~~i want to be everything you dreamed when you called my name~~

Monday, December 18, 2006

Grace and Works

I was reading in Galatians this morning - and was just reminded of God's grace...and overwhelmed at how much I don't deserve it...

The believers in Galatia had found themselves heading down a dangerous path, and they needed a reminder from Paul. They had become children of God by placing their trust in Jesus, but their simple, childlike faith was being assailed by the false teaching that faith alone is insufficient for salvation. Jewish Christians were telling them that along with faith in Jesus, God's people were accountable to keep the Jewish traditions and laws in order to be saved (Galatians 3:1-14).

The main thrust of Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia was the truth that anyone who believes in Jesus is therby God's child - and that this adoption and salvation have nothing whatsoever to do with adherence to rules. Both Jewish and Greek believers are sons and daughters of God - both slaves and free, both men and women - all who believe are God's children (v. 26-29).

Sometimes it appears that "faith" as exemplified in the Old Testament was based on how closely people followed the commandments and how faithfully they offered sacrifices. But being a member of God's family has always been a matter of trust rather than of any futile attempt at perfection. While the law of God teaches us what He is like and defines for us the kind of liefstyle He expects from us, it does not "impart life" (verse 21). Only Jesus' sacrificial death could accomplish that: "When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons" (Galatians 4:4-5).

As the Holy Spirit moves within us, we are freed from the stranglehold of constricting rules. Instead, we are guided by His power to want to live holy lives. While we are not saved by our good deeds, they are indeed evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in us. Paul minced no words in addressing the Galatian believers: "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?...After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?...Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you have heard?" (Galatians 3:1,3,5).

Remember, the old covenant of the law was replaced by the new covenant of Jesus' sacrifice. We no longer have to follow a list of rules and regulations to understand and get close to God - Jesus' death and resurrection opened up a new covenant for us - a covenant that says we grow close to God by faith and grace - not by our behavior. We are no longer bound by the letter of the law, rather we as believers are "clothed...with Christ" (verse 27), and our focus becomes pleasing Him because of our love from and for Him. Salvation comes from grace, not works - and works come from a deep, love relationship with our Creator.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Faithful and True

After the roar and shouts of multitudes praising God, John saw "heaven standing open and there before him was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True" (Revelation 19:11). Faithful and True. This rider is also referred to as, "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation" (Revelation 3:14). Faithful and True. And this person is none other than Jesus himself (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:16). He is somewhat mysterious, this Judge and Warrior, because "he has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself" (Revelation 19:12). We are also told that "his name is the Word of God" (Revelation 19:13, see also John 1:1-14). Faithful and True.

The very essence of Jesus' name - Faithful and True - is something that we who are living within the confines of a sin-stained world can only begin to understand. We have never experienced the quality of unadulterated faithfulness in any one person, because all of us humans are fragile, prone to breaking down under duress or temptation. And not one of us can claim to know someone who is absolutely honorable. We all fall prey to the tendency to twist the facts just a bit to make ourselves appear better than we actually are. Even as godly, maturing Christians, we know that our framework of truth can never be the same as the absolute, pure truth of Jesus. Only His perspective is consistent with all of the facts; only He can perceive and interpret reality from every possible vantage point. Faithful and True.

The Bible assures us over and over again that we can trust God to keep His word. And this is much more than a character trait passed down from Father to San. Because God the Father and Jesus Christ are one (John 17:11, 22), the Rider on the white horse can safely be followed through every circumstance - all the way to eternity. Faithful and True. We often use phrases like "As sure as I'm standing here" to convey the reliability of what we are about to state. In my work, every meausre used must be proven reliable before it can be used - and even then, it's hardly completely trusted. Paul simply relied on who God is, using God's faithfulness as a reference when he made the claim that his own words would be absolutely true: "As surely as God is faithful," he assured his readers (2 Corinthians 1:18). Faithful and True. (ps...can you imagine if in a research talk - I said 'As surely as God is faithful, the SFQS is reliable' - which would be a lie...)

As we hear and believe the gospel message, we come to know that it is altogether true; as we experience it's dynamic power we come to see that all of God's truth comes to one majestic affirmation in Jesus Christ, in whom all of God's promises are "yes". Our God does not waver in carrying out His word. He follows through with every detail of what He promises us, because He is and will always be faithful (Philippians 1:6, 2 Thessalonians 3:3). Faithful and True.

It really makes no difference whether or not we believe this to be true. Paul addressed this issue through a rhetorical question followed by a resounding affirmation: "Will our lack of faith nullify God's faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar!" (Romans 3:3-4). Faithful and True.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On Loving a Dying World

So Pastor Jim was preaching tonight on love...the general jist of his message was that to know God is to know love. And faith expresses itself through love (Galatians 5:6). We can't truly have faith in God - truly believe God - until we love others the way the God loves others. At one point he (Pastor Jim) said, "love will begin to make you care about the dying world around you..." And that really got me thinking...

There are so many people in the world who are hurting, and who desperately need Jesus - who need to know Him as their Savior. Unfortunately this isn't the reality we oftentimes choose to live in as Christians. People need Jesus! Everywhere we turn, there is evidence of a fallen world, a world so desperately in need of love. And I started thinking about the hundreds of people who I come in contact with who need Jesus...of the thousands of people in this city who need Jesus...of the millions of people in this country who need Jesus...of the billions of people in the world who need Jesus. And my first response was something like, 'right Lord - what am I, one person, going to do'. And His response was...

Have faith in me. Believe that I am big enough to handle this. Trust that I will use you - right where you are - to accomplish my purposes.

Wow! Then I was lead to John, chapter 6 - Jesus was teaching the crowd that had followed Him, and He saw that they were hungry, so He asked the disciples where they could buy enough food to feed everyone (I laugh, because Jesus obviously knew what was coming...yo! disciples - where's the nearest grocery store?!). Anyway - the disciples told Jesus that they would need to work for a month to feed the crowd sitting before them - and they brought to Jesus all that they could find...5 loaves of bread, and 2 small fish (these fish were like the size of sardines...). And we all know what happened next - Jesus, took the food, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples to feed the crowd. John tells us that there was more than enough (vs. 13).

Great, Stacey - so what does this have to do with loving the world? Well, I started thinking about the little boy that the disciples got the 5 loaves and 2 fish from. Do you think he went home to his mom that night saying, "Guess what I did today?! I fed thousands of people, not one person didn't have enough to eat - I'm so amazing!" I don't think so...I'm thinking that this little boy was amazed by what Jesus did, and was never the same again.

Which brings me to us loving the many lost people in this fallen world. So many times in life we approach a situation with our 5 barley loaves and 2 fish - wondering what in the world God could ever do with it. But that's all God has asked us to do - to show up with what we have, with whatever we have packed in our lunch for that day, and trust that it will be enough for Him to accomplish His purposes. Don't you see how that takes us out of the equation - we just get to 'sit back' and wait in amazement as we see what our Creator will do this time!

The Bible says that our Father is going to send us off into every day with exactly what we will need to accomplish His purposes for that day (Philippians 4:19). As each day unfolds, the events may surprise us, but they don't surprise Him! All He asks is that we offer what little faith and courage we do have to Him, and He will make it enough.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pointing to Jesus

God's ways are often surprising, yet He often graciously prepares us in one way or another to understand them. Through Isaiah, God declared that He would provide a "voice" before the appearance of the Messiah to alert the people that the day was approaching (Isaiah 40:3). The "voice" Isaiah was referring to was John the Baptist, who was sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus (see Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4; and John 1:23). Isaiah included many details that would help the people during that time (and us!) to identify this messenger.

Bear in mind that John was not the voice - he was only a voice. His purpose was simply to point to the voice - Jesus Christ. When the priests and Levites questioned John as to whether or not he was the Christ or Elijah or "the Prophet," he emphatically stated that he was not, specifying that his role was to be a voice (John 1:19-23). At long last, John was able to make the announcement: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes awy the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

John's voice implored people to turn from their sins and follow God (Matthew 3:1). This forerunner of Jesus realized that the people needed to be willing to listen to God in order to recognized God's Son for who he was. Sounds like something we need to be able to do too...

John was no ordinary prophet. He made his home in the desert, wearing rude clothing made of rough camel hair and eating locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6). He may not have been the poster-child for Jesus that we were all hoping for - been when, really, has God operated in the realm of what we expect in this crazy world. What's even cooler (I think), is that John - this crazy man - didn't travel to meet the crowds - instead, the people came to him.

It would have been an easy task for John to establish his own following and give birth to his own movement - the people were following him around, asking questions, seeking answers...but he resisted his temptation, recognizing that his life's calling was simply to prepare people to open their lives and hearts to Jesus. Even when John's disciples argued with Jesus' disciples about which of the two was greater (thinking about this makes me chuckle...the disciples - like us - were so often too concerned with verbally 'proving' God, instead of just letting Him do the work and the proving!). Anyway - the two sets of disciples are arguing, and John allows no room for doubt, stating that "He must because greater, I must become less" (John 3:30). You see, John knew that once Jesus appeared on the scene, John's task was complete, and he was content to fade into the background.

God wants each of us to be a voice for him as well. Our purpose is to point people to Jesus rather than to demonstrate how good we are, or how committed we are. Wow - did you hear that?! Our purpose is to point people to Jesus rather than to demonstrate how good or how committed we are. And the message we call out is the same as John's - that God wants people to turn from their sin and give control of their lives to Jesus. We are called to be faithful to God wherever he places us - in the city, in the desert, in our schools, in our workplace, in the midst of a crowd of friends, in our secret quiet place.

But wait, there's more...we are called to be more than Jesus voice - He asks us to be his hands and feet as well. In our awesome Father's name, we are to feed the hungry, offer a cup of cold water to the thirsty, show hospitality to the stranger, clothe the needy, look after the needs of the sick, and visit those in prison (Matthew 26:34-46). (check out my friend Nicole's blog about this...I put a link at the bottom...) We are called to be Jesus' hands and feet - and too often I think we take a look at that responsibility and decide it's too difficult, it's too dirty, it's not for me. But the writer in Hebrews urged us to "keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:1-2).

Don't think you have to do this alone! Ask God to reveal to you ways that you can be Jesus' voice, hands, and feet today...and every day.

Nicole's blog:

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Cultivating Our Faith

This passage of scripture has come up so many times in different contexts in my life over the past few weeks. So I've been thinking about it a lot - and God has been revealing some pretty sweet things to me! I dig that about Him!

So here we go - while Jesus was up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, the rest of the disciples continued their ministry in the valley. One distraught father brought his demon-possessed son to the disciples, but they were unable to drive out the demon. Jesus had given them the authority to correct this kind of problem (Mark 3:15-16), and it was nothing new to them - they had done it so many times before (Matthew 10:1). So what was the problem?

After Jesus had returned from the mountain, the agonized father approached and knelt before Him, saying, "Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him." (Matthew 17:15-16). Mark expresses in his account of this situation that the father asks Jesus "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." To which Jesus replies, "'If you can?'" (Mark 9:14-29) I can just picture Jesus - "ARE YOU KIDDING ME PEOPLE?!?!? - how many times do I have to show you that I can do ANYTHING??" Of course, Jesus healed the boy, but not until after he puts the responsibility of the boy's healing on the father. You see, to Jesus, it wasn't a question of IF He could heal the boy, Jesus CAN do anything, period. The real question is, did the Father believe that He could heal the boy? Do we believe that He can?

Later on in this passage, the disciples questioned Jesus as to why they had failed. Jesus' reply was pretty straightforward - you don't believe. ("Because you have so little faith." - Matthew 17:20) Jesus told them that faith as infinitesimal as the tiniest of seeds can work miracles - but apparently the disciples lacked even that degree of trust when they attempted to liberate the boy on their own.

It's all about faith. Faith can be cultivated in one way: through prayer (see Mark 9:29). It seems the disciples had forgotten this fundamental discipline. You guys - without prayer we are as helpless as the disciples in the face of satan's schemes! It is not enough to be called into a ministry, to be gifted for a ministry, to have experience in a ministry, or even to have achieved some success in a ministry - we must continually practice the discipline of real prayer as we do what Jesus asks of us. This goes for EVERYTHING we do in life. I believe we can be in line with God's will for our lives, and still miss some of it - when we aren't praying.

Neglecting to pray robs us of our power - the power that Jesus Himself gave us - and can reduce our faith to a level of usefulness in God's kingdom that is far smaller than what God desires to exercise in us. That's what I mean by missing some of it. God may have things planned for us - but when we are not equipped with His power through prayer - we can not effectively battle. So we feel defeated, we get frustrated, and we give up. Satan wins this battle.

Well - I'm done with satan winning any battles! He's such a liar and a cheat and just a big jerk! (Quit being such a jerk, you big - jerk!) I believe as we draw closer to our precious Lord Jesus, we will echo the words of the apostle Paul, who found the secret to his contentment in the source of his strength in Jesus alone: "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). Oh Lord, give me the grace to exercise that kind of faith...to believe you can do everything...and live my life in a manner that reflect that belief!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Wrestling with Unbelief

A product of what God has been working in my life over the last 6 months or so, that finally clicked somewhere between youth service last night and my quiet time this morning...

Oh...this is good stuff! God is so good! I was reading in a couple of places this morning 2 Timothy (I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8), and for some reason I thought about Jacob...so I started reading generally about Jacob (Genesis 32) and how he wrestled with God, refusing to stop until God blessed him. And it hit me - God completely blessed Jacob after their wrestling match. Jacob refused to stop, having faith that God was going to bless him if he was persistent in pursuing God and it was because of Jacobs faith that God blessed him. This is the guy who stole his brothers birthright 5 chapters earlier, wrestling and being blessed by God because of his faith. He had figured something out, that God is faithful. And then it hit me back to 2 Timothy...Paul didnt say I have fought the good fight, I did everything perfectly...nope, he says I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH. And I realized that sometimes we run our race to the finish line its easier, things make sense, everything is clear. But other times, we wrestle our way to the finish line it's more difficult, it's hard to see God's hand...but either way God is calling us to be FAITHFUL to Him, to believe Him, to trust Him. I think I have had this faulty theology that if I'm wrestling my way through something must be wrong, I must not be lined up with God's plan. But God revealed to me this morning that wrestling is not the absence of faith...just like Jacob, He wants me to wrestle through some things with Him, knowing and believing that He will carry me through it. Faithfully. Because thats who He is, and what He does.

I know that He has me here for a higher purpose than getting my PhD...thats just a piece that I need for what He has planned. I have no idea what that final product is, but I know that He will be faithful to me to get me to that finish line...even if I have to wrestle my way there! I've been focusing on the wrong things...how hard this has been, how frustrated I am, how nothing seems to be working how I think it should...but God is asking me to look elsewhere up to Him. To get rid of that unbelief in my heart...that unbelief that is moved by what it sees, rather than by what God has done or said...that unbelief that instills that spirit of fear in my heart, keeping me from moving...that unbelief that is negative, making me think I can't do it. I have to shift my perspective higher - fix my gaze on the Lord and His Word - and keep my faith in check. I know that my God is faithful, I know that He loves me beyond what I can ever think or imagine, and I know that He rewards faith He credits it to me as righteousness (Romans 4). If I'm going to err in this thing...I'm going to err on the side of FAITH, rather than sitting here in the safety zone not believing.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Eternal Victory

I have been incredibly stressed out lately. School is crazier than ever. I am taking on too many things at once. I have let the craziness of school, aka - the world, steal my gaze from Christ. But as of last night, I read the book of Revelation. I've read it before, but tonight it came alive.

I kept thinking of Georg Handel's "Messiah" as I was reading (the big choir nerd that I was...one of my all time favorite musical compositions!). The majority of it comes straight from Scripture...

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
and of his Christ...
And He will reign for ever and ever...

As the apostle John continued to receive incredible visions about the last days, it was obvious that some great culmination was approaching. It appeared that the story was all over but the shouting. God had opened up Heaven and provided John with a sneak preview, everyone who has lived since has been offered an opportunity to hear of the celebration of God's incredible victory over evil.

It just doesn't get any better than this! The Lord will claim His omnipotent power and begin an uncontested reign - just as He has always promised and just as His people have anticipated since the beginning of time (Genesis 3:15). In John's vision, all of the saints and angels in Heaven fell on their faces and worshipped Jesus, recognizing Him as the eternal King over all creation. (sweet bliss!) The flawless relationship with God that He has promised His people throughout the ages will be theirs in every way imaginable. Sin and the devil will have be routed, and nothing will ever again stand between the Creator and His creatures! Wow!

When Jesus takes His place as the King of all creation, two things will happen. He will reward with eternal life in Heaven, those who have honored Him. But those who have refused Him will be granted precisely that for which they have asked all along - for God to leave them alone, forever. Revelation 11 began with a description of hell on earth, but in the middle of his vision of judgment, John reminded us that victory is certain. Certain! There will inevitably be conflicts and challenges ahead of us, but one glimpse of Heaven reminds us that God is still on the throne! God is in control - and we are in His arms!!

Rewind back to Romans, and remember what Paul told us (Romans 8)..."What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all - how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us"

That to me says we win. More than conquerors doesn't just mean we catch the hail mary at the last second...nope, more than conquerors to me says we're so far ahead, we could have quit playing at halftime...but we didn't. So don't quit - it could be the beginning of a new battle, you could be sitting in the locker room at halftime, or you could be so close to the finish that you can taste the victory - but don't lose sight of that victory! It's certain!

So if you're feeling down...stressed out from life...overwhelmed by the task at hand...read Revelation...and get your focus on the certain victory of Christ. Suddenly, the other troubles fade away - they don't go away - they just lose their power! I know, it's a confusing book - a tough book to swallow - but take the plunge, and let God reveal pieces of it to you!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Unparalled Joy

There are times when, as followers of Jesus, we celebrate with unparalleled joy. Zephaniah described that kind of celebration. He invited the people to sing, shout aloud, be glad, rejoice with all their heart. That's starts to scrape the surface of what I felt like doing at last night's service!

Zephaniah 3:14 marks a turning point in Zephaniah's prophecy. The beginning of the book concentrates on God's judgment, but then the mood lightens and the prophet focuses on the Lord's future promises for His people: promises of restoration, healing, and blessing. When the Messiah would come to establish His kingdom, Zephaniah predicted, there would be a celebration to exceed all others.

Many of the promises in Zephaniah deal with Jesus' second coming, but there are others for which I believe we can experience on an everyday basis. Check out Zephaniah 3:17 and see what God is doing - all the time!:

The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
First of all, God is with us, and He always has been. Many years after Zephaniah's ministry, when Jesus was about to return to Heaven, His followers must have been feeling the agony of impending loss. Jesus was leaving them...what?! But Jesus reassured them (and us) with the words, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20. Now when I read that - I see always, that doesn't mean sometimes, that doesn't mean only when I think to call out to Him, that doesn't mean only when I feel like I've screwed up - so He's going to be there judging me...nope, that's always! His presence comes to us in different forms at different times, but He is NEVER far from us (Acts 17:27).

God also saves us. In the New Testament, Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, a Jewish council or court, for questioning. Peter reminded those assembled that the only way to be delivered from sin is through Jesus, God's Son (not the easiest thing for a group of guys believing that strict following of the Law was the way to condemn sin to swallow...). "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). No other name. No other works. No special requirement of church attendance. Just Jesus - He saves us, period.

Sometimes the reality is difficult to comprehend, but God delights in us you guys!! He is vitally interested in our lives. You never have to wonder whether He is actually paying attention when you talk to Him - He is. You never have to question if He really care - He does. His love for us is so great that He sent His one and only Son to die for our sin so that we might have the opportunity to experience the fire of a relationship with Him.

Next, God quiets us with his love. What does that mean?? Well, we are restless creatures...we worry about everything. Worrying that God might not actually be out there, worrying that He might not really care, worrying about day-to-day things...we worry, we're restless. But His love is soothing and completely fulfilling if we will allow it to be. He quiets our restless spirits with His love. How much more could He love us than to die for us? (John 15:13).

Finally, God rejoices over us. The Bible has a lot to say about singing and rejoicing in God's honor (check out the Psalms...and the book of Revelation), but Zephaniah is made this amazing announcement that God is singing and rejoicing over us!! I just love this! What profound encouragement we can take from this? In the midst of a crappy day...God is singing over you. In the craziness of life...God is rejoicing over you. Always.

We all have something to shout about, no matter how trying and painful our particular circumstances might be. The God of the universe has saved us from our sin. He is right by our side, wherever we go. God loves us, delights in us, rejoices over us. Is it any wonder that all of Heaven honors Jesus by shouting aloud - Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!! (Revelation 5:12-13). And we are invited to join in the chorus.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The God of Second Chances

Sorry...this one is probably going to be a bit long...I've been thinking on it for a while

I was reading two passages this morning...Psalm 51 and Romans 8...and I am just overcome at the grace and mercy of my Father. I am left speechless, astonished, and amazed at the love He pours out in my life time and again. Reading these passages I started thinking about sin and why it's such a thorn in our sides, why it's such a frustrating thing to overcome, to break free from.

David is one of my favorite Old Testament people...he just rocks. I mean seriously - yes, the dude lived a life of devotion to God, but by no means did he live a perfect life. The greatest tragedy of his life was that he had an affair with a married woman and arranged to have her husband killed when she discovered that she was pregnant with David's baby. Psalm 51 gives us a glimpse into David's broken heart during this time, as he tells God about his sin and promises to turn back to his Creator and Father, the God of the second chance.

Sin is first and foremost a violation against God. We can be sure that in David's story, Bathsheba, Uriah, and David's son were wronged and hurt by David's poor choices. But the relationship that suffered the greatest was the one between David and God..."Against you, you only, have I sinned" (vs. 4). I think maybe it's not so much the actual 'sin' that is so detestable to God...but the fact that it creates brokenness in our relationship with Him. He created us to be in perfect relationship with Him, and our sin prevents that from happening.

Sin has consequences. After David turned away from God, he eventually experienced the full weight of what he had done and he talks about feeling crushed inside (vs. 8). You see, David knew that his relationship with the Father had been affected, and he had seen God remove His presence from Saul after Saul turned his back on God (see 1 Samuel 16:1, 14 and 2 Sanuel 7:15). When we sin, we lose the sense of peace and joy that comes from right living. When we grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), we feel His sorrow...because He lives in us and produces His fruit in us (Galatians 5:22).

Here's the beautiful thing...our relationship with God doesn't have to remain broken! David found the path leading back to God, and the same path is there for us. When we admit to God that we have sinned against Him and betrayed His trust, when we direct our steps back toward Him, He forgives us and no longer holds our sin against us (2 Corinthians 5:17-19; 1 John 1:9). God looks for a broken and contrite heart that seeks a restored relationship (Psalm 51:1-2, 17). He is the God of second chances. Not only did He forgive David, but look at how He used David to lead others back to Himself (vs. 13)...including us!

I don't think God intends for me to be perfect...because He knows in this world I will fail and stumble...but what He does intend for me to do is to run into His lap when I stumble - accepting the robes of righteousness that He places around my shoulders...throwing off the rags of guilt and shame that the enemy casts at me.

Jesus was sent by God to take upon Himself the burden of sin for all who would belive (Isaiah 53:6; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21). While we certainly need to confess our sins daily and strive more and more to live a life modeled after that of our Savior, the reality is that our sins have already been forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ.
He took our sin upon Himself, if it's on Him - it can't be on us.
Because of Jesus, when God looks at us, he sees our hearts as pure and clean (Isaiah 1:18).

Check out Romans 8...it is full of God's promises to us...to list a few:
...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...
...through Christ the law of the Spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin...
...the mind controlled by the Spirit is one of life and peace...
...we are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit...
...our spirit is alive because of righteousness...
...we rest in a Spirit of sonship, not a spirit of fear...
...we are God's children, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ...
...nothing can separate us from the love of God...

As I was driving today, I heard the song, "You are so Beautiful" by Joe Cocker. It's such a simple song...but I just pictured Jesus singing it to me, and I was completely overwhelmed with His love for me in that moment...and always...
~You are so beautiful to me ~ You are so beautiful to me ~
Can't you see ~
~You're everything I hoped for ~ You're everything I need ~
You are so beautiful to me ~

So I've come to the conclusion that I just need to let God be awesome, to let Him be wonderful, to let Him love me without the restraints that I place on His love for me...to let Him be who HE is...the God who loves to love me, the God who sees me as perfect, the God who grants me the willing Spirit to do His will...the God of Second Chances.

Friday, July 14, 2006

When God is Silent

There are stagnant periods in the lives of many believers during which God seems almost strangely silent. Perhaps that hs never been more true than during the four centuries between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and after his death God did not send a successor until the birth of John the Baptist.

It isn't too difficult to visualize Old Testment prophets whose primary role was to pronounce doom and gloom on God's unfaithful people. But Malachi closed his prophecy with words that should have infused all future generations with hope:

Surely the day is coming...the day when people would see God's righteousness, and there would be healing for God's people with "Elijah" appeared (see Malachi 4:1-6).

The "Elijah" to whom Malachi pointed would be who we know as John the Baptist, and his purpose was to prepare the people for the ministry of the One who would set us free from slavery to sin.

What must it have been like to be alive during the intertestamental period? I sometimes think when I haven't clearly heard from God in a day that everything is crazy! But these people had no prophets, no message from the Lord - only a seemingly enless void - for 400 years! Some people very likely assumed that God had forgotten them. Others may have concluded that He no longer cared, or that He had given up on them. I think we all live through times during which it seems that we are unable to make contact with our Lord, and we inevitably experience the same fears and doubts. Living during these times of apparent one-way communication requires FAITH.

How do we make it through these silent times? By remembering what God has already said and done! Even though there had been no prophet since Malachi, the people had already received God's promises...and so have we. We already have access to the word of the Lord. The faith of some of the people alive between Malachi and John the Baptist no doubt matured as they continued to turn to God in faith and cling to His promises. And we can do the same!

In the final analysis, God is never really silent (see Hebrews 1:1-3). He might not furnish new revelation with every new day, but we always have His eternal and completely reliable Word to inspire hope in our hearts! After all, we serve the infinite and all-powerful God who pledges that He will ever be "faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made" (Psalm 145:13). And nowhere has this incredible promise been more beautifully and perfectly expressed than in the gift of His precious Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

So be strong...keep the faith...and know that God is with you in this desert silence! In my life, I have definitley learned that He takes me to those depths before He hits me with something huge - something I never could have planned or imagined!!

I chuckle remembering my winter this past year - yikes! But when I look where He has brought me, what He has done in my life, who He has placed in my life - how perfect His timing and provision!!! Trust in what you know to be true of Him...recount all that He has done, the depths from which He has already brought you - and walk in FAITH - knowing that He will lead you where He wants you!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Spiritual Battles

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. THe weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

When I read this passage, I think it's easy to see that walking with God destines us to be engaged in spiritual warfare. My first response to thinking about me having the power of God, is sweet - I win, don't mess with me! But I think rather than feeling arrogant and condescending because of our relationship with God, we can use the "weapons" (His power and strength...) to fight against the spiritual forces that strive to lure us off track.

When I think of spiritual warfare - I think so much more globally...angels and demons...battles in the heavenlies...darkness and light...but God is starting to reveal to me something so much more powerful - it's also about me individually. The battlefield of our minds.

As we make God-honoring choices, God gives us His own power and helps us to overcome enemy strongholds, every human attempt to claim honor for oneself, or any other obstacle that threatens to draw us away from Him and keeps us in bondage to sin. In this passage, Paul urges us to gain control over our own minds, to pray for the power that alone can enable us to capture every thought and use it in the service of Jesus.

We are called to focus consciously on our own thought patterns and to continually ask ourselves whether our thoughts are glorifying Jesus or serving ourselves. (ouch!) But the more we get to know Jesus, the better equipped we will be to do this! Spiritual battle begins with our private thoughts, and it can only be won using the spiritual tools which have been placed at our disposal because of the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ!

What are those tools? Check out Ephesians 6:10-20...here, Paul gives us a picture of how we can effectively be strong in God's power. Again, he reminds us that our battle isn't in this world - it's in the spiritual realm. I think it's important to note that certainly - the war that wages in the heavenlies can manifest itself in the natural world...war, famine, disasters, sickness...but the root of the battle is still spiritual!

To fight this battle, Paul urges us to put on the full armor of God...
...the belt of TRUTH...
...the breastplate of RIGHTEOUSNESS...
...feet fitted with the gospel of PEACE...
...the shield of FAITH...
...the helmet of SALVATION...
...the sword of the SPIRIT...
God has provided to us an armor to protect us from the flaming arrows of satan..but we have to make the choice to use it! Our enemy is smart and cunning...he knows the weaknesses in our armor - and you can be sure that those weaknesses are going to be the first place he is aiming to throw us off track! But you guys, we don't have to live defeated because we are weak. God's Word says His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). So grab hold of God's truth - the righteousness of Christ that He places on you - and exercise your faith. Choose to use the armor God has given you - and live victoriously!!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Jesus, Remember Me

The sinless Son of God was executed on a cross, hanging helpless between two hardened criminals. The crowd jeered, ("the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him" Matthew 27:44). But one of the thieves experienced a radical change of heart.

This robbers first action was to confront the other criminal, reminding him that they as partners in crime fully deserved execution, but pointing out that Jesus had done nothing wrong (Luke 23:41). But the thief didn't stop there - he goes on to ask Jesus for help. His request was short and to the point..."Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). This is amazing!!! Through some flash of revelation this man with a crazy past recognized Jesus as the Messiah and the King - realizing that faith in Jesus would provide his only access into God's eternal kingdom.

Even cooler is Jesus' response to him..."I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). This guilt-ridden criminal received a great deal more than he had bargained for. He asked only to be remembered - but Jesus gave him more, Jesus promised to BE WITH him. This was far more than the promise of a distant future in some far-off kingdom. Jesus says, TODAY this thief would experience the glory of paradise with the God who was now dying to save him.

Jesus regularly does more than we even dare to ask. (can I get an amen!?) The apostle Paul pointed out that he is able to do immeasureably more than all we ask or imagine because His power is working in us (Ephesians 3:20-21). More than we can even imagine...that's crazy! This man hanging on a cross next to Jesus had lived only to please himself, literally almost until his last breath. And simply by placing his destiny in the hands of Jesus, he experienced "immeasureably more" than he was requesting or could ever have fantasized would happen to him! Immediately following his last rasping breath, he would find himself in the place of blessedness, where he would be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23).

How often are we confused about what God expects from us?? We start to believe that we have to comply with the expectations of our Christian social circles, our families, our churches. But think about this you guys, the thief on the cross had never been baptized. He didn't attend regular church services. He didn't deposit money into the offering plate every week. And he undoubtedly performed more bad deeds than good. But he did do one thing...he chose to admit his sin, to acknowledge who Jesus was, and to ask the Savior for help.

Oh how I pray that we will do the same...don't get caught up in playing church, in doing things because you think you should...get caught up in the person Jesus Christ. Be ruined by His love for you. Think about the truth that He is able to do immeasureably more than all you could ever ask or even imagine! He always exceeds our expectations - amazing!

Monday, June 26, 2006


Gethsemane - the place that has come to signify a place of intense suffering and courageous submission.

After Jesus had celebrated the Passover with His disciples, the group went together to the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asked His friends to keep watch while He went to pray alone a short distance away. Luke says that prayer was so full of anguish that His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44).

Prayer is one of the disciplines of a godly life that we frequently find difficult to completely understand. I think oftentimes the whole concept seems intimidating or even baffling because we try to use unfamiliar words, or sound a certain way, like God is interested in whether or not we use proper English when we talk to Him! God never intended that talking with Him should be threatening! His desire is that prayer be more like an intimate conversation than some profound theological discourse. He just wants to hear our voice, to know that we trust Him enough to come to Him - even if we sound like babbling idiots! Jesus began His prayer that night at Gethsemane with, "my Father," and he has instructued us to address God in the same manner when we approach Him in prayer (Luke 11:2).

You guys - true prayer, the kind that moves Heaven, it requires honesty. Honesty with ourselves, and honesty with God. That night in the garden, Jesus knew full well that He was about to be arrested, and with every ounce of human emotion He dreaded and resisted the idea that He was about to die on the cross. He pleaded with His Father...you know, I kinda don't want to do this - if it's possible, take this away from me (Matthew 26:39). But the key is - Jesus openly expressed His emotions, He was honest with God in His prayer! He of course knew that His request was against God's eternal design, but He was honest with God! I strongly believe that God honors honesty in our prayers!! Jesus said if it were possibe he would have preferred to avoid the anguish ahead of Him. This isn't a sign of weakness - rather it was an expression of authenticity and honesty. In the same way, when we face seemingly unbearable suffering, it is perfectly legitimate for us to plead with our heavently Father to deliver us from the pain.
But hear me - when we approach God in a prayer like this, we have to be willing in advance to submit to whatever He decides is best. Jesus didn't look forward to the pain, but He had the wisdom and the courage to add yet not as I will, but Your will be done. Through this He acknowledged that His Father's will had to take priority over His own personal desires.
When we come into God's presence in this spirit of humble submission, of willingness to surrender control, to let go into the loving arms of the Father, we know in advance that while He may not change our circumstances, He will most definitely change us through the experience.
God honors honesty in our prayers - He just wants to hear our voice. Don't worry if you don't sound like so and so...God wants to hear YOUR voice, and YOUR heart! He wants us to trust Him, and believe Him when He says He listens to our prayers.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer (1 Peter 3:12)

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11:24)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

We're Kinda Dumb

I'm all over reading about Jesus' miracles in the gospels...God is just blasting me with an understanding that the miracles of Jesus are just the ordinary works of the Father, He just has to scale it down so we might actually believe them to have happened. Imagine what He could do with children who had the faith to believe anything He threw at them!

I was thinking about when Jesus miraculously satisfied the hungry masses at the feeding of the 5000...then he sent His disciples across the lake by boat while He went to pray (even Jesus needed quiet times of rest with the Father...probably a good plan for us too, then!). Later that evening, He cross the lake Himself - walking on water. (He's so cool!) As He approached the disciples in the boat, they assumed that a ghost was drifting toward them (yep, the Holy Ghost..well, sort of!), but Jesus calms their fears with three simple words..."Don't be afraid" (Mark 6:50). When He climbed into the boat, Mark says the disciples were "completely amazed"...I'm guessing they were sitting in shocked silence, you know the kind where you just shake your head wondering what just happened?! Mark 6:52 tells us that "they had not understood about the loaves." In other words, the disciples just didn't get it...we're kinda dumb! They had just witnessed Jesus feeding more than 5000 people with a handful of food, and they were still astonished that He could walk on water. This is so me! How many blessings and miracles has He brought on my life...and I'm still shocked at His goodness! We're kinda dumb! But as you read through the gospels, you see the disciples began to see that Jesus could do anything - it was only through experience that they finally figured this out! And the same it true with us - only as we get to know Jesus on an intimate level, can we learn that He can do anything in and through our lives! The more we observe Him carrying out His plans for our lives, the less astounded we'll be when He performs what seems unimaginable to us! Then we can start to become kinda smart...but only because of Him!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Prophet Without Honor (for Nicole)

Text: Mark 6

I'm getting ready to head home for my 10 year high school reunion (yikes, when did THAT happen?!?!)...and was reading in Mark about when Jesus goes to his hometown...some thoughts I thought I'd share...

No matter what we do with our lives after we become adults...how far we travel or how much we learn...returning to our hometown is often an emotional experience. (Kids...you'll understand this in about 10 years) Most people will at one time or another speak nostalgically about their childhood memories, and my psychology background tells me that to some degree, people make sense of their daily experiences through the filter of the patterns and recollections of their youth. So in some way, we are all forever affected by something of what we were as children.

Jesus understood these feelings about childhood experiences. When He returned to Nazereth and taught in the synagogue, the people there were amazed by His wisdom and miracles but found themselves unable to reconcile what they were seeing and hearing with the fact that Jesus was a local carpenter's son (Mark 6:2-3). Within the close-knit circle of small-town life, they had watched Him grow up, and their response to His teaching was skewed by their recollections of what had been in many ways an ordinary childhood. (I love how God makes ordinary - extraordinary!)

The citizens of Nazareth lacked faith. But Jesus refused to simply walk away and give up on them. He did not perform many miracles in Nazareth, but He did perform some (verses 5-6). I think the reaction that stung the most HAD to have been that of His own family. Check out Mark 3:20-21 - His own family questioned His sanity!! (Jesus entered a h ouse, and again a crowd gathered, so that He and His disciples were not even able to eat. WHen His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him, for they said, "He is out of His mind") In John 7:5, John explains it as, "Even His own brothers did not believe in Him."

Nicole...this is where I find the Holy Spirit bringing you to mind! In our own lives, I think it can sometimes be most difficult to discuss the reality of Jesus' love and salvation with those who know us best. They may listen to what we say and even acknowledge that they can observe a change in our demeanor since we first met the Savior, but they will almost invariably judge us through what they remember of us...the "family" lens. They are probably the most skeptical because they remember too much. Or because they see that there is something different, but they have no idea how to approach it and understand it.

I think the key is - even when our parents, brothers, sisters, or close friends reject our words or are embarassed by our devotion to Jesus, we can not simply resign ourselves to their entrenched attitudes! Eventually, Jesus' own family DID come to the point of belief (see Acts 1:14). What speaks the loudest is not the idea that we are perfect, but the observation that we are consistent. (Oh...how I could write for hours on this one!) The example of a changed life before Jesus, will make a difference over time to those around us who find it hard to understand or believe!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Miracles Aren't Enough

I've been reading through a number of the miracles Jesus performed (as recorded in Matthew) over the past few days. It's obvious that Jesus' miracles attracted a lot of attention because there were crowds of people following Him everywhere (Jesus was a rock star!). But these miracles didn't always result in people turning to God in faith. In Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus condemned the towns of Koran, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because they had seen with their own eyes who He was and what He had done - yet had failed to believe. It seems that witnessing miracles does not always lead people to want to get to know God. This is so hard for me to understand because God has used miracles in my own life to draw me closer to Him (although, I definitely miss out on some from time to time because I'm retarded...). So it got me thinking - when two people witness the same event, how is it that one person is left doubting and another is found running into God's presence? I think the answer lies in God's grace. Only God's grace can bring about a change in our hearts.

While these New Testament miracles may have constituted irrefutable evidence that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, they can not in and of themselves soften and change unyielding hearts of stone. When we witness things around us that build our faith, draw us near to God, and basically just blow us away - that is the Lord wooing us into His presence, saying - come my child - let me show you what I have for you - this is just the beginning!

I think it comes down to three things...commitment, worship, and repentance. You see, Jesus desires our commitment, not our applause. He longs for our worship, rather than merely our wonder. And he yearns for our repentance, rather than simply our respect.

The greatest miracle anyone can experience is having his or her heart transformed by the touch of God's love and grace (see Matthew 13:11-17 and Ephesians 2:4-10). I think I always view this as the big salvation transformation of our hearts, and forget that God wants to transform my heart daily. I think too often I miss the small touches of His love because I am looking for the big signs and wonders. O how I pray that we will begin to understand His grace on a level beyond salvation and repentance. And move into an understanding that daily He rejoices over us with singing, He delights in us, and His love quiets our hearts - drawing us in to see the world through His eyes (Zephaniah 3:17).

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Stupid Satan

A short one today...I'm supposed to be working - but keep thinking of this, so I'm sharing!

Last week sometime, I was reading in Zechariah (chapter 3) and I've been thinking on this, as well as challenged to believe it, over the past week. In this chapter, Zechariah was allowed to witness a very unusual sight - basically Satan was standing next to Joshua, God's high priest, and accusing him of spiritual inadequacy (Zechariah 3:1-2). How often to we hear him accusing us in that fashion?? You didn't do your devotions this morning....You missed youth group last week...You don't pray enough. Here's the cool part - God let Satan know that Joshua was one of God's own and that God Himself had made him acceptable. God made Him acceptable - not anything Joshua had done on his own accord! And Zechariah is not the only Biblical character to have observed Satan accusing one of God's people. John also saw Satan as the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God (Revelation 12:10).

Satan accuses us night and day - but here's the beautiful thing - we don't have to fear his accusations because we have a defender standing with us before God. We have One who speaks to the Father in our defense - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (1 John 2:1). So Satan accuses us...Jesus defends us...but it goes even further! (How awesome is our Father!) In Zechariah 3, the angel of the Lord stood by Joshua's side (verse 5...the angel of the Lord was the preincarnate Jesus if I'm not mistaken!). And Zechariah observed the angel speaking to Joshua and offering forgiveness and fresh, clean robes in which he could serve God. Wow! Not only does Jesus defend us against the enemy's accusations - but when we are obedient to run to God when we sin - He clothes us with righteousness.

ps...I know this sounds an awful lot like my message last week...but it's so foundational to us understanding who we are in Christ - and living free lives before Him. Grab hold of it - and run!!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Dry Bones

Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14

This is blowing my mind this morning...I don't know why because I've read/heard about this passage many times before...but wow. God accompanied his servant Ezekiel on an incredible trip - a spiritual journey to a land of dry bones. In this vision, the Lord asked Ezekiel whether the piles of bones could come back to life. Simple question with an obvious answer - or so Ezekiel thought! And yet, he refused to give a definite response one way or the other (haha, I just chuckle thinking about this...). If he were to have reminded God that bones can't live, he would have been expressing doubt concerning God's power. On the other hand, accepting the premise that the bones could indeed come back to life would have implied endorsing a human impossibility. This is great! How often do we find ourselves in this position ("God...I have no idea how you are going to bring so-and-so to You, it seems impossible to me - but I'm not going to say it's impossible, because well, it's YOU I'm talking to..."). Ezekiel responded with what seemed the only plausible answer (and one I'm thinking we should consider more often!), "God - only You know that!" (Ezekiel 37:3).

Ezekiel did not formulate his own plan of action but instead placed his trust in God's ability to act. After Ezekiel had responded in faith, God gave him what seemed a ludicrous directive: "Prophesy to these bones - tell them to come back to life." WHAT?!?! Ezekiel must have been floored - doubting, but wanting so desperately to believe. It is one thing to believe that God can accomplish the impossible but quite another to become personally involved in the process! Ezekiel, however, did exactly as God had requested. Incredibly, those bones did take on flesh and become animate. Before long, an entire army stood at attention. On that day God performed a phenomenal miracle for Ezekiel's benefit in order to remind his people (then the Isrealites..now, us!) that He is indeed the Lord and that His promises are powerful and true!

When God's Word is faithfully taught, that which is dead in our souls is revitalized through the working of God's Holy Spirit. How many times do we think/say this verse..."I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). Now, when are we going to start believing it to be true??! Jesus told His disciples, "apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). The same Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead, healed the sick, and fed more than 5,000 people with a few fish and loaves of bread can do the seemingly impossible for us!!! He can transform our listless spirits and make us a powerful army of servants...if we let Him! God can breathe life into the most desperate of situations...if we let Him! God will change your life...if you let Him!!!

Oftentimes our strength becomes depleted to the point of discouragement or even despair. What was that about our strength coming from Christ? Right. Oh, and that part about apart from Him I can do nothing. Sweet. We have got to trust in the truth of God's Word to instill new life into our monotonous routine filled lives! Nothing is impossible for our God!

What dry bones are you waiting for the Lord to speak life into? Do you believe HE can do it? Believe Him - take Him at His Word!! Can you even imagine what this world would look like if God's people started believing He can actually do what He says He can do?!

Believe Me now ~ Believe Me here ~ Remember all the times I've told you loud and clear ~ I am with you ~ I am for you ~ So believe Me now

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

In the Lions' Den

Between reading Daniel, and an email I received from a friend talking about how hard it is to continually trust in God to provide - and to turn away from the world...I was thinking 'what's up with the lions' so I did some research and had some thoughts...I love how He continually links aspects of my life together into His grand scheme...

So, the lions...at various times throughout history, rulers have used lions to both torture and kill those individuals who opposed them (the rulers). Apparently, during the periods of persecution during the first centuries following Jesus' death and resurrection, members of the early church were repeatedly thrown to the lions because their decision to walk with God and stake their lives on faith in his Son ran counter to the official government stance. Then there's Daniel - while Darius was ruler of Babylon, Daniel was accused of treason and thrown into a den full of restless, ravenous lions (Daniel 6:16-21). The beauty of this story is God sending His angel to keep the lions from attacking Daniel, protecting His servant (verse 22).

Which brings me to us...the very fact that we choose to walk with God involves a second implicit choice...a choice to walk out of step with this world (Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:15), and Satan makes certain that believers will feel the consequences of this decision (Job 1:7; 1 Peter 5:8). Stupid Satan...

Jesus warned his followers that they would be handed over...and put to death, that they would be hated by all nations because of their faith in Him (Matthew 24:9). Jesus also addressed this issue when He began his Sermon on the Mount with the recitation of the Beatitudes..."Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).

It's a hard choice to choose walking with God, knowing that you are opening yourself up for attacks from the enemy on a daily basis. Satan would love for us to forget God's promises to us...that He has sent His Spirit to guide and protect us - and to reveal God's truth to us when we choose to live for Him (John 16:13). In this world we will have trouble - it's a given...but be of good cheer...our King has overcome the world!!! (John 16:33)

Be encouraged friends - Heaven is coming...Jesus is coming! Don't lose sight of that hope!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Radical Transformation

I think one of the pitfalls we face in following Jesus is the temptation to focus on how our lives look to other people around us - rather than on how God is changing us from the inside out - one day at a time. We get so caught up in how things look to others, it's such a lie from Satan! It's that Casting Crowns song - Stained Glass Masquerade...
Are we happy plastic people ~ Under shiny plastic steeples ~ With walls around our weakness ~ And smiles to hide our pain ~ But if the invitations open ~ To every heart that has been broken ~ Maybe then we close the curtain ~ On our stained glass masqueradeWe are so worried about how others will perceive how our relationship with the Lord is going...we lose the point - that the Lover of our souls is changing our hearts and molding them to be more like His. So not the point of what I was going to write today...but a good tangent nonetheless!
What I really wanted to write about is how our hearts are God's chief concern, not what we look like to other people around us. I've been reading a ton in the Old Testament lately, and I'm always quick to judge the Isrealites for losing their focus on God in the context of what looks to us like the clutter of endless rituals, but aren't we the same way?? We, too, are tempted to take our eyes off the Lord and concentrate on our outward appearance of spirituality, on how we present ourselves to other people...to God..or any other number of lies Satan fires at us to get our focus off the Lord. Satan stops at nothing to steal our gaze. Stupid jerk.
God promised Ezekiel that he would provice the nation of Isreal with a new heart and a new spirit. The people would experience a fundamental transformation from the inside out, and this radical change of heart and spirit would inevitable lead to a life of obedience (Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27).
First, God promised a new heart. Sin rejoices in prompting us to deny the truth, but God is explicit in his analysis: The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9). Our entire self has been permeated and corrupted by sin, we are powerless to change that fact. BUT - God is a heart surgeon of incomparable skill - in fact, he administers a total heart transplant! (Eat your heart out Dr. Burke...no pun intended). God removed the old heart of stone (Ezekiel 36:26) that has resisted his will and replaces it with a new, softer version - one that is vital and responsive! A new heart offers new life, new direction, new desires and new possibilites for us!
Second, God promised that along with their new heart would come the very Spirit of God (Ezekiel 36:27). In the OT, the Spirit of God came on people, but did not live in people. God's promise of his indwelling Spirit must have sounded strange to the 'ol Isrealites - how could God dwell IN them?!? Much later, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be present after his ascension to guide not only the disciples - but US into all truth (John 16:5-15). The outpouring of the Spirit occured in a dramatic way on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4...wouldn't that have been cool to see?). The key here is, it is the SAME SPIRIT within our own hearts who infuses in us the power to resist sin and to obey the Lord (Galatians 5:16-26). The power of the life-giving Spirit has set you free from the power of sin that leads to death! (Romans 8:2)
So you see, it's the combination of the new heart and the new Spirit that God imparts to us that gives us the power to resist sin, and be transformed radically by our Father! Jesus made it abundantly clear that we are incapable of camouflaging that dark, icky stuff in our hearts. He knows our hearts better than we know them ourselves! Remember the Sermon on the Mount? It was there that Jesus made the profound statement that, "where our treasure is, there our heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). Later on, he told a group of Pharisees the "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34).
Then remember that command Jesus gave us...Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).
With heart, soul, mind, and strength - in other words, with everything we are - we are called to love our God!
And out of this love will inevitably flow an outpouring of heartfelt and selfless service, service that the world will see and recognize as genuine...not a fake mask we're putting on to look spiritual and put together!

So once again...it all comes down to our hearts and love...amazing!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Not because of what I've done...
But because of who You are...
(From 'Who Am I' by Casting Crowns)

As a Christian, as a human, this is the hardest thing to come to grips with.
You're saved,
you are going to heaven,
and you didn't do a thing to deserve it.
You didn't say a million prayers...
Or convert a hundred jungle natives...
You didn't do anything except what came naturally...

You heard the truth.
That God, the creator of everything, loves you.
He became a man so He could relate to you.
He died in your place.
He rose from the dead so you could be assured that He has the
power to fulfill any promise He makes.
How can you help but fall on your face and worship and adore Him!!
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Ahhhh Yeah!!!

I'm not sure which is sweeter...

The AVS advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals...or the Red Wings getting beat by Edmonton in the first round!!!!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Are You Kiding Me?!

5-4 OT to go up 2-0 in the series!!!
After blowing a 3 goal lead at the end of the first, they were down 4-3 late in the third...tied it up, then freakin' WON in OT!!!
Totally worth staying up until midnight for!
Back to Denver now...ahhh yeah!!!
Matty...you're going down my friend!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Scandalous Love

So I've been spending some time this week reflecting on Easter. It all kind of started because I wasn't fired up about it this year like I have been in years past and that was bothering me. How could I not fall on my face in gratitude and awe over this man Christ Jesus who died for me, then rose from the dead?!?!

You see - I've been struggling lately - attacks on a number of my relationships and my foundation is being tested. There are days I wake up wondering if it's all a dream - and I have to remind myself that it's HIS strength that I stand on, not my own.

But back to Easter...I've decided it's like Christmas, Part II. Because really, what is the point of Christmas without Easter? Some time in history when God simply came to earth to pay a visit? I mean really, without His rising from the dead, the joy of Christmas loses it's meaning.

Then I thought further...what really then is Easter without Good Friday? That torturous day when Jesus took MY place in the death that I deserve. I obviously am no innocent person - pretty far from it. If some of you really knew me, I think you'd be surprised at the struggle I face daily to submit myself under God's plan for my life and not control it all on my own. And it goes so much deeper than that. I hate the sin in my heart...yet I'm so in love with the world. It's scandalous really.

The Bible says not one of us is innocent. Not one! "No one is righteous, not even one." "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." I don't see a lot of room for setting myself on a pedestal and proclaiming myself worthy of God's love there. But when God looks at me, He declares that I am righteous. Seriously? Once we were slaves, but we are slaves no longer because of Christmas....which has it's meaning because of Easter...which has it's meaning only because of Good Friday. Wow - that God, He sure had a plan! Maybe I should learn to trust Him a little better with my own life since He did so well with His Son's!!!

I watched 'The Passion of the Christ' earlier this week - and I was reminded of the suffering and agony that Jesus went through as He took on my sin and death. He took all the beating that I deserve - through his sacrifice He defeated the laws of sin. And three days later He defeated the laws of death. Hallelujah!!

Because of this, we have no fear of sin's mastery in our lives, nor do we fear death...when we rely on HIS strength - sin is defeated, the grave is defeated, and get this - we are declared righteous because of it. How cool is that...and how mind blowing!

I'm the one who has screwed up - I lost it all. Yet, He did it all. And in the end, I get it all. Through Jesus, we have a promised hope - and all of our mistakes are atoned for.

I guess it's about time I start living like it...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

After much deliberation...my new TOP 10!!

Springtime is a time to reflect on the lessons you learned through the winter...a time to look at your goals and adjust where necessary...a time to focus on reality and realize that some dreams weren't meant to be achieved, and so you must dream up new dreams...

So after much deliberation...I now present to you (my dearest friend) my new Top 10. While these 10 new individuals could never truly replace the 10 posted on our refridgerator so many years ago...I believe they reflect a new, more mature Stacey - one who has moved on from such childish dreams of marrying Peter Forsberg or ah hem, Brian Griese - to dreams that will certainly become reality! :-)

Patrick Dempsey (ahh - McDreamy!)
Bruce Willis (yes, still..the man gets hotter the older he gets!)
Brad Pitt (like that could change...)
Joaquin Phoenix (hello...)
Jack Johnson
Howie Day (yes, I know he looks like he's 12, but it's the eyes...)
Anson Mount (even though the movie sucks...he's still beautiful)
Matthew McConaughey
Dan Hinote
Jake Plummer (I still think he's kinda hot...yikes)

**Mentioned in no particular order, should one call - I'll be sure to alert the troops that the other 9 can be removed...

Resting on THE Rock

I was reading in Isaiah this morning (such a cool book by the way...) and thought I'd share some thoughts...ISAIAH 28
So I was thinking...very few people can relax on a boat during a raging thunderstorm with swelling waves and pummeling rain, or in an airplane surging through turbulent winds (think...the storms we've had around here lately!), or in the midst of a hurricane or an earthquake. If you've ever been on a boat during a bad storm, maybe you know what it's like to grope for a secure place to stand. When we are in situations like this, we find ourselves stumbling, grasping for anything to hold us steady - and praying for a firm foothold on steady ground. Good news! (good news mom - I got a scooter..haha, I love my nephews) Anyway - there IS a sure foundation on which to stand, Someone who will keep us safe and guide us by the hand through the most intense turmoil imaginable, Someone who will allow us to find rest, when all around us is turmultuous and threatening.

God's message to the northern kingdom in this passage was that the people could find their rest in Him. It hadn't taken long for the Isrealites to become rigid and ritualistic in their observance of God's law. Rather than getting to know God, and encountering Him, they had turned his words into a rule book. Their basis for facing life's issues had become adherence to an inflexible list of do's and don'ts. Rules in and of themselves, however, are insecure and ultimately unsatisfying. Isaiah captured the essence of the philosophy of the Israelites of his day by referring to it as a complex system of "Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there - so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured" (Isaiah 28:13)

The children of God were so preoccupied with obeying all theh rules that they had begun stumbling all over one another. Surprisingly God's counsel to his people was to slow down and be still - to rest. We can almost hear God's gently appeal, whispering on the winds of the storm: "Quit trying so hard! There is nothing you need to do except enjoy me! I have provided everything for you, so step out of the storm you have created and relax!"

Now I'm not condoning a sloppy lifestyle of living and flirting with sin, and then just saying Jesus wont care and he winks or something. That is not what Im talking about. Because its Gods kindness that leads us to repentance. When we figure out that God is a God of kindness, we want to turn from everything that hinders love. I dont want to take advantage of the kindness of God. Kindness leads to repentance, not sloppy lifestyles.

Anyway - Isaiah reminded the people that there was a "stone" on which they could rest without ever experiencing dismay. This stone is one hundred percent safe and secure, a place of reprieve from the endless round of doing and rule-keeping. That stone is Jesus, God's Son, the "sure foundation" (vs. 16) for all of life (see also Psalm 118:22 and 1 Corinthians 3:11).

Peter quoted Isaiah's words and encouraged believers to become people of integrity who are not blown away by the storms of life. As we live holy lives we become strong and immoveable (see 1 Peter 2:4-12).

So relax, settle down, trust him!!! And find joy in your journey of faith (Matthew 11:28).

Monday, April 03, 2006

Look For Him Everywhere!

I just had the most incredible encounter with God - in the most unlikely of circumstances!!! Never in a million years would I have expected to be encouraged and encounter Him with one of my clients - but He is so perfect, awesome, and amazing.

Just this week I've been seeking Him - wondering how this whole PhD thing fits into His plan - asking Him for confirmation that I am where He wants me to be.

He has a divine purpose for EVERYTHING that we do...and if we look for Him in everything that He has called us to do - we'll find Him...and He's gonna knock our socks off!! All He's called us to do is search for Him...kinda like an Easter egg - search high and low - under every nook and cranny.

Search for him everywhere - let Him blow you away!! He's so incredible - rock on!!!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Liquor, Lust, and Learning

In his search for meaning in life, the "Teacher" (aka, King Solomon, I think...) in Ecclesiastes related that he had chased after many of the same goals our own society glamorizes:

Think deeper...
party harder...
experiment with more options...
experience all that you can (Ecclesiastes 1-2).

But the Teacher discovered what many of us have learned. It's all a waste of time in the end, for "with much wisdom comes much sorrow" (Ecclesiastes 1:18).

In other words, sometimes the more we learn from the experience, the worse we feel. Ignorance can indeed be bliss! :-) And it can take a lot of false starts for us to find out what really matters, leaving us with a deep and pervading sense of regret and futility.

Life begins to make sense for us only when we learn to trust God and take His words seriously. Jesus was explicit about his purpose for us: "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). Living for Jesus bring true fulfillment to life, and our searching souls find satisfaction only when we realize that He is the One we have been looking for all along, the One who alone can fill our hungry souls with all we need for true joy (John 6:35, 48-51).

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Getting Out of the Mud

"Get out of the mud my child, I have something much bigger planned for you."

Lord I need You. I need your strengh and grace. I was never meant to do this alone. Let Galatians 3:3 be inscribed on my heart...Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?...I'm weary because I am relying on my own strengh. I can't fight this giant with my hands. I call on You, Abba, my Deliverer...Deliver me. Let me embrace Your FREEDOM as I fall into your embrace. Thank you for your truth - and the freedom that accompanies that truth. Forgive me for not trusting you, for trying to orchestrate what only Perfection can do. Wash over me - and awaken deeper Love within me! I love you!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Mourning into Dancing

Something I was thinking of after some talks with my sister and running this morning...

Being a follower of Jesus doesn't imply that bad times will never come...there are the mountains and the valleys - and the valleys are very real and sometimes painful, even when we are walking with God!

We live in a world polluted by sin and are compelled daily to deal with the consequences of that sin - both our own and that of other people. We do not escape the effects of sin just because we accept Jesus and his forgiveness. But the difference should be the manner in which we approach the painful aspects of our lives. If we know God, we can trust Him in everything - even in those valleys - and say "I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths" (Ps 30:1).

It is often when we are in the depths of those valleys that we really learn to count on God to get us through. When the walls that we have erected to help us keep our balance are knocked down around us, we begin to sink in the the 'slimy mire' - and we come face-to-face with the fact that God Himself is the only One strong enough to rescue us! Wow!

I think of David, and how he danced before the Lord in celebration after confessing His sin to the Lord. God turns our mourning into dancing, if we will seek Him and let Him!! (Ps 30:5 - though the sorrow may last for the night, His joy comes in the morning!!!) It is during these times that we experience new dimensions of our relationship with Him and receive fresh new assurances of His unceasing love and care....new revelations of His character to trust in the next time we're in the valley!

Dance before the Lord today and be encouraged!

On Being the Body

"I remember hearing about an old comic strip. Two guys are talking to each other, and one of them says he has a question for God. He wants to ask why God allows all of this poverty and war and suffering to exist in the world. And his friend says, 'Well, why don't you aks?' The fellow shakes his head and says he is scared. When his friend asks why, he mutters, 'I'm scared God will ask me the same question.' Over and over, when I ask God why all of these injustices are allowed to exist in the world, I can feel the Spirit whisper to me, 'You tell me why we allow this to happen. You are my body, my hands, my feet.'" (The Irrestible Revolution by Shane Claiborne)

Monday, March 20, 2006

A New Generation of Kids


I have so much to learn from these kids - reckless abandon to Him and confidence in the authority He gives to His children!!!

"I call myself a wimp and I call You a majesty!"

"May we be smitten by your love Lord, that nothing else will matter, but how much we love you Lord"


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Who Do You Say That I Am?

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked, "Who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heave, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." [Matthew 16:13-19]

God has been calling me to push my limits of my understanding of who He is. As I ponder who I say that He is - I fear that I fail to utterly grasp the nature of God. I have structured my conception of Jesus to fit within the parameters of my own expectations and desires. I am quick to confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but then I proceed to try to force Him into some opening that represents my own image, perspectives, and needs. My human nature wants to make Jesus palatable to this modern culture, rather than allowing Him to shine forth before the world as the crucified and risen Savior! I realized this morning that by doing that - I am doing the work of Satan...Satan wants to sensitize Christ so that Christ's people will not understand the power they hold, the freedom they possess, and the righteousness they have been clothed in. Beloved, God wants to entrust us with His power - but He will only do that when we KNOW who He is!

In Matthew 16:19, Jesus says whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. He wants us to BELIEVE WHAT HE HAS GIVEN US - power to bind the enemy, and loose the Holy Spirit on this earth! Oh how I want to believe Him to the absolute limit that He will allow me to! Increase my faith Lord, help my unbelief!

I have come to realize that we are directly affected by who we believe that He is and our faith (or belief) will never be stonger than the God that we perceive Him to be. Too often, I have trusted what other people have told me of who God is, rather than letting HIM tell me - and experiencing Him for myself. We are reflections of the God that we perceive...Oh how I pray that God is not a God cast in my own image or something I have conjured up - but the God of the universe, the maker of Heaven and earth, the Alpha and Omega, the King of all kings, the Lion of Judah!!! I don't want the King of my heart to be something that scares away the demons like a scarecrow in a melon patch (Jeremiah 10:4-5) - I want the King of my heart to be the Living King, who entrusts the keys of His Kingdom to me because I KNOW who He says He is, and I believe it with all my heart! Increase my faith Lord, let my life be a reflection of who You truly are, help me to believe and release the power you have entrusted to me!

He is looking for people who believe He is who He says He is - in order to release the power of the heavenlies on this earth! Who do you say that He is...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What do You Want from Me?!

I was spending some time with Jesus this morning, and was thinking about Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). Thinking about how the sacrifice that Abel made was beautiful to the Lord, yet the sacrific that Cain made was not. Beyond the simple reason that Abel's sacrifice was of his firstfruit, and Cain's was just what was leftover...I started understanding that Cain's offering represents every time that I know what God wants and yet I refuse to give it to Him. Oftentimes I quickly give Him other things, as if He won't notice...so I asked the Lord...

What is it that You want from me? What am I holding back, not giving to You? What is hindering me from living completely abandoned to You?

I picked up my pen to write a couple of thoughts down, and found myself scrawling this out...Now I journal some, but I always think through what I'm saying...never do I just write. And I found my hand scribbling across the page without warning...such beautiful words from my Lord! I wanted to share, because I think it's something that more than just me needs and desperately wants to hear from our Abba...