols.  It is a line easily and often crossed.  But deep within, when Jesus is our greatest treasure, the object of our constant thoughts, hopes and dreams, then the blessings of family and home, work and fun will fall into it's proper position.

Okay, all that makes sense, but what happens when our minds are not set on blessings and good things?  What happens when we are consumed with sadness, bitterness or hurt?  Is is possible that the struggles of our past which consume our minds actually are...what did Jesus call them...treasures?  Here's the hard truth - yes, they can be your treasures.  And what you are treasuring, is to your destruction, not to your joy.

When we are consumed with our past, overwhelmed with our trials and with the consequences of our choices, when our minds are filled with angry memories that produce bitterness, then we can conclude that that is where you are setting your mind, therefore it is something you treasure.

That sounds terrible, doesn't it?  But how many of us find our identity in our hurt?  The things people have done to us or said about us or the pain of our current circumstance, as well as past, have become obstacles we cannot overcome.  So if your treasure holds your heart, your thoughts, it is possible that you have a pretty rotten treasure box of junk.

So, it's time to clean out that box and fill it with a treasure of great price.  How do we do this?  It's as simple as selling everything you have to buy one pearl.  What???  Okay, how about having a real heart to heart with yourself on what you want most in life.  I chatted with a gal recently and I began to realize that there was a relationship she treasured above all, so I asked her what she wanted more, Jesus or this other person.  She shook her head and sadly said the name of the other person.  Her treasure was something that could not bring her joy or make her whole and until she surrendered that treasure and replaced it with Jesus, One who can truly transform her life and bring eternal joy, she was going to continue to struggle.  

What is on your mind?  What consumes your thoughts?  Today, as you think of where you set your mind, remember that the same location is where your treasure is found.  When you truly surrender your life to Christ, He gets your mind as well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Eternal Perspective

Teach us to number our days, 
that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

Maybe you've had someone you know die recently. Maybe you are overwhelmed with the political mess that is in our face 24/7.  Or maybe you are just restless over life in general.  

There are all sorts of reasons that we number our days, that we sit and think through what life has been and where life is going.  I think it's popular to talk with men about "legacy."  What are you leaving here on earth after you are gone?  How will history remember you, if it remembers you at all?  I am not sure that's a woman's perspective on life.  Instead of terms like "legacy," I think we think of memories.  How will our children and grandchildren remember us?  Will I be remembered for my weaknesses or my strengths?  Is it too late to make changes that they will remember?

Did you notice why God wants to number our days?  It's because we have an appointment in our future, all of us.  Now I am not saying that legacy and memories are bad to focus on, but I do think that shifting our perspective to see things the way God sees them is a healthy shift.  We get so swept up in the drama of this world that we forget that from an eternal perspective, what we leave behind pales in comparison to what lies ahead. 

God gives us time here on earth to develop a heart of wisdom.  Some of us have had longer than others based on several factors - how old we were when we surrendered our lives to the Lord and how long we get to live here on earth.  But length of time isn't as big a factor as value of time. 

You can do the church thing your whole life and not develop a heart of wisdom.  You remember our definition of wisdom - that it comes from experience, knowledge and good judgment.  We all have plenty of experience, but are we applying God's word to our every day lives?  This produces good judgment, when we act on what we know is good, true and right.  

And we do these things so that we have a heart of wisdom to present to the Lord in the future.  If not a heart of wisdom, what else can we offer?  A heart of anxiety?  A heart of pride? A heart of weakness or laziness?  The Lord gives us each new day to know Him more, to act on that knowledge and because a day is coming where we present to the Lord our hearts.

What can we possibly give the One who gave all for us?  The Lord desires a heart of wisdom.  So let's number our days, let's think through where we have been and where we are going, with our eyes set on seeing the Lord as He ushers us into eternity.  

Friday, October 7, 2016


How blessed are those whose way is blameless,  
Who walk in the law of the Lord.
Psalm 119:1

Boundaries are good.  Boundaries are important.  Boundaries are especially good and important when God sets them.  

So why do we constantly test the boundaries?  Why do we push the limits?  Why do we feel restricted by boundaries?  Aren't we free in Christ?

Freedom in Christ is not freedom from boundaries but rather freedom from the bondage of sin.  When your life is completely surrendered to the Lord, you are now free to live within God's good boundaries.  And like any good parent, our Heavenly Father knows that boundaries are for protection, not for limitation.

For example, we live within physical boundaries every day:  speed limits control traffic for the safety of the public, stop lights keep order, crosswalks and sidewalks are safe ways pedestrians can coexist with vehicles, guardrails warn of water and drop-offs, and construction signs protect the ones fixing our roads.  

And that's just traffic boundaries. We set boundaries around our children all the time.  We keep our dogs on a leash.  We live on a budget.  We fill out time cards for work.  We follow recipes.  We brush our teeth.  We pay our taxes and our monthly bills.  We don't mow or landscape across our property line.  We stand in line to pay at the grocery store.  We wait our turn. 

Boundaries, rules are for the protection of the rule keeper.  Living within the boundaries is the safest place to be.  When we don't speed, we don't run the risk of a ticket or losing control of the car around a turn or in a busy traffic jam.  When we live within our means, using a budget, paying bills on time, not amassing credit card debt, we sleep much easier without fear of eviction or collection agency calls.  When we put our children in a carseat, we have confidence that they are safe during the ride, even if there is an accident.

So why do we buck against God's law?  Why do we not consider the instruction or boundaries of the Lord to be the safest place to dwell?  The answer is simple:  it's not in our nature to trust the Lord.  Our sin nature is bent against the Lord and toward our self.  Even after salvation, the struggle to obey is still very real, however, with the leading and conviction of the Holy Spirit, we have the ability to walk by faith.

The longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 119 and do you know what the whole chapter is about?  The joy and value of not only knowing the law of the Lord but living within it - all 176 verses of it!  The psalmist clearly understood that living within the boundaries of the Lord is the safest, most blessed place to be.  

As believers, we need to stop trying to get around God's boundaries.  We need to stop making excuses why the instruction in God's word is fine for most people but in our specific circumstance it doesn't apply.  We need to run to the Lord and be quick to act on His word.  We need to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving, quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, honest, patient and faithful in all we do. We need to work for unjust bosses for God's glory.  We need to submit to unreasonable husbands for God's glory.  We need to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily for God's glory.  

And we can do all these things because we have the ability to set our minds on the things above, to live with an eternal perspective and not put the hope of our joy in the circumstances of life, but rather in the restored relationship of the One who is preparing a home for me in eternity and coming back for me.  (Wow...that's super close to a Pauline run-on sentence!)

This is the role of the church - to point the body of Christ to the loving boundaries that the good, good Father has set around us as being the safest place to live and the place that brings our Savior the most glory.  Are you in a church that does this?  Are you in a small group that encourages you to live within in God's boundaries?  Are you pouring into someone's life who needs to hear this message?  And finally, what boundary are you pushing?  Will you willingly step back or would you rather jump that wall and find out what's on the other side?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Repentance vs. Penance

Whether, then, you eat or drink or WHATEVER YOU DO, 
do all to the glory of God.

I Corinthians 10:31

We often confuse repentance with penance.  

We do it all the time, that's why I chose the word "often."

There are things that we love, that we worship, that we know are idols and sin.  So when we withhold these things from ourselves while inwardly still longing for them, we think we are repenting and that God is happy about it.  We have convinced ourselves that abstaining from that activity is causing suffering that earns God's favor.  But our hearts haven't changed, our desires haven't changed, our thoughts haven't changed.  

Let's look at a few examples.  The woman who is struggling with her weight will look at the choice of an apple and a cupcake as a choice of pleasing God or pleasing her flesh.  So she chooses the apple so that God is happy, though everything in her wants the cupcake.  The man who secretly engages with pornography sees his choice as either pleasing the Lord or pleasing himself, so he walks away from the computer.  The teenager who can't stand the sound of his mother's voice but knows God wants him to obey will choose to live within her boundaries and count down the days till he can leave home.

Are these people this pleasing to God?  Are these people repentant?  Do their choices bring God glory?  Or are they self-inflicting a punishment, are they taking away something they truly desire, in order to make God happy?

True repentance is more than behavior modification.  True repentance flows from the heart.  Penance is more about behavior modification because it is suffering based, which implies personal sacrifice, and trust me, friends, God isn't looking for you to sacrifice and suffer for your sin.  He wants your heart.  He wants you to agree that your sin is hurting you.  He wants you to live within His boundaries because you know He is good and loves you, and that His ways are holy, righteous and true.  He wants true transformation that comes from giving up what you thought would make you happy in exchange for deep, eternal joy.

So the woman who looks at the apple now sees a healthy choice instead of suffering.  The man sees the destruction of his sin, and chooses purity and a clean conscience over the weight of secret lust.  The teenager willingly obeys his mother because he truly believes that she is a protection for him until he can be on his own and that God is working through her to shape and change him.  Ultimately, repentance flows from agreeing with God that our sin is not only an offense to Him but bad for us, as well.  The change that comes through repentance, while it is the best place for us to be, also brings immense glory to God because obedience produces lives that shine in a dark world, lives that point to something much greater, lives that reveal the love of a perfect Savior and Father.

"Repentance, as we know, is basically not moaning and remorse, but turning and change." J.I. Packer