Obligations

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

Since when did God ever say to His children, “You are obligated to do such and such because I saved you…” or “You better be good or this is over!” or “You need to do this or I won’t love you anymore.” Never.

That’s not our God. The only “must do” in God’s book for us is to receive and accept His love and mercy, not work through a set of rules and obligations in order to earn or prove something to Him.  History has proven over and over that we suck at must dos anyway.

So, why on earth do we feel so obligated all the time?  We say things like: “I better not miss church, or…”, “I better give a full ten percent tithe, or…”, or “I better be this way or that way or…”  

We need to stop that.  We really do. What do we think grace means?  Do we do good or behave well because we don’t want to lose God’s love, or because we want to show God our love?

Why do we walk around with so much fear? Why don’t we trust. We don’t believe God’s promises.  We don’t trust His grace.  There’s got to be a catch, right?

Humanity is so fickle.  People stop being friends over ridiculous things.  Fathers abandon children. Mothers expect perfection.  Friends demand attention. But is that who we are, as children of God?  Is that our legacy? No wonder we can’t trust God!  We can’t always even count on our own family!

Wasn’t the whole point of God’s plan to get us out of that mess that is “obligation”, and into the peace of not having to worry about that stuff anymore?

But the ten commandments!  What about those, you say!? Those are rules.  Those are obligations!

“For it is by grace that we have been saved….”

The ten commandments.  The Golden Rule.  They aren’t contradictions, they aren’t demands.  They aren’t obligations.  They’re all just a way for God to show us how hopeless we are without Him and how beautiful life can be with Him. 

There’s no random list of rules. No list of obligations.  No “you better, or…” All any of those rules God laid out to us proved is that we can’t do it.  We’re going to make a golden calf every single time, because we’re scared and broken and full of our own great ideas, and have no trust in God.

But we can’t do anything good enough to earn God or His love. We just can’t.  He has been offering us those things since the beginning of time.  And we could either accept it or not.

Grace.  Forgiveness.  Love. Why do we want this from people, but struggle to receive it from God?  Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s obligation. Maybe it’s habit. It doesn’t really matter why,  

God loves us.  He doesn’t obligate us.  He loves without condition.  He loves when we hate. When we are evil.  When we are wrong. When we are broken. He loves us.

8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

He gave us Christ so we wouldn’t be obligated.  He gave us Christ because He loves us.  Only in Christ can we recieve God’s love and forgiveness.  Only in Christ could God give us what we need, what we deserve, what we want.  Only Christ could take our deserving punishment of death and conquer it.  Only Christ could give us His love without asking anything in return.  Only Christ could reunite us with what the Creator of the Universe.

Only Christ. 

The only way we can screw that up is to not believe it.

So, please stop fighting it.  Just recieve it.

16 “For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
John 3:16-21

 

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Working on the Sabbath

A few months ago I reopened my Clothing Resale Store on eBay after a four year break when I had to stop to take care of my ailing mother full time.  Now that I’m back at it, I find myself working very hard, often as many as 16 hours a day. That’s just the life of a reseller. And I love it. I truly do, which is why it’s not a surprise that I would throw myself into it with such exuberance.

As I’ve contemplated how to find a healthy balance of work, life, and ministry, I began to marvel at the unending attention of Our Heavenly Father.  He is always at work, even when He’s at rest. Look at Jesus: He got in so much trouble with the Pharisees for healing people on the Sabbath.

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus,[a] to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Mark 3:1-6

I think working to do good, working to heal and comfort and encourage, working to love and to smile even when things are hard, are all things we don’t need to take a break from.  Does God ever stop listening? Or stop blessing? Or stop comforting?

We can rest in doing what comes natural to us. God asked us to keep the Sabbath and keep it holy so that we would stop and remember all that God has made and done, just like He did “in the beginning”. And He called it good.

I’m working through a lot of hard stuff lately. For me, it has become season in my life primarily of seclusion and introspection.  In a lot of ways, I’ve seen it as a season of Sabbath rest. I know that may sound like an oxymoron. I’m working to think on things.  

Now, stay with me here, I’m working to see that all that God has made and done is good. I’ve stopped trying to be good and started recognizing God’s good in me.  Like with my eBay store. He gave it back to me so that I could have something in my life again that was mine. That may sound strange, but as a mother and wife most of my life, my world has mostly been about other people.  Even my ministry is about others: encouraging, prophesying, hugging, loving the unlovable.

My store has given me a chance to stop and think about me.  It’s a time of solitude and work, but also a time of reflection and peace in what God has given me and made for me.  It’s an opportunity for me to experience joy during a time when my heart is heavy with sorrow and difficult emotions.

God is working.  That’s something my therapist keeps reminding me of.  God is working. He’s healing me, even on the Sabbath.  Even when He’s resting and smiling at me and what He has made in me.  He is working on me. He is loving me and teaching me.

Work can be love.  It can be healing. It can be rest.  And maybe that stuff isn’t “work” after all.  Maybe that was Jesus’ point. Love shouldn’t stop on the Sabbath because it might take work.  Like His own nature, Love is Eternal and Infinite. It never stops. It never takes a break. And it is always good.

In My Own Strength

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
John 14:27

I’ve been told my whole life how strong I am.  How courageous I am. I’m a fighter. People say I’m tough as nails, that I have true grit, that I’m so brave. I even have Joshua 1:9 tattooed on my wrist.  To the world, I am so strong.

But I’m not strong at all.  I’m weak and fearful and tired.  And every time I try to fall back on my strength and grit my teeth to work through something, I fail.  That’s right. All my strength, all my courage, all my grit is nothing.

Without Jesus it is nothing.  I am nothing. My strength, my courage, my lionheart…they all come from Jesus.  He is my strength. He’s the one who made me this way. He’s the one who brought me through trials over and over again.  When I rely on Him to see me through my circumstances I somehow manage to make it through. He has made me strong.

I think for too long I’ve thought that God’s strength at work in me was actually me.  So when I tried to fight through things I struggled, I bruised my knees, I cried, I failed.  Ya. It sucks to fail. And it’s hard to admit that I can’t do anything in my own power. Even the air I breathe is dependant on God’s grace.

But when I look back on all the triumph, and all the times I made it through to the other side of whatever I was fighting, I see that the one thing they all had in common was Jesus.  When something was hard and I succeeded in pushing through it, I realize that the power came from asking Jesus to help me.

When you’re in the midst of trial it is so hard to rely on God’s strength because everything is hard when you are suffering.  It was hard for Jesus to carry that cross to Golgotha.

What I’m learning is that I don’t have to feel, see, or even trust that God is giving me His strength.  I know that sounds crazy, but because I love God and because He has a 100% track record with me, I don’t have to get it.  I don’t have to understand. It is a fact that is not dependent on my understanding, or even my faith. It just is.

Releasing my feelings, and releasing my worry, and just remembering that God always sees me through is enough.  God brings His strength and peace because He promised He would. And that is enough.

So, Lord, help me get passed myself and my feelings and my arguments.  Give me the strength that you have promised me and see me through this trial and the next by Your power.  I don’t have to understand. I don’t have to worry. I can trust You. Help me to trust You, Jesus. Help me to trust Your perfect record with me. Give me faith. Help me stay in Your arms no matter what battle rages around me.  Help me to know that You are God. I love You, Jesus. Thank You for Your strength.

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
   I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the deer’s;
   he makes me tread on my high places.
Habakkuk 3:18-19

 

Breaking Bad

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

It can be so easy to lose trust in God’s comfort.  A bad day. Bad decisions. Bad news. Bad memories.  Bad cold. Bad cramps. Bad paycheck. Bad Chinese food.  Sometimes life just hurts. And sometimes it hurts really bad.

It’s great to know that our pain might someday be an opportunity to encourage and empathize with someone else.  But what about now? What about in the midst of your “bad”.

I wish I could say I had a good answer.  I’m in the middle of my own bad right now, and if I’m being honest, I’m feeling too bad to see the good.  

Yet, somehow, because God is so good, there is always an answer, even when I have nothing.  I can trust God. I can trust His promises. I can trust His Word and speak it out.

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
   he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
   and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:17-18

When I’m feeling brokenhearted.  When I’m feeling bad. I can trust that God is near to me.  He is drawing close to me even in the midst of my pain and suffering.

When I don’t know how to draw close to Him, He draws close to me.  

“The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all affliction” will comfort me.  He will pull me close and kiss my tears away. I don’t have to understand. I don’t have to believe.  I don’t have to do anything.

The God of all comfort does it all.

 

Hiding in the Right Place

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
   will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
   my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1-2

I’ve discovered something recently.  I don’t dwell in the shelter of the Most High enough.  I let fear rule me and I make hiding places like two of the three little pigs.  

Mostly, I think I do it out of laziness, if I’m being honest. I know how to hide in Jesus, but I get comfortable doing things my way.  I want to hide in my work, or a delicious piece of chocolate cake, or a big shopping spree. Instant gratification. Physical reward.

Hiding in Jesus looks like nothing in the physical.  It looks foolish. It looks vulnerable. It looks very poorly planned to the outside world.  But I was reading in 2 Kings this morning and I got embarrassed.

15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 Kings 6:15-17

I was embarrassed because this is a story you learn in Sunday School.  This is the type of story we teach in Vacation Bible School and backyard Bible Club.  This is a familiar story to me. Very familiar. And, like Elisha’s servant, I revert to looking only at the physical, instead of seeing and knowing from experience that my God has power in the unseen as well as the seen.

This can sound like I’m beating myself up a bit, but I’m not!  I’m rejoicing that the Lord kept me from taking this truth for granted.  He reminded me again that He is my shelter and that there are things in the unseen that carry power in the world that we can’t perceive with our eyes. Power for good and power for evil.  And I need to make my shelter in the strong fortress of God if I want to be protected!

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:27-31

See, this isn’t about me.  It’s about God.

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:13

God is faithful when I am not.  I’m a fool. I lack wisdom. I see the world instead of looking with the eyes of the Spirit God gave me.  But He is faithful. He is happy to show me the angels camped around me with their stony eyed glares and their fiery chariots.  That’s our God. That’s my God.

Lord, help me take shelter in You, the unseen fortress of strength and courage that protects me amidst the flying arrows of the enemy.  Give me spiritual vision and deeper faith to trust You even when it’s hard. Let Your name be glorified in me, Jesus. Let Your name be my shelter. Amen.

 

 

Trust Me

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?
Isaiah 7:10-13

Did you catch that? It makes me laugh because I’m so guilty of it.  We all are. God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ahaz’s response? “NO! This is some kind of test.  You’re too scary. I won’t fall for Your tricks….God.” What the heck?!

God’s frustration with His people is palpable. After a million promises of victory just a few moments before, Ahaz questioned the simple request of God to ask for a sign, a big sign, anything.  

We’re so much like Ahaz, aren’t we?  We don’t trust God. We think we do. We say we do.  We encourage others to. We try and try and try to trust.  But we don’t.

What I want to focus on though, is God’s response to Ahaz.  Ahaz utterly disobeys and questions God to his face, and God’s response is to shake His head with weariness at humanity’s lack of trust, and then say:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Isaiah 7:14

Again, do you see what just happened there?  Because Ahaz is too scared, and because Ahaz can’t trust, and because Ahaz (as King) is the physical stand in of all of God’s people, God trusts for Ahaz.  God obeys for Ahaz.  God prophesys the coming Messiah, the Son of Man, Emmanuel: God is With Us, and in doing so, literally spells out to Ahaz that humanity can never stand in for themselves, so He will do even that for them!

I love that.  Frustrated and weary by the disobedience of man, God doesn’t raise his hands in frustration and walk away.  That’s what we do. Instead, God sighs with weariness, (and I believe sadness that man still can’t seem to trust Him after the millions of times He had already proven Himself trustworthy!) and says to humanity, “Okay, I’ll do it for you.”

When God asks me to trust Him, how often do I question it?  How often do I say, “Oh no, I can’t do that!”  I’m so thankful that God hasn’t, and won’t abandon me when I struggle.  Instead, He patiently helps me to do what I don’t trust Him to do.

That’s where the Power of the Holy Spirit comes in.  By God’s Spirit we are empowered to obey and trust God.  He gave us that Spirit, that Helper, that Wonderful Counselor, to gently show us and tell us what we can do if we trust Him.  

Our sweet partnership with the Lord comes from all the opportunities we are given to listen and to trust what He says to us.  Easier said than done, I know. It’s worth it, though. Trust me.

Revere the Lord

“When you come to appear before me,
   who has required of you
   this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
   incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
   I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
   my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
   I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
   I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
   I will not listen;
   your hands are full of blood.
Isaiah 1:12-15

The Lord has been hitting me hard lately regarding my relationship with Him.  I fight hard against His love. I don’t want to believe it. I hear others say they don’t want to believe it.  Preachers cajole us from the pulpit to understand and accept God’s love for us. And how He loves us!

But something terrible has happened.  I think I’ve worked so hard to get myself to believe that God loves me, that I forgotten to revere Him the way I should.  It’s just so easy to see Jesus as my buddy if I’m going to accept that He does, in fact, love me no matter what. I know, I know, Jesus IS my buddy, my best friend.

But He’s also my King.  He’s King over everything.  Just as it is in His power to create me, it is in His power to destroy me.  Harsh, I know. But let’s just keep it real for a minute. Think about it. When we fall deep into God’s grace, we can neglect the very heart of why that grace was given in the first place: we didn’t earn it and we can’t earn it.  

Bear with me here, because I’m not at all saying that God’s grace is by any means a bad thing.  Our response to grace, however, can become a twisted cesspool of unrepentant sin and hidden idolatry.  We all know that Paul said that grace wasn’t an excuse to sin, but we do it anyway. Maybe not in obvious ways, but we still do it.  God wants all of us. Not just the parts other people see.

I think He especially wants the part of us that no one sees.  He wants us to revere Him and follow Him and serve Him because He is God.  He is from everlasting to everlasting, Creator of the universe, and Savior of the world.  We don’t want to defile that with idol chatter and gossip, or vain pursuits, or harlotry of the heart.  

We need to revere God.  He made us. He died for us.  And He has all sufficient grace for us.  He is worthy of our praise and obedience.  When we are in His Presence we need to worship Him first.  We need to honor Him fully with our hearts, our minds, and our bodies.  

“Come now, let us reason[c] together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
   you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
   you shall be eaten by the sword;
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Isaiah 1: 18-20

God wants us to speak frankly with Him, and God wants to cleanse us, but for rebellion He has no tolerance.  Let us be willing and obedient children to the Lord.

Lord, help me to be a better listener to Your instructions.  Help me to revere You instead of take you for granted. Make me a channel of blessing because I have learned from You how to be obedient.  Make my joy complete by my willing service to You. Let me be your willing and devoted servant because You are God and I am not. In You is all power of judgement.  I accept that Your judgement was poured out on the cross of Christ. Help me to respect Your righteous judgement and not take it for granted. Amen.

“For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
   for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
   that I may not cut you off.
10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
   I have tried[a] you in the furnace of affliction.
11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
   for how should my name[b] be profaned?
   My glory I will not give to another.
Isaiah 48:9-11