Not a Fan of Jesus

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“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’” (Matthew 16:16).

My husband was watching a program on television, a famous singer was belting out their latest hit song and the crowd was almost louder than the amplified music.  They were applauding and shouting and whistling their adoration.  I walked through the room just as the camera zoomed in on one girl with a t-shirt that had the singer’s face above the words “I’m your #1 fan.”  The singer saw her too and took an elaborate bow and blew kisses aimed directly at her.  She was ecstatic and the people near-by looked at her like she was royalty.

Popularity is a fickle thing.  One day you’re everyone’s favorite celebrity, the next day you’re old news.  Last year you were on the cover of People magazine, this year your name is buried on the back page of the local newspaper. Celebrities live and die by their fan count.

Jesus had fans.  The gospels tell us of people who flocked to Him, who hung on His every word, who wanted a front-row seat to watch Him perform miracles.  They lined the streets when He came through town and jostled one another to walk nearest to Him.  But I am not a fan of Jesus.

I am a follower of Jesus.  It’s true that I want to be near Jesus, but not for some thrill. I want to be in His presence because His presence is peace.  His presence is hope.  His presence is wisdom and power.  Like Mary of Bethany, I want to be near Him to soak up His words and take in every inflection of His voice.

I am a servant of Jesus.  Paul identifies himself and Timothy in his opening statement in Philippians: “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:1).  I love how Mary responds to the angel: “Behold, [I am] the handmaiden of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).  The purpose of my life is to do the will of Jesus.  To serve Him by serving others.

I am a disciple of Jesus.  By His example, He can teach me how to walk in righteousness.  He can teach me about the Kingdom of God and how to go to heaven.  And He alone can teach me who God is because He is God.

I am a friend of Jesus.  Fans are not often friends.  Fans are there for the show.  Friends sit around after the show is over and talk about real life.  I love to talk to Jesus about what’s happening in my everyday life.  I love to listen to Him talk through His Word about heaven. My friendship with Jesus is as real as my friendship with my best friend.

I am a witness of Jesus.   I want to tell others what He has done for me.  He has saved me, redeemed my life, and given me a place with Him in heaven.  He took all my sin and all my shame and the punishment that I deserved and gave me freedom and eternal life.  He died so that I would live.  I want to tell the world about my Jesus.

Most of all, I am a worshipper of Jesus.  I’ve seen old pictures of fans of Elvis Presley and the Beatles and their “worship” of their favorite stars.  Their adoration is misplaced.  There is only one who is worthy of worship – He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  The Bible says that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).  One day Jesus will return to earth and every person that ever was will bow before Him and declare that He is Lord.  No one will be exempt because it will be an uncontrolled response to seeing Him in His splendor.  Those who refused to acknowledge Him in this life will, by the sheer force of His glory, give Him the exaltation they withheld.  I want to worship Him now.  I want to give Him the praise and honor that He is due today so that when that glorious day comes, I am well-practiced and my response is as natural to me as breathing.

Jesus is worthy of so much more than fawning fans.  He is worthy of our focus, our time, our efforts, our service, our friendship, our witness and our worship.  He is worthy of our love.  He is worthy of our lives.  To be a fan of Jesus falls far short what He deserves.  And it falls far short of what He desires for you.  Don’t just be a fan.  Be all-in.

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Unfinished Projects

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“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” Philippians 1:6.

I enjoy many craft projects of various kinds – cross-stitch, sewing, crochet, beadwork . . .  The one thing they all have in common is that I have many that are in various stages of incompletion.  I’m good at starting things, but not so good at finishing them.  I even have a book I’ve started writing that begs to be finished.  The biggest reason I fail to finish things is 1) I am easily distracted and 2) I’m afraid the finished product will be a failure.

That is why I love Philippians 1:6. God doesn’t have any unfinished projects.

From our first introduction, we see that God is one who finishes what He starts, and He finishes it well.  The creation account in Genesis 1 shows God commanding an action, and that action being brought to completion with the pronouncement: “God saw that it was good.”  Then He got personally and intimately involved in creating man – He literally got His hands dirty with this one.  But humanity – that’s you and me – is not a one-and-done project like plants and stars.  Sure, the creation of our physical bodies was done at once, but the purpose of our existence is a long-term work and God is in it with us for the long haul.

Paul says that God “began a good work.”  What was that good work?  Salvation.  The restoration of our relationship with Him.  And with it the transformation of our lives, that is sanctification – working to make us more like Jesus, “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29).  God’s purpose is to make sinful creatures into holy sons and daughters.  It is a life-long work that will only be completed when we are united with Christ.  But here’s the important point to remember:  it will be completed.  It will be accomplished.  God’s good work in you and me will be finished.

Paul also says that He “will carry it on to completion.”  That’s very good news to me because it reminds me that salvation and sanctification are His to accomplish as Paul further says, “It is God who works in you” that good work of salvation (Philippians 2:13).  Yes, we have a responsibility to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12).   We must do our part in studying His Word, in praying, in fellowship with the Body and in obedience to His commands and His promptings.  But the onus for the finished product is on God as He works in us through His Holy Spirit.

I hope that is as encouraging to you as it is to me.  Salvation and the transformation of my life is not up to me and my ability to get the job done.  I have a box full of unfinished projects to prove that I can’t pull this off by myself. And neither can you.  But God has a cross and an empty tomb to prove that He can.  He has the power and the vision to accomplish this good work.  And He will prove Himself faithful.  Paul said that it is God Himself that will sanctify us “through and through.”  It is He who will keep us, “spirit, soul and body blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Beloved, You and I are not “unfinished projects.”  We are divinely designed and destined by God to accomplish His “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2) – to be like His Son. “The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it” (2 Thessalonians 1:23-24).

Immanuel – God with Us

 

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“They will call Him Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

One of the most beautiful hymns of Christmas is Emmanuel, Emmanuel:

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called Emmanuel.
God with us, revealed in us,
His name is called Emmanuel.[1]

In our modern, New Testament mind the idea of “Immanuel – God with us” is a great comfort as we endure the struggles of life in this fallen world.  To know that God is with us means we are assured of His presence and help.  I am so grateful that God was with us through this difficult year that we experienced.  His presence gave me strength day-by-day and bolstered my faith.

But to truly understand the name and its significance, we have to go back to the Bible.  But don’t stop in Matthew, go back even farther to the book of Exodus, to the most incredible statement by God: “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:9).  In the ancient near east, the pagan gods of the time did not dwell with human beings.  No, the “gods” were far too important to be bothered with mortals and their petty lives.  But the God who created and sustained and ruled over all things wanted to dwell with His people.  So He gave them instructions to build Him a sanctuary where He could be present with them.  When the structure was built, the Lord came and took up residence in the place.  The same was true of the temple Solomon built for the Lord in Jerusalem to replace the tabernacle.  When the temple was completed, and the ark of the covenant was put in place in the Holy of Holies, “the cloud [of the Lord’s presence] filled the temple of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11).  And the Lord dwelled among His people there.

Until.  Until their idolatry and sin became unbearable.  Until God said, “Enough.”  Approximately four hundred years after He filled the temple, the Lord withdrew His presence.  The prophet Ezekiel records the terrible sight of the cloud drawing up and away from the Holy of Holies and from the temple and from Jerusalem and the nation of Judah.  God was no longer with His people.  Shortly afterward the people were taken into exile and the temple was destroyed.  And though it was rebuilt when the exiles returned to Jerusalem, the Lord’s presence did not return to the second temple.

Until. Until the angel visited a carpenter, betrothed to a young woman and proclaimed the return of Immanuel.  Joseph would instinctively know what this name meant – God with us.     God came to once again dwell among men – this time in the humblest way – as a human baby born to peasant parents and laid in a feeding trough for animals.  The name “Immanuel” recalls the glorious presence of God in the midst of His people.  But not only in the temple.  No, this time Immanuel would walk among them, eat with them, touch them with human hands – and die for them.  God had been absent and silent for hundreds of years, but now He had returned to His people.

Immanuel was the promise of God’s presence.  And He is still present with His people today.  He is present in the Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer.  He is present in our worship.  He is present when we pray.  He is present when we rustle the pages of the Bible.  He is present when we reach out to touch a suffering soul with His love.  He is present in holy, divine moments and in the everyday events of our lives.  Because He is Immanuel, He is always present. Because He is God with us, we are never alone.

[1] Emmanuel, Emmanuel was written by Bob McGee in 1976 and published by C.A. Music.

The Burden-Bearer

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When my son was little and we went somewhere that required a lot of walking, his little legs would tire very quickly.  He would slow down and stumble and cry.  That’s when his Daddy would pick him up and set him on top of his shoulders and carry him home.  The burden of his weight rested on his Dad’s shoulders.  Thankfully he didn’t weigh much then, but the idea of carrying another’s burden has its roots in Israel’s ancient worship traditions.

When God gave Moses instructions for the priests, He said, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel . . . Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders before the Lord” (Exodus 28:9,12).  Aaron, the high priest, would enter the holy of holies at the appointed time to make atonement for the sins of the children of Israel.  He would come before God with the names of each of the twelve sons of Jacob, the family tribes of the nation, engraved on the stones that made up part of his ritual garb.  He would literally bear the weight of the names of the sons of Israel while symbolically bearing the weight of their sin on his shoulders.

At Calvary Jesus bore the weight of every sin you and I have ever committed.  But it wasn’t a symbolic act like the priest bearing the names of the sons of Israel, and it wasn’t a gentle weight like my son perched on his Daddy’s shoulders.  The weight of all the sins of humanity – including your sin and mine – was a real, crushing burden heaped on the Son of God.

My husband bore the weight of our son because he loved him.  Jesus bore the weight of your sin because he loves you.  There came a point, though, when our little boy became too big of a burden for his Daddy to carry.  Here’s the good news: you will never be too big of a burden for Jesus.  Your sins will never out-weigh His love for you.  You can rest on this promise Beloved, Jesus will carry you – all the way home.

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?

How’s Your Vision?

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“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”  Hebrews 12:2

I’ve worn glasses since I was in the fifth grade.  I remember vividly the difference in my vision from the day before to the day after I got them.  The teacher’s handwriting on the board improved overnight! The power of vision – the ability to see clearly – was driven home to me recently when I got new glasses after 8 years.  The difference in my old prescription and the new one was so great I had a headache for a week trying to adjust.  It’s hard to see clearly when you’re looking through a weak lens.

Likewise our spiritual vision – how we see God – affects the way we see ourselves, our challenges, and our successes or failures.  Consider the Israelite spies in Numbers 13.  Upon returning from their mission, ten of the twelve spies advised against attempting to take the land the Lord had promised them.  They compared themselves to the Canaanites and saw themselves as “grasshoppers in our own eyes” (vv. 32-33).  They talked themselves out of the Promised Land because they were convinced that they were outmatched and too small.  Only Caleb and Joshua had a different vision, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. Do not be afraid of the people of the land . . . the Lord is with us” (Numbers 14:7-9).  They saw the same giants and the same challenges, but they saw them with faith.  They focused on the power and the promise of the Lord and knew that the giants were no match for their mighty God.

In contrast to the ten Israelite spies, consider how little David defeated the giant Goliath.  You know this story well – David heard Goliath’s disgraceful taunting of the Israelite army, and armed with a sling and a few stones he confronted the giant.  But his confidence wasn’t in his sling or the stones or his own ability—his confidence was in God.  He stood before Goliath and declared, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty . . . it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves:  for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give all of you into our hands” (1Samuel 17:45, 47).  He knew God was mighty and He knew God was for Israel.  How could he lose?

We see the same confident thinking in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “If God is for us, who can be against us? For I am convinced that 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 8:31, 38-39, emphasis added).  Where did Paul’s confidence come from?  The great vision he had of God through Jesus Christ.  He was so certain of God’s love because he had seen that love displayed on the cross.  Though his physical eyes were weak and failing, he had perfect 20-20 spiritual vision.

You and I need good vision to navigate life.  We need to view everything through the spiritual lens of truth.  Instead of focusing on the size of our challenges we need to “fix our eyes on Jesus.”  Rather than seeing ourselves as grasshoppers among giants, we need to see the bigness of our God, towering over everything that threatens us.  Beloved, how long have you struggled with weak spiritual eyes?  Is it time for some new lenses?  Maybe it’s time to have your eyes examined by the Holy Spirit so He can prescribe some divine glasses.  Oh Father, give us holy vision to see you like we’ve never seen you before!

Less is More

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The saying goes, “less is more,” meaning the less clutter you have in your home, life, etc. the more home, life, etc. you have.  It’s a lesson I’ve yet to learn as I look around my study, cluttered with books, studies, commentaries, resources, Bibles, files, sewing stuff, and tons of notebooks.  But, because of Jesus, there are some areas of my life where I am truly grateful that less really is more.

Because of Jesus, I am shameless – Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  I did not always live for God, and my sin caused me tremendous shame.  Even after I became a Christian I still stumbled in many ways, and the enemy heaped shame on me.   But Jesus took all my shame to the cross and the grave.  When He rose to life again, my shame stayed buried forever. Whatever you may have done, no matter how shameful it may be, Jesus can set you free.

Because of Jesus, I am guiltless – Hebrews 10:22 says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”  We’ve all had feelings of guilt—because we are all sinners.  Jesus’ blood fell from His head and hands and feet, and continues to sprinkle all who will come and kneel at the foot of the cross.  His blood washes away all our sin, and with it our guilt.  You can set down that heavy burden and run into your Father’s presence knowing that His arms are open wide to receive you.

Because of Jesus, I am fearless – 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”  God loves you and me perfectly with an everlasting love that will never fail, no matter what we may do.  Because of His perfect love, we no longer have to tip toe into God’s presence, fearing His anger and wrath.

Jesus took all our sin and with it all the consequences and the burdens that sin brings. Because of Him you and I can be shameless, guiltless and fearless.  Beloved, don’t let your life get clutter with all this stuff.  Grab hold of the “less is more” principle and walk in the freedom Christ won for you.

Yes, I am a Daughter of the King

 

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“Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5:34).

(Grab your Bible and read Mark 5:25-34) 

I have long loved this story of the woman in Mark 5 – I think of her as a woman of great faith. She knew she was unclean, she knew she was an outcast, and she knew that she could be shamed, and possibly even worse, for being in a public place, bumping against “clean” people, and daring to touch a rabbi. But she also knew, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Not “Maybe” or “I might,” but “I will.” She was willing to risk public humiliation because her desperation caused her to have extraordinary faith. Are you desperate today?

I also love this story because I carried an “issue” of shame for a long time. One day I was reading Revelation 2, where the Lord declared to the church in Pergamum – “I will give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” The Sprit then sent me to this story in Mark 5 and He affirmed in my heart that He does not see me as a wounded, shame-filled woman. He calls me “Daughter.” That is my name. That is what is written on my stone.  I don’t claim that name as a “princess, daughter of the king,” as is so popular in Christian women’s circles these days. I receive it as one who was shamed and rejected, but is now – amazingly – adopted and loved by the King of the universe.  I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, some not so kind or loving.  To know that God – the perfect and holy One – not only saved me, but claimed me as His Daughter – well the thought absolutely stuns me.

Beloved, if you will come to Jesus – just as you are, with all your sin and shame and guilt and dirt – He will cleanse you and make you whole – forgiven, spotless, free.  He will take you to the Father who will claim you as His own – His beloved Daughter.  Maybe you, like me, didn’t have the best father-daughter relationship – or you didn’t have a father in your life much at all.  You can now.  

May you and I always be as bold as this woman to come to Jesus in all our uncleanness and reach for the hem of His garment in faith.  May we rise up and take our place as Daughters who are dearly loved and welcomed in the Father’s house.  And may we be always on the lookout for others who are longing for Father-love.  Let’s bring many daughters – and sons – into the family.

Home

4A76AECC-7D6E-48FA-91C3-6CB4150294A0.jpeg“I am going to prepare a place for you” John 14:3

Right now I’m sitting on my back porch swing, coffee by my side, Bible in my lap, listening to the falling rain. My hibiscus has a bright pink bloom and blue daze spills out over the sides of their pots. A pair of squirrels are chasing one another around a nearby tree, one loudly scolding the other. My cat Celina sits by my feet watching the show. Birds twitter their praises to the Creator. I am so blessed.
Just a few months ago I did not feel blessed at all. We were facing hard times – no jobs, no funds, no place to live, health struggles and battles with insurance companies. We were forced to pack up our lives, leaving dear loved ones behind. I was heart-broken. Actually I was broken. Period.
But God was at work. He was speaking to others on our behalf. He reminded a friend of a family member about a house for rent. Maybe it was available. And it was. Would the rent be reasonable? Yes it was. Could we move in right away? Yes we could. Would God provide the funds when we had no jobs? Yes He did. And it’s a great house, out in the country where it’s quiet. It’s a beautiful house. And it has this great back porch. I love this place and thank God for it every day.
But there is an even better place coming. A place that Jesus Himself is building for me. Did you ever wonder why He apprenticed on earth as a carpenter’s son? He is building a place for all His children – for me and for you. This house is rent-free and will be stunning and beautiful. It will be perfectly suited for each one of us. I’ll bet it will even have a great back porch – with a swing and lots of flowers. As much as I love the house God provided for me here, I cannot wait to move into my place in heaven.
Beloved, I’m sitting here on my back porch writing this to tell you that God knows your need. He knows your struggle. And He is working even now on your behalf. He is a good Father who cares for and about His children. He provided for your greatest need when He sent His Son to die for your sins. Will he do any less for these temporal needs you have now?
He is preparing good things for you today and He is building something wonderful for you for eternity. From my back porch and my heart: your Father loves you. You can trust Him.

Lord, Save Me!

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“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!”” (Matthew 14:30)

Brave, confident Peter stood up and stepped out of the safety of the boat and onto the liquid surface of the lake – and the water held him up! Like any curious person would do, Peter looked around to see if what he thought was happening really was. And that’s when the laws of nature took over and Peter began to sink.

Peter knew Jesus – he had heard His authoritative teaching and had witnessed and participated in His miracles.  In fact, this incident comes “immediately” on the heels of Jesus feeding more than five thousand people (Matthew 14:22).  But in a moment, all he knew about Jesus sank into the waves with him.  He was overcome with fear.  Can you relate? Sometimes we seem to be doing good – walking along in our faith with our heads held high.  Then something happens – a crisis hits, the bottom falls out, and suddenly we are sinking and crying out for help.

I have walked with Jesus for some 40+ years and there have been many ups and downs, some pretty awesome highs and some very deep lows.  I wish I could say that I’ve always been a model of unwavering faith – but that would be a lie.  What I can say is that every trial has built my faith by degrees.  You may be familiar with the hard season we’ve experienced these past several months.  We were rocked harder than we’d ever been.  It all looked very dire, and we were sinking fast.  All I could do was cry out, “Lord save us!”  And He did.

Here’s what I know – and what I want you to know.  God’s hand was behind that stormy sea.  He stirred up the wind and the waves that rocked our boat and tossed us into the water. Why would He do that?  Because His was the hand that would reach out to save us.  Because I needed to know the power of His saving grace and the depth of His everlasting love.  And so do you.  You need to know that when all seems lost, God will rescue you.  When you think you’re about to drown, God will pull you up.  Your storm is real – but so is God.  Start looking for His hand over the waves.