A Slave to Righteousness

A Slave to Righteousness

What does it mean to be a servant of God and a slave to righteousness? The idea sounds conflicting in nature to our understanding of freedom. Scripture tells us that we have been set free in Christ (Galatians 5:1) and that we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:6). Yet Romans continues on in verse 18-22 to say that we are slaves to righteousness and willing slaves or servants to God.

So what does it mean? Have we been set free or are we servants?

Let’s look at Jesus – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – who took on the title of servant.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45

In Exodus 21, the ordinances for servants are laid out:

Now, these are the ordinances (laws) which you shall set before the Israelites: “If you purchase a Hebrew servant [because of his debt or poverty], he shall serve six years, and in the seventh [year] he shall leave as a free man, paying nothing. If he came [to you] alone, he shall leave alone; if he came married, then his wife shall leave with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she gives birth to sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall leave [your service] alone. But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not leave as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God [that is, to the judges who act in God’s name], then he shall bring him to the door or doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him for life. Exodus 21:2-6

After a servant had served six years, he was free to leave on the seventh (the number of completion). However, if the master had given him a wife, the servant could plainly say, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not leave as a free man.” If that happened, the servant was pierced on a doorpost and would serve his master forever.

Note that the master is listed first: “I love my master, my wife, and my children.” This might seem like an odd order—What slave would love his master more than his wife?—until we look at it as a picture of Jesus and the Father. When Jesus chose to say that He loved His Master (God) and the bride He had been given (the Church) more than his freedom, he was pierced on the doorpost (the cross) as a sign that he would serve His Master forever.  Jesus relinquished his freedom. In order to redeem us, he descended in a human form and suffered a sinner’s death on the cross. He emptied Himself to serve the Father’s purpose.

Romans 6:16 says that we are the slaves of the one whom we obey. Paul is telling us that we all serve something, whether it’s sin or Savior. To serve sin is to be bound in death and condemnation. To serve God is to be bound in Christ so that we can bear fruit (Romans 7:4). Christ set us free from sin so that we could serve in love.

So, to be a slave to righteousness means to choose God’s purpose over your own. One thing I know to be true is that God’s plans for us are far greater than the world’s plans for us, and only one master has promised everlasting life.

For you were called to freedom; only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the sinful nature (worldliness, selfishness), but through love serve and seek the best for one another. – Galatians 5:13

The Words That Broke My Heart

The Words That Broke My Heart

It only took one sentence to break my heart. I don’t mean that it just made me incredibly sad, or that it hurt for a few minutes—I mean that it literally shattered my heart. It made me stop and re-evaluate all of the things I was taking for granted in my own life.

I work for a Christian international relief organization, and some of the work we do is in countries that are closed to the Gospel. In several of these countries, Christians aren’t allowed to gather, they’re not allowed to own Bibles, and they’re not allowed to speak the name of Jesus. We had a guest visiting from one of these countries, and for the first time he was invited to church. After the service, he had tears streaming down his face as he said, “This must be what Heaven is like.”

The impact of that statement hit me hard. This man, who hid his Bible under the floorboard, had never stood side by side with other believers. He had never heard multiple voices singing, as one, praises to the King. He had never seen the body of Christ coming together in one place, for one purpose.

To him, coming before the throne with his brothers and sisters surrounding him, lifting up their voices to Jesus, was literally Heaven on earth.

To him, Heaven was doing the same thing that we get to do every single Sunday. To him, Heaven was going to the same place that we sometimes have to drag ourselves to in the mornings. To him, Heaven was hearing multiple voices singing the same songs that we complain about when they don’t fit our preferences.

There is so much that we take for granted when it comes to being able to surround ourselves with other believers. Despite personal differences or broken relationships, we can still stand next to each other and lift our voices in unison to our Father. We can pray with each other, sing with each other, and encourage each other.

His words broke me, but they also challenged me. When did church become an obligation? When did personal comfort become my spiritual goal? When did I start taking my brothers and sisters in Christ for granted? Scripture tells us to receive the kingdom of God like a child, and what a beautiful picture of childlike wonder: standing and singing together in awe of the glory of God.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

– Revelation 7:9-10

The Living Gospel

The Living Gospel

In Greek, the word “Gospel” translates to “good news” or “a message of victory”. That is the definition I’ve heard most often: The Gospel is the good news that Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might become children and heirs of God.

Even during His time on earth, Jesus was the living Good News. He took what others deserved and, in return, gave them healing, freedom, and right-standing with the Father.

In Mark 1, scripture tells us of a leper, who was an outcast because Levitical law said that the unclean had to remain separate, or apart. Jesus touched the man and He healed him. He told the man, “Don’t tell anyone”, but the man went out and told them anyway. Verse 45 says that because of this, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly, but stayed outside in the lonely places.

In Mark 5, a man with an impure spirit came across Jesus. Verse 4 says that no one was strong enough to subdue him. People feared him and stayed away. Then, Jesus came and He cast the demons out of the man and into the pigs. Verse 15 says the people saw the man who had been possessed sitting there, dressed and in his right mind, and they were afraid, begging Jesus to leave their region.

In Luke 7, there was a woman who lived a sinful life. She was judged by the Pharisees. Yet when she saw Jesus, she wet His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and poured perfume on them. Jesus told her that her sins were forgiven and verse 49 says that the other guests began to judge Jesus, asking, “Who is this who forgives sins?”

That is the living Gospel. At the beginning of the story, the leper was in the lonely place. The possessed man was feared. The woman was judged. But by the end of the story, Jesus was in the lonely place. Jesus was feared. Jesus was judged.

He didn’t just save them—He took their place.

In Hebrew, the word for “Gospel” is Basorah. When you look at the meaning of each letter, the word translates to “a completely consuming dwelling place which reveals the head or authority of Grace”.

hebrew

Jesus took our place so that we could take His, and come face to face with the Father of grace.

That is the message of victory. That is the good news.

That is the Gospel.

Remember Your Position

Remember Your Position

“Therefore, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…”

– Hebrews 10:19 -22

Scripture tells us that we should have the confidence to enter into the presence of God because Jesus acts as our high priest. The purpose of the high priest in the Old Testament was to enter the Most Holy Place, stand before God, and make atonement for his people so that they could have right-standing. Christ secured our eternal redemption through His sacrifice, so we are forever in a position of complete right-standing with God. We are His heirs, and we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

Our position of right-standing is tied to our identity, our purpose, and our authority. When we forget that position, we open ourselves up to an attack from the enemy.

Satan loves to take advantage of us when we don’t know the power we have. He attacks us with fear, or doubt, or anxiety, or insecurity. He tells us that God has turned His back on us, because we aren’t good enough.

We cry out to God and ask Him to remove those thoughts from our lives, but we so often forget that He has given us the authority to bind the enemy, in His name and in His power. Matthew 16:19 says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

When we forget our position, we surrender our authority. I heard a sermon once where the pastor compared this to getting robbed while you’re home. I’ve thought a lot about that comparison, because it’s so true. We sit there, watching the enemy enter our homes, our marriages, and our relationships. We watch while he steals our peace of mind, our joy, and our confidence, and all we do is point and say, “God, look! Look at what he’s doing!” And God responds by asking, “Why are you letting him?” It’s like the police coming to your house after the robbery and asking, “Where were you when this happened?” and you answering, “Oh, well I was there.” Why did you not stop him?

Don’t lose sight of your position! Satan is powerless before the blood of Jesus, which is covering you. You are an heir of God and the power of life and death is in your tongue.

Because of who my Father is, I can defeat my enemy by waking up in the morning and saying, “I bind the spirit of fear, insecurity, and doubt in my life. Jesus died to give me His righteousness, and that’s what I choose to walk in today.”

When the enemy comes against me, I just remind him that the God who created the heavens and the earth, the God who parted the Red Sea, the God who delivered Daniel from the mouth of the lions, the God who walked on water, the God who died my death on the cross, and the God that rolled the stone away—that God is my God, and I am His child.

The Final Promise

The Final Promise

We live a life filled with God’s promises—healing, provision, protection—but sometimes it feels like we live a life of waiting on God’s final promise. His Second Coming.

Scripture is filled with people waiting. Abraham and Sarah waited 100 years for their promised child. Joshua and Caleb waited 40 years to enter the Promised Land. The world waited three days for the promised resurrection.

Friday was the day that Christ took all of our sins on Himself and was crucified. Sunday was the day that He rose from the grave and gave us victory over death. But Saturday was a day of waiting.

Sometimes it feels like we are living in Saturday.

We know that God has promised us eternal life, but we still see people we love dying. We know that God has promised us He will wipe the tears from our eyes, but we are still crying them. We know that God has promised we will never again hunger or thirst, but we still see babies whose bellies are swollen from hunger.

We know that He has promised us Heaven, but we are still waiting.

The good news is that as Christians, we wait with hope, knowing that our God is living. Knowing that our God has finished His work.

We may live in Saturday, but our hope is in Sunday.

Our hope comes from:

  • Knowing that He is faithful. (Deuteronomy 7:9)
  • Knowing what He has promised. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

When we meditate on His faithfulness and rest in His promise that He will return, we wait with a hope that can only be found in a God who has never failed. He said that the work was finished (John 19:30). He said His plan would come to pass (Isaiah 46:11).

It is not a plan to simply begin something. In order to bring glory to the Father, the plan has to be completed. Salvation is about a union with Christ that culminated in a resurrection, but the plan is still not complete. Jesus says “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)

The plan is still being fulfilled because the purpose of the plan is eternal life for us. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Our loving Father wants everyone to come to Him so that none of us are denied His eternal life. He finished His work. We are not waiting on Him; He is waiting on us—to proclaim His love to the world so that all of His people can hear His words and come home.

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 24:14

Who Am I, Lord?

Who Am I, Lord?

In Exodus, Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He doubted his calling because he doubted his worth and his redemption.

Have you ever asked that question? Have you ever felt a calling on your life and wondered, “Who am I to fulfill this?”

He called me and I asked Him, “Who am I, Lord?”

To go out in Your name.
To fulfill Your purpose.
To command the darkness to flee.
To heal the sick.
To make disciples of all nations.

I asked, “Who am I?”

And He replied, “You are Mine.”

Jesus earned His right-standing with God. He deserved the abundant blessings. But He transferred both of those things to us so that we could be chosen, appointed, and equipped to fulfill His purpose.

“God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace.” 2 Timothy 1:9

When we tell God we’re not sure we’re the right one for the job, we aren’t seeing ourselves the way that He sees us. We are mistaking and misplacing our identity.

Scripture tells us exactly who we are:

  • We are chosen by God, holy and dearly loved. (Colossians 3:12)
  • We are sanctified. (Hebrews 2:11)
  • We are anointed. (1 John 2:27)
  • We are the salt of the earth. (Matthew 5:13)
  • We are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)
  • We are HIS. (Galatians 2:20)

God has prepared the way for us. He has redeemed and qualified us so that we can respond to His calling with confidence, knowing who we are and whose we are. 

 

I Clawed My Way To You

I Clawed My Way To You

You can learn a lot about yourself by re-reading old high school journals. I recently found some of mine and was reminded of all of my favorite quotes, song lyrics, books, and movies. Between things I had written myself and things I had copied down from other sources, I could also clearly see the opinion I had of God. One of my favorite songs was “On Distant Shores” by Five Iron Frenzy.

First, a disclaimer: this song is amazing and I still love it. However, the lyrics that I wrote down in my journal didn’t capture the full picture of what the song was saying. Instead, I pulled out the ones that I thought I related to:

With resilience unsurpassed, I clawed my way to you at last.

I identified with those words so strongly, because that’s how it felt to me—like I was constantly exhausting myself trying to get to God. Like I was clawing my way to the cross. I think I believed that after Jesus died on the cross, His pursuit of me stopped there. He had done His part, and it was time to do mine. I felt like I had to be perfect to get to Jesus, and that when I missed the mark, I had to fight my way back to Him.

The enemy used to go before God to accuse us. In Job, scripture says that satan came before God, with the angels, and accused Job of only loving God because of His provision. But satan no longer has that option. He can’t come before the Father to accuse us, because Jesus is seated at the Father’s right-hand and serves, not as our accuser, but as our advocate and our mediator. He speaks in our defense and He fights for us. When we miss the mark, Jesus is there to remind the Father that His sacrifice has already covered us.

“If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” – 1 John 2:1

Since the enemy can no longer go before the throne to accuse us, he instead comes to us and tries to convince us of his lies. He wants us to believe that we are unworthy. He wants us to believe that we are far away from God and can never get close because we don’t deserve to. He wants us to believe that the veil is still up and that we can’t come before God unless we are holy and perfect.

But God tore the veil for us (Mark 15:38). He chases after us (Psalm 139:7-8). He fights for us (Josh. 23:10). He never stops pursuing us (Luke 15:4-6).

Jesus went to the cross while we were yet sinners. That means that as unrepentant sinners, Jesus fought for us. If He fought for us then, how much more is He going to fight for us now that we are His? If He fought for us when we were dead in our sin, how much more is He going to fight for us now that we’re alive in Him? As a parent, as much as you would fight for any child, how much more would you fight for your own son or daughter?

If we use all of our time and energy trying to meet a standard of perfection that was never meant for us, we won’t have any room left to pursue our calling.

We don’t have to strive to prove our worth and we don’t have to fight to get to Jesus—His love is fighting for us! The lyrics I wrote in my journal today are the ones I am embracing as my truth:

When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so good to me
When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me
You have been so, so kind to me

Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

It chases me down, fights ’til I’m found
Leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it and I don’t deserve it
Still you give yourself away

Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down

Coming after me

More Than We Can Handle

More Than We Can Handle

“God won’t give you more than you can handle” is a popular phrase that I’ve heard a lot in Christian circles. Sometimes it’s almost used as a joke. “God won’t give me more than I can handle, but He sure does trust me a lot.”

The truth is, that’s not what scripture says, and it can actually give a false sense of God and His character.

What scripture does say is that God will not allow us to be tempted more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). It doesn’t say that God gives us temptations, but that He won’t let the temptations become too much for us. There’s a large difference between God giving us something and God protecting us from something. James 1:13 is very clear on this subject: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.”

Going back to the phrase “God won’t give us more than we can handle”, the idea that hard times are given to us by God can be damaging and makes it sound like He is the one who is causing our pain and our grief. It’s easy to look at Job in scripture and see someone who was given more than any one man should be able to handle, but it is also clear that God was not the one who gave him those tests and trials. Instead, when satan came against Job, God limited satan in what he was allowed to do (Job 1:12). Today, we have even more of God’s protection. The enemy can no longer come before God and accuse us because Jesus Himself is our advocate. 1 John 5:8 says that because Jesus holds us securely, the evil one cannot touch us.

Additionally, the idea of “more than we can handle” points to an unfair and unjust system, which is the opposite of God’s character (Job 34:12). Why should Person A be given more hardships just for being stronger than Person B?

Ultimately, it’s not about what we can handle. In fact, I would say we are often given more than we can handle. No parent should ever have to go through the pain of losing their child. No child should ever bear the weight of abuse. No person should ever feel the need to contemplate whether or not their existence matters.

In 2 Corinthians 2:8-9, Paul wrote to the church, “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” Those are certainly not the words of someone who felt like they had a handle on the things happening around them. He continued, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

We were not built or equipped to handle everything the world throws at us; that’s why we needed a Savior. It’s not about what we can handle, but what He can handle.

A more accurate phrase for Christians to use is, “We can never be given more than He can handle.” There is no burden too large or too small for our God. There is nothing the enemy can attack us with that we can’t surrender to the one who is abundant in power and love for us.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

Created For His Glory

Created For His Glory

“Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” – Isaiah 43:7

What does it mean to be created for God’s glory? Scripture tells us that we were all created for His glory, but sometimes people tend to get the wrong impression from that statement. We are taught to be humble, and not to boast in our own works, yet here we see God literally creating things that will exalt Him. To understand what it means to be created for God’s glory, we have to first understand what His glory is.

In Exodus 33:18-19, Moses asks God to show him His glory, and God responds by saying, “I will make all my goodness pass before you.”

God’s glory is His holiness, His character, and His attributes on display. When we bring God glory, it means we are physically manifesting His hope, peace, love, joy, kindness, goodness, and gentleness.

Scripture tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that we are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. God has not only prepared ways for us to display His character, He has also equipped us to do so by giving us His power through the Holy Spirit and His righteousness through Jesus Christ.

However, He also gives us a choice. Moses could have chosen to drop the staff. David could have chosen to drop the slingshot. Joshua could have chosen to drop the trumpet.

God knows the plans He has for us, but at any point, we have the option to walk away from the victory He wants for us. That doesn’t mean God won’t fight for us (looking at you, Jonah), but that He ultimately gives us the free will to do as we choose.

Because Moses didn’t drop the staff, he was able to deliver His people from slavery. Because David didn’t drop the slingshot, he was able to turn the tide of battle. Because Joshua didn’t drop the trumpet, he was able to win the city of Jericho.

When we choose to embrace our calling and surrender to God, we are able to walk in the power and victory He wants for us, and bring His love and joy and goodness to a fallen world filled with sickness, death, and pain.

In Scripture, when we read that the Lord has created everything to proclaim His glory, it means that He has created everything to bring revelation of His love to those who are desperately searching for it.

Here I Am To Worship

Here I Am To Worship

When I think of the word worship, I usually visualize someone with their hands in the air, maybe on their knees, singing or crying out to God. For believers, worship is a time where our minds can be transformed and our hearts can be renewed – but for that to happen, worship can’t just be external. It has to be internal as well.

I grew up in church, and I’ve attended Sunday morning worship all of my life, but I can’t count the number of times when I was singing the words with nothing happening in my heart. In Matthew 15:8-9, Jesus said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; they worship me in vain.”

There is a difference between being moved by worship songs, and being moved through the act of worshiping. It’s possible for your mind to be moved by the lyrics in a song, or the beautiful voice of a singer, without your heart being engaged. Maybe you think the lyrics are beautiful, but you don’t connect to the Savior behind the words.

True worship has to be internal. It’s not just about singing the words. In Hebrew, “worship” means to bow down and submit, or to offer. It means to internally surrender to the one whom you are worshiping. It’s this act of surrender that allows God to move in and through us. It connects our heart and spirit to the truth we are proclaiming with our mouths.

It’s when we are in that state of worship that God can easily speak to us, or impress something on our hearts. One of the most vivid memories I have of God speaking to me through worship was right after my father-in-law passed. A week after the funeral, I found out I was pregnant. I was overwhelmed with conflicting emotions – thrilled that we were going to have our miracle baby; devastated at the timing of everything; nervous about telling the family – but I knew God had been faithful to answer our prayers and that I needed to trust Him with the timing as well.

That Sunday, my husband led worship. I held my hands protectively over my non-existent baby bump and prayed that God would give me courage. The song my husband sang was “God of This City”. My head knew the lyrics, but it was like my heart heard them for the first time.

You’re the light in this darkness
You’re the hope to the hopeless
You’re the peace to the restless
You are

There is no one like our God

For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this city

For greater things have yet to come. There is pain now, but joy comes in the morning. Blessed are those who die in the Lord. Do not grieve, like those who have no hope. I have a new song for you to sing. And greater things are still to be done. I know the plans I have for you. Do not fear, for I am with you. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. This child is My handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which I have prepared in advance.

God spoke words of love, encouragement, and provision straight to me because my heart was open to receive them. This doesn’t mean you have to receive revelation to be worshiping. Worship doesn’t have to follow a specific formula. You don’t have to be singing, or kneeling, or crying. It’s not about a body position, but a heart position. In your heart, does Jesus come first? When you’re singing or speaking, are you talking about God, or to Him?

Your pretty words mean nothing if your heart doesn’t echo them. Your raised hands mean nothing if they are not seeking Him. Your bended knees mean nothing if you are refusing to surrender. Worship is meant to declare God’s glory, but it means nothing if your heart doesn’t believe He deserves it.

If you want to connect deeper to the Savior behind the songs, you only have to surrender, for He is worthy to receive all of the glory and all of the honor. He alone is God, and He is worthy to be praised.

When You’re Hurt By the Church

When You’re Hurt By the Church

This is a challenging topic to write about because it is so personal, but that’s also what makes it so important. Sometimes the church hurts us, and that pain can directly affect the way we see religion, relationship, and God Himself. Depending on the situation, “the church” could represent a physical place, or it could mean the church as a body of believers.

A little over two years ago, it felt like the church completely sucked the life out of me. I was a new mom, working full-time in ministry, and working on a second church plant with my husband. I’m not going to go into all of the details here, but within six months, it felt like I had been punched in the gut and my heart was in pieces. I don’t think there was any malicious intent behind the hurt—in fact, I think that is very rarely the case—but it didn’t make the pain any less difficult to cope with.

I found myself shutting down, emotionally and spiritually. All of the passion I had for ministry and God’s word completely dried up. I started dreading Sundays and avoiding my Bible. For our family, we realized that we needed to make some difficult decisions to get us out of the situation we were in, but even after those changes were made, healing came slowly.

For me personally, healing looked like starting a blog. I began to write about the things I was struggling with and God was faithful to give me insight as I went through that process. In fact, I began to look forward to that time with Him again because He was consistently helping me change my perspective and sparking new ideas. Last November, after I had been blogging for about five months, I felt like He was leading me to commit to writing one post a week. The idea was a little scary, since I was already struggling to come up with new topics, but I decided to take the leap of faith. I asked a few close friends to help hold me accountable and started making a list of things I wanted to talk about.

Not one week has gone by since I made that decision that God hasn’t given me a topic to write about. In fact, I have hardly been able to keep up! Several times, I’ve been woken up in the middle of the night with an entire blog post in my head.

It felt like I was healing; I was cherishing my time with the Lord, I was excited about church on Sundays again, and I was spending time in scripture daily as I prepared my blog posts. Then last Sunday, God revealed that I was still withholding myself from Him.

We were in the middle of worship that morning, and I felt a gentle conviction about not putting my hands up in the air. I know everyone has different styles of worship, and many people choose to not put their hands in the air, but three years ago I had my hands up every single Sunday, every time I sang in the car, and every time I found myself praising Him. I had discovered a freedom in that action that made me feel so connected to God, and I reveled in it. But this Sunday, I began to look back and realized that I hadn’t once put my hands up in the two years since I’d been hurt.

The thought brought me to tears, and I heard God gently ask me, “Why are you holding back from me? I’ve never hurt you.” And I cried out in my spirit, “God, you’ve never hurt me, but your church did.”

When we are hurt, how often do we end up withholding ourselves from the wrong person? With our spouses, our friends, our families… how often do we hold back from them because we have been hurt before? Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

Who deserves our surrender more than the one who gave up everything so that nothing could separate us from Him? (Romans 8:38) Who deserves our complete love and devotion more than the one who raised us from death to everlasting life? (John 3:16) Who deserves our worship and praise more than the one who rejoices over us with singing? (Zephaniah 3:17)

The church may hurt us, but God doesn’t. Sometimes it’s hard to separate what He has done with what people have done in His name, but don’t let the enemy convince you your pain is from God. If you’ve ever been hurt by something or someone in your life related to the church, I encourage you to ask God to reveal any part of yourself that you are keeping from Him. Let Him show you where you are holding your hurt, so that He can help you release it.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, yes, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

-Isaiah 41:10

Misconceptions About Grace

Misconceptions About Grace

Grace in the English language typically means elegance, beauty, or mercy, but in scripture, grace is the foundation of our salvation and redemption. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Grace is the means that allowed us to be reconciled and restored to righteousness in His sight after the fall. God’s grace is His goodness toward us when we were still sinners and had no reason to expect His favor.

Grace is something I write about a lot, because I think it’s one of the most important aspects of Christianity. However, I also think there are a lot of misconceptions about what God’s grace is and what it means. Here are three I see or hear about most often:

GRACE CAN BE EARNED (OR LOST)

God secured our eternal salvation by sending His son to die on a cross, giving us his unmerited favor and mercy. That is what grace looks like. Because we did nothing to earn it, or deserve it, there’s nothing we can do to lose it.

Ephesians 2:9 says that we are saved, “not by works, so that no one can boast.” Works do not earn us salvation or grace, and thank goodness they don’t. We would constantly be bouncing in and out of redemption, as we struggle to live as Christians in a fallen world.

God’s grace defies our logic and challenges our beliefs about worthiness. Thankfully, there’s no correlation or causation between our works and His grace. Our performances do not determine His grace, our successes do not determine His grace, and our failures do not determine His grace. It is not about our works, but Christ’s finished work on the cross.

GRACE MAKES US PERFECT

Grace does not mean that we don’t need to repent, or turn away from sin. We are not looking at grace the right way if we refuse to correct our behavior or learn lessons because we see ourselves as perfect. Grace doesn’t mean we are perfect; it means we are covered.

Romans 3:23-24 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

We all fall short—if we didn’t, grace wouldn’t be needed—but scripture says we are justified by grace. The enemy can attack us in multiple ways: he can get us to dwell in condemnation, where it feels like we are never good enough and can never live up to God’s standards; or, he can make us think that because we are covered by grace, we aren’t accountable for our actions. Either way, we stop producing fruit because we stop focusing on Jesus and His plan for us.

Grace does not make us perfect, but it does give us Jesus’ perfect standing with God, which enables us to come before Him free of guilt. God’s grace is what allows us to get back up when we fall and turn away from the things that make us stumble.

WE CAN PRODUCE GRACE

A term that’s used a lot is “giving grace” – giving yourself grace, or giving others grace – but I don’t think the term is always used correctly. True, supernatural grace isn’t something we give or don’t give. It’s not something we work for, or earn, and it’s not something we can provide.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

Grace and the ministry of reconciliation is from God. It’s not so much about giving grace, but how we respond to, and reflect, the grace we’ve been given.

So maybe to “give yourself grace” is simply to remind yourself that you live under the abundant, unending grace that Jesus died to give you. To “give others grace” is to remind yourself and them that they live under the same thing.

When the Healing Doesn’t Come

When the Healing Doesn’t Come

Most Christians believe that healing happens even today, and many of us have either been healed or have known someone who has been healed. But how many of us also know someone who wasn’t? How many of us have been left confused, disheartened, and heartbroken after praying for healing that never came?

This is a difficult and often painful topic to talk about in the Christian world, one that can lead to division, but it’s also something many of us have faced. It’s one of the things that cause Christians to turn their back on God, or become angry with God, and it’s one of the reasons Christians feel separated from God in their grief – How could a good God let this happen?

When healing doesn’t come, the most prominent question is why? Why are some healed instantly while others struggle for years seeking healing? Why do some live while some die? We say that the blood of Jesus purchased our healing, so were the stripes He bore only enough to heal certain illnesses or certain people?

The default answer to this is “God’s timing” or “God’s will”, but how does someone in pain reconcile the heart of a God who was willing to heal Person A’s cancer, but not Person B’s cancer? Scripture tells us that God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). He does not love some of us more than others. We can’t earn our way into healing, the same way we can’t earn our way into salvation or righteousness.

If we were to pray for a friend or family member to be saved, and they ultimately die cursing God, would we assume that it was God’s will for them to not be saved? 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says that God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. We can’t automatically associate every unanswered prayer with God’s will, or we are giving people a picture of a God who cares about some more than others. Instead, we have to focus on what we know to be true.

There are things we know from scripture and then there are things we think we know.

Things we know:

  • God’s intention for us in the garden was to live and not die, or suffer (Genesis 2:15-17)
  • Adam and Eve disobeyed God and we began to live under a curse (Genesis 3:17-19)
  • God reversed the curse through Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:22)

Things we THINK we know:

Our brain makes connections that might not be true. We take scriptural truths and then follow them down a path that’s not biblical.

God knows when we suffer, and He is good and loves us, so He wouldn’t want us to suffer. God can stop our suffering, so we should never expect to suffer.

Scripture refutes this repeatedly. Look at Job, Moses, Hannah, David, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter, Daniel, Thomas, etc. Acts 14:22 says, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Christians don’t escape suffering; we have the promise of a loving Father who will “come near to the brokenhearted and save the crushed in Spirit”.

God is a loving God who wants to heal me, but I haven’t been healed. Since God is all-powerful, there must be something wrong with me. Maybe I don’t have enough faith, or I have unconfessed sins.

So what do you say to the husband who just lost his wife or the parents who lost their child after spending days on their knees in prayer? Would it really help to walk up to a mother who recently lost her son and tell her that she could have saved him if she had just had more faith? Is that going to bring her closer to the cross or push her further away? Theology is not going to help someone who is suffering; only the presence of God is going to do that. We can’t pretend to know what God is doing behind the scenes. In the book of Job, his friends all accused him of doing evil, but God called him blameless and a righteous man. It is so hard to not give answers when someone is in pain, but sometimes our poorly worded answers can cause more grief and condemnation, when the truth is simply we don’t know.

Ultimately, it comes back to what we do know to be true. We don’t know God’s thoughts, but we do know His character. We know He is God, and we know He is good. Scripture tells us:

  • God will pull us close in our time of grief. (Psalm 34:18)
  • God is for us and He loves us. There are things we can’t understand and mysteries in the world, but there is no mystery in how much God loves us (Psalm 136:26)
  • God will turn our grief into joy (John 16:20)

If you are struggling with a loss that you can’t understand, or if you have prayed for healing that still hasn’t come – I encourage you to continue seeking God and trusting Him, knowing that He is for you and He loves you. A great book that dives into this topic in depth is “Where is God When it Hurts” by Philip Yancey. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about what God’s word says about grief.

 

 

From a Worrier to a Warrior

From a Worrier to a Warrior

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a worrier. The constant worrying kept me up all night in grade school and gave me anxiety attacks in high school. I worried about school, boys, my grades, my salvation, my family, my friends, my weight… you name it, I probably worried about it.

A few years ago, though, while I was reading in Exodus, God gave me a revelation about worry that changed my life. In Exodus 12, the Angel of Death was about to come through Egypt. The Israelites were told to smear blood on the top and both sides of the door frame, so that the Angel would pass over their homes.

“When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” – Exodus 12:23

In general, reading that verse, it sounds pretty simple. You smear blood on the door and the Angel of Death passes you by. However, when reading the verse, all I could think of was how I would have reacted in that situation. As a mom, there’s no way I would have been able to sleep that night. I would have been up all night, twisting my hands together, wondering if I was about to lose my first-born child to a technicality. Maybe I didn’t get enough blood on the door, or maybe I did the wrong pattern on the doorframe and the Angel was going to come through anyways.

Mid-thought, God revealed to me the sentence that would stop me in my tracks: “The blood would still have covered you.”

There probably were parents who stayed up all night wondering if the blood would work, and there were probably also parents who slept peacefully through the night—but the blood covered them either way. The only difference was how they spent their night. How do you think God would rather us spend our night: anxious and worried or at total peace?

Proberbs 3:24 says, “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”

God promises He will be by our side (Proverbs 3:26) and that He will never sleep (Psalm 121:3), so that we can put our minds at ease. He says He will watch over our lives and keep us from all harm (Psalm 121:7). He has already made us those promises.

We have the right to lay down our heads in peace if we have the faith to do it. Our faith is what helps us gain access to the things He has already promised us: peace of mind, rest, protection, favor.

I’ve never seen a clearer picture of grace than this: as Christians, whether we access those promises or not, whether we live the life He has planned for us or not, we are still covered by His blood.

We can stay up all night wondering if we are going to miss out on Heaven on a technicality, or we can trust that Jesus’ blood was enough. The blood covers us either way. When we stay up and worry, all it does is keep us from accessing the abundant blessings He has poured over our lives.

After God revealed this sweet truth to me, I chose to fight back against the enemy’s attacks on my peace of mind. I kept Psalm 4:8 on my nightstand, and when I started to feel the anxiety creep in at night, I would repeat it over and over: In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.

We are not called to be worriers; we are called to be warriors—so put on your armor and fight. Fasten your belt of truth, and put on your breastplate of righteousness. Claim the gospel of peace and take up your shield of faith. Firmly take your helmet of salvation and use the Word of God to fight back against the enemy’s lies.

White as Snow

White as Snow

A popular idea in Christianity is that we have been made clean, or given a blank slate, or washed white as snow. There are countless worship songs that mention this, and it’s such a beautiful picture. Our sins were scarlet, our account was marred, but Jesus washed us white as snow.

But what happens when we mess up? When we miss the mark, it feels like we smear black on our slate and we have to start all over again to get clean. Growing up, I thought I needed to be re-baptized, or re-dedicated, or re-saved every single time I did something I shouldn’t have. I wanted to be white as snow again.

I didn’t realize that my clean slate was unstainable.

Our slate is spotless, fresh, and white because Jesus gave us His own slate when He took the punishment for our sin upon Himself. As Christians, when we mess up, it doesn’t go on our slate; it goes to the cross, where it has already been covered. Our sins, past, present, and future, have been accounted for.

My slate was unstainable, because it was never about my work; it was about Christ’s finished work.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

When we said in faith that Jesus is Lord, and believed in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we were justified through His blood, and sanctified through His Spirit. We were washed clean forever.

“He concludes, I’ll forever wipe the slate clean of their sins. Once sins are taken care of for good, there’s no longer any need to offer sacrifices for them. Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of His sacrifice, acting as our priest before God.” – Hebrews 10:17-18, 20 (The Message)

When we hear those words in worship songs—washed white as snow—they are meant to remind us of the punishment Jesus took on our behalf, and the grave He conquered to secure our eternity. We are washed white as snow, not because of our own actions, but because of Jesus. Even if we mess up, or miss the mark, our slate remains clean because Jesus finished His work.

Adopting God’s Vision

Adopting God’s Vision

Several years ago, I had a friend in my life who couldn’t understand why I believed in God. It was the first time I’d been around someone who constantly questioned my faith. When something bad would happen, she would always ask me, “Where’s your God? Couldn’t He have stopped that?” When I would read my Bible, she would begin listing the reasons the scriptures couldn’t be true. When I would pray in front of her, she would ask me if that was really helping the people living in poverty every day. Usually I was able to respond to her, but sometimes I would get frustrated, or even angry. One time, when I was at my breaking point, I turned to give her a harsh response, and God stopped me. “Look at her passion and tenacity. When I change her heart, imagine what she’s going to do for my Kingdom.”

The words reminded me of Paul. When people looked at Paul, they saw a persecutor, but God saw an apostle. Man does not see the way that God sees. We focus on the natural instead of the supernatural. We focus on what we can see instead of what we believe about God. We focus on the lack instead of the supply.

Take the five loaves. We look at the bread in front of us and we know it’s not enough to feed the multitude. We look at our circumstance and lose sight of God’s vision.

In 2018, I challenge you to seek God’s vision. In Psalm 1:3, it says this about those that delight in the Lord:

They are like trees, planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in season and whose leaves do not wither. Whatever they do, they prosper.

Let’s break down this verse:

We are like trees. Note that the verse says that we are planted, not grown. We are chosen, prepared, nourished, and secured. We are here intentionally, and we have purpose.

We are planted by streams of water. Not a stream, but multiple streams, which means we are always surrounded by a super-abundant supply: of grace, and promise, and cleansing, and eternal life.

We bring forth fruit in our season. We bring patience in a season of frustration, faith in a season of doubt, hope in a season of disappointment, and joy in a season of sorrow.

And our leaves do not wither. We don’t grow weary. We are strong and refreshed through all of our seasons. We serve through an overflow of the grace God pours into us.

Whatever we do, we shall prosper. How amazing is that promise to us, as those who delight in the Lord? This is the time of year when we are making resolutions, and it’s so important to remember that whether we hit our goal or miss the mark, WHATEVER we do shall prosper when we delight in Him.

This year, let’s return to God’s view: when it seems like everything is against us; when it seems like we just can’t hit our goals; when it seems like we are hitting walls at every turn, remember that our works are prospered. Just because we don’t see our purpose doesn’t mean we don’t have one. Just because we don’t see our fruit doesn’t mean we aren’t producing any. Just because we don’t see the supply doesn’t mean it’s not abundant. We have to adopt God’s vision instead of our own.

The Power of Life and Death

The Power of Life and Death

Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

So often, we choose to put our value and worth into what other people say about us. We also tend to let the negative overpower the positive. We remember and hold on to something negative someone has said and we let it defeat us. We let men condemn us when Jesus has not condemned us. In fact, if we look at scripture, it tells us we are kings and priests (Revelations 5:10), we are a chosen people (1 Peter 2:9), and we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We have the authority to speak life or death.

In Mark 11:23, look at the importance of our words: “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”

God spoke the earth into creation. He said, “Let there be light.” He said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place.”

Christians have been given that same authority and if we aren’t using God’s words, whose are we using? Our pastor once said, “When you speak something negative over someone, you are only putting them further from the cross.” This challenged me and made me think about the words I was speaking over my friends, my co-workers, my husband, my daughter, and even myself.

What words are you speaking over people in your life? What are you choosing to speak over yourself?

James 3:5 says, “The tongue is also a small part of the body, but it can speak big things.” As Christians, we have power that is not given to the devil. If we speak words of defeat, we are doing the devil’s work for him. Luke 10:19 says, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy.”

We can choose to live victoriously every day. We do that by not speaking what we see or feel (for the devil is a deceiver), but by speaking what we know is true. We speak what scripture tells us, which is that by His stripes we are healed, by His sacrifice we are made whole, by His grace we are saved, and by His love we are set free.

When You Bury Lazarus Too Soon

When You Bury Lazarus Too Soon

Sometimes our burdens are heavy. Scripture doesn’t dispute that—in fact, it says that we are going to be loaded down by them. Whether it’s a broken relationship, or a shattered dream, or a difficult loss, our instinct is to shut down. We go numb. We throw in the towel. We give up. We bury Lazarus too soon.

When Lazarus was sick, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death.” Jesus knew the end from the beginning. He knew that Lazarus would die, but he also knew that his death would only be the middle of the story. He spoke to the end, not to the middle.

Jesus is the author and the finisher, the beginning and the end. Has He not said He will strengthen and protect you? Has He not said He will never leave you nor forsake you? Yet in the midst of our storms, we have a tendency to look at what’s right in front of us and forget about the words spoken over us. The same way Martha and Mary buried Lazarus four days before Jesus arrived, we give up the fight before Jesus makes it to the scene. All we can see is the dead body when we stop focusing on the resurrected one. We get lost in the middle and forget to look to the end.

After saying the sickness would not be unto death, Jesus continued, “No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” He later tells the disciples. “For your sake, I am glad I was not there [when Lazarus was dying], so that you may believe.”

Sometimes the storms aren’t about us. People can’t see your faith, but they can see your suffering. They can see what you’re going through, and when they watch you withstand it, they can see His glory.

We are going to go through storms, but remember that Jesus sees the end of the storm. Praise Him in the middle—not because you feel like it, but because He is worthy. Take His hand and lead Him to where you gave up, where you laid it down. Let Him restore you. Let Him raise you up, for His glory.

When Time Becomes an Idol

When Time Becomes an Idol

I’ve never been a super spontaneous person. I’m more of a “make a list and check it twice” type person. Before I got married, I had almost every day planned out, and considered it a wild night when I went out after 8 pm. After getting married, it felt like a personal challenge to merge two individual schedules into one, smooth timeline. And then we had a baby. I thought I was a planner before, but suddenly every moment of my day had to be perfectly mapped out between nursing, pumping, working, cleaning, eating, diaper changing, and—when the stars aligned—sleeping.

I’ve been in that survival planning mode for almost two years, and even though our lives have slowed down, I still sometimes feel like I’m forgetting something. On car rides home from work, I have to verbally go through the to-do list with my husband: We will get home (check), you fill up the diaper bag with juice and snacks (check), I will do her diaper and change her clothes (check), then we can run to the store (check), and stop by and say hi to your mom on the way back (check).

I spend so much time planning my day, that when my plans are interrupted, it usually leads to anger and frustration. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for fun, spontaneous play dates. It also doesn’t leave a lot of room for me to have one on one time with Jesus. I was convicted about that lack of time when our daughter was about a year old. I realized that I had to fight for that time, so I scheduled it into our daily routine.

After a few months of being refilled and restored, my coveted alone time took a hit. My daughter would seek me out, screaming for me, or my husband would need to run an unexpected errand leaving her with me, and I would get so frustrated. I found myself throwing up my hands and calling out in exasperation, “I’m trying to spend time with you! I’ve tried to protect this time, but clearly this child that I’ve birthed has other plans.” And gently, so gently, the response: Why are you keeping her from me?

I want to be very clear that there is nothing wrong with expectantly awaiting that alone time with our Father. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be in the presence of God, but there needs to be flexibility in what that time might look like.

My alone time with God had become an idol to me. I turned to anger when it was interrupted. The Spirit impressed on my heart that I couldn’t show my daughter what a relationship with the Lord looked like if I only had real relationship with Him when I was alone.

So what does it look like to protect your time with God while still being flexible?

  • Remember that your location is not as important as His presence. God is not confined to one specific room or one specific time. If something unexpected comes up, instead of letting that anger you, remind yourself that He is always waiting and willing to speak with you.
  • Remember that your solitude is not as important as His grace. There are absolutely reasons to be alone with God and to seek that private time with Him, but it becomes a problem when you react in anger if someone interrupts you. If someone unexpectedly walks in, address them with the grace you are also seeking. And if it’s your child, invite them in. Show them what it looks like to spend time with the one person who will always comfort them, love them, and cherish them.

As parents, we aren’t perfect, and we shouldn’t expect to be. No amount of planning, organizing, or scheduling is going to allow us to be there every single time our child needs us, so what could be more important than introducing them to someone who can be? I love my one-on-one time with Jesus, but I am also learning to treasure my two-on-one time when I can watch my daughter fall in love with Him, too.

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. – Proverbs 22:6

Empty Faith

Empty Faith

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

When we think of empty faith, we typically think of this verse in James. Faith without works is dead, but faith that is misplaced is also dead. If we put our faith in our works, instead of our Christ, we can’t become who He made us to be. A picture of this is when Christians stay in their comfort zone, not believing that He can do greater things.

We can be great singers or great musicians or great speakers, but without Christ, we are impressive, but not powerful. We can’t be powerful, or see the fruit of our faith, until we understand that Jesus alone has justified us and given us right-standing. None of our works make us more or less righteous. When we spend our time trying to earn something we have already been given, all of our works are self-serving. We shouldn’t work for our righteousness, we should work from it.

Jesus told us in the New Testament, “whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these”. How can we do “even greater works” than Jesus if we don’t see ourselves as clean, redeemed, and worthy? We have to have the faith to believe that we are who Jesus says we are first. Only then can we do what Jesus called us to do.

We can’t pick and choose. We can’t say I believe you died for my sins, but I’m also still guilty. We can’t say I believe you took my punishment, but I think I still deserve it. We can’t say I believe you are who you say you are, but I’m not sure I am who you say I am.

Jesus says we have His righteousness and His right standing. To believe you have or deserve anything less than that is to have empty faith.