Holy Ground

Today’s reading is Luke 18:2-8 and Psalm 127.

Psalm 127:1-2 reads..

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

How often do we try to “build our house” without the Lord? In reflecting back on the prayers throughout most of my life, my prayers have typically involved asking for forgiveness for my sins, thanking God for dying on the cross for me, and praying for others’ needs of which I’m aware. While asking for forgiveness for my sins and believing in His death on the cross is sufficient to go to Heaven and praying for the needs of others is noble and something God wants…I don’t think that’s all He wants.

John 15:5 reads..

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Meriam-Webster defines Lord as “one having power and authority over others.” God wants to be Lord of your life, not just some of your life, but all of it. God doesn’t just want some of your heart, he wants all of it. It says clearly in John 15:5, “apart from me you can do nothing.” God wants our marriage, our kids, our careers, our finances, our health…he wants EVERYTHING. He wants to be Lord of all those things. He wants us to surrender all of those things to Him and His lordship (authority)..not just our sins.

Why do we hold back our personal needs and desires from Him and not ask Him for help, guidance, and wisdom in all these areas of our life? Why do we not acknowledge he’s already in control of these things anyway and ask Him for help?

Here are a few potential reasons…

  • We don’t think he really cares about our needs..big and small. Why would he be concerned about little old me? However, Psalm 139:13-14 tells us He knit us together in our mother’s womb, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made by Him. Matthew 10:29-30 tells us that not even a sparrow falls without God knowing and even the hairs on our head are numbered.
  • We fear He won’t answer our prayers the way we want which may in turn cause us to question whether He really cares or even question His sovereignty. My Mom always told me as a child God answers all prayers. However, he just may not answer them in the exact way we ask them. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” We must trust and believe this.
  • We may wonder why even bother because of past prayers that we feel were unanswered and may even hold animosity towards Him due to this. But, Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We never know the good that may come out of things we feel are really bad in our eyes, and I’m sure all of us can think of some prayers we thought were unanswered but later realized it was actually a good thing.
  • Either our desires are truly selfish or we feel because they benefit us in some earthly way they must be. Just because something benefits us doesn’t mean it’s selfish necessarily. We can use earthly gifts and blessings for His glory when we consciously think about it, give Him the due praise and glory, and then use those gifts for His glory.

Truly surrendering all to Him means we are doing all for His glory and not ours. We give all areas of our life to Him and His lordship. It’s not about us, and it’s never been about us. It’s about Him.

Once we surrender it all to Him, He will truly bless us. Abraham and Sarah waited until age 100 for Isaac. Can you imagine how precious and coveted this child was to Abraham? God then asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the son he had waited all this time for. Not until the very last second when Abraham had the knife raised did God stop Abraham. Not until he knew Abraham was truly going to give his most prized possession to Him did God stop him. Then, God tells Abraham because he obeyed him and did not spare his beloved son he will surely bless him and give him more offspring than the sand on the seashores. He surrendered it all, and God blessed. Check this out in Genesis 22.

Maybe God is holding back things from you because you are holding things back from Him. You are not asking Him for help and giving it to Him. He’s waiting until you give them all to Him and will use them for His glory. He loves you enough to not give them to you until you do because He knows that’s when you will be truly satisfied and fulfilled..when you give it all to Him. He’s waiting for you to go “all in” with Him.

We read in Luke 18:2-8 where an unrighteous judge gave a persistent widow justice against her adversary because she kept asking him to do so. The question is posed that if an unrighteous judge will give help because you keep asking, won’t God if you truly cry out to Him for help?

Romans 8:32 reads…

“He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

What more does God really need to do than give us His only Son to show us His love and tell us we can bring him all our troubles surrendering all to Him? If today someone else sacrificed themselves or their son for my life, would that not tell me all I needed to know about their care and love for me?

Surrender your entire life to Him…not just some areas…all of them. Ask Him for help. Do not build your house in vain. Make every area of your life “Holy Gound.” It’s what He’s been waiting for. It’s what you’ve been waiting for that will give you peace and comfort that surpass understanding.

Let us pray the words of the song Holy Ground below by Passion/Melodie Malone..

“…Come and have your way Jesus.

Chains fall.

Fear bow.

Hear now.

Jesus, you change everything.

Lives healed.

Hope found.

Here now.

Jesus, you change everything….”

A Parable about the Parables

Matthew 13:52 and Psalm 111

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

As we continue through this series of parables, we come to a moment where Jesus pauses and asks his disciples if they get the parables up to this point (verse 51), to which they reply a simple yes. I try to put myself in their shoes – would I have the faith to say yes? Or would I have had ten follow up questions to better understand? Even though we know that the disciples didn’t FULLY comprehend everything Jesus was telling them, they knew enough and had the faith to answer yes. And then we come to verse 52 where Jesus shares a parable about all of the parables!

In this mini parable break, Jesus is encouraging them to not replace everything they learned before with all of these new teaching and parables. Instead, add these new parables and teaching with the old (law).  Similar to how we have both new things in our home along with family heirlooms. One doesn’t replace the other – it’s all part of the collection.

I will admit that I have tried to line up God in the Old Testament with Jesus in the New Testament. The bright light that we can’t look upon and need to remove our shoes for, with the man that is fishing and eating with the lowest of the low. In my heart I believe and know they are one and completely unified, but sometimes my brain goes into overdrive trying to reconcile the two and figure it all out.

Recently a preacher shared this and it’s SO TRUE! Our human (barfo) nature wants our view of graceful bear hugging Jesus to deal with our own sin…. And we want OT fire + brimstone God to show up and deal with people that sin against us.  OUCH – that was a ZINGER! I can think of a time I had those thoughts.

Truth be told, they are perfectly unified. Balancing OT (law, teachings, etc) with the NT (parables, grace, etc) is similar to understanding the trinity. What a beautiful mystery!

Does anyone else love Paul’s comments to the church in Corinth about “now we see through a glass darkly…” – I can not WAIT for heaven, when it will all be crystal clear. Will we be like the disciples and simply say “yes, we understand”, or will we have a million questions?

As Jesus continues to fulfill the law, with his teachings and ultimately his sacrifice, my prayer is that we can have wisdom in balancing the old and the new. The Psalm that is assigned with today’s reading is Psalm 111. I love when the two readings come together so beautifully. Here are a few lines that really spoke to me in light of the parable about parables.

2 Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.

4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.

God caused us to remember the law in the Old Testament and Jesus’ parable of parables reinforces this. As we seek wisdom and understanding, knowing who God is and having fear and respect for Him is our first step in understanding.

 

 

The Word

Today’s reading is Matthew 7:28-29 and Psalm 91.

I’m a big sports fan, but I don’t listen to sports talk radio. Why? I just don’t really see the point. All they do is just talk about their opinions on something that just happened in the past…a game just played and what a player or coach should have done or what a player or coach said after. They also talk about who they think will win an upcoming game or which player is better than the other. But, the bottom line is this…none of it matters. They don’t play the game, and they don’t have the authority to make any decisions to effect outcomes.

Matthew 7:28-29 reads…

“And when Jesus finished these saying, the crowds were astonished by his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority and not as the scribes.”

It’s almost like the people knew at this point after the Sermon on the Mount the scribes were like the sports talk radio people who could just talk and Jesus was a player or coach who could actually do something about it.

John 1:1-5 reads…

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John 1:14 reads…

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen the glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father full of grace and truth.”

The people knew and sensed Jesus was different. They weren’t just hearing someone talk about God..they were hearing God. He had authority. They were hearing the great “I am.”

I find it very interesting John 1 refers to Jesus at “the Word.” I’m not going to claim I fully know the reason, but I think it’s because everything contained in the book we call the Word is ultimately about Him. From Genesis to Revelation, it all points to Him. And more than anything…the book we call the Word now is our living authority until He returns.

I’ve been to church my whole life and figure I’ve probably heard around 1,500 sermons in my nearly 35 years of life and not to take away from any pastors who I’ve heard preach, but you know when my relationship with God really started to grow? It was when I began to be in the Word daily (preachers and pastors did absolutely help influence adoption of this spiritual discipline). The Word guides us. The Word is our one source of truth (and grace). The Word has authority. The Word causes us to have a relationship with the Word, Jesus.

When I get lackadaisical about being in the Word and miss days, I feel empty. I feel anxious. I feel stressed. I need my GPS. I need my one source of truth and authority. I need Jesus. Then, I have confidence. Then, I have peace.

Psalm 119:105 reads..
“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feed, and a light unto my path.”

Isaiah 26:3 says..

“You keep us in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.”

Let us pray…

Dear God..,,please help us to come to the Word daily as our one, true source of authority. Please help us turn to the Word to grow in our relationship and oneness with you. And thank you for sending the Word in flesh for us to see and for giving us the written Word as our guidance system until the Word returns.

 

**Additional thoughts- I love the accessibility we have 24/7 to the Bible through apps. However, in my humble opinion, I believe there is enhanced impact in opening the physical Bible and reading it in addition to the app or the few verses that might be referenced, and even included, right in the text of your daily devotional. When you open the actual Good Book, as opposed to an app or just reading the verses listed in the devotional or blog like this, there is something that says/feels…this is different than just another blog, app, article, or website I go to on my phone or tablet. This book is the one and only source of truth in my life. This book is the Word.

From Forgiven to Forgiver

Mathew 6:12 and Psalm 75

I have LOVED the past week’s focus on prayer. Ever since BJ shared for the next several days, we get to assess our theology and see how it is revealed through our prayers’, I can’t stop thinking about what my prayers say about my theology. It’s been equally humbling and challenging for me to ponder.

As we move through the Lord’s Prayer, verse 12 STOPPED ME IN MY TRACKS. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

This feels like one of those perfectly timed, witty, strategic responses that Jesus would use to turn hearts in an instant. You know… you who have no sin, throw the first stone. {insert emoji with big shocked eyes}

The first half of the verse – YES, PLEASE – we all want the perfect forgiveness that God promises.  The second half – YIKES – I do NOT want God to forgive me AS I forgive others.  Wait…does the “as” mean “like” or does the “as” mean “at the same time”? Either way, NOT IDEAL!!!  Jesus hits me right between the eyes with this one.

We have the first half of this where we need to verbally ask God for His forgiveness, and the second half calling us to forgive like He does. But how? How do we model His forgiveness? And how do we seek forgiveness from God (and others)? God doesn’t require perfection when we seek forgiveness from Him…yet we can struggle forgiving others when they don’t seek our forgiveness in a perfect way.

Forgiveness comes easier when the trespasser asks for it, shows true sorrow, and wants to change. Forgiveness flows more freely when they humbly come with an understanding of how their offense harmed you, and they seek restitution or some way to make things right.  There aren’t excuses, justifications, or accusations. Wow, if every sin against us could be committed by a perfect forgiveness seeker, this would all be so much easier!

At the same time, our own forgiveness-seeking conversations with God can be pretty pathetic, would you agree? I know mine are! And yet, He forgives us. Every time! Immediately! God forgives us amidst our imperfect forgiveness-seeking!  He blots out our sin (Acts 3:19) and removes it as far as the east is to the west (Psalm 103:12).

When we are on the other side of this, acting as a forgiver, it can be much harder when the trespasser doesn’t perfectly seek forgiveness, or even worse, they don’t acknowledge the trespass at all. And yet, we are still called to forgive.

Why? Why does God care if we forgive others? I believe it’s because He knows that an unforgiving heart harms us more than it ever will the person we aren’t forgiving. God calls us to forgive others, for our own benefit. You remember as a kid when your parents would give a consequence and say it’s because they love you? Yeah, this feels like one of those times. God calls us to forgive others, not just because He loves them and forgives them too, BUT BECAUSE HE LOVES US. He wants unity for us. He wants peace for us. It’s for our own good, even though in the moment it is HARD.

And How? How do we forgive people in our world?  The only way is with the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s not in our sinful nature to forgive, but by the grace of God, we can extend His forgiveness to others. We can’t go solo on this one… I know when I have tried it on my own, it is imperfect and short lived.  My version of forgiveness becomes a cheap imitation. It’s like lipstick on a pig – and the lipstick WILL COME OFF. And my unforgiving, vengeful, pig heart is what’s left. Do you know what I mean?

I don’t know where this scripture lands on you today. Maybe you’re in one of these places – or maybe all of these places (hello, self):

  • What sin do you need to confess to God today? Let’s die daily to sin, call it what it is and confess it.
  • Do you need to TRULY BELIEVE in His promise to forgive you? If you’re seeking forgiveness over and over for the same sin, TRUST HIM. He wants you to believe that He forgave you the moment you first repented and sought forgiveness.
  • Are you struggling to forgive someone today? We may choose and work toward forgiving someone (on the daily!), and the healing and reconciliation still take a lot of time and effort on this side of heaven.
  • Do you need to seek forgiveness from someone today? Romans 12:18 calls us to live peaceably with everyone as much as we are able, and to be reconciled to one another (Matt 5:23-24).

Thank you, God, for your forgiveness, even in the middle of my own imperfectly forgiving heart and imperfect forgiveness-seeking. Thank you for modeling forgiveness for us. God, I need YOUR POWER to truly forgive with my whole heart + mind. I confess to you that I imperfectly forgive and I need your help. Create in me a pure heart!  Move me from being Forgiven to also being a Forgiver! 

 

 

 

The Big D

Matthew 5:31-32 and Psalms 63

I will admit, I LAUGHED OUT LOUD when reading this month’s outline for the Bible Journal project. A deeper focus on one topic, maybe just one verse. I scroll down to my assignment: April 14th, Divorce, Matthew 5:31-32 and Psalms 63.  Lord, you really are just hysterical sometimes!

My parents are divorced, I married someone that is divorced, and my own marriage has been on the brink of divorce. I don’t know if this makes me a subject matter expert, or so completely biased that I’m the last person that should be journaling today. HA!

As Jesus addresses all of the different topics in His sermon on the mount, He explains, clarifies, and helps us find FREEDOM in living more fully focused on God. Specific to divorce, He reminds us that when separating/leaving your spouse, you need to give a legal certificate for divorce (don’t just stop living with them). He explains that without the actual certificate of divorce, you would be causing sin (adultery) if/when the person remarries. He also reinforces the acceptable grounds for divorce – adultery.

Clearly the Lord takes marriage vows seriously. They’re not only vows made to one another, but to Him. He doesn’t want them broken, and when they must be, He wants order even in the brokenness.

The topic of divorce brings a lot of controversy – today, and apparently ALWAYS – both in and outside of the church. I’m guessing it’s because divorce is the result of sin, which begets more sin, even beyond the divorcing party. Family and friends can find themselves judging, gossiping, harboring bitterness, anger and hatred. Divorce can really bring out all of our ugly. And all of our opinions and infighting.

I wish none of us ever had to study these verses or apply them to our life’s circumstances. I’m no stranger to the heartbreak and pain of divorce. It’s real, raw, and just plain awful. The wounds run deep and the healing is rarely linear. While I don’t have the answers, I will share a few general points of encouragement based on some of my experiences:

If you are a child of divorced parents, please believe, more than anything, that this is not your fault. Whatever sin was in your parent(s) lives that led to this, it’s not what you wanted and not what God wanted. I hope you know that God wants to help you heal from all of the hurts this brought you. I pray your parent(s) can repent and seek forgiveness from God and from you and relationships can be restored. Most of all, I pray that you can have a deep relationship with your heavenly Father that brings overwhelming love into your life. He loves you, and He knows every tear you have shed (Psalms 56:8).

If you are considering separation/divorce, or already in the middle of it, please, take your time.  Seek biblical counseling and cling to any amount of hope you can find. Remember, God is still in the business of making miracles!  Go to the word and pray for direction. God doesn’t contradict Himself – the Holy Spirit won’t press upon your heart to move in one direction that is contrary to Jesus’ spoken words.  Our God is a perfect way-maker – even when we can’t see a way, He goes before us.  I can’t always get my mind around the long-term picture, but I can trust Him in this moment, right now.

If you are divorced, and there are any areas you still need healing, cry out to the Lord. Regardless of the circumstances of the divorce, almost all parties harbor feelings of failure, guilt, resentment, or unrest. Seek the Lord, He is the best healer and perfect forgiver – He doesn’t want us stuck in a pit of bitterness, shame, sin, or self loathing. He wants to make you whole in Him. All of our life experiences can be used to glorify Him. Revelation 12:11 exemplifies how we can be OVERCOMERS – by Jesus’ blood + our testimony of His work in our life.

If you are a friend or family member of someone in the middle of a divorce, I have found the best support can be listening and praying. Take a step beyond praying for them, and actually pray WITH them. When asked for advice, leverage the scripture on the areas surrounding divorce. Encourage biblical counseling. Be a source of hope and healing. Try to not get sucked into gossip and slander. Take time to cover yourself in the Armor of God before offering any words.

We know that all sin is unrighteousness against God, whether it’s the sin of gossip, divorce without basis, lying, etc.  On this side of heaven we may feel the consequences greater of one sin compared to another – but it’s not in our wisdom to rank them and put each others’ sins above or below our own.

Wherever this heart-pouring on divorce finds you, you can forget all of my thoughts and opinions and remember this:

God wants everything BUT divorce in His relationship with YOU. He wants us reconciled to Him in a committed relationship for eternity! People will fail. God does not fail. He won’t let you down – He’d rather die than live without you!

He Wants Us

2 Samuel 19 and Psalm 51 – Resurrection Eve

Have you ever wondered when the deniers, doubters, crucifiers, and liars had their moment of realization of who Jesus was and their role in His death? Was it immediate, like Peter when the rooster crowed the third time? Or did it take longer, after Jesus had been taken from the cross and put in the tomb? Or was it not until days later, when word got around that Jesus was alive, and Thomas even put his hand into his side.  Did they respond like David does, in his Psalms about his own sins? Had I been there, would I have realized it immediately, or would it have taken me awhile to understand? What would have been my response to knowing I put Jesus on the cross?

From an early age I learned about Jesus and have never doubted who He was or what He did for me.  As I got older, my heart to please God was challenged by my selfishness and temptations to sin. In high school especially, I was stuck on this hamster wheel of wanting to “be good” and do the right thing, but time and time again would fall into cycles of sin and rebellion. I would go through a period of mourning, praying, and vow to not fall into that junk again. I would “be good” for awhile and then it would start over. I was so frustrated with myself and lack of self control. Everything seemed so easy and made so much sense sitting in church on Sundays and at youth group on Wednesday nights.  But by Friday night – it all flew out the window.

I made a decision when I was 16 to try to get off that hamster wheel for good, and I wanted a REAL CHANGE. While I had always believed in Jesus, I needed to do something different and drastic in my life so that I could be more consistent in my choices to follow Jesus. I believed. I could talk the talk. I needed to WALK the WALK – even on the weekends.  I joined a conservative faith community that was rich in tradition and strong in holy habits.  The fellowship of the close-knit group was unmatched. The believers there invested time and energy in helping me understand God’s Word. I learned so much in this season of life and thank God for putting people into my path to draw me to Him.

One of the biggest things I learned is that even with all of the holy habits, fellowship, and accountability, I still sinned.  As much as I wanted to ‘be good’, I couldn’t. I wasn’t. And it took my early adult years to figure out that God doesn’t want me to ‘be good’. He wants me forgiven. This is why He brought us Jesus. In my youth I found myself categorizing sin and thought mine was the worst – if I could just stop those major sins, then I would be acceptable in God’s eyes. It took a lot of years to really believe that ALL sin is unrighteousness in God’s eyes. While sins may have greater or lesser consequences on earth – the sin itself is all the same: separation from God, no matter how big or small.

During this time of growth, the elder of our church, a kind and sweet man named Ervin, would point me back to Psalms 51. Over and over again, I would counsel with him, pour my heart out, trying to figure out why I would still from time to time fall back into those old sinful ways and make bad decisions.  He was so patient with me, and would read this scripture with me.  Even though it was twenty years ago, I can clearly recall our conversations.  He would encourage me to go home and pray the prayers that David did, a man who loved God so much and would still find himself in a mess of sin. And just like David, I would weap and mourn over my sins and ask God for forgiveness.  My quest to “be good” was a fruitless journey – and through prayers like Psalm 51, I found that a broken heart for my sin drew me closer to Him more than my checklist of ‘being good’ ever did.  As C.S. Lewis said: God doesn’t want something from us, He simply wants US.

Today, on Holy Saturday, the time between Jesus’ death on the cross, and His victory over the grave tomorrow, I can’t help but put myself there and walk through the range of emotions.

It is our sins against God that crucified Jesus that Friday vs. 4 and David calls his own sin what it is – evil.

Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;

I wonder how quickly we would have realized this and sought forgiveness and change. Would it have been the very next day, on Saturday?  Would we have prayed vs. 10?

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

And then to wake up Sunday morning and learn that HE IS ALIVE! Would we really believe? Would we spend the rest of our days living in the JOY that salvation brings (vs. 10)?

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

How would our lives be different if we lived everyday with the utmost JOY for Jesus conquering the grave and the utmost JOY for our salvation?

Go Does Great Things, Go Do Great Things

As I sat down to write this in my Word document where I keep all my Bible Journal writings, I saw the heading from my last writing 2 weeks ago which was “Leadership Lessons from David.” If you read today’s readings of 2 Samuel 11 and Psalm 43 before reading this, you will know right away this will not be a Volume 2! In fact, it could easily be title “David Shows Us What Not To Do.” Here we read that David breaks at least 2 and really 3 of the Ten Commandments. He lusts over a woman who is not his wife committing adultery after first coveting her when she’s married to Uriah and essentially commits murder by ordering Joab to send him into the front lines of battle and pull back support so he would be killed. Wow..this is some heavy stuff which could easily be on Dateline or an afternoon soap opera.

As I read this I’m very humbled. I will admit I am quick to condemn those who commit sins which I consider to be more serious than my
“little ones”…especially those who may be a celebrity, athlete, or have different political views than myself. But, I’m quick to forgive myself or others who I know personally by making excuses for myself or them. Our Pastor, Mike Baker, often reminds us all sins are the same in God’s eyes because breaking any one of the Ten Commandments permanently separates us from God without a Savior, and not only have we all broken at least one by commission or omission, but we all have broken all ten! In Acts 13:22, God calls David “a man after my own heart.” It’s hard to believe one who God refers to in this manner could do what David did.

This convicts me of 2 truths….

  • We all need a Savior in Jesus Christ. No one is perfect. We all of sinned..even someone as great as David who lived for God in so many ways, who God did many great things through, and who wrote over 70 Psalms. If someone as great as David is capable of something this terrible, what might I be capable of if I’m not extremely careful and stay in the Word and in prayer close to Him. Although we are called to repent and turn from sin, and not excusing sin in any way, how much comfort can we have in knowing that God, when we ask, will forgive any past sin we have done (see Mark 3:28-30 which says blaspheming the Holy Spirit or essentially not believing and accepting Jesus is the only one that cannot)?! Even something as bad as what David did can be and is forgiven through the grace of Jesus Christ death on the cross. All we have to do is repent and believe in Him. Praise God!
  • God can do great things with those who have committed some of the worst sins imaginable. Saul, later named Paul, persecuted and killed many Christians. Yet after his conversion, he wrote 13 books of the New Testament and is responsible (with the help of the Holy Spirit) for much of the spreading of Christianity and the early church! As we read in Joshua, Rahab, who was a prostitute, helped the Israelites win at Jericho and became part of the bloodline of Jesus. David is still called “a man after God’s heart” after what we read here today and had a son Solomon who built the temple and is known as the wisest person to ever live outside of Jesus. David also is part of the direct lineage of our Savior, Jesus. We could go on and on…

How much hope should we have in these truths that God will forgive us from our most horrific past sins and can also do amazing things with us during our remaining lifetime despite our past shortcomings when we believe in and give our life to Jesus! If you are facing the challenge of believing something you have done can turn out to be ok and God can forgive it and do great things with your remaining life, please take note of these truths of redemption in the Bible. I can’t think of anything we should carry into our day today to be more grateful for than this!

God does great things, let’s go do great things!!

 

Who Shall Dwell On Your Holy Hill?

Today’s readings come from 1 Samuel 14 and Psalm 15.

Yes, it’s mid February. And yes, we are still listening to Christmas Carols. Earlier this week my four year old son asked me to pause the song and wanted to know what the third verse of Away in a Manger meant – “how do we fit us for heaven”?  I tried to explain it in the simplest way possible that a tiny (yet growing) mind may understand:

  • God is so holy and perfect in every way.
  • We must be made pure and clean to be with Him in heaven.
  • We sin and are unclean, but because Jesus is perfect, when He died on the cross to pay for our sin, He makes us clean.
  • Our time here on earth is to truly believe in Jesus, every day love Him with all of our heart. This is how we “get ready” or “get fit” to live with God in heaven.

Psalm 15 takes us through a much better description of who can be in God’s presence, in His holy place, or “fit for heaven”.  And WOW, it’s convicting and motivating! I can’t wait to read this scripture with my little guy as a follow up to his question.

Psalm 15

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
    Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
    and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
    and does no evil to his neighbor,
    nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
    but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
    and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.

While this isn’t a checklist to enter heaven, if it were, we would all fail.  We are all disqualified at the very first qualification: blameless. Because we have all sinned, we all have blame. But Jesus took our blame and shame that day on Calvary. Our belief in Him is what allows us to dwell with Him in His holy place.

As I continue studying the different verse meanings and praying through each one, the Holy Spirit is challenging me to rid and repent of any of these sins in my life.  One characteristic that really stands out is the end of verse four. Am I able to keep my word and commitments even when it hurts?  Am I unchanging even when it’s hard?

I’m humbled that my God still loves me through my failings, continues to cleanse me through His perfect Son, and keeps calling me to a deeper communion with Him.  I can’t help but think of another kids’ song I’m thankful for:

He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars,
The sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be,
He’s still working on me. 

God With Us

Mark 2, Psalm 136

Sometimes I wonder what God was thinking.  Why did he create us? You see every day, we do things that are contrary to his nature.  Contrary to his purpose for us.  We even attempt to replace him with something different, yet God persists.  As I wonder why, I am drawn to Psalm 136.    Its author has taken the time to identify why  and how God works.

To start, we must think about who God is.  The Psalmist reminds us that He is good.  He is the God of God and Lord of Lords.  He does great wonders and created the heavens.  He made the earth, the lights, the sun and the moon.  He ordered them perfectly.  He struck Israel’s enemy and delivered them into freedom.  He is mighty and caring at the same time, able to part an entire sea.  He uses  this miraculous work to protect those he loves and to destroy to their enemies.  He led his people through the wilderness, striking down and killing great and mighty kings.  He takes their territory and gives it to those who love him.  He doesn’t care about his servants position, high or low.  He cares and provides for us in every situation. 

These are powerful words about our great God and his abilities.  If you are like me, you ask why.  Why would this God do such things for us?  More directly, why would he do them for me?  He knows that I am unruly and rebellious. The Psalmist gets it right with one simple word.  Love.  In my attempt to define what love is, I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.  It says,

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

Yes this describes God’s love for us.  In fact, God is so patient, so kind, so caring that he sent his own son, to live among us.  You see, real love doesn’t sit on the throne looking down.  Real love comes along side us.  Real love is personal.  Real love is messy.  This is why Jesus was born.  This is why he is called Emmanuel.  It means “God with us.”  

His love endures forever!

Emmanuel – God With US , Mercy Me

 

Pruning

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15: 1 – 2; 4 – 8).

I never used to be much of a gardener until we moved into the house we currently live in. The previous owners had created and lovingly maintained several beautiful gardens. They reminded me of English gardens, the kind you see on the cover of a novel – lots of colorful flowers, plenty of tall green grasses that turned golden in the late summer, and a white picket fence encircling it all. There is even a little stone walkway that curves between the two main sections of the garden.

The gardens are still here today, but we have changed them a bit, made them our own. We did this because we realized what a big job it is to care for and maintain a garden. So we took some plants out. We planted more perennials. And we continue to prune the gardens regularly.

Pruning is certainly one of the most time-consuming parts of gardening. (As is weeding…definitely weeding!) We do quite a bit of pruning throughout the year. Every few days during the growing season, I go outside and cut off any dead flowers from our plants. And, at the end of every autumn, my husband cuts back every plant until it stands just above the ground. This pruning – both mid-season and at the end of the season – allows the plant’s energy to be directed to feeding the good, healthy parts of the plant. Pruning also encourages the roots to grow deeper. The plant grows back full and strong the next spring.

John 15 opens with Jesus talking about how our lives as believers are to be entwined with his, and he uses a gardening image to help us to understand His words. He says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2).

Did you catch that? God removes the dead stuff completely – He takes it away – and He prunes the still-alive parts! He prunes “every branch that does bear fruit”. That means that He may choose to prune good things, beautiful things – because He knows that pruning results in even better things. Sometimes those better things are new versions of pruned branches, and sometimes they look nothing like what was pruned.

Without pruning, a garden begins to look faded. Its colors soften and become muted. Pruning eliminates the non-productive and encourages the healthy. Pruning restores the vibrancy of the garden’s colors. This weekend in Central Illinois, the temperature hit 60 degrees, which is rare for late November. My husband took advantage of the day to cut down the rest of our garden. Today, as I write this looking out the front window, the plants looked short and bare, almost shocked. But I know that deep underground, within the roots, lies the promise of new growth, and if I am patient, I will see sprouts of green come springtime. May it be so with us, too. May we not resist His pruning, and may what God prunes grow back even stronger and healthier.