Tag Archives: Love

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

My pastor recently introduced me to the S.O.A.P. Bible study method and, as I’m enjoying it quite a bit, I thought I’d share some of what the Lord’s been teaching me. Hope you enjoy!

out_of_ashes_by_colleenchiquita

Scripture

Philemon 6

‘…and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective though the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.’

Observe

There are good things in me which have been placed there for me to use in the service of the King. In order to use them, I need to know about them, what they are and how they work. These are gifts that the Lord has placed in me that I can then turn back into praise by using them for Him. The more I know about them, the more effective they are. They come into effect when I am fellowshipping with other believers or when I am witnessing through my testimony.

Application

I know my heart; the only thing that’s good in me is Jesus. Whatever gifts, talents, skills, etc. I have the privilege of utilizing for His kingdom are actually His works being done through me. And since the only good thing in me is Jesus, and since I need knowledge of every good thing which is in me, then to effectively serve Him, I need to know Him. The deeper I go in my understanding of Christ, the more I can recognize His works in me and get out of the way so He can shine. But how do I gain greater knowledge of Him?

Here’s my thought: they say that going through trials – the really rough stuff – shows you what you’re made of. Adversity gets to the heart of who I am as a person and shows me the good, the bad, and the ugly. So when I’m in the storm, I get to see how much of me is made of Jesus, basically, how much of my heart I’ve given over to Him. The good. I also get to see the bad, how much of my heart I’m keeping for myself. Then there’s the ugly, which is tricky because life is messy, but beautifully so. And the more ashes I have, the more God can turn into beauty. So that ugly can be either category; I can hand it over to the Lord or try to beautify it myself.

Trials – the ugly – are the perfect opportunities to learn more about my Savior and how to be more like Him, because they bring everything home to my core and I get to see what makes my own heart tick. The more I learn, the more I know God, the more effectively He can use me for His Kingdom.

Prayer

Father, thank you so much for faithfully afflicting me. Thank you for loving me as I am, messy as I am. Please don’t let me stay here. Please search me and know my heart, show me my sins and help me to overcome them. Please show me the areas where You are at work in me and fill me with even more grace to let you have more control. And thank you for all the ugly and for the plans You have to give beauty for ashes. In your precious name I pray, Amen.


What Mary, Joseph, and Mulan Taught me About Regrets

Mary-Joseph-Jesus_thumb[21]

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Mary and Joseph (wonder why) and one thing that struck me for the first time was that they must have felt terrible when Jesus was born.

Think about it. Mary, who is legally bound to Joseph, becomes pregnant before the wedding day. Joseph, instead of divorcing her quietly, as he was tempted to do, takes her public shame and covers it with marriage. Now, not only does Mary look bad for being pregnant, but people are probably looking at Joseph and thinking either he sinned and the Child is his, or he has no problem with Mary’s apparent sin and is guilty by association.

I’m sure they were the biggest scandal to hit their town in quite a while.

Then Joseph and Mary make the long journey to Bethlehem and end up spending the night in the stables with the animals, where Mary goes into labor.

If I were in their shoes, I would have panicked. Mary has known this whole time that she is carrying the Messiah and Joseph has just had a confirming dream. They must be feeling overwhelming pressure. And they end up in a situation where the King of kings, the Savior of the world, is going to be born in the hay, amidst animal droppings and half chewed food.

Joseph and Marry must have wondered where they went wrong.

Their circumstances were as far from ideal as it gets. They must have wanted to give so much more to God. They must have expected it to be so much more glorious than it was.

If I were them, I would have felt like I’d let God down, by allowing His Son to be born in such a place, to disgraced parents, with nobody caring about the birth except for a few shepherds.

I think we all feel like that from time to time. We sit down and sing the shoulda’/coulda’/woulda’s, tasting the bitter regret of having failed God.

I know I have. I’ve sacrificed a lot to be where I am today. Only, where I am isn’t where I expected to be. Not even close.

I feel like I let God down. I expected my sacrifices to produce something so glorious for Him. My struggles in obedience, my striving to do His will… it all seems empty now. I wonder where I went wrong.

When we feel God’s calling on our lives, we start to dream big. We think of all the things we want to do for Him, all that we want to accomplish for His Kingdom. But the accolades we plan are not what matter to God.

I’m going to do something completely uncharacteristic now and quote Disney, because it’s what popped into my head as I was writing this. In the movie Mulan, a young woman sets out to bring her family honor and ends up saving China. But when she returns home and offers the Emperor’s gifts to her father, he throws them aside and tells her, “The greatest gift and honor, is having you for a daughter.”

Day 21-favorite quote

God prizes people.

God is after you. He is after your heart. He is after your love and obedience. He wants to be your Dad.

The successes and honors of this world mean nothing to Him. He planned for His Son to be laid in a manger, instead of in a palace. He planned for me to write this to an audience of 100+ instead of 100,000+.

He does not value the things of this world like we do. He values us.

So if you, like me, are harboring regrets, let them go and grab hold of God.

Because you are all He’s ever wanted. And by making Him all you want, you bring Him glory.

 


The Christmas Scandal

sainsburys-christmas-advert-first-world-war-534812

A scandal has arisen in the UK over the release of a Christmas commercial by Sainsbury Grocery. The commercial (which can be viewed here) spends about 3 minutes depicting the Christmas Truce of 1914, with the end goal of selling chocolate.

Apparently, people are upset that such an extraordinary event should be used for advertising purposes… which, let’s be honest, is a tad ironic given that the whole season – one said to celebrate the birth of Christ – is basically one be advertisement at this point. (Yes, I’m Charlie Brown, I admit.)

However, I’m very grateful to this ad and its controversy because it stopped me dead in my tracks and caused me to look at the Jesus’ advent in a way I never had before.

We all know (some have experienced) the trauma of childbirth for the mother, but I think few of us really reflect on the trauma the child goes through.

Everything the baby has ever known about safety and warmth and care is suddenly ripped away as the poor little infant is squeezed slowly through the birth canal.

He then emerges into a world of lights and sounds and cold that is completely foreign and uncomfortable. The baby experiences hunger for the first time, and cold, and weakness.

He is totally and completely helpless, too frail to even lift his own head and completely at the mercy of the strange giants around him. He can’t communicate his needs or desires through anything other than plaintive wails.

He is completely helpless.

Now picture the Almighty Creator of the Universe, Perfect and Holy God condescending to put Himself through this.

Condescending to experience pain, hunger, weakness, shame, rejection, betrayal, helplessness… in short, humanity, in all its splendor.

I don’t know where theologians stand with this, but I personally believe that Jesus was fully conscience of His God state in the midst of this event.

And He suffered through all this completely blamelessly, totally undeservedly.

From the Lord’s side of things, His birth was more unjust, more scandalous than anything that has happened or ever could happen here on earth, in war time or in peace.

And yet He submitted to it willingly, for your sake and for mine.

Every year, we hear a lot about ‘the reason for the season’ and words like ‘gratitude’ and ‘greatest gift’ get bandied about. I feel like this discussion has grown stale, and we don’t stop often enough to think about what it is that we are actually grateful for.

We’ve been told that Jesus died for our sins, but how often do we stop to think about how He lived for them? If you ponder the physical side of humanity, it can be stated that we begin to die as soon as we’re born, so Jesus’ death really began with His birth.

I like the commercial above. The company uses the word ‘share,’ but what I see is sacrifice. And maybe that’s what this season is really all about, the opportunity to truly reflect on the Sacrifice that was made on our behalf, and the chance to look around for opportunities to make sacrifices on behalf of others.

(Originally published 12/1/2014)


Good Gifts

 

gift-ideas-newyear2015

I think that sometimes people can have a misconception of the term ‘good gifts’ as used in the Bible. When we look at what society terms ‘the good life’ and look at the lives that many Christians lead, there can be cause for some confusion.

I’m reading through Isaiah right now and right in the midst of all the terrifying prophesies of doom and destruction, I came across Is.30:18a:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion.

It is such a beautiful reminder of God’s infinitely gracious heart. Even though His children have rebelled against Him time after time and refused to repent, He still longs to forgive them and show them His mercy and goodness.

A major aspect of the Gospel message is that God is offering forgiveness; an escape from judgment and assurance of heaven.

But I think a commonly held opinion here on earth is that if we repent and start living ‘good Christian lives,’ then God is obliged to stop ‘punishing’ us and start ‘rewarding’ us in the here and now. What we can fail to realize is that God is reward enough.

Verses like this one can be misconstrued to mean that God wants to give us prosperity here on earth. And while that is certainly true at times (I am by no means trying to deliver a ‘vow of poverty’ message), those earthly rewards should not be the be all and end all.

God loves us and will give us what He knows is best for us. Like a father refusing his child a cookie before dinner, God will not give us things that will harm us, draw us away from Him, or work contrary to His kingdom plans.

The beautiful thing about God is that He is all sufficient. The grace and compassion He offers us is so far and away more than we could ever need or ask for and is so inexhaustible. God really is enough.

All the shinies here are on earth that seem just out of reach to us can lead us to the very wrong, yet still hurtful, conclusion that God is holding out on us. We start to think that He must be punishing us for a sin, or even be taking things away out of cruelty. The end result is that we are left feeling beaten up and poorly cared for.

But God wants to satisfy us. He wants us to find our all-in-all in Him. He desires – even commands – that we live lives full of peace and joy and love. God wants you to be happy but He wants you to find that happiness in Him. Because the world does not satisfy, and it’s weak version of happiness has no staying power.True contentment can only be found in the love of Jesus.

Today, as I look around me, it’s easy to begin compiling a mental ‘wish list’ that I could start praying for. The list can become long and overwhelming very quickly, and I’m often left feeling alone and neglected. Sound familiar?

I want to start focusing more on the Giver than on His gifts. The blessing God offers me of just being His child is more than enough to sustain my short life on earth, regardless of trials and tribulations. The fact that the Almighty Creator of the Universe longs for me to call Him Daddy is all the blessing and gift I could ever need.


Will the Real Victims Please Stand Up

church-help-300px

There’s a word that’s popping up a lot lately, especially in church. It often prompts controversial discussion, leaving most people feeling angry and/or scared.

That word? ‘Rights.’ Particularly ‘Christian,’ ‘religious,’ and ‘American’ rights.

It can’t be denied that the political climate of our country is changing and that freedoms we once enjoyed are being threatened. In reaction to this, the church has become a political force and Christians everywhere are being urged to stand up and defend their rights.

Trouble is, I honestly don’t see anything in the Scriptures about fighting for our rights. In fact, in 1 Peter 2:17, I found what seems to me to be the direct opposite:

‘Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.’

That doesn’t sound very much like the current Christian agenda. But, we are living in a different culture with different sins. Surly, if Peter were to see our president today, he wouldn’t tell us to honor a man who is so clearly against our Christian values. Right?

Only, Peter wrote this letter to the Roman provinces in Asia. And the king at that time? Nero.

And I looked into it, the word honor as used here in the Greek basically means honor. Does that mean we obey the laws of the land if that requires disobeying the laws of God? Of course not. Does that mean we stop gossiping and complaining about the government and pray for them instead…?

If honoring a king you don’t agree with is hard, how much more so people whom you interact with every day. ‘Honor all people.’ Well, it does say all. Does that mean that we defend actions that are clearly sinful according to God’s definition? Of course not. Does it mean we stop trying to save people in our own strength by manipulating them into repentance and simply share the Gospel with them instead…?

We’ve lost ourselves to a screaming match with culture.  Social media is lifting up sin as heroic and empowering while the church is condemning its practitioners to the pits of hell. Meanwhile, what we’re failing to realize is that we are fighting the wounded.

When did we get so caught up in ‘rights’ that we forgot to preach the Gospel? When did we forget that we laid down our rights to fair treatment at the foot of the cross?

Christ died to take our rights away from us, because our inalienable birthright is eternal punishment for our sins.

Do we really want to fight for our rights, for what we deserve?

But then, what about defending the Scriptures, and God’s laws? I read an article recently that said we have to defend the sanctity of marriage from the government because it’s a God-ordained institution. The implication here being that the Supreme Court’s decision supersedes God’s opinion, that if the Federal Government of America calls it a marriage, then God is forced to acknowledge it as such. That’s just silly.

We defend the Scriptures by living by them and by allowing God to exhibit His glory and love in our lives. We need to be wary of distractions; Jesus didn’t get mixed up in politics, nor did the apostles. Instead, the early church did what it was mandated to do: spread the Gospel.

By doing that, they turned the world upside down.

That’s all we have to do. Instead, we Christians are playing the persecution card, cloaking ourselves in victim-hood. But we are the ones with full access to God. We are the ones who have tasted of His love and forgiveness. We are the ones looking forward to eternity in paradise with Him.

We aren’t the victims. The people we’re fighting are. That makes us the bullies.

We are so eager to save a dying world for God that we condemn the homosexual, conveniently forgetting that he’s the one who isn’t enjoying God’s best for his life. We shout hate at the pregnant teenager as if killing her unborn child won’t scar her for life. We gossip about and pray against politicians who’ve traded their morality for the perception of power.

That can’t be right. They are the ones who are truly suffering in their sins. They’re the ones who will be hurt by their choices. Why are we offended? Why are we hurt? Why are we fighting for our rights? And most importantly, why aren’t we loving these people instead?

Let’s bring the focus away from political agendas and back to Jesus and His saving power, instead of trying to save people our way. Instead of defending our rights, let’s defend the Gospel with our lives by displaying it in our lives and show a dying world what the Savior can do.


Job’s 3 Step Survival Guide

lost_at_sea_by_coryg427-d338tn3

I’ve been reading Job again. It’s a funny book to me because it’s gone from being one of my least favorites to one of my most favorites. It got to the point where I was so reluctant to read it that I started paying more attention to it, trying to find something to like about it. And God has shown me so many beautiful truths in my earnest searching.

I finished it the other day and I was struck by three very significant points in the final chapter, points that I think hold the key to standing fast through hard times.

First, I love Job’s response to God’s correction. Covered in Job 42:2-6, it can be summed up in this statement:

‘Therefore I retract, and I repent’

Job’s heart here reminds me of Habakkuk in Hab.2:1. It’s a heart of humility that stands ready for correction. But the thing I really love about Job’s repentance is how short it is. After 35 chapters of back and forth and reasoning and questioning and wondering and pleading, God answers and Job’s response is 5 verses long.

My apologies are never 5 verses long. They are 55+ verses long, and climbing. ‘Sorry’ is the most over-used word in my vocabulary. I have a guilt complex that just won’t quit and I have a lot of trouble accepting forgiveness, from God, from others, or from myself.

But Job realized that the first step to healing was to accept that God is God, that He can do whatever He wants, and that we should take our arguments and ‘retract and repent.’ God will win anyway, so this just saves time. Job accepted and moved on; no lingering in false guilt, no self-pity, just the realization that God is right.

 The second step was to get Job’s focus off of himself. After everything he’s gone through, mourning is necessary and healthy. But when it comes time to move on, one of the best ways to do so is by taking your eyes off yourself.

Job repents, God forgives him, and then immediately, the Lord gives Job the task of praying for his friends. Now, not only does he have a mission to help others, but those others also happen to be three men who just hurt him. Not only is God helping Job by refocusing him, He’s also keeping bitterness and unforgiveness from taking root in Job’s heart. By telling him to ask for forgiveness on his friends’ behaves, He’s also bringing Job to a place where he can forgive his friends. Releasing that grudge and moving on gets Job another step closer to healing.

The final step is one that I think often goes overlooked, and that’s time. God didn’t instantly restore Job to his former state. He lost things that would never be returned to him. Instead, it took years to rebuild and recover.

We pray for so many miracles in the midst of tragedies that I think we sometimes forget that surviving the tragedy is a miracle in itself.

God’s healing isn’t always instantaneous, but it’s always sure. Sometimes we feel like we’ll explode if He’s silent for even one more second. Then the second passes, and another one, and another one, and the sun comes back up, and we realize He’s been there with us the whole time.

So to recap;

Step 1) Don’t fight the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Like David, Job, and Habakkuk, we are allowed to question, but He’s going to win any argument anyways, so humility will save us time and heartache.

Step 2) Focus on others. Jesus was a servant and we were built in His image, so while selflessness may not feel natural to begin with, the after effects can be startlingly therapeutic. As can loving and forgiving those who’ve hurt us or failed to comfort.

Step 3) Don’t rush. It doesn’t have to be pretty, you just have to make it. And in the end, you will. Every storm eventually runs out of rain. Be patient, God will see you through. He will complete the good work He began in you. 

These steps are much easier listed than followed. But thankfully, God’s grace is never ending and His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness!

No matter what you’re going through, whether a drizzle or a hurricane, God can and will make everything right.


My Daddy’s Throne

throne_room_paint_ck1

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Heb. 4:16

I don’t know about you, but I can’t ever read past this verse. It stops me in my tracks every time. I get to that point in the page and my jaw dust drops, I shake my head, and I try one more time to wrap my mind around it.

In the movie Anna and the King, there’s a scene where the king is sitting on his throne, granting audience to his subjects. There are rules and regulations to be obeyed in the throne room. For example, no one’s head is permitted to be higher than the king’s. Disobedience to these rules could result in execution, so they are followed faithfully by the subjects kneeling at the king’s feet.

Then, in the middle of all the pomp and circumstance, the king’s little daughter comes running in, completely heedless of the rituals and expectations. She rushes past all the bowing and the fawning, climbs right up the throne’s steps, and whispers in her daddy’s ear. She needs her daddy and knows that as his favorite, as his princess, she can approach him boldly. Sure enough, he sweeps her up in his arms and leaves everything to solve her problem.

I love this scene. It’s a beautiful picture of the grace God has extended to each of us. We are His favorite ones and He has allowed us the privilege of unrestricted access to Him. Whenever we need our Daddy, we can go to Him.

As I read this verse and this scene flashed through my mind, I was literally brought to my knees by the thought of how unworthy I am. I was simply awed that He should show me grace.

Then, as is often helpful to do, I took myself out of the equation and rethought it:

That He should show grace.

It blows my mind. See, we were created to glorify God; we exist to exalt Him. But He doesn’t need to show mercy to show His greatness. He didn’t even have to give us a concept of mercy.

Mercy requires holiness because there has to be a standard, a comparison to mercy. But holiness doesn’t require mercy.

In the movie, the king was considered great simply because he was the king. He had been born to rule the people and their respect and reverence for him was part of his birthright.

As creator of the universe, God is glorious because He is God, not because He is merciful (though His mercy certainly is glorious). He could have chosen to bring us to our knees before Him out of fear and awe alone.

Instead, He has chosen to reveal His glory in our lives through kindness. He uses mercy and grace to show His greatness when He could just use might and wrath.     

Why would He do that? Why would He even choose to create love and mercy and grace?

And how could I possibly use those gifts, use that privilege, to enter into His courts with anything other than thanksgiving?

I shudder to think of all the times I’ve come before Him with a selfish and greedy heart, self-justified and set on having my way, stomping my foot at Him as if He owed me. Where did I ever find the gall to behave like that?

And still, He chooses to glorify Himself in my life, to show Himself kind and faithful in my circumstances.

I don’t know why. I can’t even make it to the why, not when I’m so enamored by the fact that He does.

As I said, the realization that God’s love for me is His choice, not my right, brought me to my knees. Then that same love pulled me into His lap.

I know there will still be days when I bring complaints and arguments before my King instead of the praise He’s due. But by His grace, I pray to be more mindful in the future of what an unfathomable honor it is to come boldly before His throne.


%d bloggers like this: