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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

judas

Jesus knew what was coming. 

He knew of the cup he'd have to drink. 

He knew his betrayer well.  He called him "friend." 

He walked with Judas.  He dined with Judas.  He went about business as usual in the company of Judas.

How could anyone but Jesus behave in such a way?  How did he not harbor bitterness and resentment toward Judas in his heart?


How do we forgive the unforgivable?  How do we release the rage or hurt that the betrayal has caused us?

It's simple, really.  Simple, but not easy.

We forgive because he calls us to do so.

Luke 17:3-4 says, "So watch yourselves.  If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.  Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive them."

Yikes.  It's difficult enough for us to forgive that one offense that happened over a year ago, but seven times in one day?!  Ain't nobody got time for that.

That's exactly what he wants us to do, though.  If we can't reflect the love and mercy and compassion of Christ to others by releasing an offense, how will we ever lead people to him?  If our faith looks just as vengeful and harbors resentment as the secular world does, what hope do we have in bringing others to Christ?  The mercy and love we extend is what separates us from those of the world, and what will eventually draw others to know and pursue him.

So if he expects us to do it, how do we go about it?

My first line of defense is to pray.

Lord, I don't have the power in me right now to forgive.
Humble me to see where I need to adjust my expectations, 
or where I could be at fault.
Fill me with your peace and help me to release the offense.
Fill me with the strength to forgive.

To be honest, sometimes that's all it takes for me.  He softens my heart and helps me to see things from a fresh perspective.  This is not always the case.  

When my hardness of heart prevents me from hearing his voice or recognizing his prompting, I fix my eyes on him.  He is bigger than anything we will ever face, "and we know that in all things, God works for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)  There is always purpose to be found in the pain.  We may not enjoy it, and we may writhe in discomfort or even agony, but trusting in this helps us to keep in perspective the bigger picture.  His plans > our plans.

It may not be immediate, and it may certainly not be easy, but leaning into him allows us to put one foot in front of the other in order to face the days, weeks, months, and possibly years ahead.

When you find it difficult to forgive an offense, look to the one who set the precedent.  Draw your strength from Jesus and ask him to help you carry your cross.



"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, 
along with every form of malice.  
Be kind and compassionate to one another, 
forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you."  
- Ephesians 4:31-32



Monday, February 12, 2018

body armor


The enemy is breathing down our necks.

He's in the passenger seat when someone cuts you off, leading you to rattle off a slew of curse words.

He's in the midst of two friends exchanging gossip.

He's in bed with the person who decides sleeping in and having free time are more valuable than getting to church over the weekend.

He's beside the person looking at seductive content on the computer screen.

He's on the arm of the person caught up in an emotional affair.

He's even nearby when you choose to reach for the remote instead of your bible...again.

We, privy to this knowledge or not, are in the midst of constant battle.

We are being attacked from all sides.

He has studied us.  He knows our weaknesses.  He has mapped out our strategies.  He has a rock solid game plan to defeat us.

But 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." (emphasis mine)  God is our commander-in-chief, and his methods for fighting the enemy are clearly laid out in his word.  Paul wrote in his letter to the people of Ephesis on this very topic:

"Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God." Ephesians 6:11-17 (emphasis mine)

We find a wealth of resources in Paul's letter about how the Lord equips us to fight the enemy.  There are seven pieces of armor that the Lord says are indispensable to us.

We must wear:

1. A belt of truth - to fight against Satan's lies and deceptions.
2. A breastplate of righteousness - to live in holiness and to give us a way out from the temptations we face.
3. Feet fitted with readiness - readiness to stand up for the gospel and to stand on guard to defend the way we live.

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect..." - 1 Peter 3:15

4. Readiness that comes from the gospel of peace - we will not be overwhelmed with fear or anxious thoughts.
5. A shield of faith - trusting that the Lord will provide; that you will be delivered from the hands of the enemy.
6. A helmet of salvation - Jesus has already won the war; we already have the victory in Christ and evil will not prevail.  It's a reminder that we have taken off our old self and put on the new.  We're not who we were yesterday and we will not be so easily consumed.
7. The sword of the spirit, the word of God - This is a knife in the heart of the enemy.  With immersion in scripture, we gain understanding, wisdom, and discernment.  We ultimately empower ourselves to fight on the front lines, the Lord beside us, with invigorating strength and confidence.

So when the enemy invades your camp, prepare yourself.

Put on the full armor of God - truth, righteousness, readiness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God.

Then, "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong." - 1 Corinthians 16:13.

The Lord will deliver the enemy into your hands, and you will have the victory.





Wednesday, February 7, 2018

the case for Christ


In the fall right after I turned 20, I began to question.

I had just started a History of Architecture II class in my design program, and we were discussing ancient civilizations, their gods, and the monuments they built to honor them.  I began thinking, What makes our God real?  How do we know he's the true God if there are so many other belief systems in the world?

I began to question my faith for the first time.  I questioned the existence of God; the validity of Jesus and the gospel.  I was also overwhelmed by the permanence of death; the thought of eternity.

I began having panic attacks.

This lasted for a couple of months, day in and day out; no respite.  I had to try to navigate the tangled mess of what I thought I believed, what I had learned since birth, what the world tells us, and what I feared about eternity.  Every time I was bombarded with fear and panic, I tried to combat it with thoughts of, "You cannot control it.  There is nothing you can do about it."  This helped to an extent, and would start to calm the storm when nothing else had.

I then began to pray.  Desperately.  Calm my anxious thoughts.  Still my heart.  Grant me peace.  And GUESS WHAT--

Peace, he granted.  Never before have I felt the holy spirit so powerfully as I did when I cried out for solace.  A wave of calm would wash over me, and I could begin to sleep.  I could go about my daily activities with larger gaps between the bouts of fear.  I was soon introduced to the book "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel.  This was life-changing.  The intricacies of the gospel, its prophecies, and the strict adherence to their claims by the disciples, even into martyrdom, sealed my belief in our omniscient, omnipresent God and ceased the turmoil within me.



It's completely natural to question the existence of God or a theistic belief system.  A couple of weeks ago, our 10 year old daughter asked the very questions I never thought to ask until the age of 20.  My initial reaction was that of a bit of fear - I want to instill in our kids a love of and submission to God and was afraid of what her questioning might mean.  After the initial shock wore off, I began my response.

  • I told her that in some of my darkest moments, when I was completely broken, hurting, or fearful, God would answer my cries for help with his peace, a peace that transcends any human understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).  
  • I shared with her parts of what I had read in The Case for Christ.  Not ONE of Jesus' disciples rescinded his testimony, even to the extent of imprisonment, severe persecution, and death.  Why wouldn't they, unless they had truly witnessed and believed all that they professed to seeing?   
  • I also shared with her a couple of other supernatural experiences that our family members have experienced, with no logical explanation.
  • I also felt compelled to say this: "No one can make you believe anything.  You can choose not to believe it.  But Jesus has been more real to me than anything else in my life, and I know it in  my heart to be true."
She had tears in her eyes as I finished my defense, and I felt at peace with how I had responded.  I can't force our kids to love Jesus the way I do, nag them into submission, or manipulate them into leading a Godly life.

But I can live it.  

Day in and day out, every single hour.  I can lead by an example of love.  Of service and compassion.  Of complete submission to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I can attempt, with all my heart, to live life with a gentle, humble spirit, being obedient to God.

I don't have all the facts.  I don't have a degree in theology, and I can't always back what I believe with statistics or science.  I have my testimony, though, and the power and spirit of God backing me, which can do immeasurably more than I can ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20).



I can pray for their hearts.  Pray for the holy spirit to dwell in them.  And pray for them to be a light to the gospel for others.  


Lord, let your light shine in me.  
Let others see you in me and be drawn to you and your presence, for your glory and not mine.  
Help me to be a reflection of your love, mercy, and compassion.
Help me to set a Godly example for my family.
Set their hearts after you and give them a thirst and a hunger for you and for righteousness.
In Jesus' precious name I pray, 
amen.












Monday, January 22, 2018

health food

"But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." - Galatians 5:22-23


We've all been schooled in abundance about proper nutrition.  As soon as we begin to apply healthier eating habits to our own lives, we can feel our bodies changing.  They function differently; we often feel lighter, more energized, and generally more positive because of our healthy choices.  What a perfect metaphor for our relationship with God.  When we grow in communion with him and invite the spirit into our lives, we can feel change creeping into our hearts and minds. 

We begin to think differently.  We start to speak differently.  What was once okay coming out of our mouths suddenly doesn't feel right.  We begin to see the world through a different lens, and this is a good thing.  Pride and self-service runs so rampant in our society, but God calls us to be everything that the people of the world are not.  

Humble.  

Tender.

Submissive.

Gentle.

Self-controlled.

Pure.

Second to others.



We can't make these changes on our own.  As humans, we let circumstances dictate our moods.  We try to take justice into our own hands.  We pass up opportunities to serve others when it inconveniences us.  Our frustrations mount and anger takes over.  We make sure to get the last word in during an argument when we should be holding our tongue.  But as we grow in communion with the Lord and our perspectives shift, we can begin to employ these fruits with the help of the holy spirit.

Feed your body healthy food - things that will nourish and fortify.  But don't forget to feed your soul - the holy spirit and the word of God will satisfy and fill a void that no chocolate bar or cup of coffee can.

Let the holy spirit work in you, and humble yourself to feel the transformative power of a renewed mind in Christ Jesus.





Tuesday, January 16, 2018

God's voice


"The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli.  In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.  One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place.  The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was.  Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, "Here I am."  And he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."  

But Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down."  So he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called, "Samuel!"  And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."

"My son," Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down."

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord:  The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

A third time the Lord called, "Samuel!"  And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy.  So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.'"  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel!  Samuel!"

Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."


If you're a mother, you will most certainly relate to this.  If you were ever the child of a mother or father, you will also find this scenario familiar.  How often are our children playing in another room and we call to them repeatedly, only to hear crickets on the other end?  We have to call for them several times, with a booming voice, for our presence to even register on their radar. 

Such is it, often, when God calls us.  Our ears are not attuned to his calling, and we miss out on hearing his voice.  We walk around claiming that God is silent, and some go as far as to say that God has neglected or forgotten about them.  Yet, when we draw near to God through scripture and prayer and ask to hear his voice, he is most often faithful in his communication with us.  We just have to turn the dial to the right station to get reception.


We, as Christians, have to pray for discernment.  God uses many avenues of communication to reach us.  He might use scripture, prayer, or those around us to relay his will to us.  There may be circumstances when, unbeknownst to the other person, they have the exact words you needed to hear in response to a prayer.  When we pray for the ears and the wisdom to recognize which medium he uses to speak to us, it becomes much clearer.


Ask God to reveal to you the ways in which he communicates with you, and you'll soon learn to open your mind and heart to hearing his voice.  You'll be listening much more intently when you know how to listen. 


We may never be so successful in reaching our children lost in play.  However, we can be assured that, as children of our Father, if we listen with the right ears, we will eventually hear his voice.  It may not be on our time, or what we want to hear, but we will hear the will of God from the voice of God.



"My son, if your receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." - Proverbs 2:1-5






Friday, January 12, 2018

spiritual milk



















"Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation." - 1 Peter 2:2

"Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path." - Psalm 119:105

"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." - James 1:5

If you are too busy to spend time in God's word each day, you're far busier than he ever intended you to be.





Tuesday, January 9, 2018

wind and waves


Matthew 8:23-27
"Then he got into his boat and his disciples followed him.  Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us!  We're going to drown!"  He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?"  Then he got up and rebuked the wind and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey him!"



During times in my life when I am overwhelmed with worry, anxiety, or fear, my first instinct is to turn to prayer.  First, I have to evaluate whether the thing I fear is something over which I have any control.  If not, I know I must immediately turn it over to the Lord.  If it's something I have the power to change, I ask for wisdom, discernment, and peace.  Often, the things we fear most never come to fruition.  When they do, we rarely have complete control over the situation.  

The serenity prayer is a wonderful resource when you can't seem to come up with the words on your own:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept 
the things I cannot change, 
the courage to change the things I can, 
and the wisdom to know the difference."  
- Reinhold Niebuhr

While you rarely have the ability to control the situation, you have an immeasurable power within you when you lay your troubles at the foot of the cross.  Saint Paul wrote to the people of Philippi while in prison - "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12-13 - emphasis mine.)  He knew the source of his strength, and turned to the Lord for endurance and provision.  Paul knew that to let his circumstances dictate how he felt would be his demise.  He trained his mind to be self-controlled, and found peace in the Lord.  

What we think in our minds is what will be.  We have to overcome this by disciplining ourselves and filtering what thoughts we allow to take up residence.  Paul also said that we are to "take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Take captive your thoughts, or they will hold you captive.  

I am reading a wonderful book right now by Max Lucado, titled Anxious for Nothing, which addresses this very subject.  If you find yourself grasping for truth during uncertain or fearful times, I highly recommend reading it.  There is another wonderful resource I recommend reading, but I'm pretty sure you already know about that one... :)



2 Timothy 1:7
"For the spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline."

Matthew 6:25-34
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  

"And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the flowers of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you - you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own."