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.

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.

Oaks of Righteousness

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;[a]
   he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;[b]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.[c]::
Isaiah 61:1-3

There is good news for those who follow Christ: life, gladness, praise and righteousness.  But to so many in the Church, the only Good News that is ever received is salvation and that is where they stay.  Now don’t get me wrong. I’m so thankful for the salvation that comes through Christ!

Just don’t stop there!

To stop at salvation is to stop before our healing can be revealed, before our hearts can be liberated, before our mourning can become gladness.  All of those things are offered immediately by the Spirit of God through Christ, but if we stop at forgiveness, if we stop at that golden ticket to Heaven, we deny ourselves the fullness of Christ’s salvation.  

17 Now the Lord[d] is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,[e] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.[f] For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18

We are in the process of being transformed!  By God’s power we go from dead acorns to mighty oaks, so that we can proclaim the Good News!  How else can we bind up the broken hearted? How else can we praise God in the midst of trial and persecution?

The Spirit is with us, but it is not an instantaneous transformation.  It is learned and honed through practice and experience. Why else would we still suffer trials of many kinds?  A mighty oak doesn’t grow up in a day! It takes years and years to be made strong.

As we grow, nurtured and refined by the furnace of affliction, we testify to the power of God within us.  Our constant growth and transformation make us perfect ambassadors of God’s power and glory. Only then is God glorified.

The justice of God becomes Good News for all who know Christ.  It is the Good News of recompense for the wicked and the freedom from those consequences that we have received through Jesus.  Jesus paid the price for our wickedness as the wrath of God was poured out on Him for our sake. Justice became Good News.

Proclaim the year of God’s favor!  It is time to have our broken hearts bound up.  It is time to praise God with singing and laughter, instead of mourning our broken condition. We who were dead are no alive!

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] 4 But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:1-10

Is this the news of Heaven alone, after years of suffering and torment in an evil world? Or is the news of freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom from the temporal and perishable in order to walk in life and celebration!?

Will suffering still happen? Yes.  Will sorrow afflict us? Yes. Will death mock us? Yes. Will we be broken and tormented and depressed at times? Yes.  But we do not need to lose heart in these things. In fact we can rejoice in these momentary afflictions!  The rejoicing sheds light on what Jesus has made us: the oak of righteousness that is our body. And that is so God may be glorified through us.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[d] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

The unseen can be seen through us!  God’s glory will shine through His people to bring Good News to the poor!  Oh, mighty Oaks of Righteousness, glorify the Risen Lord that all may know His rich love and mercy!

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
   my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
   he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
   and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
   and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
   to sprout up before all the nations.
Isaiah 61:10-11

 

Dying to Self

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

It’s hard to imagine that dying to self could be a pleasant experience.  It goes against all reason and sense. Dying is bad, right? Dying hurts.  Dying is the end. But not to God.

Each day I am dying to myself.  I am letting all that I am, all that I have, and all that I want be broken down into death so that it can be resurrected by Christ for His glory.  

To God, dying brought life and light to the world.  Jesus conquered death so that it no longer had to hold me with its fear and power.  Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus rose other people from the dead! Jesus brings life from death in all of His creation!  The seed that dies and is buried springs for life. Every 24 hours, the day itself dies in a glow of majestic color and beauty only to succumb quickly to darkness, and then be reborn again the following morning.  

So I guess death isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.  Nihilists make death the end. Not Jesus. Jesus proclaims death to self for us, so that we might live:  not on our own, with our sinful brokenness and decay, but with Christ who lives within us, magnified, glorified and free.

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

I don’t know about you, but I like the sound of freedom.  The evil in this world sickens me. It sickens most of us.  We hate it and we wonder why God would let it happen. But God has offered us a free solution if we want it.  And the solution is to let God make us alive through Jesus Christ. When we submit to Him and die to our own desires, we receive the fullness of life that God always intended.  

So, I choose to let myself be put to death so that I might find and enjoy life in Christ, because Christ Himself lives in me by His Spirit.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

In the Summer of 2016, while praying the verse above, I received the following vision:

On a plain pedestal rests a cracked and pitiful clay pot.  The pot is large. It is crazed with lines and imperfections.  It isn’t made to last. It isn’t even finished. It isn’t fired.  It’s fragile. Unpainted. Unadorned. But little beams of light stream out through the cracks and chips. The light inside the pot makes ornate patterns across the shell and beautiful pictures reflect on the walls of the room.  The pot is me.

Without warning a giant sledgehammer slams down on it.  The pot is annihilated. Dust and debris remain for a moment and then dissipate in the breeze. The light within the pot also explodes, but the light has form.  The light covers everything. It cannot be extinguished. The source of the light remains bright and strong. It throbs with power. It is joy and peace and love.  It is unquenchable. The light coats everything it touches with a thickness that spreads and grows. Little splatters become throbbing pulsing lights of their own.

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

My earthen vessel, my jar of clay, has been shattered by the enemy, but the Lord’s hand is upon the hammer.  The Lord made the hammer and the jar. The Lord decides what the hammer can strike and what the outcome will be. The Lord will use the destruction of my body as an instrument to spread his enduring, powerful light, his love, his joy, his peace, to thousands upon thousands of people.  Even creation itself will be affected by the light that explodes out of me, and the light will never die. I will never die. The power of God will only spread and multiply.

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

 

Come Let Us Reason Together

“Come now, let us reason 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.
Isaiah 1:18

Going back to the Garden of Eden, we get a story of how the Lord intended things for humanity.  He created a world that man and woman could live in, enjoy, and tend to. He gave them stewardship over all that He had created.  And in that creation, He walked with them. He listened and encouraged them. He gave advice. He made suggestions. He reasoned with them.  God and man worked together in His creation.

Only when Adam and Eve were seduced into the arrogant notion of gaining the “knowledge of good and evil” for themselves, did they cut God out of the picture, and fall into the terrible temptation and condemnation of sin.  They no longer reasoned with God over what was right or wrong, they decided for themselves.

The battle between right and wrong entered into the world of man, and with it life and death.  This perversion of God’s plan started a series of events that would culminate into the Salvation and Restoration of God’s people to Himself through Christ.

With it also came the tragic perceived contradictions in scripture that often play havoc with our intellect. If we are not clear and precise in our understanding of the character and transformative power of Jesus, we will question and doubt God, or worse, only consider ourselves in regard to our interaction with the world and God’s plan for it and us.  

The knowledge of good and evil broke our dependence on God to show us right from wrong, and brought into question every future act committed by man.  Right or wrong, man got to choose, and in so doing, his perspective might or might not line up with God’s. Man had been shown in the Garden that obedience and partnership with God brought life and happiness.  Unfortunately, man also learned that life apart from God would bring death.

To man, the human existence is life, followed by death.  Comprehending the reality of what life and death mean to the human condition is best explained by the Lord himself.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

Death comes before life. Jesus proved this point through His own body.  He allowed himself to die, be buried, and then resurrected, to give us the ultimate picture of the obedient sacrifice and what it would bring. He gave up His own “right” to life in order to receive the fullness of His deepest most joyful desire: the salvation of the lost (Hebrews 12:2).  His was a perfect sacrifice with perfect obedience. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before being arrested was this:

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Luke 22:42

Too often I think our church culture suggests that we beat down who we are and what we think in regard and response to Jesus: that beating down our own thoughts is how we “die to self.”  We tell ourselves and each other that we must consider “what Jesus would do” and forget that Jesus might want to actually have a conversation with us about it. Jesus had a conversation with God in the garden of Gethsemane, not a silent robotic command.

We don’t give up our self to “live as Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).  We let ourselves shine by sharing our thoughts with God and then letting him tell us how best to proceed, knowing that His decisions will lead us on a course of life.  We die to having the “final say” on what we will do. We let Him tell us what is right for us and what is wrong.

I’d like to add, though, that as we muse and ponder and plan with the Lord, though, we should act with care and caution.  Otherwise we open ourselves up to the attack of the enemy, who prowls around at all times, looking for ways to exploit our weakness and stir our insecurities.  

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8

In our obedience to God, and our active intention to put to death our sinful desires, we find peace.  Peace and joy and power come from walking in the Presence of the Lord and reasoning together with Him. When we follow our own hearts without God’s input, we are submitting to the death of this world instead of receiving the life of Jesus that we are promised.

Jesus said,

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
John 10:10