I am Guilty – and I am Innocent

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“It is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8).

I caught the state trooper out of the corner of my eye and my heart sank.  I was busted.  I kept looking into my rear-view mirror, waiting for him to pull out after me with lights flashing.  But he never did.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I realized I had gotten away with breaking the law.

The news is filled with reports of innocent people who were imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.  They were denied the freedom they were due, cut off from their loved ones, and their reputations were ruined.  Innocent people should not be punished. It is a travesty of justice.

Yet there was one innocent man who bore an even greater punishment – Jesus.  He not only endured false imprisonment, but He was put to death for crimes He did not commit. The sin of all humanity was heaped upon Him.  My sin among them.  I am guilty.  God has every right to call me to justice for my sins.  But He doesn’t.  And it has nothing to do with me.  It has everything to do with grace.  It is not like the state trooper who let me get away with speeding.  The criminal has to be brought to justice; the penalty has to be paid.  Death.  But Jesus stood before God and said, “I will take her sin, I will pay for her crime.”  And miracle of miracles – I am not guilty anymore.  I didn’t just get away with my sin.  Jesus took my sin and my punishment.  I am declared innocent because of Christ.

Beloved, if you have trusted in Jesus, you are declared not guilty before God.  Your sins have been paid in full with the blood of the innocent Son of God.  You’re not just getting away with something, you are truly free of guilt.

If you have not trusted in Jesus, you are guilty before God.  But you don’t have to be.  Jesus died for your sins too.  He took your guilt and your punishment.  Grace is there for you.  More than getting away with sin, you can be declared innocent.  Friend, won’t you receive God’s gift today and be free?

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God in the Darkness

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It was thirteen years ago, but I remember it like I am still there. My season of great darkness. To this day I don’t understand why, but the enemy came down on me with both feet. It was an emotional breakdown and it was spiritual oppression. It manifested physically in sleepless nights and body aches with no medical explanation. I could not stop the tears and the constant thoughts of self-destruction. I truly believed I was losing my mind. I had been writing for several years, and I threw all my notebooks in the fireplace because I didn’t think I would ever have normal, sane thoughts again. And I thought God had abandoned me. The enemy kept telling me so. One day my then 12 year old son came through the kitchen singing, “Jesus loves me,” but he stopped short of the chorus. I said, “please keep singing” but he said, “you finish it Mom, I’m going out to play.” But I couldn’t sing “Yes, Jesus loves me,” because I didn’t believe He did.
One morning in the very wee hours, I sat on my back porch, wrapped in a blanket with my Bible in my lap. The only thing I knew for sure was it I had any hope of survival, I had to stay connected to God, even if I wasn’t sure He wanted to stay connected to me. I was reading Exodus 3 and the story of Moses and the burning bush. When Moses asked God’s name, I “heard” in my heart, “Child, who am I?” “You are God,” I answered, “who else could you be?” “Oh, there is so much more to me than you ever imagined. Know me.” I remembered a little book I had picked up for five bucks at a women’s retreat a few years before, that had a list of the names of God with Scripture references. I started at the first name and day-by-day worked my way through that list. God met me and revealed Himself to me every morning, name by name. I researched more names and for three years I studied until the fog dissipated and I could breath again. He saved my sanity and my life.
Now I know that He is El Emunah – the Faithful God and He is Yahweh Sali – the Lord my Rock and He is Yahweh Gibbor Milchamah – the Lord Mighty in Battle. But most of all I know that He is El Hayyay – God of my life. And He’s proven it over and over and over again.

Guest Blogging Today

I am guest blogging today on the website “All Mom Does.”  Check out my Thanksgiving devotional, “Giving Thanks in the Desert.”

https://www.allmomdoes.com/2018/11/21/giving-thanks-in-the-desert/

 

Guard Your Heart

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“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

I grew up a military kid, and I remember well the guards posted at the base entrance.  Their sole job was to keep the base secure from people and things entering that posed a threat.  We had a sticker on our car that allowed us to pass right on through – we though it was so cool that the guard would salute my mom and a car full of kids when he saw that sticker.  But if a car approached without that authorization the guard stopped them to determine who they were and why they wanted to enter the base.  If the guard had any inclination that the person was up to no good, access was denied, and on occasion an arrest was made.  That is the same idea we see in this verse.  We have to post a guard and deny access to anything that poses a threat to our heart – to our spiritual and emotional wellspring.  But here’s what sticks out in my mind: the bases we lived on had multiple entrances, and every entrance had a guard.  Every possible route onto the base was secured.  Now let’s go back to our Proverbs passage.  Read a little further (vs. 24-27) and you will see that Solomon gives us four posts we need to secure: Guard your mouth, guard your eyes, guard your steps, and guard your direction.

Guard your mouth:Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” – Jesus warned, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ (Matthew 15:11).  Our words – and our actions – spring from our heart. When our words are perverse and corrupt, it means our hearts are perverse and corrupt.  But our words also feed our heart.  It’s a cyclical effect – what comes out of my mouth comes from my heart and goes back into my heart again.   David said it this way, “He wore cursing as his garment; it entered his body like water, into his bones like oil” (Psalm 109:18).

Guard your eyes: “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you” – watch what you’re looking at, listening to and absorbing into your heart.   And I don’t just mean avoid looking at inappropriate stuff like pornography – which should go without saying.  I’m also talking about looking at things that just dull our spirits.  Here’s my confession:  some days I come home physically and mentally wiped out.  All I want to do is veg out in front of the TV or scroll the internet on my phone for funny memes.  Now I’m not looking at anything bad, but I’m also not looking at anything godly.  I’m not feeding my heart – I’m dulling it. Computer programmers call it GIGO: Garbage In – Garbage Out.  I call it The Sponge Principle.

Guard your steps: “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm” – watch your step.  One of the worst ankle injuries I ever incurred happened when I wasn’t watching where I was planting my foot and I stepped awkwardly off a curb and nearly broke my ankle.  The world is full of curbs and potholes and ditches that can easily trip us up and Satan is always planting landmines in our path.  We need to pay careful attention to where we set our feet – make sure the way is firm and free of danger.

Guard your direction: “Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” – keep going in the right direction.  How do we know for sure what is the right way?  God has given us a road map – the Bible and a personal Guide – the Holy Spirit.   By storing up God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), meditating on the Scriptures (Psalm 19:14), continually, intentionally seeking God with all our heart (Jeremiah 29:13), keeping in step with the Spirit (Romans 8:5), and staying in community with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:25), we can stay on the good way.

Base security is a vital part of our military operations and the well-being of our nation.  Heart security is no less important to our lives; our faith, witness and ministry are at stake.  You and I need to post our guards and secure every access to our hearts and protect the “wellspring of our lives.”  Guard your heart well Beloved.

Facing Trials With Joy

 

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“Consider it pure joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).

“God – I don’t understand this trial. Why are you making me go through this?” Ever said that before? So have I, and so have believers through the ages. And we will again and again because life on this rock is hard sometimes.  James says that as believers we are to greet every trial as a cause for joy.  Excuse me?   I don’t like trials and I’ll bet you don’t either.  But we can have joy because our trials are not without purpose.  God has a plan for every trial we face.

James follows up our key verse and gives us one reason for rejoicing in the face of trials: “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4).  We become physically stronger when we work our muscles, and any trainer will tell you that resistance training is the best strengthening exercises.  Our faith becomes stronger when we have opportunities to exercise it as we strain against some resistant force – like a trial.  How will you know that God is faithful if you never have opportunity to trust Him?  Trials strengthen our faith and lead us into spiritual maturity. 

Trials also accomplish God’s wider purposes.  Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape and unjustly imprisoned.  But all of those very hard things occurred to position him to be in the right place at the right time – God’s place and God’s time.  Joseph was used in Egypt to save thousands of lives, most importantly the life of his own people – the Jews, through whom our Savior, Jesus, would come.   Through recent trials in our life, God moved us back home positioning us for many good blessings including placing me in a great job.  Trials often become the catalyst for a God-ordained redirection into His good plan.

Our trials prepare us to minister to others.  Paul said, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I have benefited greatly from the wise counsel and comfort of others who have “been there, done that” and survived.  Their testimony brought me hope and confidence in God and they gave good advice drawn from their own experience.  Perhaps your trial today will give you wisdom to come along side someone in a similar situation one day and offer them hope. 

Sometimes trials are a means of discipline in our lives.  The psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word” (Psalm 119:67).  Hebrews adds, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).  Trials that come as a consequence of our sinful and foolish behavior are meant to teach us valuable life lessons.  Or as my mother used to say, “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.”  If you can connect your trial to your actions, take that as a means of discipline and training.  God is being a good Father to you (Hebrews 12:5-10)

Most importantly, trials reveal God to the world.  When Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth, He declared that “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). When the Lord healed this man everyone knew it, and he became a living testimony to the power of God.  You and I are the canvas on which God paints His own portrait for the world to see.  Just as silver and gold show up most brilliantly against a dark backdrop, the power and glory of God is on vivid display in our trials.  Our difficulties become the means by which God shows up and shows off.

Beloved, I don’t know what trial you are facing today, but I know that God has brought you to it for a good purpose.  He is at work in your life, stretching your faith, moving you into His will, preparing you to minister to someone else, teaching you discipline, and making your life a display of His glory.  Every trial is an opportunity for you and I to draw closer to God, to walk in faith, and to point others to Him.  Yes, we can count it all joy when trials come, because we know God has a purpose and a plan – and we will be the richer for it.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

What does it mean to “Believe in God”?

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“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”  Hebrews 11:6

Humankind has been wrestling with the concept of belief in God for thousands of years.  The most brilliant minds from every side of the issue have argued for and against belief in God.  Lately the voices against have become louder and more widely accepted and belief in God is considered antiquated, foolish and a cause for scorn.  But for a person of faith belief in God is the starting place.  Everything else springs from this crucial point.  Without God our worldview – our understanding of the universe, of life, and of ourselves changes completely.  So, we must nail this one down – What does it mean to “believe in God?”  

Our key verse declares that faith believes in the existence of God and there are evidences all around to prove He does exist.  God has first revealed Himself through His creation.  Romans 1:19-20 says “What may be known about God is plain to [men], because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities- His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made; so that men are without excuse.”  David said “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands…Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”  (Psalm 19:1, 3).  The world around us professes to the reality of God.  When I was in seminary, I had to take Biology – which I saw as useless for a Biblical/Theological degree.  But the more I leaned about the science of life, the more I saw God in creation.  Gaze into an astronomer’s telescope to the farthest reaches of space and God’s handiwork is there.  Look through the most powerful microscope at the most miniscule parts of cellular life and God’s fingerprints are all over it.  There is too much intricacy to the greatest and smallest details of everything that exists to deny the work of a creative Designer.  People of faith believe that the universe and all life was not created by some “cosmic accident” It was created by God. The foundation of faith is the belief in the existence of God as evidenced by everything that surrounds us.

So, is that all there is to it?  Is believing that God exists enough?  Not according to the Bible.  “You believe that there is one God.  Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19).  If the demons of hell profess to the existence of God, then there must be more to faith than simply saying “Yes, I believe there is a God.”  Let’s revisit our key verse and the claim that we must believe that God exists.  The word “exists”  holds a deeper meaning in the original Greek than just being; it carries the impression of acceptance, companionship, belonging, involvement.  It means relationship.  To believe in God is not just intellectual assent, though we cannot miss out on that first vital understanding.  Believing in God means investing all I am in a relationship with my Creator.  It means that I am His and He is mine.  That’s the difference between how the demons believe and how faith believes.  Faith – genuine faith – is both mind and heart – recognizing the truth of God’s existence and making it personal through a relationship that impacts every aspect of our lives.

 I believe in God – and this is not just a rote statement I declare, it is the deepest conviction of my heart and it changes everything about my life.  Beloved, do you believe in God?