Romans 15:13: God is good and we are loved

I struggle to remember Bible verses. I can tell you the gist of a verse, around what book of the Bible it’s in and if I’m on a roll, the actual chapter the verse is in. But knowing a verse verbatim? Not my forte.

Based on all that I have read in His word, though, there are two biblical truths I constantly go back to when I can’t recall a specific verse: God is good and I am loved.

If we have faith, we trust that God is good. Because he is good we then also can trust that we are loved. Notice that period after the word loved?  We are loved period. Regardless of what we do or what we don’t do, we are loved.

How do we know, though, that God is good? Only a good God would offer up his only son to make a way for us to be loved.

I get so bogged down sometimes with thinking about how I don’t do like I should. I don’t forgive easily; I don’t always love sacrificially; and I don’t always chase after God.

I try to make up for those failures by doing more. I’ll read my bible twice as long each day, I’ll listen only to Christian music for a whole month, I’ll volunteer at a nonprofit.

It’s in those moments I remember that God is good and because he is good, he loves me despite my failures and regardless of my striving. Nothing will ever change those truths… not what you do, not what you don’t do.

When we are assured that God is good and that we are loved, we finally have freedom. These truths give us freedom to be at peace, to have joy and to hope.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13  

 

So it’s been a while…

I haven’t written anything here since January, my apologies. A lot has happened since then. I completed my master’s, moved twice, got engaged and got married. I’ve learned a lot these last few months and am trying to get my butt back in gear with writing.

My goal moving forward is to write at least one thing each week. My heart’s been kicked around a lot this year and while I’m not brave enough to start dreaming too many big dreams too soon, I do think it’s time to just write.

Every time I’ve asked God what he wants me to do with my life he says, “write for me.” For years, I’ve wrestled with how to write or what to write but one of the biggest things I’ve learned this year is that you just have to do. You don’t have to start off running, just take the first step. I don’t know what or why God wants me to write, but I’m just going to write. I hope it is something that blesses you.

I’ll have something for you later this week. Until then, peace & blessings! :)

The truth of why He gives to us

The holiday season has just passed and as I think about the loved ones I worked to surprise with gifts that I knew would delight their hearts, I can’t help but reflect on and be overwhelmed by the way God gives to us. For much of my life – well, if we’re being honest, for the majority of my life – I have always viewed blessings as accidents, coincidences or thrown bones.

Too often, I get caught up in a false tit-for-tat gospel. I do x because it ensures y. God does y because x binds him to do so. I am reminded again that false gospels always lie to us about who God truly is and what motivates him. A relationship with Christ frees us from the broken business model of this world. We are not bound by contracts but instead have freedom.

As I meditate more on the truth that we have not been called into a new slavery, but into a true freedom, I am delighted to realize that God gives because he loves. The blessings in my life are not due to some haphazard smattering of happenings. The blessings in my life also aren’t due to my own work to achieve them. I have finally realized that God isn’t in the business of throwing us bones.

No, God is purposeful in freely and generously giving his children blessings. Why does he do this? The same thing that motivated him to give his son for our ransom is the same thing that motivates him to continue to pour out blessings in our lives: love.

In the same way that I worked to find the perfect holiday gift for a loved one, God works to touch us in a way only he can. To think that God uses his knowledge of my inmost being to cater blessings to my life simply because he loves me is overwhelming. Looking back on my life’s blessings through this lens is like being blessed all over again. Knowing God had an intimate hand in crafting the people, places, experiences and things that have brought me joy throws me into a fit of giggles.

During this last season of thanksgiving, I gave thanks begrudgingly. I am guilty of viewing it as my duty to thank God, but not as my passion. Because I have been ignorant of the way that he loves and the way that he gives, I have been incapable of truly giving thanks. Now, however, I am deeply touched to know my ignorance is forgiven and that my blessings are running over.

When we have the truth of who God is and why he gives, we will have the freedom to rejoice.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15

A Call to Love

I’m tired of Christians trying to make unbelievers believe what we believe. While we have been commanded to go and preach to every nation, the end goal of only a conversion of attitudes to mirror our own rights and wrongs is, in my opinion, shortsighted. I am just as guilty of that shortsightedness as many other Christians are.

Stop being gay. Stop being pro-choice. Stop having premarital sex. Stop voting for Democrats. Stop cursing. Stop listening to secular music. Stop drinking alcohol. Stop wearing make up. Stop working on Sundays.

Start being heterosexual. Start being pro-life. Start being celibate. Start voting Republican. Start praising. Start listening only to Christian contemporary music. Start drinking sparkling grape juice. Start covering your head. Start going to church.

Essentially: start following the rules that I follow, start being the person I want you to be.

What are our true motives for wanting to convert others to believe what we believe?

The aforementioned imperatives are things I have heard come from either my own mouth or the mouths of fellow believers.

The goal of all our interactions should be love. Love is transformative, restorative. It is what will change others. When we focus only on converting people to accept what we believe to be THE right thing, we often forget to love.

Telling someone that homosexuality, abortion, premarital sex, punching a specific party’s ticket, shouting damn when they stub a toe, listening to Nickelback, a Long Island iced tea, waterproof mascara and supporting their families are sins may or may not be right. I’m pretty sure that Nickelback one is, but regardless, saying any of those things doesn’t sound like I love you to me.

We may be right until we are blue in the face, but will our being right make an unbeliever feel any less alone than they felt right before we started shouting at them?

As I think back to my own conversion nearly five years ago, it wasn’t a need to be right about every issue that brought me to Christ. It was a desperate need for love. I needed to know that someone cared about who I was, warts and all, more than I needed someone to shout what they believed was wrong with me.

It is important for individuals to be conformed to the image of Christ, to follow his commandments, but how can they do that if they have never met him? God is love. If we never display love, then can unbelievers ever say they have truly met Him?

God did not point out all of my flaws in our first meeting, he simply told me he loved me. His love transformed me from the inside out. Arguments, condemnation and name-calling did not convert me, love did.

I want unbelievers to experience the same soul penetrating depth of God’s love, to be equally flabbergasted that a man offered himself as payment for sin, to believe he raised from the dead, to have peace that forgiveness is a free gift they don’t have to earn and to be hopeful that one day, they will see that man’s face. If all I tell them is that they are wrong, if all I show them is that I am self-righteous, if my words are betrayed by my actions, then I know that will never happen.

Sometimes God will lead us to confrontation, but I am convinced we should err on the side of love. What is real love then? How do we do that?

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:18.

The origin of the so-called Golden Rule sheds some light. While we often cling to the latter portion, we musn’t forget the former. We must let go of the grudges that get in the way of loving our neighbors as ourselves. We must let go of the propensity to want to be right in every circumstance and simply love.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant (5) or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; (6) it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (7) Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (8) Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

I think the most famous passage on love can be applied using an acronym for Love.

L: Listen. (verse 4)
O: Offer. (verse 5)
V: Value. (verse 6)
E: Engage. (verses 7-8)

Listen. Have you ever stopped to listen to why someone believes what they believe? Have you ever even given them the opportunity to explain why they believe what they believe? Listening does not equal condoning. You can listen to a person’s story and find their heart. If you give someone the opportunity to be heard, they are more receptive to hearing your own story. As you share your story, more than you heart is revealed though, Christ’s heart is revealed. We should listen even if we are never afforded the opportunity. Christ’s humility is seen in how he listens to our prayers, shouldn’t we also reflect that same attitude and afford that same kindness to our neighbor?

Offer. Offer only what you are invited to offer. Offer only what you are led to offer. Whether this be your time, your word or both, always be more willing to give than to receive. Even if you are a master at logic and sarcasm (two-time National Forensics League qualifier and state runner-up here, thankyaverymuch), take a moment to set that aside and just offer to be an acquaintance, a career reference, an extra set of hands, a friend. If you are rebuffed, live and let go unless the Lord continues to lead to continue your efforts.

Value. Respecting another individual is the first step in being able to relate to and minister to that individual. If you refuse to recognize another as a being crafted in God’s image because of what that individual believes or has been through or has done, you will be unable to relate and minister to that person. Do not rejoice that you know the truth and this person does not, rejoice that you can see God’s hand at work in his or her life. If you value this person as God values this person, you cannot help but want to let God use you to minister to this person.

Engage. Engage means to offer and to bind oneself to do something. Bind yourself to bear all things, to believe in all things and to endure all things so that all might know they are loved not just by their neighbor but by their creator as well. Start being the type of person who wants everyone in this world to know that they are loved by you and by your God. Engage in another’s life and keep the lines of communication open. So long as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.

I can’t be sure that all of the things mentioned at the beginning of this post are sins, apart from that Nickelback thing, but I am assured that regardless of convictions, unbelievers and believers alike were knit together in their mothers’ wombs, have the breath of God in them and cannot live abundantly without His love. With God’s strength and leading, I want my focus to be driven by the end goal of a love that converts and not a position that condemns.

Why reading obituaries gives me hope

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Ada Hurt, 93, Indianapolis, died Dec. 4, 2011. Just a sentence to sum up 93 years of life.

I often read the obituaries during the graveyard shift at my second job. Sometimes, they’re the only things to read when the night is slow. Some obituaries detail the deceased’s commitment to his or her community; others list a funny anecdote or inspirational quote, and others, like in the case of Ms. Hurt, give a bare bones account of the who, how old, from where and when.

It’s death notices like Ms. Hurt’s that give me pause. I wonder about what kind of woman she was. What were her hopes? Her passions? Her accomplishments? Who did she love most? Who does she leave behind? Is there a plan in place to keep her legacy alive?

In 93 years, surely there was something that set her apart from the rest of humanity? We’ll never know. All we have is a sentence. Even if we had more, would it matter the next day? Even the page-long obituaries, filled with anecdotes and accomplishments, become old news as soon as the newest death notices roll off the presses.

What then is the point of a long life? It’s hard to feel like what you do matters when you see how so many who have gone before you are eventually forgotten. Death notices and short obituaries like Ms. Hurt’s often make me weary. I’m just one illness, one accident or maybe one lifetime away from the same fate. It’s all vanity, meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Or is it?

It’s in those moments of discouragement and fear that I remember how I am not living for my own glory but for God’s. Even if I were to make a name for myself, my celebrity would last for a few days, maybe a few weeks but not for more than a few years after my passing. No matter what I do for this world, it will eventually forget me.

There is one publication I hope Ms. Hurt’s name was printed in: the Book of Life. I know my name is written there and that fact gives meaning to the life I lead on this earth.

God’s writing my name there reveals more than the who, how old, from where and when of my life. My name there is a testament to the work Christ did on the cross for my benefit and the work he will continue to do in my life until the day I die. One day, I will die and the next, I will be forgotten by this world, but I will never have to worry about my name passing from the Book of Life. Though my hopes, my body and my legacy pass away, my Lord will welcome me into eternity for my name is written. Is your’s?

They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. Revelation 3:4-5 NLT

Fear from the fall

CC license by Jon Fravel

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” Genesis 3:10

The fall is an accepted event in the Christian faith. We all know the story of the serpent entering the garden, deceiving Adam and Eve and God’s banishing them from the garden.

Many believe that banishment to be the consequence for that first sin, but the consequence of the fall was fear. Adam was afraid immediately following his and Eve’s fall. He hid himself and his wife with fig leaves and then he hid in the garden out of fear.

I believe fear is the biggest and most universal consequence of the fall. We live our lives in constant fear of a hundred million different things.

My mind is often plagued with fear.  I’m afraid of being fat again, of being poor again, of finding myself stuck in a dead-end job, of never getting married, of getting married but then getting divorced, of losing my mind, of my check engine light, of having a heart attack, of loved ones dying, of dying myself, of failing at every thing I ever dreamed to undertake, of not being ‘good enough’, of being ‘too much’, and on and on and on.

The key to this prison of fear is doubt.

What led Adam and Eve to sin? In the first verse of this chapter, the serpent causes doubt. Adam and Eve believed the deception, doubted God’s truth and gave into temptation.

I doubt that God really loves me, that he willingly sent his Son, that he has a purpose for my life, that he can accept me just as I am, that he delights in my coming and going, that he revels in my praise, that he wants to use me… on and on and on.

I doubt and I fear and then I hide.

I hide my failures from God, I hide my heart from God, I hide my struggle from everyone around me.  I sew up fig leaves and I run into the forest. I am ashamed and embarrassed and at the end of the day, I am exhausted. I am exhausted from all of the work that it takes to hide.

The hope of the Christian faith and the freedom that we so desperately crave comes from God’s truth. The end to the doubt-fear-hide cycle is truth.

The truth that sets us free is that we are forgiven, that we are new creations, that we were made in the image of the Almighty, that He does have a plan and a purpose for us, and that even when disaster strikes He will be there to comfort, to correct, and to direct.
I’m tired of this prison of fear. I’m tired of living out this curse of the fall. I’m tired of living a lie. I miss who I know God empowers me to be.

God crafts clothing for Adam and Eve. Christ’s sacrifice transforms those clothes of consequence into robes of righteousness.

Will you put off the old ways and step into the robes that fit only you today?

Irrational Fear of Guitars

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It had been a while since I had attended bible study. Crazy work schedules and long distance drives kept me away for months but I finally made it back. I had missed it and was glad to be in attendance.

That is, until a new member brought out an instrument. I saw the case and my heart started beating faster. My palms started to sweat when he brought the guitar out and started to play. I felt like running out of the room as everyone else began to sing the first verse of a song I had never heard.

This may sound silly, but spontaneous worship is one of the biggest fears I have. It is one of the most uncomfortable things for me to experience. I may have been raised Pentecostal, but that praise God through music stuff is something that just does not come natural for me.

I don’t like not knowing what to expect and I don’t like not knowing the words. I also don’t like singing in public period. I know I am not talented in the gift of music worship and shy away from doing it publically.

So there I stood with the option to have a panic attack or to get over myself and worship the God that I love. I chose the latter because in that moment, I realized that’s exactly what worship is.

I have been praying for weeks for God to show me what worship truly means. He’s shown me that it can be not only music but silence, obedience, and contentment among several other things too. In that moment, he showed me what worship was – not by the medium it is expressed, but by what the heart behind it should be.

To worship is to get over yourself. It’s to lay everything aside to stand before the most Holy God recognizing who he is. It is to give pause in this fast paced world to duly note his authority and worthiness.

As I began to swallow my pride and began to sing what few songs I knew, I began to feel the hand of the master on my heart. There were still moments when I felt like running away but I chose to carry on. With a prayer of “help me to get over myself” and a choice to enter in, I made it through.

My reverential fear of my God is of more importance to me than my irrational fear of guitars and singing off key loud enough for someone to hear. Won’t you join me in getting past the silliness of our humanity to enter into the great intimacy at the throne of the Most High?

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. John 4:23

Acts 26:8

Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? Acts 26:8

Paul has been in prison for two years. Finally, he is brought before King Agrippa to make a defense for the Jews’ accusations. In exasperation, Paul cries out this question in Acts 26:8. This same question can be applied to our faith today.

Disbelief is the greatest harm to our faith. It is not enough to have just had faith once, but a life following Christ is a life where we must continually have faith that He is for and not against us.

Why are we so quick to doubt that God is able to do what He has done in the past today? If all the power of God was used to raise Christ from the dead thousands of years ago, why can’t we believe that that same power is available to change us today?

Notice the tense of the verb in the second part of the verse: raises. God raises. It doesn’t say God raiseD (intentional capitalization). God’s power is still at work and fully able to raise the dead.

The God of yesterday is the God of today. His work is not complete yet. He can raise a body from the dead physically as well as metaphorically. When we first believed, Christ raised our souls from death to life. In the same way, He has the power to raise a weak faith from death to life.

We should not be like the Jews who doubted Paul. Their unbelief caused them to miss out on what they had been waiting for generations for: their messiah. We must guard against our unbelief.

To think that something is too incredible or too hard for God to heal, provide, forgive, etc. etc. is to be like the Jews. Don’t miss out on the work your savior is doing in your life because you are too busy telling yourself that He isn’t or can’t do it.

God is able to do the same things He did for the apostles for you. Check your unbelief at the door and equip yourself with the truth that this God who raised this Christ from the dead for you is the same God who will raise you from death to life everyday until His work is complete in you.

Father,

We thank you so much for the amazing work you have done through the ages. You sent your Christ to us. You brought Him from death to life and you are doing the same in each of us each day. Help us to guard against the unbelief of the Pharisees. Nothing is too incredible or too hard or too much for you to handle. You are so much greater than anything in this world. We ask that you would increase our faith and equip us with the truth of your word to defeat our disbelief. Forgive us for these moments of weakness and empower us to glorify you. Amen.

John 13:7

Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” John 13:7

Jesus bent down to wash the disciples’ feet in one of the most memorable passages of scripture and during one of the holiest holidays for the Jewish people. Simon Peter asked Christ why – and this is the answer Jesus gave. Christ’s answer in John 13:7 can be applied to every why we ask him even now.

When life doesn’t turn out quite like we plan and when things go array, it is human nature to ask why. We can take solace in Christ’s answer to Peter and accept it as an answer to our own why’s. We may not understand now what is happening but there will come a time when it will all be revealed.

Christ explained only a few verses after John 13:7 that he served the disciples in this manner so that they might in turn serve each other the same way.

Sometimes, the why is immediately revealed. Many other times, though, the why is not revealed until months or even years later. Still other times, the why will not be revealed until a full lifetime has passed and sometimes, even then the why won’t be revealed until eternity.

You may not understand what God is doing in your life now and you may not have it revealed in this lifetime, but Christ promises that afterward you will understand.

In this famous scene, Christ teaches us how to emulate him. In the face of every ‘why’ we have the opportunity to emulate Christ. Shortly after this scene we know that Christ followed God’s will even to death.  Despite our desire for an immediate answer to a why, are we willing to put that down in the face of following God?

Asking why is not the problem, letting the need for why rule your life instead of the need for Christ, however, is problem.

Precious Lord,

We watched you serve your disciples with a sure and relentless love. You didn’t ask your Father why but we are mere humans. Bear with us in our weaknesses. Help us to trust that you will reveal all at the end – let our desire be more for revelation of you and revelation of why. Forgive our frailty and reveal to us the areas where we are more focused on figuring out why than we are focused on finding you. Give us strength and courage to stop asking you why and start asking for more of you. In your name, Amen.

Matthew 26:50

Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. Matthew 26:50

This verse is taken from the betrayal. The footnote says Jesus could also have said, “Friend, why are you here?”. Either way, it is interesting how Jesus addresses Judas here. The 1917 edition of Scofield Reference Notes describes this exchange as “the most touching thing in the Bible.” And I’d have to agree.

Where Judas brings betrayal, Christ responds with love. Where Judas spits on friendship, Christ still invites it. Where Judas fails miserably, Christ’s perfection is proven. How truly amazing is the savior’s love that even as he is delivered into enemy hands, he stays a friend to even his betrayer. It is true that no greater love has been known.

He doesn’t disown, he doesn’t accuse, he doesn’t condemn – all things Christ justifiably had the right to do. No, he chooses love. He chooses forgiveness even in the moment of disobedience.

When our hearts and our actions disobey Christ, what more assurance do we need of his grace and of his love than this verse? If Christ had the ability and the desire to forgive even in the moment of his betrayal, how much more will he look upon you, a repentant sinner.

Christ willingly and obediently offers himself up for love’s sake. He offered friendship to his betrayer, and he offers friendship to you. Will you continue a life of sin or will you step into a life of friendship with the one who desired to set you free even to the point of death?

Precious Jesus,
How often do we glance over this verse. How often do we betray your commands. And how often do we doubt your willful forgiveness. We are too guilty of this too often and we come again now to thank you for your sacrifice, to ask you for your forgiveness and friendship, and to seek to follow you. You died in complete humility and we stand in awe of the friendship you offer to your own betrayer. There is no greater love than yours – a love that even while we were still sinners brought you to the cross. Lord, forgive our constant betrayal, and remind us of your continued mercy and friendship. Amen.