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.  

Hope

I love Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. It is chock-full of truth, wisdom, conviction, insight, and encouragement. And hope. Check this out from Romans 5: “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (1-5)

Did you notice the repeated references to hope? That’s not by accident.  Paul wanted believers to grab onto hope. They needed it and so do we. And what is the source of our hope? The glory of God (v. 2) and the love of God (v. 5). As believers in Christ Jesus, we hope in the person of God and His never-failing love.

From the day of our conversion, we are never without hope because we are never without God. He lives in us through His Holy Spirit. The Spirit helps us to see God in His glory – in the beauty of His holiness and majesty. He helps us to know and rely on God’s love through the ups and downs – especially the downs – of life. Glory and love – the twin sisters of hope.

There is one more thing I want you to see. Paul said, “Hope does not disappoint.” I’ve had people let me down. I’ve had jobs that turned sour. I’ve had high expectations that burst like a balloon. But God has never disappointed me. Not. One. Time. Not that He always does what I expect. He does better than I expect.

Beloved, when you hope in God, your hope is well-placed. He is faithful and He loves you. And there is nothing more sure than that.

The Call

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I like to look back at my Facebook memories each day. I love seeing Joy grow over almost two years. I cherish memories of friends who are now in heaven. I especially love to recall God’s hand in my life. It helps me remember His faithfulness. And I cringe at times I thought I was so intelligent and spiritual.

This morning FB reminded me that seven years ago today was my last day after 17 years of serving at Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church. I was devoting myself full-time to seminary, Bible study, writing, and teaching. That was a huge leap of faith. But it wasn’t a decision I made willy-nilly; God called me to it and I had to obey.

A few months before I had encountered a verse that became God’s call on my life and still guides me today: “The gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws to Israel” (Ezra 7:9b-10). God said to me, “Devote yourself to study my Word, live my Word, and teach my Word.”  And that is what I set out to do and am still dedicated to doing.

But the call goes back even farther than seven years. Ten years before that I was sensing a call to ministry. I was ready – or so I thought. God had some sifting and refining to do in me first. And some major humbling. So much so that I thought He had rescinded His call and I burned all my notebooks filled with years of writings because I believed it was all over. But He was just beginning – and so was I. Today, seven years from the day I surrendered to that call, I am still studying, writing, teaching, and preparing – now in graduate school.

Why am I sharing this memory and my story? Because someone has felt God’s call in the past. You were excited about it and ready to go. But you’re still waiting and it seems like a long-lost dream. You may have had to go through some hard refining and you wonder if God has changed His mind. He hasn’t. He’s just been preparing you. Paul said, “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). I’m living proof of that. Beloved get yourself ready to do what God called you to do. He’s not through with you yet.

Factory Settings

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My laptop did an automatic update last night. I know it’s necessary, but it is also annoying. Every time my laptop does an update and restarts, it returns to the factory settings and changes the changes I made to help me as I work.  Like all laptops, mine has a touchpad on it which I don’t use because I have better control with a handheld mouse. This thing drives me crazy. I have rather large hands and the touchpad sits right where I rest my hands. When my hands brush it as I’m typing, it moves the pointer so that I am typing in the wrong place on my document. Argh! I have to stop what I’m doing, go to the settings, and deactivate the touchpad. Then try to go back and reclaim my train of thought. So this morning I was typing a verse of Scripture and looking at my Bible, not at my screen. When I lifted my head, I realized my verse what not where it was supposed to be. Then I remembered the restart and had to go back to turn the touchpad off again. I do wish there was a way to permanently deactivate it so it wouldn’t come back on with every restart.

It made me think of our human “factory setting,” of our sinful nature that came with us when we were born. My granddaughter is almost two, and we are dealing with temper tantrums and disobedience and “NO!” At this age, it’s not entirely intentional; she is reacting out of the sinful nature that bedevils every human being. How I wish for her sake and mine there were a way to turn that sin nature off completely.

Unfortunately, it isn’t an automatic adjustment when we are saved.  Rather, it is our daily task to put aside our sinful nature and take up the righteous life of Christ Jesus. It is taking control of our thoughts (1 Cor. 10:5), renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2), “putting to death the misdeed of the body” (Rom 8:13), and “living in accordance with the Spirit” (Rom 8:5). And it’s a lifelong fine-tuning. But the end result will be a beautiful thing because we will become more and more like Jesus, which, by the way, is our original factory setting.

Godly People in an Ungodly World

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“Be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). Turn on the television, open a newspaper, log onto the internet and you are face-to-face with evil. You don’t even have to look for it; it’s on roadside billboards, flashed in commercials, and reported daily in the news. Satan rules the world – for now. Yet believers are called to live godly lives in an ungodly world. How?

Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). I love this verse and the two contrasting words. “Shrewd” means “wise, sensible” and comes from “thinking and understanding.” Simply put, we need to think, then make a wise determination. Let’s be honest – we can become mentally and spiritually lazy – accepting as truth whatever we are told. If you don’t believe me, spend a day on Facebook. We need to be discerning about everything our minds take in. Because we must live in this world, Jesus tells us to “think and come to a sensible conclusion.”

In contrast to being shrewd, Jesus commands us to be innocent which means pure, not mixed with evil. His command here is to not allow ourselves to be mixed up with the world’s philosophies and ideas; to not allow them to be poured into our minds and hearts. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel tried to compromise with the Lord and the world, believing that they could dabble in paganism as long as they continued to also follow the sacrificial Law of God. They “poured” paganism into with their worship of God Almighty, and in their dulled minds, believed they were still being obedient to the Lord. Despite what the bumper sticker claims, God’s people cannot “coexist” with ungodliness. It didn’t work for Israel and it won’t work for you and me.

We must let the Word of God be the determining factor in everything we do and say and think. The world will not tell you the truth. The Word will never tell you a lie. Beloved, be wise – consider everything through the lens of Scripture. It will never steer you wrong. Be innocent – keep your mind and heart pure from the world’s philosophies and attitudes. It might help to turn off the T.V., put down the newspaper, and log off of the internet. That’s how we live “in the world,” but not “of the world” (John 17:15-16).

This is My Testimony

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I was always a church kid. From the cradle roll in the church nursery to a “sunbeam” with perfect attendance bars cascading from my pin.  I “asked Jesus into my heart” and was baptized when I was 9. I tried hard to live by the rules, but always had a nagging sense that something was “off.” So I tried harder. For every time I fought with my brothers or disobeyed my mother, I sentenced myself to extra chores as penance.  I swore I would do better – that I would be better. I repeatedly “rededicated my life to Christ,” And I failed more and more. As an adult I heard preachers talk about thinking they were saved, even serving in ministry, only to discover that they were really not. Surely that was me. So I would pray the “sinner’s prayer” again and wade through those baptism waters trying to get it right.  I was convinced that I had to do and say all the right things to be saved and finally stop the cycle of sin in my life.

Then in my late 30’s through the Scriptures, I came to understand grace. Paul said, “It [meaning God’s compassion to sinners] does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:16). A light dawned in my heart and I realized that it wasn’t anything I did or anything I was that saved me. It was the work of Christ because of the love of God that saved me. The only thing I contributed to my salvation was realizing that I was a sinner in need of a Savior.  I surrendered to His amazing mercy and grace and was set free from the demands of my own guilt and shame. I am no longer driven by the need to be good enough for God. Now I am driven to live by the Word and the Spirit. I desire righteousness, not doing everything right.

Mine isn’t one of those “powerful testimonies” of Jesus saving me out of a life of debauchery – though I was just as lost as the ones who were. But I’ve discovered that it is a testimony a lot of people who live a frustrated Christian life can connect with. Beloved, God didn’t save you because of you, He saved you because of Jesus. And Jesus is enough.

The Struggle with Sin

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Why, if I am saved, do I still struggle with sin? It’s not an uncommon question. I’ll bet you’ve asked it yourself. Even though we are new creatures in Christ we all still have the old fleshly sin nature demanding to be satisfied. Paul tried to explain it when he said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15, 18-19). He’s essentially saying, “There’s still a part of me that wants sin and even though I have Christ, I sometimes give in to that sin. I hate it when I do, but I still do it.” Why is this the case for us?

Look a little further in Paul’s words, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind . . .” (vs. 21-22). When we come to Christ, we have a new nature that wants to do what is good. But we still have that old nature that wants sin and we live in a world that offers it at every turn. James said we fall into sin “by [our] own evil desire [that] drags us into sin” (James 1:14). How do we overcome this?

If you and I are honest the sin we most struggle with is what the Psalmist called, “cherished sin” (66:18). It’s sin that we always keep our eye on, the sin we don’t want to let go of. Paul tells us: “Put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) – meaning the sinful desires within us. Hebrews 12:4 says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Beloved, let me ask you (and me) bluntly – Are you willing to fight this sinful desire to the death? Are you willing to kill it? Or are you going to keep it in your line of vision? We can’t overcome a sin we still love. Put it to death. There’s no other way.

Hope in the Night

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Several years ago I went to a jewelry party. The hostess promised that I could be the model but the salesperson chose another girl instead. I was wearing a light-colored top and the other girl had on a dark top.  The jewelry showed up better against the dark backdrop.  My light top would have made the pieces appear washed out.  Hope is much like those gems, it shows us best against the dark seasons of our lives. I know this from the Word of God and my life.

Paul said, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all” (Romans 8:24). There is a reason that the stars are only visible against the night sky. They fade away in the bright sunlight.  There’s a reason that hope is most powerful when we are at our weakest. My hope in God grew the most when I needed Him the most – when anxiety was high, when I couldn’t see the road ahead, when it looked like everything was falling apart.  I had to hope in Him to survive.  I had to stay on my knees. I had to remind myself of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Those lessons in the night made my faith more real to me than sunshine ever could.

I know some of your stories – you’ve talked with me or private messaged me and asked for prayer for your situation, which I am honored to do.  Most of you I do not know personally, but I know that when the night seems to go on forever, you need hope.  Beloved, hope shines brightest in the dark. And hope is our assurance that the night will eventually give way to the morning.

I love these words from Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher and writer of the nineteenth century who knew a lot about hope in the darkness.

“Hope itself is like a star–not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity. Afflictions are often the black foils in which God sets the jewels of His children’s graces, to make them shine brighter. How can you know that you have faith until your faith is exercised?”

Trials make the promise sweet;

Trials give new life to prayer;

Trials bring me to His feet,

Lay me low, and keep me there.

Out With the Old Man (and His Mouth)

“Who in the Bible do you most identify with?” the teacher asked. Most of the class said they are most like Peter, the brash, impulsive, reckless disciple.  In many ways, I think I am as well. In fact, I identify with several Bible characters for a variety of reasons, but I truly believe I am most like Paul in at least one way: Paul was under the grace of God but he still struggled with sin. He said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). In that statement, he perfectly expressed the battle within me of the old (wo)man and the new. Though I am a new creation in Christ, the old me who lived for sin and self is still hanging around. That showed itself very clearly this week.

A few nights ago I had rocked my granddaughter to sleep and was carrying her to her bed when she shifted in my arms and whacked her head against my shoulder – the one I had surgery on just a few weeks ago. The expression that came out of my mouth was very un-Christlike – very much like the old man. The Holy Spirit quickly reminded me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:18: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart.” In other words, there is still some ungodly, impure stuff in my heart. Mind you, I am careful with my words  But it’s at my most unguarded moments – when I respond out of fatigue, pain, or raw emotion – that the ugly stuff comes out of my mouth. But the answer is not just watching what I say – the issue is much deeper than that.

My prayer since that night has been David’s prayer: “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). Watching my mouth only masks the root of the problem. I need God to take my impure heart of stone and replace it with a pure, soft heart so that I speak worthy words at all times, especially when my guard is down.  My desire in those moments is that when I “open my lips, my mouth will declare God’s praise” (51:15). Even when pain rocks my body and my life.

Beloved, what do your unguarded moments reveal about your heart?