Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In Christ

You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; 
and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, 
serve Him, and cling to Him.
Deuteronomy 13:4

I love a good "In Christ" series, but this is not going to be the typical one.  The typical one looks at who we are in Christ - adopted, beloved, justified, redeemed, enlightened, saved, righteous, holy, chosen, etc.  Instead of looking at what Jesus has done for us in changing our identity, I want to study what is on our side of the table - what is our responsibility.  Now before any of you cry, "Heresy!", I want to assure you that our ability to be in Christ is solely through His actions, however we do have a response to His gift of salvation.  His redemptive work gives us the ability to respond and transform, but we don't simply wake up one morning, look in the mirror and realize we have become perfect.  Nope, we have some work to do and technically, perfection isn't a "this life" reality anyways...

So, what has been your experience? I know many who have been drawn to the church, moved by the worship and teaching, came forward with a prayer of decision and possibly even a baptism, and then went home and said, "Now what?" It's that question that I want to address. Now that I am in Christ, what do I do?

I have been studying the book of Exodus for our women's group this fall and that study has taken me into the Law.  Oh. My. Goodness!  The Law is WONDERFUL!  Yes, I said wonderful.  As I have studied the Law, I have seen the heart of God for broken man more clearly than ever before.  He understands how sin has infected the mind of man, which has diminished his ability to reason and live sensibly and lovingly, so God has patiently laid out instructions that not only bring Him glory, but also provide stability and justice for His people.  

By the time you get to Deuteronomy 13, God is addressing false prophets, who were alive and well 4,000 years ago, just as they still are today.  These people did not just promote chasing after false gods, but their messages were backed up with signs and wonders.  Now, if a miracle accompanies a message, it has to be from God, right?  But what if that message contradicts the Law?  Then the message must be rejected and the prophet must be put to death!  

It is interesting.  Not just the prophet is to be killed, but even the person who chases after his false god and wants others to do so, as well.  Listen to what the Lord says in verses 6-9:

If your brother, your mother's son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, "Let us go and serve other gods' (whom neither you or your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him.  BUT YOU SHALL SURELY KILL HIM; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death and afterwards the hand of all the people." (emphasis mine)

Now, don't start planning the murder of the people in your life who worship false gods because we don't have a government that will allow that, but can you see the heart of God in this?  False prophets and even people interested in worshipping false gods are a threat to the purity of God's people.  God knows how easily our hearts are drawn away from Him and He wanted Israel on the alert, to keep their hearts completely set on Him and Him alone.  

It is in the midst of these verses that we get the answer to our question, "Now what?"  God clearly lays out our instructions for life, not just for Israel, but for believers who are IN CHRIST.  He says:

You shall FOLLOW the Lord your God and FEAR Him;  and you shall KEEP His commandments, LISTEN to His voice, SERVE Him and CLING to Him.  (Debt. 13:4, emphasis mine)

The child of God has clear instructions on how he is to live his life: follow, fear, keep, listen, serve and cling.  In doing these things the transformation process will enfold. Upon salvation, we are immediately transformed from dead to alive, but the sanctification or growth process happens as we follow, fear, keep, listen, serve and cling.  In one verse, we have the answer to "Now what?"

Over the next few blogs, I want to look at each one of these actions.  My hope is that as we work our way through this one verse, we will have greater understanding of the meaning of our lives and the purpose for which we were created, and that we will be inspired to roll up our sleeves and life the God-centered life He wants us to live.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


...and without the shedding of blood 
there is no remission of sins...
Hebrews 9:22

A heaviness comes over my heart every year at this time, as I am sure you feel the same.  It's almost a shameful heaviness because it seems that when I take a good look at the cross and see my sin, my guilt, my shame being punished, the sacrifice of Jesus becomes so much more personal.  I think I feel ashamed because it takes a holiday to remind me of my sin. But I am thankful that a "holiday" has been given, at least for now, to allow me to remember, just like all national holidays are intended to do:  
  • On Thanksgiving we remember the Pilgrim's, their struggle and their sacrifice to build a place where they could  freely worship God and raise their families
  • On Memorial Day we remember the soldiers who have given their lives so that our freedom could survive 
  • On Independence Day we remember the battle fought against Britain so that we could become a free nation 
  • On Veteran's Day we remember those who have served our nation, promoting freedom and democracy in the world and defending the rights of Americans to remain free 
On each of these days, we remember the sobering sacrifice made so that we can  Then we live however we want the rest of the year until we are reminded again.  But truth be known, I don't think our soldiers or our founders want us to live in a constant state of mourning, but instead, exercise and enjoy the freedom that is our because of their sacrifice.

I believe this is the heart of our heavenly Father, as well.  He wants us to understand that because of Jesus' sacrifice, we are free from the bondage and punishment that comes with sin.  He tells us there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  He wants us to live life to the fullest, giving us His Spirit and His Word to teach us how to enjoy our new found freedom.

And yet, it is important to remember. Jesus wants us to remember.  That's why He established the communion table as a time to soberly remember His sacrifice.  And perhaps that's why all over the world this week people, who have no idea why, will pause to think about the cross.  But we know why.

Without the heaviness of Friday there is no joy on Sunday.

So let's remember this week.  Let's let the heaviness surround us. Let's read the accounts in scripture and slip our feet into the sandals of the characters.  Let's turn our heads away from the ghastly realities of the scourging and feel our chests heave when we see Jesus stumble on the Via Dolorosa.  Let's let the smells and the sounds of the cross hit us in waves.  Let's stay long enough to watch Joseph and Nicodemus take Jesus' body away and let's peer from behind a tree in the garden as the men struggle to push the rock over the grave opening.  Let's find time to feel the loss, the brokenness, the death of our Savior. Let's let the sights that confuse the world sink into our hearts, because we know that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission, no cancellation, no suspension, no forgiveness of sins.  

It's only for a few more days and when Sunday comes, I believe the heaviness of Friday enhances the glory of the sunrise on Sunday morning, the glory of the fact that the tomb is empty and that we are forgiven.  We serve a living God and He wants us to fully enjoy the fruits of His labors.  

It's Friday but Sunday is coming.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Trust Issues

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and do not lean on your own understanding...
Proverbs 3:5

trust - firm belief in the reliability, truth, 
ability or strength of someone or something

Here's the problem with forgiveness:  I can forgive someone and I can choose not to talk to others or myself about the offense, but does that mean that I have to actually trust them again?  

The best way to answer this question is to put it in spiritual terms.  So, I am imagining God, sitting on His throne in heaven, talking with Jesus, and pointing down at me. Here's how the conversation goes:

The Father:  Yeah, see Kristen right now?  I really love her but I've got to be honest with you, Jesus - I don't trust her as far as I can throw her.  You know how she keeps _______________ (fill in the blank with whichever sin in my life you want to use)?  I forgive and I forgive and she just keeps doing it again and again.

Jesus:  I know.  What a disappointment.  I don't blame you.  You can forgive but you'd be a fool to ever trust her again.  You're just setting yourself up for hurt again.  

The Father:  I've even applied the forgive 70x7 rule on her, but she passed 490 about two decades ago with this one.  (Shaking His head) Will she ever learn?

Jesus:  Pretty safe answer to that is, "No."  

Does that sound like a reasonable conversation between the Father and the Son?  Thankfully I don't have any scriptural support for that conversation, but rather I can look to the gospel to dispel any doubt that God not only forgives, but restores, rebuilds and transforms.  In Romans 7, Paul describes the conflict between his flesh and his new nature in Christ - they are constantly battling for his will. Sometimes he has success but often he fails. When he cries out for help, he turns to the cross:  "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me from from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (v. 24, 25)  Jesus not only set us free from the bondage of sin, but He fights the battle so that we can have victory here and now.

One of the songs we sing at church says, "Our God is fighting for us always, Our God is fighting for us all" - the whole song is about the fact that God is mighty and strong to save.  It's not talking about fighting against persecution but rather sin's hold on us - if He doesn't give up, why would we?

Okay, back to forgiveness and trust. Now that we understand God is not disgusted with us in heaven, follow my train of thought:  
  • You have been hurt repeatedly
  • You choose to forgive, but in forgiving, it opens you up for more potential hurt
  • God demands that we be good forgivers, because He understands that if we don't forgive, it creates a root of bitterness in our hearts - bitterness, anger, frustration, and a lack of trust 
  • Though it's hard to trust a sinner, it's not hard to trust a faithful God - do a word study on "trust" in the Bible.  We are explicitly told to trust in the Lord over and over again...
  • When He tells us to do something, we can obey, fully putting our trust in the One who is conforming us into His own image
  • Because we trust the Lord, we can trust someone who has lost our trust - knowing that if they fail again, God will step in the gap and work through the circumstance for our own good and for His glory
I feel the need for a quick disclaimer - some sins have consequences we can't take away.  A father who sexually abuses his daughter can be forgiven but he has lost the right to a relationship with her or her children.  Sometimes sin brings consequences and if you are struggling right now about whether to restore trust to someone or if there are consequences that prevent that, then you need to talk with your small group leader or a pastor to make sure you are not trying to deal with someone's sin, rather than letting God do it.  

That being said, in MOST cases, we can willing place ourselves back into a vulnerable position, knowing that our trust is in the Lord, that we are walking in obedience to His will and that He alone has the ability to change the heart and actions of those who have hurt us.  And friends -  He can do that through the testimony of our ability to forgive!  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Vacation on Your Mind

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, 
brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 
not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, 
but giving a blessing instead;
 for you were called for the very purpose 
that you might inherit a blessing. 
I Peter 3:8,9

It's that time of year again...spring break is right around the corner.  Here in Michigan there are two kinds of people when it comes to spring break.  First there are those who have been planning since the first fall of snow for this vacation.  They've got their trip all mapped out. Whether flying or driving, nothing is going to stop them from getting on that beach.  And I mean, nothing.  Not long lines at the airport, not slow lanes around Atlanta, not even the 100th time "Are we there yet?" will be asked.  They have had their bags packed in their minds for months now, and all that is left is to throw in the latest Grishom novel and some sun screen.

The other group consists of those who can't stand traffic, lines and crowds. They wouldn't be caught dead at Disney over a holiday and travel mayhem is not worth the two week tan lines that boast a hot destination trip.  They plan on staying home, praying for a day over 50 degrees and finding "fun things to do right here in Michigan."  

They also can't stand the travelers.  And here's why:  because for the past few weeks, you can't get a good answer out of them.  You can't fluster them and you can't get their full attention.  You see, their mind is on that nearing vacation and not even an office meltdown will rattle them.  They have a future plan and it includes sand, sun and a lot of aloe for sunburn.  

In Peter's first letter to the church, he runs through a quick to-do list for the believer.  He tells us to be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted and humble.  All of these words imply that they are not easy to do and the believer is sacrificing some rights to make peace.  He goes on to say, when being insulted, give a blessing - don't return insults.  Again, be the bigger person and keep the peace.  

This is very difficult to do and there are times that we will get tired of taking the blows and not getting even.  I can remember chatting with my children about difficult kids at school.  Today we call them bullies, back then they were just mean.  I would tell the kids not to respond to insults, not to engage in verbal battles, but to say something kind and walk away. That throws a bully off his game and it keeps you from having to ask forgiveness for saying something mean yourself.  My children didn't like this counsel.  It was hard.  It was humbling. It was sacrificial.  But it served them well, teaching them that God will deal with bullies, but He wants you to remember who you are (a child of the King) and what you are called to (a life that brings glory to Him).

This is the same counsel I give in the counseling rooms at church.  Over and over I hear stories about marriages that are hard, parents who are unfair, work conditions that are trying, and I am constantly telling my sister in Christ to humbly serve the ones God has placed in their lives.  Sacrificially put up with bad behavior just as Jesus did, not reviling in return but continually entrusting themselves to the One who will justly make things right one day.  This is hard counsel and as believers, it can be tiring to constantly take the high road.

But Peter doesn't just tell us what to do - he tells us why - because we are inheriting a blessing.  We are children of the King.  He is molding and shaping us into the image of His Son as we share in His sufferings.  And our future is bright.  We have heaven in our sights!  This broken life is not all we have and we'd better make the best of it.  No, we have eternity with unhindered fellowship with the Lord, in a recreated and restored Earth which will be greater than our imaginations can possibly imagine.  That is our destination, that is our heavenly focus.  

So just like those destination Spring Breakers, nothing can keep us from the joy of our destiny.  Nothing can shake us, nothing can take our joy.  It was purchased for us and the tickets are non-refundable.  Just like the ones who are anxiously awaiting the moment that they can say, "Good-by, Michigan!" and head out the door to a warmer destination, as believers we have even greater motivation to endure this life for God's glory.  Our minds are set on the things above, not on the things here on Earth. 

No matter which spring break personality you are, as a believer in Jesus Christ, when we live with an eternal perspective it changes our ability to do the hard things and live at peace with all men, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Good Works

Let your light shine before men in such a way
that they may see your good works, 
and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

Okay, so this picture just makes me laugh, don't read anything into it.

I have been thinking about good works today.  Understanding that good works are not meritorious - in other words, they do nothing towards my standing before the Lord regarding salvation - we are still called to good works throughout the scriptures.  Ephesians 2:10 even says that we were created FOR good works, so they are definitely a part of life.

So what constitutes a good work?  Here's where the wrestling begins because I think in our humanity, we have made goods works a competitive system.  You might serve in the nursery on Sunday, but I read the Daily Bread every morning.  You might take fresh baked cookies to your neighbor, but I made them a whole meal.  You might pray every night when you go to sleep, but I not only pray, I journal, study, memorize a verse and listen to a worship song. Is prayer even a good work or are good works only something you do for others? Are good works earning something?  Maybe just brownie points, but is there value in getting more brownie points than other people?

As many of you know, David and I had six children, all with different needs, strengths and weaknesses.  When trying to run a household with that many children, I had to set up pretty narrow systems to make sure we got out the door in the morning with everything we needed.  For some of the kids, we had to lay out the clothes the night before, while others could manage that on their own.  We made lunches the night before, packed backpacks and had them lined up on the red cabinet, ready for lunches to be dropped in and zipped up.  Each child knew what was expected of them when I got them up - make their beds, brush their teeth and get dressed before coming down to the kitchen.  There I would have their breakfast of choice ready to go (most of them wanted Eggo waffles) and when they were done, they put their dishes in the dishwasher.  Then bags were packed with lunches and pretty quickly, we were out the door.  

This was not too overwhelming to five of the kids, but one really struggled with their part of the expectations.  Their bed was rarely made, their room was a disaster, homework was a struggle.  It just took extra effort on my part to get this child with the program.  On days when this child was on top of things, I would cheer and make a big deal because of the success.  But quickly I became frustrated when I had to cheer for something the other 5 did without question or cheering.  Was I fostering a disobedience that would only be rectified through praise?

Here's the truth:  the other 5 children had privileges that were often taken away from the one.  They didn't need cheering - the blessing of obedience was a consistent, positive relationship with mom and dad, plus more freedom because they could be trusted to do what was expected (which is another way of saying "obey").  The other child was fully capable of obeying, but most of the time didn't feel like it.  Therefore that child had limited freedoms and privileges, until that child learned that with obedience came not only blessing, but good fellowship/relationship with mom and dad.

So what are good works?  Obviously they are good actions, good things - not evil or destructive.  But if you boil it down, good works are simply obedience.  God created us to walk in obedience to His Word. When we obey Him, like an earthly father, we are in good fellowship with Him.  When we reject His boundaries or refuse to obey, then like an earthly father, He will discipline us - choose to sin, choose to suffer, right? So good works are everything from kindness towards others, forgiving others, meeting other's needs, spiritual disciplines - anything that glorifies God and is within the boundaries that God has set for us.  When we extend our hands, we do it for Jesus.  We should never do anything that He wouldn't do.  Good works are works that are consistent with Jesus' character.

There are several benefits to good works. In addition to continual fellowship with God, it is the easiest way to show your gratitude for the cross. Willingly placing yourself under God's authority, with a good attitude, an attitude of gratitude, is a visible way to tell the Lord, "Thank you." Good works are also the most effective way to live out your faith.  If you don't put actions to your beliefs, then your faith is dead.  Good works show who you follow.  You also give testimony to those around you that God is real and that He loves you.  Your good works will bring glory to God.  And finally, good works produce spiritual fruit - the works of the flesh produce all sorts of negative and broken feelings, but good works, with your eyes set on Christ, produce fruit of the Spirit in your life.  

One final note:  we're not aiming for perfection here because we know in our flesh we are limited.  Think of it this way - who dreams of having a child so that you could discipline them constantly?  Instead you dream about the good times and the close relationship.  This is what the Father wants with you and the way to have a close relationship with Him is to willingly seek His will and obey. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Hearts and Treasures

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, 
where moth and rust destroy, 
and where thieves break in and steal. 
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, 
where neither moth nor rust destroys, 
and where thieves do not break in or steal;  
for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19,20

The center of our being, or what the Bible calls our heart, is our mind.  It is what moves us to action and from it flow our feelings and emotions. We are told in Colossians to set our minds on the things above, in Jeremiah that the heart is deceitful and wicked, in Proverbs that the springs of life flow from our hearts, and in Romans, as we looked in the last blog, that we are to renew our mind for transforming power.  

So today, in Matthew 6, we see that what we treasure, what is really important to us, is what we set our heart or our mind upon. If our hearts are set on worldly treasures, we will be consumed with finances and possessions.  We'll spend much of our life working to attain them and the rest of our life protecting and maintaining them.  

For example, the person who dreams of owning a boat...this is not a bad desire, but it can become an all consuming acquisition.  First, you never buy the right boat as your first boat.  You start with a small one and move your way up the boating ladder.  You have to buy trailers to tow them and rent space to store them, unless you build a garage on your home big enough to hold your cars and your boat.  You spend time cleaning it after each use, you have to insure it because people do stupid things and if they do them on your boat, you'll be the fall guy.  And then you use your boat...a lot...because you've spent so much on that boat that you'd better get good use out of it.  I suppose the same could be said about houses and cars, as well.

Now here me, I know plenty of people who own boats and they manage things just fine, but I also know that a boat can become more of a burden than a pleasure, depending on how much of your heart/mind is consumed by this desire.

A personal example - Dave and I love salt water fish.  It started with a small tank that grew and grew  and grew, until it was several hundred gallons.  Salt water tanks aren't overly simple.  There are a lot of things that have to be just right in order for fish to live.  Let me put it this way, we've killed everything under the sea.  At one point, we decided not to let the kids name the fish anymore because it was traumatizing to see Nemo floating cock-eyed in the water, struggling with his last breaths, as the children sobbed. Eventually, the tank required more time than we could give it and we ended the hobby.  It was taking up too much of our time, thoughts and energy so we let it go.

When you set your heart on earthly treasures, then you have to worry about them, as well.  This is why Jesus said to turn your focus to heavenly treasures...ones that won't rust or die on you.  When we die, we won't have a trailer attached to our caboose with our boat on it as we walk through the pearly gates. Neither will we have our fish tank in one hand and a bag of salt in the other.  So what exactly are the treasures that we are to store up in heaven?  I thought we can't take anything with us?

Well, what has eternal value? I'll name three things:

1.  Souls - though only God saves, the time invested in soul saving is an eternal treasure. Jesus commanded us to "...Go therefore and make disciples..." (Matthew 28:19) Pouring into people spiritually has eternal value, because image bearers of God have eternal souls.  Giving your life to enlarge the kingdom of heaven has eternal worth.

2.  Generosity - In Luke 16:9 Jesus said, "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings." Though we can't take our money, we can use our money here on earth to build the kingdom and bless other believers who are needy in this life.  In eternity, this will be remembered.

3.  Good works - I Corinthians 3:12,13 says, "Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work..." For some reason, no one likes to talk about this, but a day is coming when our works will be presented before the Lord and tested. The ones with eternal value - the ones which were done for the glory of our King - will stand the test of fire.  But the selfish good works will be burned up.  If we are storing up treasures in heaven, we must examine our motivation and say, am I serving the Lord to glorify myself, or is my mind set on the Lord and I am serving out of complete devotion to Him?

If we choose to store up treasures in heaven, where our treasure is, there you will find our mind.  A good test is to see what you spend the day thinking about. How much time does the boat, fish tank and finances to acquire your desires take up of your thoughts compared to the things of the Lord?  That number will be the indicator of where your heart is.

Remember, evangelism and discipleship, generosity with the needy and hurting, and plain old good works for the glory of our Savior are all efforts with eternal value.  So how are you going to spend your day?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Effort vs Heart

And do not be conformed to this world, 
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, 
so that you may prove what the will of God is, 
that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

What's on your mind today? Most likely what you are thinking about will shape your day.  If you are mulling over a tough conversation that needs to be had, your brow may already be furrowed and that tightness in your chest won't go away until it's accomplished.  If your running through a to-do list, you might feel your blood pressure rising, knowing there may not be time to get it all done.  If you're frustrated about the behavior of a child, that frustration may be accelerated as the day goes on, if that behavior continues to manifest itself today.

We all want transformation, don't we?  We watch the videos at church of how the Lord is meeting people and changing lives, and we write our own "God-at-Work" video in our heads and it's boring and super short.  So we set out at the hard work of transformation, committing a great amount of effort to change.  Our hearts may truly be in the right place - a desire to have a different life, different outcomes, different goals and values.  But in the end, old habits die hard and we find ourselves, efforts exhausted, back where we began.

As much as we try, real life happens and it's hard to control our minds all the time.  We worry about tough conversations, to-do lists and wayward children.  It's our reality and though we've put a lot of effort into transforming ourselves, we seem to be short on energy and creativity.  

Okay, so how about if we try doing things God's way? All the effort you've put into changing yourself, though it has been valiant, is more about your strength and not your mind.   If you notice in the verse above, there are six words that we tend to overlook.  Here's how we read it:  Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed, so that you can prove what the will of God is, good, acceptable and perfect. Acting on this would be a fail without those six words - "by the renewing of your mind."  

It really is about your mind.  At church we sing, "I have set my heart, set my - set my heart on you." A better, more straightforward but less beautiful way of saying that would be, "I have set my mind, set my - set my mind on you."  Getting to the heart is getting to the mind, and if we want true transformation, we must focus on the act less and think more.  Trust me, the actions will follow the thoughts.

There was a man who worked for my father.  He was a retired State Police officer and he was a rough and tumble, no nonsense, you-can't-trust-anyone-because-they're-all-scumbags kind of guy.  And his language matched his attitude. Because of his employment for my father, he found himself hanging out at our church on Sunday mornings and after a few months, met with the pastor with a list of questions and surrendered his life to Christ.  And then, everything changed.  For the first time he was reading the Word and learning things about a loving God that he never knew before.

At his funeral, several, well, actually many of the state troopers who knew him way longer than I knew him, said to me that working for our family had changed LT (that's what we called him).  The first obvious sign that he was changing was his language. The cuss words were less and what he talked about had changed.  This had nothing to do with my family and everything to do with Jesus.  LT had set his mind on the Lord and it transformed him from the inside out.  If he had rolled up his sleeves and said, "I'm going to stop swearing like a sailor," it never would have worked.  But he was filling his mind with the things of the Lord and the language changed.

We must renew our mind in the Word.  We must listen to good music, listen to good preaching, immerse ourselves with the lovely truths in God's Word on a daily basis and I promise, that transformation that you long for will happen faster than you can imagine.  Yes, it will take effort, but when your mind is leading you and you're not just forcing yourself to act a certain way, the transformation part becomes a miraculous adventure where God takes over your heart and changes you from the inside out.

There will still be tough conversations ahead, mile-long to do lists and rebellious children in our future.  But when we frame our lives with the knowledge of who God is, what He has done and is doing in our lives, the beauty of His majesty, the future that awaits us in glory - when we set our hearts on Him, the reality of every day life will be handled in a different manner.  No longer will we marinade in the brokenness of today, but instead we will be renewing our mind in the truth that this is not all about us, but rather it's about Him and He's already handled everything to His glory.

Friday, February 17, 2017

For HBCSL Women's Study Gals my sheer excitement to explain the double Sabbath at the time of Christ's death, I totally skipped teaching how Jesus fulfilled the four spring festivals on the actual day of the festival.  I know I said it ten times, I just didn't expound.  So, please forgive my oversight and to finish what I started, here goes:

1. The Passover - On the actual day of Passover, Jesus became our Passover Lamb. This one is most easily understandable.  At sundown, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, then went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and to be arrested.  The trials ran through the night and by 9 am, Jesus was on the cross - the innocent shedding His blood to cover the guilty.

2.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread - this is the festival that deals with sin and ceremoniously cleans the house of leaven in order to present themselves sinless before the Lord - this begins the day after Passover and as we studied, it was a "holy convocation," as well.  This would have been Jesus' first day in the grave.  From Ephesians 4:8,9 we understand that upon His death Jesus went into Sheol and led those in Paradise into the presence of His Father.  He was finally dealing with sin, applying His sacrifice to the accounts of those who were waiting for the Messiah to come (Old Testament saints) and basically cleaned house.

3.  The Feast of First Fruits - this feast began on the first day after the Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It was the feast to offer the first fruits of the first harvest.  This would have been the first day of the week - Sunday - when Jesus rose from the dead.  I Cor. 15:10 tells us that "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep."  His resurrection is the first harvest of a greater harvest to come.  Fifty days later a much larger harvest would come in on Pentecost.

4.  The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost - this is 50 days after the resurrection and on Pentecost, the Lord added 3,000 to the church.  It was the second harvest celebration, three thousands souls brought back to life through the gospel.

Okay, I feel better.  Have a great weekend!

Monday, February 13, 2017


Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, 
implore you to walk in a manner worthy 
of the calling with which you have been called...

Ephesians 4:1

Worthy - deserving effort, attention, or respect; 
good enough; suitable; having the qualities or abilities 
that merit recognition in a certain way

How badly do you want to be worthy?  How much of your life have you spent trying to become worthy?  What in the world does it mean to be worthy anyway?

From our definition above we see that being worth simply means being deserving.  When we get an A on a paper in school, our work proves that we were deserving or worthy of that grade.  In the same manner, if we fail a test, we can be worthy of a poor grade, as well.  With day to day life experiences, most of us long to be found worthy - we want people to see that we deserve praise, kindness or even just plain old respect.  So we work hard, maybe even extra hard, to get that attention and credit that we long for.

When it comes to salvation, the gospel is kind of a blow to our ego, wouldn't you say?  The gospel tells us that our efforts are in vain - that no matter how hard or how long we work at proving to God that we deserve His acceptance and love, we are unworthy. This is not a judgment call; it's reality.  God is holy; we are unworthy and undeserving. We cannot earn His attention or respect, our efforts are not good enough and they merit no recognition.  Frustrating, right?  But at the heart of good works for salvation is the exact reason we are not worthy - because our efforts in salvation are completely selfish.  We're working hard to look good.  We're working hard to prove that we have value. It's all about us.

The good news is that Jesus is totally worthy.  Everything about Him oozes worth.  He is humble, responsible, respectful, truthful, honest, patient, sacrificial and loving.  He honored His Father with a sinless life and willingly went to the cross to cover the debt of people who are completely unworthy. Because He is worthy, because He is deserving, He has been rewarded by the Father with children - image bearers whose eternity laid in the balance of His decision to die.  And now, He works to draw His children to Himself, loving them patiently, molding them masterfully, calling them to good works because His worthiness covers their sin.

I have even more good news:  in the context of a restored relationship with God, you absolutely have the ability to be worthy.  In fact, you're commanded to be.  In Ephesian 4 it says, "...walk in a manner worthy of your calling..."  The time to put the effort in is now.  You have a high, high calling:

  • You are an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)
  • You are a child of the King (I John 3:1)
  • You are to walk in good works that God has prepared for you (Ephesians 2:10)
  • You are to walk in the light (Ephesians 5:8)
  • We are to love... (John 15:17)
  • ...even our enemies (Luke 6:27)
  • We are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14)
  • We are to become like Christ everyday in all we do (Romans 8:29)
And the list goes on and on...our calling is high and the Lord wants us to choose to walk in a manner worthy, deserving of this calling.  Without Christ, we cannot do it.  With Christ, we are fully equipped to be found worthy of this calling.  This is a totally different kind of worthiness that we are seeking than before.  It's no longer my efforts to prove that I am something that I am not.  It's my love producing something in me that Christ has made me to be.  There's a big difference.  

And we have a whole lifetime of sanctification to do it! (Oh, great...another big word...look it up.)  

Big idea today, friends:  Because Jesus is worthy of all praise and honor, I can choose to walk in a manner worthy of the calling that He has personally given to me.  What great freedom there is in Christ!  Freedom from the bonds of selfishness and pride that weighed me down.  May this truth give you something to marinate in today.

Monday, February 6, 2017

5 Benefits to Forgiveness - Part Deux

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered!
Psalm 32:1 

We are blessed, aren't we?  The fact that our sin is not on our account anymore is nothing short of miraculous.  We know that since we have been forgiven such a great debt, the Lord wants us to be great forgivers. This act of imitation brings Him great glory.  But it's hard to do, isn't it?

We've talked about how choosing not to forgive breaks relationships, hinders our capacity to serve the Lord, changes our identity from forgiven to victim, and affects our testimony and fellowship with the Lord.   Last blog we discussed how when we forgive, our capacity, identity, testimony and fellowship fall back in line.  Today I want to talk about the restoration of relationships.

You've heard it before - there are no enduring relationships without forgiveness.  Yes, restoration to relationships does come with forgiveness.  A marriage can't survive without it.  Friendships can last for decades because of love and forgiveness.  

But forgiveness doesn't automatically restore relationships.  Here are a few exceptions.  First of all, when there is no repentance, the relationship will be limited.  We are still called to forgive so that a root of bitterness does not spring up in our hearts, but the brokenness of the relationship begins healing when there is acknowledgement and repentance.  When you are the one hurt, you are not in control of that process.  It still is not cause to hang on to the hurt, marinade in the offense and build up a wall that would be impossible to climb for restoration.  But there are consequences to sin and when someone has a hard heart towards you, you are not responsible for the loss of relationship that comes from that brokenness.  

A second exception is in regards to the specifics of the sin.  In some circumstances, while again, forgiveness is paramount for you to continue walking close to the Lord, the consequence of the sin means permanent separation.  For example, a young mother who was sexually abused by her father must choose to forgive for her own well-being, but because of the nature of the sin, she will never have a close relationship with her father again. He will not be a part of her life and she will not take her children to his house for him to babysit or even sit on his lap and play with grandpa.  This is not because she is unforgiving but the nature of the sin is so heinous, that these consequences must not be overlooked.  

A final exception that comes to mind is unhealthy relationships.  Though perhaps there is sin on both sides, when there is a need for repentance and forgiveness, sometimes the relationship cannot go back to what it was.  When a dating couple becomes intimate with each other and then through the Spirit, responds to the guilt of crossing lines that the Lord put in place for their protection, there can be repentance and forgiveness, but they can't just go back to what it was before.  Boundaries have to be set and changes made to keep them from temptation.  Though the relationship can continue, it can't be the same.  Same with a marriage that falls into adultery.  There can be restoration but the marriage will be different on this side of forgiveness.  It's not because there is unforgiveness, but the necessity to change in the marriage to make it stronger means they can't just go back to what they were before the affair.  And a truly repentant heart understands this and wants it, as well.  

As simple as it sounds, when we say "I forgive you" to someone, it's a hard process.  We are making the agreement not to hold the offense against the offender or talk with others about it.  But more importantly than these two things, we are agreeing not to talk to ourselves about it.  If we are forgiving on the outside and not on the inside, we are still germinating the seeds of bitterness in our heart if the heat is still on the inside.  We must take our thoughts captive and choose not to dwell on the hurt.

In taking our thoughts captive, we have to replace our hurt with different thoughts.  Even better, when we find ourselves thinking about the sin against us, we should ask the Lord to forgive our lack of forgiveness, and then put our mind on something else.  A few practical suggestions:
  • Scripture - memorizing scripture is perfect for these circumstances
  • Worship music - turn it on and sing it loud
  • Prayer - pray for someone completely unrelated to this circumstance - pray for their work, for their family, for their health, for their church, for their relationship with the Lord
  • Study - get a notebook and pen, open your bible and read through a book, noting observations about God through out your reading - God is sovereign, He has a sense of humor, He really doesn't like the Pharisees, etc.
  • Phone a friend - if worse comes to worse, call a friend, don't give them the specifics because that would be gossip, but ask them to pray for you and to tell you to "Knock it off" and get on with your day!
In closing, let me add two more words of wisdom.  First, don't spend your whole life being offended and a victim of other people's sin.  Most of the hurt in our lives can be covered by love.  We don't have to correct every offense against us, constantly telling people how they made you feel and waiting for repentance.  Because we have been loved so much, we can cover a lot of offenses in love. Love is patient and kind, and it doesn't keep track of wrongs.  It's super gracious, not jealous and can bear a lot of things.  Its ability to endure is off the charts and it always hopes for the best in people.  

And finally, remember that forgiveness, though difficult, is a protection for your heart.  We are to put off bitterness and anger and the only way to do that is through forgiveness.  It will keep you tenderhearted and kind, and it will make you more like your Savior.

Monday, January 30, 2017

5 Benefits to Forgiveness

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander 
be put away from you, along with all malice.  
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, 
just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.  

Ephesians 4:31,32

Bitternes. Wrath. Anger. Clamor. Slander. Malice.

All words that describe a heart that holds onto hurt.  Don't get me wrong, it's never our intention to become bitter, angry, wrathful, gossipy, or sour.  But when we marinate in the hurt of another's sin, these things spring up like weeds in a field.  No one planted the weeds, but for some reason the seeds are lying in wait, just begging for a little rain to get the ball rolling.  

Our old nature, while redeemed by the blood of Jesus, is still present within us and will be with us until we shed this flesh and stand before our Great Redeemer.  While it doesn't take much to stir that nature, a little fertilizer goes a long way, and unfortunately, the hurt that comes from being sinned against is just the right mix to grow bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice.

The cure for this bad harvest is kindness, compassion and forgiveness.  It's not three options to choose from but a partnership that is only works if all three parts are offered.  Any two without the third are simply an exercise in hypocrisy.  And it all starts with the choice to honor the Lord because of His great kindness, compassion and forgiveness in your own life and to forgive.

Once forgiveness, or should I say the hard work of forgiveness, is applied to the hurt, it's only a matter of time before the blessings that come from obedience start to show up, as well.  So today I want to look at five benefits of forgiveness.

Number 1 - Restored Capacity

When you choose to forgive, you are choosing to give up retribution.  Not just physical retribution but mental retribution.  You are choosing to release the offender from guilt and you are agreeing not to marinate in the hurt any longer, which is an exercise of the mind.  When you hang on to the hurt, it limits you - it limits your compassion for others, it makes you suspicious and self-protective.  To state it plainly: you are limited because you are not walking in obedience to the Lord.  

But when you forgive, it enables you to extend yourself and be vulnerable again.  Yes, I chose the word vulnerable because forgiveness is not a guarantee that you won't be hurt again.  But it does allow you to feel, to trust, to laugh, to love and to act freely in accordance with God's Word.  Your ability to walk in harmony with the Lord is suddenly unhindered, un-muddied with the consequences of unforgiveness (bitterness, wrath, etc.), thereby making your capacity to live for Him much greater.

Number 2 - Restored Identity

Forgiveness is what initially made us whole.  Forgiveness of our own sin.  When we confessed our sin and cried out to the Lord, He granted forgiveness.  Truth be known, while we were still enemies, He laid the foundation for forgiveness through the cross.  His forgiveness changed our status from hell-bound slave to Satan, to justified, adopted, redeemed, and loved child of the King.  

When we hang on to hurt, we start to find our identity in our past.  We consider ourselves rejected, abused, unloved, lied about, betrayed and sometimes even unworthy.  When we choose to forgive, the only way we can actually do that is by remembering the truth of who we are!  When we think truthfully about who we are in Christ, not only will forgiveness flow more freely but our identity will be restored, the lies will fade away and we can continue to walk in harmony with the Lord.

Number 3 - Restored Testimony

How can we boast of His great love and forgiveness and not want to imitate it?  We are ambassadors for Christ and as His representatives, as the light of the world, we must be great at forgiving.  Remember the story of the unforgiving slave?  He was forgiven a great debt but refused to forgive a minor infraction.  It didn't go well for him in the end.  Because we are forgiven such a great debt through the death of our Savior, God wants us to be great forgivers.  When people say to you, "How can you go on after such hurt?", the answer is simple:  Jesus.  He is why I can forgive and move on.

Number 4 - Restored Fellowship

This one is really important. When you forgive you are telling the Lord three things:
  1. Thank you for forgiving me
  2. I want to be close to you more than I want to make my offender pay
  3. I trust that you will deal with sin so I don't have to
God is not mocked. We will reap what we sow.  When we choose to sow forgiveness, the harvest is abundant.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control are the marks of a person in unhindered fellowship with the Lord.  The safest place for you to be is in the dead center of His will and without a doubt, forgiveness is His will.  Here's what He says in Romans 12:17-21:

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Our call is to overcome evil with good - in other words, be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving.

Number 5: PAUSE

Okay, I am going to hit the pause button here and save the final benefit of forgiveness for next week's blog.  It needs more than a paragraph to discuss and this post has been long enough. I'll also give some specifics on how to forgive so that it's not a fuzzy concept that feels impossible to do.

Sound like a plan?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

5 Benefits to Holding on to Hurt

A joyful heart is good medicine, 
but a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22

Are you hurting today?  Is there someone in your life that has caused or is causing you pain?  Are you worn out from the brokenness and ready to give up?  Or maybe your pain has become a power source in your life.  It is pushing you to action that you never knew was in you.  

The hurt that comes from the sin of others is hard to get past.  It can frame our past and shape our future.  It produces loneliness and sorrow, frustration and bitterness.  It can become your identity and it can fuel your choices.  Either way, it's a hard way to live with this hurt.  As Solomon said, it can dry up your bones.

The question today is, what are you doing about it?  Are you a victim or is there hope of freedom from hurt?   To deal with hurt will take a lot of work and perhaps it's better to let the pain run it's course.  I want to share with you five benefits to holding on to your hurt.

Number 1 - Broken Relationships

Hurt breaks relationships.  When someone sins against you, and maybe they do this over and over and over, how can there be a relationship?  I once heard, "sin separates friends."  Yes, this is probably true.  To forgive someone repeatedly is a lot of work and truth be known, it's really not your fault.  It's much more time efficient to write relationships off and the fuel to do this is bitterness.  Even if they want to restore the friendship, what's done is done.  Too many years of hurt and pain will sever any opportunity for restoration, but there are plenty of other people to be friends with, plenty other people that you could marry, plenty of other people to pour your life into, so what's done is done.   Broken relationships are the consequence of the other person's sin, not the consequence of your bitterness, right?

Number 2 - Broken Identity

Hurt can change your identity.  Instead of seeing yourself as a child of the King, you might see yourself as the cheated on wife, or the rejected parent, or the mistreated co-worker.  When you are the victim of someone else's sin, the identity of "victim" can quickly replace who you are in Christ.  But being a victim is a good place to be.  It opens many doors.  It can fill many conversations and produce all kinds of sympathy.  It can even cause people to take sides and defend you.  It can be a comfort in times when you feel lonely, because it tells you that it's okay to be hurt - you deserve to feel this way.  

Number 3 - Broken Capacity

When you are broken and hurt by someone else's sin, that hurt limits you.  It ties your hands from doing what is right.  Sometimes it can lead to depression.  Sometimes it can lead you to avoidance.  Being a victim can limit your capacity - your capacity to trust, to love, to live.  When you've been hurt, you learn to guard your heart and not share yourself as readily as before.  You've learned a hard lesson and don't want to put yourself in a vulnerable position again.  And when you lose capacity, you limit your exposure to suffering - this is a good thing.  You have to think of yourself first because if you've learned anything, it's that you have to take care of yourself because you can't count on anyone else.

Number 4 - Broken Testimony

This is a hard one, but again, it's really not your fault.  When I hold on to my hurt, it is hard to promote the spiritual discipline of forgiveness.  I understand that God wants us to be forgiving people but that is a general instruction.  When you get into the specifics of each circumstance, God cannot possibly expect you to be able to forgive in EVERY situation.  So, since the specifics of your life are unique, holding on to the hurt is really your only option, but it's hard then for people to understand your love for Christ and lack of forgiveness.  What this does then is open the door for you to share even more with them how badly you have been hurt.  So in the end, I guess it really is helpful because again, you are focussing on your own healing process.

Number 5 - Broken Fellowship

This is the hardest of all.  This is why sin has a ripple effect.  Because you were hurt, mistreated or lied about, that makes it hard for you to forgive.  Because it's hard for you to forgive, God says that He'll forgive us in the same manner that we are forgiving others.  Now, that doesn't seem fair because as we've already established, our circumstance is unique, but there is implication that our fellowship with the Lord is broken if we choose to harbor bitterness and not forgive.  So maybe this one is not a benefit but instead it's a reality that as a victim I am once again stuck with...which seems to increase my hurt all the more.  

Okay, friends, I hope by now you are EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE with this blog!  Let me remove my tongue from my cheek and say this clearly:  The broken relationships, capacity, identity, testimony and fellowship is a consequence of our unwillingness to forgive - not because we've been hurt.  

Therein lies the good news.  And therein lies my next post:  5 Benefits to Forgiveness.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Following Blues - Part 2

...yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you...
Genesis 3:16

As hard as it is to submit, knowing that it is God's will for wives to follow their husband's lead should be enough for us to choose to do it.  But God wants more than forced obedience.  He wants you to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  So spending some more time on the submission command may give us more insight and understanding to our calling.

What I want to focus on today is why submission is so hard.  We think we know why it's so hard and here's what we tell ourselves:
  • I know more than him in this situation
  • He's not seeing the big picture
  • I don't trust his instincts
  • He's blown it before
  • He doesn't know what he's talking about
  • I'm smarter than he is
  • He's not trustworthy
  • This is not how my parents did it
  • We are equals in this home 
  • I make more than he does, he can follow my lead every once in a while
  • I don't know another woman who would put up with this
  • What? Submit?  Have you met my husband?
These are excuses but not the real reason why submission is so hard for women.  The real reason is given to us in the third chapter of the Bible, where God records the story of humanity's fall from grace.  There are a lot of things about this story that I'd love to know, but we aren't given every inflection and every detail.  For example, it says, "...she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate...", so how was he with her?  Was he there for the whole conversation?  I think I want the answer to be yes, just so that there is complicity in the act, but that's just me trying to make women less guilty.  

Which leads me to the actual reason why submission is so difficult.  In Genesis 3:16-19, God is laying out the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin.  For Adam, to provide for his family will now be hard work and not the joy that God intended.  We see this in our society's attitude toward work - we hate it.  We long for three-day weekends.  Work less, play more is our mantra.  And the truth is, all over the world, to provide and care for a family is hard.  Not only does the ground not produce as it should, but people are dishonest and mean.  The competitive work environment is not meant for unity and growth, but for self-promotion.  To get ahead you have to be willing to fight for what's yours and sometimes take what is not.  

For women, the consequence of sin is different.  It's two-pronged.  First is the difficulty of bearing children.  This is not simply the pain of childbirth, but all the complications that come from being able to bear a child:  periods, cramping, infertility, high blood pressure, low iron levels, menopause, labor and delivery complications, stitches, hysterectomies, ectopic pregnancies, tilted uterus - and the list goes on and on.  All of these things are not God's perfect plan for the female body, but because of sin and the brokenness of even our genetics, there is much pain and sorrow.

But the second prong is why we struggle to submit.  God said, "Your desire will be for your husband and he shall rule over you."  Our desire, what we want more thank anything, deep down, at the core of who we are - our desire is to rule over our husband but God is keeping him in his created place, as the head of the family.  Man's headship is not a consequence of the fall - it was a pre-sin assignment.  God created woman in a helper role and in a perfect world, it would still be our calling to willingly place ourselves under our husband's authority.  But because of sin, we now have this inner, fleshly force, pushing against his rule.

Submission is hard because our sin nature is so strong.  I know many of us think that since we've been saved, all our sin has magically disappeared but all we have to do is take a look in the mirror when our husbands make a decision we don't like and we'll find it bubbling to the surface.  That inner turmoil, that voice that lists out why we shouldn't follow his lead is our sin nature talking.  

Sigh.  Take a breath, ladies.  And then, when your done arguing in your mind why this is not true, let the actual truth sink in.  Our wrestling with God's command is that inner struggle that Paul described in Romans 7, where he says, "...For the good that I want, I do not do, but practice the very evil that I do not want.  But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me..."  

The struggle is real.  We want to obey the Lord and everything in us is fighting against it.  We talk ourselves out of obedience, justifying our defiance rather than humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord and before our husbands, knowing that it is our sin nature that we are truly wrestling with.  

I love how Paul reconciles his struggle:  Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!  There's our answer, ladies.  We must take our eyes from the horizontal position and get them on Jesus.  We must close our ears to the droning of our sin nature and listen the Spirit. And we are able to do this because Jesus broke the chains of our bondage to sin.  We have another voice to hear because of His mercy and sacrifice.  

So for those of you who don't think you have this problem, when you come upon a disagreement with your husband, write down what you are saying in your head, word for word.  When you are done, compare your thoughts to God's call, Wives, be subject to your husbands as unto the Lord, and determine, are the thoughts in my head of God or of my flesh?  The answer to that might surprise you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Saved to Serve

It is the Lord God whom you serve.
Colossians 3:24

I am sharing my teaching this year with my daughter, Katherine.  What a joy it is to watch her grow, not just in her teaching skills but in her study of the Word.  This year we are using material that I had put together years ago but for next year, we are working on a new study.  So here's what happens, as we study we call each other, all excited about what we're learning and it is at that moment that I experience the joy of my daughter's love for the Lord!

So today I have one nugget from my study that I just have to share.  I am not worried that I am jumping the gun for next year because I am pretty sure you will all forget it by next year, but it's a matter of perspective that I think, heading into the new year, would be valuable for all of us.

When Moses went before Pharaoh and demanded the release of the Israelites he famously said, "Thus says the Lord, Let My people go!"  He said it over and over and over.  Songs have been written about it and if you walked up to a stranger on the street, he could probably tell you what Moses said, as well.  

But did you know that is only the first half of the command from God? The whole quote is, "Thus says the Lord, "Let My people go, that they may serve Me."  Hmmm...a little different than what we originally thought.  When we think of God's saving of Israel, it was from slavery to freedom, right?  

Kind of, but not exactly.

God wanted Israel free to serve Him.  In captivity not only were they serving Pharaoh and the Egyptian people, but they were serving false gods.  Four hundred years had passed and though they cried out to the Lord, their hearts were turning form the God of their fathers to the gods of Egypt.  And the Lord said, Enough is enough!  He wanted them out of Egypt and He wanted their eyes back on SERVE Him.

We all serve someone.  We either serve God or we serve ourselves or Satan or others. Every choice we make is one of service.  When you choose to watch a certain movie or listen to certain music or friend certain people on FB or pick out an outfit or make a meal - it is in the service of someone.  The question to ask yourself is who, who am I serving with this decision.

The scriptures are clear.  If you are a child of the King, you serve the King.  If you are not a child of the King, you serve Satan.  I John 3:10 says, "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother."  Ephesians 5:22 tells wives to be"...subject to their own husbands, as unto the Lord."  When we willingly place ourselves under our husband's authority, it is an act of service to the Lord.  Even in Colossians above we see that our service in all things is service to our King.  

So when God wanted the children of Israel to leave Egypt, it was to serve Him.  They were saved so that they could change masters, serve another freely without the bondage of a godless king's constraints.  This is true in our lives today, as well.  When the Lord saves us, He saves us to be free to worship Him without the constraints of our previous, godless master, Satan.  Are we free to run into His throne room and approach the Father as a loved child? Absolutely yes, but the child still is serving the Father by the choices he makes.

As we start this new year, let's remember Who we serve.  Our obedience is service, not to the church or to our spouse or to our family or to our neighbors, but service to the Lord.  And if it truly is service to the Lord, then we should give our very best and be VERY careful to be thorough in what He commands us to do.  We have been freed from the bonds of darkness, from not being able to know or love or comprehend God at all.  Because of that freedom, we now can serve the Lord with gladness, we can come into His presence with great song, knowing that our Lord, our Master...He is God.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, Same God

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

A new year.  

A clean slate, right?  Well, maybe not a clean slate but a new opportunity to make some changes.  Well, maybe not a new opportunity, because actually every day is a new opportunity to make changes.  But a new year for some reason feels like a new start, so why not run with it?

I've heard people say they want to get in shape, lose weight, start exercising, read through the whole Bible this year, read some books on their list, travel, pay off debt, find the man of their dreams - there's a whole lot of adventures that lie ahead in 2017.  The one thing no one has said is this:  I want to be exactly the same on Jan. 1st, 2018 as I am today.  There is something depressing about that.  We want to be better, more experienced, not in the same place, richer and fuller, and perhaps a bit skinnier by next year.

This is just another example of how we are not like God at all.  He doesn't sit around and long for a better version of Himself, a richer life or deeper relationships.  He is God and He never changes..and it never gets old.  That might sound boring to you but I have to admit, it's the fundamental character trait of God that we build our faith upon - His immutability.

If God would change, then His Word would be outdated.  What the Bible reveals about the character of God from thousands of years ago would be null and void, because He'd be different.  What the Bible teaches about roles and duties would be null and void, as well, because God would have possibly changed His mind about those things.  And what the Bible instructed about relationships would be worthless, because God might have decided to handle things differently by now.  

But God is immutable.  He is unchangeable.  Therefore what He has revealed about His character and His will is never changing, as well.  We can have confidence as we see His holiness in scripture, that He is the same today as He was in the past.  What He has revealed to us is exactly who He is today and will be forever.  He is perfect, pure and holy and completely consistent today with those attributes as He has been in eternity past.  

So as we seek to make changes, let us remember the goodness of our God.  Let us review His activity in our lives this past year and long for His hand to shape and mold us in 2017 in even greater ways.  Let us seek His word and long for the consistency of character that we see in Him.  

One more note:  it's never boring with God.  Consistency of holy character is a wonderful existence and  immutable does not mean a lack of newness.  As far as excitement, how can it get better than this:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; 
for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, 
and there is no longer any sea.  
And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, 
coming down out of heaven from God, 
made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.  
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, 
saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, 
and He will dwell among them, 
and they shall be His people, 
and God Himself will be among them, 
and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; 
and there will no longer be any death; 
there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; 
the first things have passed away."  
And He who sits on the throne said, 
"Behold, I am making ALL THINGS NEW."   

Revelation 21:1-5

Happy New Year, friends.