Amazing Grace

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Meditating this morning on Luke 1:26-30 and Gabriel’s words to Mary: “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” (vs 28) What was it about Mary that make her “highly favored?” Was it that she was a virgin? Hardly – there were many virgins in Israel. Was she somehow superior to other young women? The Scriptures don’t support that, even though the Roman Catholic Church teaches that she was.
Here’s the point we struggle with in the 21st century – it wasn’t about Mary at all. When we read the Bible we tend to focus heavily on the characters in the story because we are looking for something in them with which we can identify. “My favorite Bible character is Peter, because I can identity with him; we’re just alike.” I’ve said it myself about certain Bible people with whom I feel a “connection.” In the same way, we look at God and identify characteristics that highlight how He relates to us. And again, I’ve done it – my favorite attribute of God is His faithfulness, because He has been so very faithful to me. That is not wrong in and of itself, but it’s miss-focused. You and I need to see God for who He is, not who He is “to me.”
The Greek word “favor” means “grace.” Favor is a gift, a kindness, a blessing and it says nothing about the recipient, and everything about the Giver. When Gabriel spoke his greeting he wasn’t exalting Mary, he was highlighting the undeserved grace of God to her. We have a hard time wrapping our minds around that because we are a merit-based society. But there was really nothing special about Mary – God’s favor was purely His own choice. She received it in the same manner – praising Him for His grace, mercy and power (vs. 46-55). It is the same with our salvation. Despite what the church teaches, we don’t “choose to receive Jesus” – He chooses us to receive His grace – our only part is to respond in faith.
What’s your story with God Beloved? Do you recognize that you were chosen by nothing more or less than His grace? If we are in God’s blessed family it is all His doing, not yours or mine. Let’s refocus our spiritual understanding on this gift. It’s not about who we are – it’s all God’s Amazing Grace.

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Sandpaper People

“I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel” (Ezekiel 14:5).

As I pray each day for my granddaughter, I also pray for the people that will touch her life.    I pray for her future friends, caregivers, teachers, beaus, bosses and coworkers, and the man that she will one day marry.  I pray that they will be people who love the Lord, have a passion for His will and will help her achieve God’s purpose in her life.  I always ask Him to surround her with godly people.  But I know that there will be people who will come into her life that will not be godly.  They are what I call “sandpaper people” – gritty and abrasive people who rub us the wrong way.  I’ve had more than a few of them cross my path and I image you have too.  They are the people who frustrate and annoy us, who take advantage of us, fail to keep their word, who lie and who take more than they give.  They hurt us, mistreat us, abandon us and yes, even abuse us.  They make life hard and painful.  But they are there for a purpose.  For what does sandpaper do?  It smooths the rough surface.  Likewise sandpaper people are God’s tool for smoothing off our rough edges.

God used some of those sandpaper people to scrape off judgment and arrogance.  He placed some of them in my life to rub off selfishness and to remove my “victim mentality.”  He used some of them to sand out my attitude of self-righteousness. And He used them to teach me humility, kindness, generosity, compassion, patience, and forgiveness.  Through them He opened a tiny window into His amazing grace.  He taught me about prayer – oh how I learned to pray about some of these abrasive and hurtful people – for me and for them.  He also taught me about discernment and wisdom, for some of those people were there because I foolishly invited them in.  He exploded my understanding about His unconditional love, then asked me to be a conduit of that love into other’s lives.  Let me tell you, when God uses you to love someone to Christ, you will never consider another soul as a “hopeless mess.”  I confess that I complained – a lot and loudly – about some of the people who rubbed me the wrong way – but every one of them taught me something God wanted me to know and each one left an indelible mark on my life – some imprints of grace and forgiveness, some scars of wisdom, and some cracks in the wall I had built around my heart.

Beloved, who has God brought into your life that you sometimes wish wasn’t there?  Can you look at them through His eyes?  Maybe they are the very ones He is using to remove something that keeps you from fulfilling His purpose for your life.  Maybe they are there to teach you some valuable lessons about grace, compassion, forgiveness or discernment.  They may be in your life so that you can love them to Jesus—or so that you can become more like Jesus.  Ask God what He’s up to in your life and in theirs.  Not every relationship is going to be sunshine and roses – some people will bring on the rain.  But rain makes the roses grow and their fragrance is a sweet aroma.  Above all remember – every person – even the one who rubs you the wrong way – is a soul God loves and Jesus died to save.  That’s reason enough to love them.

God is moving . . .

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Just an observation . . .
The Bible is a full-circle story – from Genesis to Revelation and points in between.
In Genesis 11 men, in their ego and disobedience, determine to build a tower “that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4). In response to their pride and sin, the Lord confused their language so that they could not understand one another and He scattered them across the earth.
Now hop over to Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the believers and they “began to speak in other tongues” (v. 4). Because of the season, Jerusalem was filled with multiple nationalities, and suddenly they could hear and understand the Gospel – in their own language. God was moving . . .
Our final destination is Revelation 7:9 where “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before the Lamb. The throne room of heaven will ring with Christ’s praises – in every language – languages that came to be because God had to punish man’s rebellion and sin.
God has been working throughout human history for one purpose: the glory of His Son. Every moment, every action, every breath is leading us to this scene. Image the beautiful sound – praise to the Lamb of God in every tongue known to man.
So what does this mean as you struggle through your day? Beloved, God is in control of it all – all of human history and all of your life. Nothing, not even your foolishness and failure is wasted in the hands of the one who holds it all. And just as a multi-language song of praise will fill the heavens, all things in your life will all come together in a beautiful, multi-color picture of God’s glory and grace. Precious one, God is moving . . .

In the Morning

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I wait for the Lord, my soul waits. And in His word, I have put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning.  More than watchmen wait for the morning.  Psalm 130:5-6

 If the past eighteen months have taught me anything at all, it is that waiting on the Lord is never futile.  It may be uncomfortable, it may be nerve-wracking, and even a bit frightening, but it always ends with blessing.  I have also learned that the key to waiting is to put my hope in God – not in an outcome, but in the Person.  The outcome I hope for may or may not come to pass.  But I can put my hope in God because He never fails.

 The Psalmist understood that as he talked about watchmen waiting for the morning.  The city slept as the watchman kept vigil.  His responsibility was to be alert for any possible danger.  It was an intense and exhausting job.  And he couldn’t wait to see the sunrise so he could go home to his bed.  As he stood guard in the black of night, he never once doubted that the morning would come. It came yesterday.  It came the day before that and the day before that and all the days before – all the way back to the day when God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).  It was dark through the night, but the morning never failed to come.

 You and I can hope in God through the night because He never fails to come in the morning.   He comes just as surely as the sun rises morning and morning.   Even more than this – He is the reason the sun rises morning after morning.  Yes friend, God always comes.  No power in heaven or earth could keep him from coming, not even death. 

He comes every morning with new mercies (Lamentations 3:23).

He comes with glory (Exodus 16:7).

He comes with redemption (Ruth 3:13).

He comes with listening ears (Psalm 5:3).

He comes with rejoicing (Psalm 30:5).

He comes with strength (Psalm 59:16).

He comes with wonders (Psalm 65:8).

He comes with unfailing love (Psalm 143:8).

He comes with a sustaining word (Isaiah 50:4).

He comes with justice (Zephaniah 3:5).

He comes with resurrection power (Luke 24:1-6).

He comes with daily provision (John 21:4).

He comes with His Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).

He comes with the Morning Star (Revelation 2:28).

 

He comes with peace.

He comes with joy.

He comes with promise.

He comes with faithfulness.

He comes with unfailing love.

And when you hope in Him, He comes with even more hope.

Beloved, are you surrounded by the darkness of a long night?  Put your hope in the Lord.  Morning is coming.   Like the sun that rises at dawn, He always comes.  Keep watching.  Keep waiting.  Keep hoping.  The Lord your God is coming.

A Fashionable Christian

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“So what do you think?  How do I look?”  I did a little twirl in the kitchen and waited for my mom to answer.

“It depends on what you’re trying to say” she replied.  “If you want to say that you are only interested in fun and attracting attention, then you look fine.”  “But if you want to say that you are serious about this job and ready to get to work, then you need to go change.”  And of course, she was right.  The off-the-shoulder peasant blouse and gypsy skirt I had on was my favorite outfit, but it didn’t send the right message for a job interview.  But the tailored blue blouse and navy pleated skirt said I was the right candidate for the job.  The saying, “Clothes make the man,” is attributed to Mark Twain, but it’s believed that it originated with Shakespeare and could even go back as far as the days of the Greek empire.  However we got it, the saying is true – we send a message about ourselves with our attire.  That is why how we dress as believers and followers of Christ is so important.  How we clothe ourselves speaks volumes about who Jesus is.

Mind you, I’m not talking about suits and ties for men or dresses vs. pants for women, and I’m certainly not saying we should only wear our “Jesus” T-shirts.  And hear me loud and clear – I’m not saying that we should judge others by the clothes they wear.  Paul talks about a different kind of “clothing” that all Christians should wear – clothing that draws attention away from us and onto our Savior. In fact, he says, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).  If the mission is to make Jesus known to the world, then dressing “in Jesus” is the best way to do it.  Now I know what you’re thinking, “That sounds profound, but how do I actually pull that off?”  Thankfully Paul doesn’t leave us with a command that we can’t realistically obey.  He digs into the idea in his letter to the church in Colosse.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothes yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).  This is the kind of “fashion” that never goes out of style.  Every piece is an expression of the character and nature of Jesus Christ. But they do us no good if we own them and don’t wear them.  Every day when I get ready for work, I stand in front of my closet and try to decide what to wear.  I have an array of garments hanging there, but I’ve got to pull something off the hanger and put it on my body.  Each of these Christ-like attributes are available to us through the Holy Spirit, but it is up to us to choose to put them on.

Compassion is simply a feeling of concern for someone else.  It is that voice in your head that says, “That lady is too short to reach the top shelf.”  “That little child has fallen down and is crying.”  “That man is hungry and has no money.”  Compassion sees another’s need.

Kindness does something about it.  Kindness reaches for the pickles on the top shelf.  Kindness bandages the scraped knee and hugs away the tears.  Kindness runs into the sandwich shop and buys a turkey-and-swiss-on wheat and a bottle of water.  Kindness does what compassion feels.

Humility sees self as the least important person in the picture.  Hear this carefully, humility is not self-abasement or self-condemnation.  It is simply saying, “I am second – I will put you first.”

Gentleness doesn’t get its feathers ruffled.  Gentleness is meek – but it’s not wimpy. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to look past an offense and recognize the wounded heart behind the words and actions.

Patience is in it for the long-haul. Patience doesn’t give up and it doesn’t give in.    Whether enduring stormy seas or days with no breeze in sight, patience stays the course until the harbor is in sight.

This is the day-to-day living out of clothing ourselves in Christ.  It is letting the Spirit of Christ move our hearts and hands to respond as Jesus would.

In the fashion world, one piece – a belt or scarf – can “pull the whole outfit together.”  Likewise, there is one more item we must not forget, one that Paul says “binds them all together in perfect unity”:  love.  He said, “Over all these, put on love” (v. 14).  The truth is, there are many people doing all these good things.  The difference is love.  But it’s more than “love” in the Western understanding of the word.  It is a love that flows from God into our own hearts and spills out on those around us in the form of all these other “garments.”  It is the kind of love that seeks the very best for another, to the point of self-sacrifice.  And like every good fashion show, it throws the spotlight back onto the Designer.

So what will you wear today Beloved?  A striped shirt?  A pair of jeans?  Your favorite sweater?  Don’t forget to put on Christ – the world needs to see Jesus in you.

When You Struggle with Prayer

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Are you satisfied with your prayer life? Here’s my confession: For the past several years, I have struggled with prayer. I know it is powerful and vital in the life of the believer, but for some reason, I haven’t been as disciplined in it as I once was. Somewhere, somehow, prayer became less of a daily priority and more of a fire extinguisher.  But over the past year, and through the influence of my prayer-warrior sister-in-love, God has pricked my heart to return to prayer and daily sweet communion with Him. May I share a something that has helped me greatly?
Pray God’s Word back to Him. One reason I drifted from prayer is because I just didn’t know what to pray over certain situations or people. The issues were overwhelming and long-standing and I honestly didn’t know what to say.  Jesus said that if we pray according to God’s will, He will hear us and grant us our prayer. What better way to pray His will than to pray His Words? I searched the scriptures for prayers and promises that I can pray over these issues and over my loved ones and it has make me bolder, more confident, and more faithful in prayer. For example: I know it is God’s will that my loved one “be rooted and established in love . . . and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19) and “be filled with spiritual wisdom and understanding, pleasing the Lord in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, with great endurance, patience, joy and thankfulness” (Colossians 1:9-14). I used to think that prayer meant I had to give God a detailed list of all the problems, and my heart just became heaver and heavier as I went.  But now I hone in on what I know He wants for my loved one and trust that, when these things are fulfilled in his life, the problems will also be resolved. That’s powerful praying my friends.  To borrow from Charles Spurgeon, that is “simply asking for what He has already faithfully promised.” I hope this encourages you to grow deeper and more faithful in the discipline of prayer. 
I’ll meet you at the altar Beloved.

Are You Disappointed With Me God?

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“I am so disappointed in you.” She could have hit me, grounded me and taken away my car, and it wouldn’t have cut me as deeply as knowing I had disappointed my Mom. Her words stuck with me for many, many years and colored my life and my relationships. I have always feared disappointing others – teachers, bosses, friends, family, strangers. And most especially God. Oh, I know I am saved and have eternal life – that is rock-solid. But I have carried this sense of being a disappointment to God for as long as I can remember. Until this morning, and something the Lord impressed on my heart.
Paul wrote often about being “in Christ,” meaning to trust in Him for salvation and eternal life. And I have. That also means that Christ is “in me” (John 17:23). I in Christ and Christ in me. By that, God considers me as one with His Son and all that the Son has is mine (Corinthians 3:21), including His righteousness before God (Romans 3:22). Now come stand with me at the water’s edge and hear the Father’s words as Jesus emerges from the Jordan River: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This, too, is mine in Christ. This rocked my world this morning: God is never disappointed in His Son. And because I am in Christ and Christ is in me, God is never disappointed in me. Friend, the same is true for you – if you are in Christ, He is never disappointed in you.
“But,” you argue, “Jesus was perfect and sinless, and I am not.” It doesn’t matter. You and Christ are one in God’s eyes. “But I am disappointed in myself.” That doesn’t change the truth. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. God is not – will never be – disappointed in you.
When you grab hold of that, it will change everything. It will become your mantra when the enemy tries to dump shame on you. “There is no condemnation for me, because I am in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). You will “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16) because you know He gladly welcomes you into His presence.
Beloved, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see the foolish, sinful person you think you are. He sees His Son in you. And He says – “This one is mine, the one I love, with whom I am well pleased.” Not disappointed. Ever. Christ in you and you in Christ. It’s a beautiful combination.

Shaken and Stirred

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Oswald Chambers said, “Beware of the danger of spiritual relaxation.”  If every day as a Christian is an easy-breezy-peazy day, then we are in trouble. Following Jesus is not intended to be some blissful nirvana. It’s a climb, a race, a battle, a challenge. It’s a step-by-step, day-by-day, prayer-by-prayer trek over desert sand and rocky mountains and treacherous trails through hostile territory. That’s the life the Apostles experienced. That’s the life the martyrs endured. Their faith was tried and tested in the fires, and it came forth as gold. The Christians with the strongest, deepest faith are the ones who defy opposition, persecution, threats, and even death for the name of Jesus. The most dangerous state for a Christian is when all is right in their little world.
Jeremiah 48:11 points this out: “Moab has been at rest from youth, like wine left on its dregs, not poured from one jar to another. So she tastes as she did and her aroma is unchanged.” In making wine, the grapes are first crushed to extract the juice which is placed in bottles or wine skins and allowed to ferment. During fermentation, the dregs, or sediment, settle at the bottom of the container. After forty days the wine is “shaken up” – poured into another container to allow the dregs to be removed. If the dregs remain, the wine becomes too sweet and thick and it is spoiled. Moab had always been largely at peace, and their turmoil-free life had made them spoiled. The Lord said the same of Jerusalem, “I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs . . . (Zephaniah 1:12)”
Has your life – and your faith – been shaken lately? James says, “Count it all joy . . .” (James 1:2). God is sifting out the dregs, the dangerously sweet stuff that spoils you. He is making your life an offering worthy of Christ. Is it hard? You bet. Is it painful? Without a doubt. Is it worth it? Just ask the saints who endured. They’re the ones singing songs of joy and praise around the throne.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

You are winner. Smiling man looking in mirror and pointing on himself with help of his index fingers.

“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill'” (John 6:26).

Yesterday we sang one of my favorite old hymns, “It is Well With My Soul,” and it moved me profoundly. The story behind this precious hymn is part of the reason why it touches my heart every time I sing it. Horatio Spafford, following the devastating loss of first his son, then his business, sent his wife and four daughters ahead by ship to Europe. On the way the ship sank and his daughters all perished. As he sailed to meet his grieving wife, Spafford wrote these words as the ship passed over the watery grave of his beloved children:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

I compared it to modern Western Christian music and found today’s offerings wanting. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in Christian media – music, books, articles, and messages – over the past few years.  It’s all becoming less about who God is and more about who I am in Him, and it places God in a secondary role.  The result is, rather than worshiping God, we are worshiping who we are because of God.  And rather than presenting God as one who is worthy of worship in His own right, we claim His worth is seen in our worth.  In the current “Christian” culture, the theme is, “No matter what happens, it’s all about who I am in Christ.”  And honestly, that’s what sells today.  But Spafford, with a broken heart said, “When sorrows like sea billows roll . . . It is well with my soul.” His sole focus was the eternal state of his soul, not his identity.  Reading the full song, he found all he needed in the rock-solid assurance of his salvation, in the sweet forgiveness of his sins, and the glorious promise of Christ’s return. Despite his hardships and grief, all that mattered was that it was well between himself and God.

Modern Christianity in the West has become self-absorbed and consumed with what God has done/can do for me, just like the crowd in John 6:26.  They were part of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-13) and they wanted more.  Not more of Jesus, but more of what He could do for them.   In verse 27 Jesus told them essentially, don’t focus on what you want or need, but focus on “eternal life.”  Focus on Me.  Again, they came back with, “what will you do for us?” (v. 30).  He responded, not by telling them He would give them more bread, but by telling them: “I am the Bread of Life” (v. 35).  We are no different when we fail to see past what He can do for us to see who He is.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fuddy-duddy who wants to spoil the celebration.  It is right to praise God’s faithfulness and goodness to us, but I find our acclamations seem to always turn the spotlight on ourselves and God becomes second to our “worth and identity.” The best-selling Christian books and “Bible” studies are written with a definite self-focus – all about finding “my worth, my value, my identity.”  We’ve begun to use God like a divine mirror, looking to Him to gaze on our own reflection when we should be so blinded by His brilliance and beauty that we can’t see ourselves at all.

I fell in love with Lauren Daigle’s song “You Say,” but I began to look closely at the lyrics and realized it’s completely “me-centered.” Over and over she says, “I believe what you say . . . about me.”  Look at the second verse:

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
Cause in You I find my worth, in You I find my identity

That honestly disturbs me – but it follows the trend of the day – the only thing that matter is who I am, not who God is.  (And I still love Lauren Daigle.)  Friend, we need a refresher course in humility and in the greatness of our God.  We need to realize that what matters is not what God thinks of me nor is it my worth and identity – it is God – only God, and His worth and identity. We need to hold Him up for the world to worship and adore, not to be the reflection of our own faces.

Beloved, who is God to you?  Is He the one who is worthy of worship and adoration?  Or is He the one who makes you worthy?  Is your life a reflection of Him, or is He a reflection of your identity?  Who does the world see when they look at you? May we seek to be nothing more than mirrors that reflect His beauty and His worthiness.

 

Check out this video of the Issacs singing, “It Is Well With My Soul”

The Day Between Death and Life

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“It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.  The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it.  Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”  Luke 23:54-56

It was the darkest day of their lives – the day after Jesus had been crucified on the cross.   They’d heard the hammers pound the nails into His hands and feet.  They listened to Him cry out to His Father in anguish and surrender.  They saw His body slump as He give up His Spirit.  They watched the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed blood and water drain from His battered body.  They held their breath as Joseph and Nicodemus took His lifeless body down from the cross.  They followed in a sad processional to the garden where their Lord was entombed.

In our modern understanding of these days, we hold solemn vigils on Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus, and we come together for joyful celebrations on Easter Sunday to celebrate His resurrection.  But Saturday is the day for egg hunts, travel, shopping, and preparing our Easter Sunday finery.

More and more the Holy Spirit is teaching me to sit in the moment with the Bible characters.  To put myself in their sandals and their experience and not rush on to the end of a familiar story.  He is teaching me to take a holy pause.

What must this day have been like for these devoted women?  Were they numb with grief?  Or was it the kind of sorrow that aches deep in the bones?   This day – the day after darkness filled the noon-day sky and the curtain was torn in two – must have left them empty inside – confused, in anguish, and filled with disbelief.  How could this be?  Their Jesus was dead.

Looking back from this side of the Cross, we want to take their faces in our hands and tell them, “Just hold on! Don’t grieve. Everything is going to change tomorrow!”  As Paul Harvey says, we know “the rest of the story.” We know death cannot keep its grip on Jesus. We know they will soon find the tomb empty.  We know this is only the day between death and life.  But they didn’t.  In their world, death was final.  It was all over.

They didn’t know they were only waiting. . .