In a world filled with hate…

…may I reflect the LOVE that is unconditional.  Lord, help me!  May I love as You have loved us.  You bestowed Grace and Mercy upon us, ALL people, through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  May I not be selfish with that Love!  May I overflow with what You have given me so that others too may know Your Love!

Where is the blame in these acts of violence?  Society?  Laws? Politicians?  Human Nature?

Where does it stop?  How does it change?  With more gun laws?  With more hate?  With more discrimination?

No.  It starts with me.  It starts with MY HEART, MY MIND.  Lord, if I am to love You with all my heart, all my mind, all my strength, all my soul, then I must love what YOU love:  Your creation, Your people, Your promises.

We as the human race are so broken.  We are prone to sin, to lie, to hate.  It is only through CHOOSING to love that we can overcome those natural tendencies we have.

In the midst of differences, LOVE.  See the beauty and interconnectedness through our differences.  Each of us is a thread in a vast tapestry.  Each of us, as tangled as we may be, add color and texture to the final Image of Grace.  We NEED the different colors, textures, and facets in order to see the Image of Christ in each other.  So LOVE.  Honor.  Extend grace and mercy.

And go.  Encourage others to do the same.

Whatever we do, readers, we do to and for Christ.  Be a vessel.

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Give Me Jesus–P31OBS Week 5

Wow, what depth this morning in my online Bible study!  I want to share one of the 3 tasks with you.  Three mornings a week, there is a blog post with 3 sections afterward:  Observe, Bible, and Stretch.  This morning’s Bible section tooks me pretty deep!  I want to share with you that section and my response.  Then feel free to add your responses to the comments!  Check out the blog post here:  Give Us Jesus, Week 5

Quoting from the blog:

Bible — Take a moment and read Hebrews 12:1-2.

In your notebook or journal write out your answers to these questions:

  1. Is something hindering you in your faith race? Ask God to show you what it is and how to get back on track.
  2. What can you do to ‘fix your eyes’ on Jesus?
  3. How did Jesus finish His earthly race? What does that mean for us as His followers?

And my response:

1.  Right now, is something hindering my faith race?  Fear and Fatigue.  Fear of the unknown, how are we going to pay our bills, how am I going to pay for my medicine, how…blah blah blah…God is my provider, and I need to CHOOSE to remember that.  Fatigue from not sleeping.  Worry gets the better of me, especially as soon as I climb into bed.  Hours later, I am still struggling to fall asleep.

2.  So how can I fix my eyes on Jesus?  Through God’s Word: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.  Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”  (Matt 6:33-34) “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7) “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)  “Though the fig tree not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”  (Habakkuk 3:17-18)  Letting these familiar passages (and many more) come to mind, and even seeking them out if they get stuck in the gunk of life, really helps me take some deep breaths, calm down, and cast my burden once more before the Lord (1 Peter 5:7).

3.  How did Jesus finish His earthly race?  On the cross.  Death.  Conquering of Death so that I don’t have to.  Which means, though my earthly race may end in death, it ushers in a great entrance into Heaven for eternity with the King of kings, my Abba Father, and my savior Jesus Christ.  I’ll take it.  That is a race worth finishing.  Until then, I’ll train.  As the semi-colon reminds me, it isn’t over yet.  God is the author of this life, and until He stops writing it, I will press on, no matter how hard it gets, for God is my strength, God is my fortress, and Jesus is my savior.  When I am weak, God is strong, and pulls me through.  Sometimes He enlists His people to grab my arms and drag me, but He pulls me through!

God, I praise You for these reminders of Your Sovereignty and Your promises.  Thank You for Your Word, for revealing Your character and reminding me that You are God and I am not.  Thank You for making a way for us to have a relationship with You through Jesus Christ.  Amen!

Circumstances vs. Identity

Today’s online Bible Study message got me thinking about separating my circumstances from MY identity!  Yes, I learn from the experiences I encounter, I grow through the ups and downs.  But that is not what defines me.  The Lord defines me.  I am HIS creation, and therefore, I am one of His GREAT WORKS!  So many times, I will have tears spring from my eyes when I realize who God is and what He has done for us.  He sent His only begotten Son to this crazy earth, to walk it in perfection, to take every sin (past, present, and future) on His shoulders, to die a gruesome death, and to conquer that death for ME.  For YOU!  Would Jesus do that for trash?  Oh NO!  He did that BECAUSE of the VALUE we have in the eyes of God.  God LOVES US THAT MUCH.  And God doesn’t love trash.  As soon as that truth hits me (every single time), I am overwhelmed.  How could I keep forgetting that I have such incredible value?  The lies of the enemy are strong, and GOD IS STRONGER.  So, let’s OWN OUR IDENTITIES.  We ARE daughters (and sons) of the King.

So much scripture speaks to this truth too.  Take a look (I have bolded, Italicized, and underlined specific text…)

Romans 8 English Standard Version (ESV)

Life in the Spirit

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh,could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,[c] he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Heirs with Christ

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Future Glory

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God’s Everlasting Love

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing will separate us from the Love of God.  How deep does His love flow?  It flows deeper than the blood of the Lamb flowed from His wounds on the cross.  It flows deeper than the bonds of death.  It flows through eternity, from before time began, to well after time will end.  That is the greatness of God’s love for each of us, as His people, and as individuals. That is the greatness of God’s love for YOU!  Yes, YOU!  What stops you from accepting that love and letting it flow around and through you to define you?  Give it to God.  Confess it.  Let Him alone reveal your identity.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Don’t Stop On Six (Message from March 22, 2015)

This was such an odd title for a sermon!  “Don’t stop on six!” he exclaimed.  What???

Hebrews 10:36For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”

Another translation uses the word “persevere” instead of “endure.”  God calls us to PERSEVERE.  He does not call us to an easy life.  He does not instantly grant all of our wishes and desires.  God’s work in our lives is that of a life time.  Covered by the blood of Jesus, our hearts and souls are made pure in a moment, but our human nature takes a life time to overcome.  In Isaiah 55, God tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  We don’t understand the here and now, or the experiences we have.  We may never understand.  But in the midst of them, He whispers to us, “Press on, my child.  Persevere.  In your weakness, my power is made perfect.  I will be your strength.  Trust in ME.”

Pastor Steven Furtick takes us through the passage of scripture that brings us with Joshua to the fortified town of Jericho. (Joshua 6)  The Israelites had waited over 40 years to take this city and move into the promised land!  And God tells Joshua to walk around the city once a day for six days, then to walk around seven more times on the seventh day.  All the while, the priests are carrying the Ark of the Lord and blowing their trumpets.  I guess it took about an hour a day to walk around that city.  That’s it!  One hour.  Can you imagine what the Israelites were thinking?  How about the citizens of Jericho?  I picture the French Peas from Veggie Tales:  “You silly cucumber!  You’ll never knock down our walls!” (Josh and the Big Wall).  The laughter and mocking from those within the walls…the doubt spreading amongst the Israeli warriors…what was God going to do?

These thoughts and experiences lead to the three points as to why we tend to stop short of where God wants us to be:

1.  Our perspective gets blocked.  In the case of the Iraelites, the wall of Jericho blocked them from their goal of taking over the city.

2.  Our process isn’t always obvious.  Nothing happened after walking around the city!  Not even one brick or rock trembled to show that something was working!  Not until the army completed their instructions when they shouted with the trumpets after the end of the seventh lap on the seventh day did God show His mighty power to those who obeyed Him.  It took 13 laps around that wall!  I wonder how much doubt and fear fluttered through the hearts and minds of the soldiers, and what hope shone through to enable them to persevere?

3.  The process is open-ended.  We don’t always see the end.  Joshua knew how many times they would march around the town of Jericho.  But he did not share that with his soldiers.  He told them to march.  And they marched in faith.  Each day, they did it again.  And again.  And again…until Joshua finally told them to shout and the wall fell down!  We don’t understand the path we take.  Sometimes it takes years for us to be able to look back and see that God was and is present through even the darkest of moments in our lives.  The process prepares us for even greater perseverance down the road.  The process seems to break us, but God gives us His strength.  He alone increases our faith so that we may trust Him even though we don’t know or understand where He is leading us.

So don’t stop on six!  Press on.  Endure.  Follow Him.  His promises are true!  “What we see in our lives does not always match what God is telling us.  He is greater!  Revelation does not match reality,” is what Pastor Furtick tells us.  Remember that God’s truth transcends this society.  His treasures are greater than anything of this world.

You can watch Pastor Steven Furtick give his message here:  Don’t Stop.

“Bring on the Rain”

A number of years ago, I heard this song and had to pull over to the side of the road.  I had to let these words wash over me.  It was right after my sister and grandfather had passed away and I was really struggling emotionally.  Listen to these lyrics:

 

Yeah, bring on the rain, I thought to myself.  I felt like Job in that moment.  Just bring it!  “What else can you take from me?” I thought.  Don’t.  Just don’t say these words to God.  Why challenge Him?  I was angry.  I was lost.  I was hurt.  I was one broken child of God.

I fell so far from Him in my anger and grief.  And yet, through that same anger and grief, He drew me near to Him.  He renewed my faith, sanctified my heart.  As I reflect back today to that fateful December of 1999 when my world fell apart, I realize I would not be who I am today.  I would not have the strength of faith I do today.  I would not have the deep understanding that I will never fully understand the ways of my God, but I trust Him.  Yes, even through grief, I learned to trust Him.  Trust is so different from understanding!

And yet, I understand so much.  This world is fleeting.  It is temporary.  Nothing in my hands or in my life is certain except for God.  He alone is constant.  So in all the stability I was seeking and desiring in my life, I find it in Christ alone.  He is steady, especially in the storms of life.

Then I stumbled upon this song, and again had to pull my car over to the side of the road and just sob.  Let the tears fall!

 

Yes, I have learned to praise my God, even in spite of loss and grief.  I have learned to praise Him because He is ALWAYS worthy of praise.  Even when I don’t understand what He is doing, I trust in His Holiness.  I trust in His plan, in His purpose.  In my weakest of moments, He gives me strength to keep going, to press on toward the goal.  Even when He does bring on that rain that overwhelms and consumes, He gives me a life boat.  He fills me with His strength so that I may hold on for dear life and come out on the other side of the storm.

Philippians 4:4-7 speaks this truth:  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The peace of God is so real!  We never fully understand the truth of that peace until we are in situations where we need it.  God has given me much peace over the years since my sister died.  He has given me many blessings!  Had I given up when I wanted to, and followed my sister into death, I would never understand the idea of the fullness of God’s love.  I say the idea of fullness because my small, finite brain could never fully comprehend the vastness of the fullness of God’s love.  I have seen glimpses, and I have felt that peace that surpasses all understanding.  But to fully comprehend it is out of my league.  God alone can understand His own fullness.  He only gives us insight through glimpses of the whole.

And so I press on, because God has given me strength.  I press on, because He has given me purpose.  I press on, because I desire more of you to know and love Him as I have come to know and love Him.  Whatever storm you are in, whatever crashing waves are washing over you, hold firm to His Truth:  you are loved so greatly that Jesus gave His life for you and conquered death to cleanse you of every wrongdoing you have ever done and will ever do.  That is truth, and that is worthy of praise!

Lessons from Pancakes…

So, Wednesday morning, I decided I was going to make pancakes.  As I searched the pantry, I realized I did not have any pancake mix!  Betty Crocker to the rescue!  I pulled out my cookbook, opened to breads, found the recipe for All-time favorite pancake mix, and got to work!  I pulled out all the ingredients, mixed, and then began to pour the batter, or plop it, onto the griddle pan.

Yeah, it was thick…and then I tasted it…

I had given one to Zander and a few to Brandon.  Z just put the pieces in his mouth and spit them all back out!  But, he kept putting the pieces in!  He is such a good little boy!  He puts everything into his mouth!  He is my goat child!

And I said, “I can’t eat these…” Took my plate to the garbage can, dumped them in, and grabbed a bowl of cheerios, which I eagerly shared with Zander.

Brandon said, “Well, I ate them, but I would prefer not to eat them again.”

So today, I thought, “Why not try that again?”  So, I pulled out the Betty Crocker cookbook, and said, “Well, THAT explains it!”  On Wednesday, I had used 3 teaspoons of baking SODA when the recipe CLEARLY says to use baking POWDER.  I can already see my middle school foods teacher, Mrs. Goins, shaking her head expressing her disappointment in my cooking skills.  Needless to say, today’s pancakes were a huge hit!  Light, fluffy, and delicious!  Zander put the pieces in his mouth and did not spit them back out!  Hooray for the 1-year-old’s approval!

Lesson learned:  fully read the recipe SLOWLY.  Speed reading and cooking do NOT go well together!

Spiritual lesson:  When we fail, give it to the Lord.  And don’t be afraid to try again.

Romans 5:3-5 ESV

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Lies Vs. The Truth

Oh, how divine is this!  I am reading about lies and truth, and in the morning I get to teach our church children the same concepts!  So, to start, we are going to play Two Truths and a Lie.  This should be interesting!  Then we will talk about how we recognize the lies or the truth during the game.  “How did you know that was the lie?”  Again, this should be fun to see their thought process!

After exploring that for a bit, I want to stress the importance of spending time with those we love (God included) so that we can recognize truth when we hear it.  The more we know someone, the better we can tell when what they say is a lie or is truth.  The more time we spend in God’s Word, the better we’ll be able to recognize when we hear something that is against God’s Word (i.e., the lies of the devil).

And for fun, we’ll watch Veggie Tales:  LarryBoy and the Fib from Outer Space!  If any time is left, I will do magic card tricks…so now I will stop blogging and go learn some card tricks…