Shifting Our Focus

If there ever was a Psalm that I have returned to time and time again ever since I became a Christian, it would be Psalm 73. For some reason, this psalm has always captured my heart, and it resonates with me deeply.

Just read the first line of the Psalm, in The Message version… it says, “No doubt about it! God is good,” and I think we’d all have to agree with that. No matter which way I look at it, God has been GOOD to me. There may have been seasons in my life where it felt like the WAYS in which He was choosing to be good to me felt difficult – and not so good! – in the moment, but He truly has been good to me.

I love how honest the Psalmist is in the next four verses of Psalm 73. Verses 1-5 say,

No doubt about it! God is good—
good to good people, good to the good-hearted.
But I nearly missed it,
missed seeing his goodness.
I was looking the other way,
looking up to the people
At the top,
envying the wicked who have it made,
Who have nothing to worry about,
not a care in the whole wide world.

“But I nearly missed it, missed seeing his goodness. I was looking the other way…” these words stood out to me as I read this Psalm today. Does it scare you at all that it is so possible and so easy to miss COMPLETELY the goodness of God because we’re paying more attention to what everyone else around us is doing, thinking, saying, buying… you get the idea? Because this definitely worries me. I began thinking about all the times I’ve wasted mental energy looking the other way and looking at the world instead of my Jesus, and it was a good wake up call for me.

Friends, this is where Matthew 3 comes in. Matthew 3:11-12 (The MSG) says,

“I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

It’s a darn good thing that my God is the kind of God who can take that old me and the old life who still resurfaces sometimes. My God promises take the old life – the life where I miss the goodness of Jesus because my eyes are on the world instead – and trade it in for a kingdom life (verse 1).  He says He will ignite that kingdom life inside of me, and that He will clean house and change me from the inside out. What sweet news that is!! He even promises to “place everything true in its proper place before God,” and in a season of life that is particularly busy for my husband and I – with not much seeming to be in it’s proper place – this sounds absolutely phenomenal.

Friends, no matter if you’ve been a Christian for 3 months or 30 years, don’t forget that God’s promises are still true. No matter where you are at in your faith walk, Jesus can STILL clean house in your life and change you from the inside out. Don’t miss God’s goodness because your eyes are on the world… let Him ignite that fire within you, and watch your life change DRAMATICALLY as your focus shifts back onto the One who deserves all of you, every day.

Draw Near

The two chapters of Scripture we’re going over today might not seem like they tie in together at first glance, but as I was reading these two passages, my heart was definitely drawn to a few aspects of each. Both chapters, in my mind, I believe, discuss the character of my God. Let’s start with the beginning of Luke 15, focusing on verses 1-7:

By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

Can we all just pause for a second and recognize how totally grateful we are that our God is a God who “takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends?” My goodness. I can’t help but think that it’s a really good thing that He does, because I don’t know where I would be without that kind of grace in my life. That is the God we worship: a God who will come and be with us. Immanuel. He is not a God who is distant.

Psalm 63 seems to be the perfect place to transition to from this point of total thankfulness for Who our God is. In this Psalm, the author is recounting all the ways that God has been good to him, and I love what he says in verses 5-8, in The Message version:

I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy;
    I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises!
If I’m sleepless at midnight,
    I spend the hours in grateful reflection.
Because you’ve always stood up for me,
    I’m free to run and play.
I hold on to you for dear life,
    and you hold me steady as a post.

Because we have a God who came to be with us, a God who will eat with sinners, a God who will chase after the one who has run away, and a God who isn’t far from us even when we are imperfect, we can live this same sort of abundant life  we read about in Psalm 62. We are “free to run and play” as we hold on to Jesus for dear life, because we are loved by a God who came. Today, my hope is that you can rest in the fact that God is not far away or even angry with you. Instead, He wants to fellowship with you and draw near to you… in fact, He even promised, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13). And you get to experience that free and full kind of life that Psalm 63 talks about because of Jesus. Today, draw near to God and allow Him to show you the kind of life He has for you to live.

Because He Lives

So many others have tried their hand at putting together a story of the wonderful harvest of Scripture and history that took place among us, using reports handed down by the original eyewitnesses who served this Word with their very lives. Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story’s beginning, I decided to write it all out for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can know beyond the shadow of a doubt the reliability of what you were taught.” Luke 1:1-4, The MSG

I can’t think of a better way to start off today’s post than the words above. How awesome is it that Luke, who wrote this book, wrote it with the intention of ensuring his readers knew “beyond the shadow of a doubt the reliability of what (they) were taught?” I think it’s with good reason that Luke starts off his book this way, because the next heading in Luke 1 in The Message version reads, “A Childless Couple Conceives,” and the following one reads “A Virgin Conceives.” Luke may not have been the one including headings in his letter, but the content of his letter is the same today as it was so many years ago… and the contents of that letter are enough to make some people stop and question their reliability.

As someone who’s grown up in the church, I feel as though I’ve heard most of the Bible over and over again. But Luke’s focus on reminding believers that the things we have heard about over and over again really ARE true challenged me. Let it never become old to us that these incredible things did happen so long ago… a very old couple who hadn’t been able to have children had a baby, and a virgin conceived. These things happened, friends, and because they did we have hope for our lives today.

You see, the very fact that the miracles in the Bible are true means that the other things in the Bible are true- particularly, the fact that Jesus was here and He was who He said He was. My hope is that as we read Luke over the next few weeks and reencounter portions of the Gospel which are all too familiar to us, we will never lose sight of the fact that these things are real and that they happened. They have direct implications on our life today. Luke 1 may be about Mary becoming pregnant with Jesus, but later on we’ll read about Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and it’s important to read Luke 1 with this truth in mind.

One of my favorite songs is Because He Lives by Matt Maher, and part of the song says this:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives

Luke is going to take us through the life of Jesus, and as it does, I hope we can become recentered on the fact that these miraculous stories aren’t just stories, but true life events that happened and that mean we have hope for everything we face today. Be encouraged that our God is the very same God who was in the business of miracles 2,000 years ago, and that He is just as capable of being faithful today as He was back then.

Snap Out Of It

Do you ever forget, like I do, what we have access to as children of God? Often, I think we Christians forget that our lives don’t have to look the same as everyone else’s. Let me explain.

Think for a moment about the way the rest of the world lives their lives on a daily basis. Most people’s lives are packed to the max. Families are always stressed, way too busy, and pack their schedules with unnecessary commitments. People are wearing themselves out climbing the ladder of success, only to miss out on the joys of life along the way. People are living in fear and turning to material things and false securities to find their strength or a sense of peace. People are living with deep guilt and regret for the mistakes and choices they’ve made. Marriages are falling apart left and right, and the biggest priority in life seems to be self above all else. It’s a broken world… no one would argue with that.

Here’s my question: Why is it that the lives of so many Christians (my life included!) can start to resemble the picture I just painted? Granted, we are all broken and sinful people at the core, but I think we often forget that as adopted children of God, we have the opportunity to live differently than the rest of the world. Yet, it’s so easy to forget this truth when we live day to day life surrounded by a world that lives in the way I described above.

That’s why I love 2 Peter 1. Peter is writing to believers as if to say, “Snap out of it!” Often, I need this sort of shoulder-shaking faith reminder… and I’m sure you might, too.

2 Peter 1:1-9 (the MSG) says,

“Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust. So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books. So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

There is seriously so much goodness in these sentences, and I could focus on any number of these truths… but I want to trust that no matter what time of the day you are pausing to read this little post, the Lord will reveal to you what part of those verses, or the entirety of 2 Peter 1, He wants you to rest in today.

For me, the biggest thing I think God is telling me is that I don’t have to live my life like the rest of the world does. In fact, my life should look totally different from the rest of the world. As a daughter of Christ, I can live in freedom… not overcome by guilt due to my mistakes and failings. I don’t have to cling to worldly things for my security or turn to temporary comforts for my satisfaction… the only thing that can truly satisfy my soul is my Jesus. I don’t have to be fearful about the future, but instead, I can trust that God has a plan for my life and that He is a provider at His very nature. I don’t have to be busy and stressed all the time, but I can live a full life. I can live a full life that honors God and allows me to treat my body like a temple, rather than running it into the ground all the time as I try to do “all the things” in order to just keep up. My goals don’t have to be centered around money, prosperity, and success… instead, they can just focus on what will honor my God the most every single day. And I don’t have to be enough on my own… in fact, I was never made to be enough in the first place. I shouldn’t hold myself to the same standards that the rest of the world holds themselves to… because the only reason they do so is the fact that they don’t know Jesus.

I hope you are reminded today that your life as a Christian should look different from the rest of the world’s lives… and that full life is already waiting for you to take hold of. Jesus is just waiting. 

Jesus Doesn’t Change.

In the midst of a world that often feels unsteady with everything going on, whether in the national sense or my personal day to day life, reading Hebrews 13 was a breath of fresh air for me. I especially love Hebrews 13:18, which says:

For Jesus doesn’t change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself.

Isn’t this incredibly comforting? I love that the God we worship has never not existed, and yet He has never once changed. I love that the God we worship will never not exist, and yet He will never once change. And I love that the God we worship is so steady to hold onto, even when everything in our lives feels exactly the opposite.

Even though I know these truths deep down, and my head knows the truth that God is unchanging and completely steady, my heart sometimes forgets. I’ll try to hold on to anything else I can when my life feels crazy, from relationships to possessions to any other place where security can be found. And then I read Hebrews 13:9, which says:

The grace of Christ is the only good ground for life.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that, does it? God is the only thing that will never change in this world, and His grace is the only good ground for everything else in our life. Rest in that today, no matter how unsteady our world or your life feels… and let go of whatever other “good ground” you’ve been trying to build your life on lately.

Get On With It

So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it! Hebrews 6:1-3

Before we get rolling here, I just have to point out one thing… I don’t know about you, but for me, sometimes The Message version of a Scripture is so motivating. When I read the first few verses of Hebrews 6 today, I could not help but feel convicted… maybe you feel the same way. Anyways, moving right along today… 🙂

I’ll be honest: it’s easy for me to focus on the “preschool fingerpainting exercises” of my faith and miss the “grand work of art” that God really wants to grow me in. I seem to start off really strong after Sunday, but since I’m incredibly task oriented and to-do-list driven, by the end of the work week I often am going through the motions and missing the big picture of what God is doing in the midst of my everyday. I love that Hebrews 6 literally tells me that there is so much more to life than that… and when I’m barely able to find time to be with the Lord during a busy week, I can’t help but realize I’m just sitting here doing those preschool fingerpainting exercises when God’s painting a gorgeous work of art that He wants me to make time to be a part of.

I listened to a sermon the other day that reminded us as Christians that God loves us enough to give us free will. He is not going to make us do anything… all the way from preventing us from sinning to forcing us to trust in Jesus for our salvation. That goes for the things Hebrews 6 convicted me about, too: have the choice to orient my life in such a way that I do exchange my meager attempts at fingerpainting for watching God paint a canvas. can choose to live my days on this earth out in a way that puts Christ at the center of all things- my conversations, my errands, my emails, all of it. have the choice to make the jump from the tiny to the grand- and God’s not going to make me do it. I have the choice, and He’s just waiting for me to take it.

What are grander things that God is waiting for you to choose this week? And what faith steps does God want you to take to grow your faith walk with Him, today? I fully believe that He wants us to trade in our meager attempts at finding full life on our own for the bigger, more beautiful things He’s already put in place for us. I hope that today you can be encouraged to get on with the grand work of art Christ has ready and waiting for you and to leave behind the lesser things. It’s time to grow in our faith and get on with what God has next for us.

We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:18-20

 

Influence

When I saw which chapter of 1 Timothy was today’s reading, I had to smile, because it’s a passage of Scripture that I’ve read so many times before. While the heading of the chapter is “Qualifications for Overseers and Deacons,” a mentor of mine a few years ago encouraged me to read 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and a similar passage, Titus 1:5-9, and consider the same qualifications Paul lists for these church leaders when praying and waiting for my future husband. At first, it seemed like a weird suggestion to me, but once I dug deeper into the heart of what God was saying in these passages, I realized that my mentor was right, and the man I wanted to end up with someday should have these sorts of characteristics as the leader of our marriage and of our future family. In 1 Timothy 3, we see that Paul has a few main characteristics that he points out as being of particular importance in the character of a leader. 1 Timothy 3: 2-10 says,

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

Verse 11 shares a little about Paul’s expectations for women:

11 In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

And lastly, Paul finishes with a few more words about men as leaders in the church:

12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

While I’m not looking for a husband anymore, my mentor’s advice was helpful… and I’m blessed to say that God brought someone into my life who lives out each of the characteristics that Paul says we should look for in leaders and that tmy mentor said I should wait for in a husband. 🙂 But regardless, I think we can all learn from 1 Timothy 3, because we ALL have influence somewhere in our lives. Whether we’re involved with a family, a church, a business, a small group, or even a friendship, we ARE leaders and we CAN lead where we are. Furthermore, we can become better leaders by developing these godly characteristics within ourselves and asking God to grow us in these areas. Today, my prayer is that God will help me grow where I am currently weak so that I can be a better leader in the areas over which I have influence… no matter how big or how small.

Watchful & Thankful

I’m not sure why, but when I was younger, I was in the (admittedly awesome) habit of praying one verse before I went anywhere or hung out with anyone. Big or small – an event or a trip to the grocery store – I, for some reason, would always remind myself to pray the verse, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer,” beforehand (Psalm 19:4). I can’t help but be reminded of that verse and that habit when I read Colossians 4. Colossians 4:2-6 says,

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

What my junior high heart probably didn’t quite realize when I would pray that verse was that I was asking for God’s help to make Colossians 4:5-6 come true in my life that day. As a follower of Jesus, I deeply desire to make the most out of every opportunity I have in this life and to glorify God with each opportunity. I want to be known as someone who lifts others up in conversation and someone who is known for her gracious words. I might not pray for that as often as I used to or as often as I should, but I so deeply want those things for my life.

Yet, so often, my conversation is NOT full of grace and I let opportunities slip through the cracks. I fall short because I am a broken human being, and I know that I will continue to mess up. You likely know this about yourself, too.

Thank goodness, we serve a God who is infinitely more gracious towards us than we often are to ourselves. Whereas I tend to beat myself up for the ways that I fail, my God sees me through the lens of Jesus and He just asks me to come to Him and ask for help… and Colossians 4:2 tells us how. That verse says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” That’s it. No “try harder” or “work more” or even a simply “be better” is found in those verses. Just an encouragement to PRAYER. I love that. Prayer truly can allow us to watch for those opportunities and remind us to watch our tongues, and no amount of our striving or our effort can match the power of devoted prayer.

Today, I want to encourage you to start your day with some prayer time and ask God to help you as you go about your day. I’ll be praying Psalm 19:14 over my conversations and interactions today, along with those first few verses of Colossians 4. Perhaps you’ll do the same.

The Gift of Grace

My small group is currently doing a study about the book of Galatians. Although we are currently in the book of Ephesians for today’s study, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my readings for that Galatians study while I read Ephesians 2.

The Galatians study my small group is going through is wrecking my life in the very best of ways. Although I’ve been a Christian since I was a little girl and I grew up in the church, this particular study has revealed to me just how much I rely on my own performance and my own actions for my salvation… even though Christ took care of that whole salvation issue once and for all a long, long time ago. Maybe you can relate to me and you, too, rely too much on your performance for your acceptance.

The study is also revealing to me how much I beat myself up for the ways I fall short each day. I know this a mental habit is not from the Lord, because instead of my head being filled with gentle reminders to love better, grow more, and serve more freely, I feel condemned and discouraged by my weaknesses. Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” which also tells me that those thoughts that cause me to beat myself up are not from my God. Perhaps you, also, struggle with thoughts like these.

I need passages like Ephesians 2 to wake me up and remind me the reality I get to live in as a daughter of Christ. I love Ephesians 2:13, which says,

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

To me, that’s where this big, beautiful story begins. By God’s grace and because of His loving choice to send His Son for us, we – who were once so incredibly far away from the Lord – have been brought near to Him again.

What a gift.

I also love Ephesians 2:8-9, which says,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of your works, so that no one may boast.”

“And this is not your own doing…” As I’ve been reading through that Galatians study, I’ve come to realize what a good thing this is. I’m not responsible for my own salvation. God took care of that, and Jesus’ blood covers me because I am in Christ. However, I often still live like it’s my job to save myself. I try to fix myself, I try to handle things on my own, and I try to do and be better by my own strength. I try so hard because I feel like I need to please God and make up for what He gave me so freely.

Ephesians 2 reminds me yet again that God’s love for me and His acceptance of me is in no way dependent on my actions. Not only that, but there’s no way I actually ever could save myself, no matter how hard I tried! The same goes for you… God’s love for you is not dependent on how you act, how well you perform, or how much you succeed. I often have found it helpful to remember that when God looks at me, He doesn’t have to see my sin anymore, because He sees me through Jesus. Perhaps it would help you as well to keep that mental image in your head as you go about your day. I don’t think I can ever express enough how grateful I am that the truths found in Ephesians 2 are my reality as a follower of Jesus, and I hope you are reminded today that this can also be your reality.

What a gift.

The Best Giver

Read through 2 Corinthians 9 today, and I dare you to find someone who is a better giver than our God.

I can’t help but compare the way that I give, love and serve to the way that God gives, loves and serves after reading 2 Corinthians 9 today. Perhaps you did the same as you read through this chapter. The Message version puts 2 Corinthians 9:8-11 in terms that resonate a lot with me:

God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,

He throws caution to the winds,
    giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
His right-living, right-giving ways
    never run out, never wear out.

This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.

One of the things that strikes me most about this chapter of Scripture is something that’s mentioned in the last part of the section above. The verse says that what God gives us is something that we can also turn around and give away… how amazing is that? To me, this means that God is such an extravagant giver that He gives us enough for us to be able to be provided for and to STILL give to others out of that overflow.

I’ve seen this play out in my own life on a daily basis, noticing that when I consistently take time to be with the Lord in the morning before my day even starts, I am much more filled up and ready to give to others throughout the day. I try to remind myself that you can’t pour from an empty cup, and that phrase reminds me of 2 Corinthians 9. If we aren’t being filled with the Holy Spirit regularly, God cannot give to us what we need for that day, and in turn, we can’t give out of that overflow to others.

Since we serve a God Who is such an extravagant giver and Who WANTS to give to us abundantly and supply each of our needs, let us remember to we need to do our part and ACCEPT those incredible gifts each day. My hope is that through doing so, we too will become extravagant givers, servants to, and lovers of those God puts in our paths every single day.