The New You

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This morning I was reading in Romans 6 – the NIV titled this chapter as “Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ.” It struck me: for a man who had grabbed hold of the holy life of Christ Jesus, Paul sure talked a lot about sin. And that is a good thing. In fact, it’s something we hardly hear about in the church anymore. But we’re sure doing a lot of sinning, aren’t we?  It seems that the less we say about it, the more we participate in it. Almost like our silence is approval. Hmm.

But not our friend Paul. His mantra in this portion of his letter to the church in Rome was: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (6:2). He pressed this point over and over. He said that our old body of sin was crucified with Christ, that we are no longer slaves to sin, that we have been freed from sin. He insisted that we must consider ourselves dead to sin, that sin must not reign in our bodies, that we must not obey sin nor offer the parts of our body to sin. I love this: “sin shall not be your master” (v.14). And this: “You have been set free from sin” (v. 18 and 22). Paul said that we used to live for and serve sin, but – oh hear this loud and clear – that’s not who we are anymore. Let me say it again: If you are in Christ you are not who you were – you are dead to sin but alive in Him.

I know – you have a past that is riddled with sin. So do I.  But like those before and after weight loss ads – that is who you and I used to be, but this is who we are now. Redeemed. Righteous. Pure. Holy. Beloved, I want to encourage you to leave your sinful desires in the grave with the old dead you. You have been made new in Christ. Believe it. Receive it. And walk in it. Holiness looks so good on you.  

Solid Rock of Love

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It was a very draining weekend– physically and emotionally. I’m struggling to be spiritually insightful this morning. I really just want to sit on my back porch swing and listen to the birds greet the morning sun. My dad’s health is failing. I’m fighting to stay motivated in school and especially to finish my final paper. A friend and spiritual mentor is struggling in her faith. We endured a lot of drama with a loved one yesterday. I had to fold our campus Bible study for lack of participation. Finances are very strained. And I miss my granddaughter. I told God, “I don’t just need you to speak through me this morning – I need you to speak to me.” As I skimmed the Psalms – that’s a great place to go when you’re down – God gently pointed to a verse.

“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ Your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought Joy to my soul” (Psalms 94:18-19).

Yes, it feels like I am slipping. So much has been shaken in my life recently – except God’s love. As I lean my weary self against Him, I find strength. He embraces me with His goodness, kindness, and grace and braces me with His never-ending, never-failing, ever-faithful love.

Yes, anxiety has nearly beaten me up lately. I know, I’m supposed to be “anxious for nothing,” but I confess that I’ve been anxious for a lot. But God hasn’t berated me. Instead, He has comforted me through His Word and through dear brothers and sisters in Christ who have reminded me that He is still very much in control of all these things that worry me. And then we got to Facetime with Joy and that did my heart so much good.

Yes, I desperately need God’s love and consolation. I’ll bet you do too. Life gets hard sometimes. God knows that. He cares about what you care about because He cares about you. Beloved, when everything around you is shaking, He is the solid rock of love.

I love you God

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“I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Psalm 18:1)

I recently came across boxes with 25 years of prayer journals. The boxes are very heavy, but it’s not just the physical weight of the notebooks and binders and pretty journals. It’s the weight of my life, my heart, my burdens, my fears and sins and questions and raw, honest emotions.

I found a box with the earliest years and I was struck by how often I told God “I love you.” And I did, but as I read those entries, I realized my love for God was all about me. That He saved me and helped me and blessed me – not that there’s anything wrong with that. God loves to love on His children. But the truth is, I loved God because He loved me.

Then I found a box from some hard, dark, painful years and I learned to love God for His presence and grace and comfort and strength. I learned that difficulties don’t mean that God doesn’t love me, they just mean that He draws even closer to me. His love was more palpable and the roots of my love for Him began to go deeper.

Then I packed away journals from the last 7 years. These also held some strong memories – times of great uncertainty, of excitement and promise mixed with being overwhelmed and frustrated. These journals are also full of rainbows and new adventures and Joy. And grief. And a deeper love for God that has grown as I’ve come to know Him more.

Today when I say “I love you God” it’s a love that has grown through years of hard times and good times and times when I felt I was soaring and times when I thought the pain would kill me. It’s a love built on sweet communion and honest conversations. A love that is measured not by a yardstick but by width and length and height and depth (Eph. 3:18) that never ends.

Beloved, I pray your love for God grows deeper and stronger as you come to know Him more through the good days and the bad days and all the days in between. Because to know, know, know Him, is to love, love, love Him. And I do.

The God Who Loves to Give

“Please sir, I want some more.” Oliver Twist

In Dickins’ classic tale, Oliver warily approaches the master and makes his plea, and we see the cruel irony of a hungry orphan being rebuffed by the well-fed headmaster. Yet how often do we approach God with the same trepidation as Oliver Twist?  As if He is a harsh master who will refuse us even the humblest request?  Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Bible reveals God as a generous Father who loves to give good things to His children.

2 Peter 1:3 says He “has given us everything we need for life and godliness.”  Like our daily bread (Matthew 5:11), clothes on our back (Matthew 6:30), and “all these things” that are necessary for life (Matthew 6:33).  I’ve been the recipient of His practical generosity and kindness many, many times. 

Even more than our physical needs, Peter said our Father will give us everything we need for a godly life: chiefly His Word (John 17:8) and His Spirit (John 14:16).   God provides with a generous heart and an open hand.

I love John’s affirmation in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: That if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”  The writer of Hebrews echoes the same thought: “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  That is an invitation we should jump at!

You do not have to come to your Heavenly Father with a sense of apprehension as if you are asking for more than God is willing to bestow.  He has so much he desires to give you—till your cup overflows (Psalm 23:5).  Don’t come crawling to Him with a little teacup in your hand. Come running to your Father with the biggest bucket you can find, and He will fill it till it spills over and you can’t contain it all.  He is a God who loves to give!

God is . . .

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“One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.” Psalm 62:11.

David identified God as his Shield, his Refuge, his Rock and Fortress, his Shepherd, and so much more. He used so many beautiful and powerful expressions to describe his God. Yet in these two simple words, I believe David paints a picture that comes the closest to the true essence of who God is. Strong and loving.

God is strong. Not strength that lifts massive barbells.  This is strength that breaks the power of sin, overpowers the enemy of our soul, and raises the dead back to life – and not just life, but eternal, everlasting, unending life!  It is a strength that overcomes our weaknesses and lifts the weight of all our burdens. I don’t know about you, but need a God who is strong, because my burdens are heavy and my weaknesses are many.

David also said that God is loving. Do you believe that God loves you? Over and over in God’s Word proclaims His love for you and me. His is

  • Unfailing Love – “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken” (Isaiah 54:10).
  • Loyal Love – “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6).
  • Devotion – “By day the Lord directs His love, a night His song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8).
  • Mercy – “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion” (Numbers 14:18).

Paul said, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). That is the kind of love that I need. A love that never turns away never dies, and never gives up. A love that lasts for all eternity. This is the love that God has for you and me. His love is steadfast and sure – you can’t make Him love you more, and you can’t make Him love you less. He loves you because He is love. His is perfect love because He is the perfect lover.

God’s love was perfectly expressed at the cross of Jesus Christ. His power was perfectly revealed at the empty tomb, through the resurrection of His Son – our Savior. We can never know all there is to God, for He is holy and righteous and beyond our finite understanding. But we can know this about God: He is strong and He is loving. And that’s a very good place to start.

Roots and Fruit

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It’s the twenty-first century and everybody has an opinion and a platform from which to share it. Which is good because all opinions are equally valid – even if they contradict one another. (Except Christians of course.) How do we know who’s right and what’s wrong? Jesus has some pretty sound advice for us in the Sermon on the Mount. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). He said a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. It’s a horticultural fact: the fruit proves the root. The Bible even tells us how to discern the difference between good and bad fruit. Ready to go to the orchard?

Bad fruit is full of false hopes and self-made visions; good fruit offers real hope and visions from God. Bad fruit is heretical, denies the sovereign rule of God, leads many astray, questions the truth, and exploits believers. Good fruit is truthful, submits to God, leads by following Christ, upholds the truth, and builds up believers. Bad fruit is the product of liars who walk in darkness. Good fruit is truthful because it grows in the light. Bad fruit hates fellow believers. Good fruit “loves one another.” Bad fruit denies that Jesus is the Son of God and rejects the truth of His human nature. Good fruit acknowledges that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Bad fruit rejects the message of God and speaks from a worldly viewpoint – and the world listens. Good fruit listens to God, speaks from His point of view, and those who love God listen. John summed it all up this way: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Righteousness and love are the good fruit. You can trust that tree. You can trust that person.

When it comes to your faith life you need to be certain the messages you are hearing are right and true. You need to be sure you are chewing on good fruit that comes from good trees. Who is feeding your mind and heart? Beloved, you need to be a fruit inspector.

Don’t Lose Your Grip on Jesus

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I had to do a small repair job on my shirt this morning. It wasn’t a difficult task, but the chiffon material wanted to shift and slip and I had to keep a firm grip on it with my left hand as I worked the needle and thread with my right. As I was stitching, the thread nearly pulled out of the needle. I needed to grab the loose end and pull to keep the needle threaded. That was a two-handed job but I didn’t want to let go of the fabric lest I have to gather it all back together again.  I needed to deal with the thread problem without losing my grip on the shirt.

Life hands us so many challenges. Like when we think we’ve got things under control, or at least in some manageable form of chaos, and a new crisis comes at us. A job loss. A life lost. A marriage unravels. A frightening diagnosis. A beloved child moves away. It all feels like we’re coming apart at the seams. I get it. I’m right there too. Can I tell you how I’m getting through?

I am determined to hang on to Jesus. That’s it. That’s my whole survival strategy right there. The writer of Hebrews put it this way: “ Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). Whatever unexpected crisis and trials come up in my life, I’m not going to lose my grip on Jesus. Because I know He is faithful. I know He is powerful. I know He loves me. He is my hope and my peace – and yes – my Joy in every situation. This morning I dealt with my thread problem by sticking the needle in the fabric and using my now free hand to adjust the thread – I never let go of the fabric in my left hand. I deal with the challenges of life by staking my hope and confidence in Jesus and by holding fast to Him with all I’ve got. And sometimes that’s all I’ve got. But it’s all I need.

It’s all you need too. Beloved, when life seems to be coming apart at the seams, don’t lose your grip on Jesus.

I Need to Talk to my Father

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I’m pretty much an open book. You will know if I am excited, happy, angry, or sad. I believe it is important to be honest and even vulnerable for a couple of reasons. You may be dealing with a struggle that is similar to mine, and I want to encourage you as God encourages me. I want to be honest so that you know me and can trust the things I say. And because, sometimes, I need to put my faith out there where I can see it, just as I did when I wrote about my granddaughter moving away.  I publicly shared my pain because I needed to publicly declare my trust in God for my own heart to hear. You see, when I write, I am first and foremost writing for me. I need to have my toes stepped on. I need to be taught and chastised and challenged and encouraged. I need to hear God speak. So I share my life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to share God’s message.

But I can’t tell you everything. There are matters so personal and so private that I have to keep them to myself.  Well, not just to myself. I can talk to my Father about them. You would probably be shocked by what you don’t know about me, but my Father never is. You might be repulsed at some of the things I don’t share, but my Father never is. There are other people involved in some of my private concerns and I am not at liberty to divulge their stories. But I can tell my Father. And some pains go so deep and are so heavy you simply could not bear to hear them.  But my father can.

The Bible says “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed” (Mark 1:35). Even the Son of God had things He could only discuss with His Father. He gave me a good example to follow. Yes, I have faithful friends who love me and help carry my burdens and share my Joys, but it is my Heavenly Father who hears my whole, raw heart. And He wants to hear yours too. Let Him carry your burdens and struggles and even your deepest darkest secrets. Beloved, there is nothing you cannot tell your Father. Are you ready to pray?

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

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Leviticus is the Old Testament book that holds all the laws of worship, community, and purity for the nation of Israel. It was all very clear to the Jews of that day – and very burdensome. But to a twenty-first-century western reader, it makes no sense. What does a bunch of antiquated rules have to do with New Testament Christians? But there is much value in reading Leviticus – the key is to read it through the lens of Jesus Christ.

Jesus designated ‘love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) as the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39).  And the writer of Hebrews drew from Leviticus to describe the person and role of Jesus Christ. Studying Leviticus gives us a deeper devotion to Jesus, helps us grasp the holiness of God, and teaches us how to live daily as Christians.

It also enables us to see sin as God sees it – and reveals the true cost of our redemption through the death of His Son. Leviticus sets the sin of man in stark contrast to the holiness of God and reveals the only resolution: blood, and not just blood from a pricked finger, but the blood of death. Here is what I find most compelling. Repeatedly, the Lord graciously allows sacrifices for “unintentional sin” – that is sins that were committed inadvertently. But not so for intentional sin. “Anyone who sins defiantly . . . must surely be cut off from his people; his guilt remains on him” (Num. 15:30-31). To be cut off from the community meant also being cut off from any hope of atonement for his sin. He would forever stand guilty before God.

Now view this through the lens of Jesus Christ. He who was perfectly sinless sacrificed Himself for sin – but not only unintentional sin – His blood covered every sin of every person for all time.  “He sacrificed for sins once for all when He offered Himself” (Heb. 7:27).  That means the sins we “stumble into” and the sins we choose with our eyes wide open. Jesus paid it all.

There’s great hope for you and me in that statement. When Jesus died, He took every single sin to the cross and to the grave and when He rose again, he left our sins forever buried. All of them. I pray that means something to you. Beloved, nothing you’ve done is too much for the blood of Jesus Christ. 

Child of God

My son and granddaughter ages 28 and 6 months.

“ A voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11).

I didn’t hear it much growing up so I made sure to tell my son, “I love you” multiple times a day.  And I constantly tell my granddaughter, “You’re Nana’s girl and I love you.” So I always thought the Father’s words at Jesus’ baptism were just a tender moment between Father and Son.  But it was more – it was a moment of preparation for what was to come when “the Spirit sent him out into the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan” (v. 12). 

Jesus faced enormous temptation but was able to resist and reject Satan because the Father’s words were still ringing in His ears. “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” He knew who He was and whose He was.

God speaks the same affirmation over you and me: “You are my son, you are my daughter, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” We are adopted into the family of God when we believe in Jesus. We become sons and his daughters. We are as loved by the Father as was Jesus (John 17:26). Our faith is pleasing to Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Every day Satan dangles temptations before us to drag us into sin. What if, before your feet hit the floor every morning you remind yourself, “I am God’s son, I am God’s daughter, my Father loves me, and He is well pleased with me.” Would that make a difference in how you respond to temptation? I believe it would.

Beloved, if you are in Christ, you are a child of God – it’s not something you have to earn or measure up to – it is your place. You have every benefit and blessing of being part of His family. That includes the right to claim your Father’s love and His pleasure over you. Don’t let the enemy shake you – stand firm in who you are and Whose you are.