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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The Salvation of the Lord is Constant

The salvation of the Lord is constant, never ceasing to be at work in us as we strive against the evil of this world and the temptations it offers us.  Like Paul, it is a continuous battle of our fleshly desires and our cleansed and forgiven spirit, brought into unity with the Spirit of God by the shed blood of Jesus.

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Romans 7:24-25

Each moment we exist we are blessed to feel the effects of Christ’s salvation. As we muddle through dilemmas of the flesh and mind, the Holy Spirit interacts with us, reminding us, delivering us, disciplining us, and reminding us of our Salvation through Christ.

Too often I think we are guilty of only looking to Jesus when we are desperate.  Because we are taught (correctly) that ALL of our sins have been paid for on the cross by Christ, we don’t stop to experience His salvation acting out on us moment by moment. We forget to trust.  We forget to stop and wait and watch.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
   “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
   to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
   for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 24-26

In those moments when we have forgotten to trust Jesus for our problems or mistakes, we must make a conscious effort to listen and look for the salvation of the Lord in our life.  As the Lord is always telling me, “There’s grace for that!” It’s His little reminder for me to look to Him for my salvation instead of trying to figure it all out on my own.

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Hebrews 4:12-13

It’s just so darn easy to think God isn’t interested in my little problems, or that God might be too mad at me for some wretched thing I have done to save me from what I’ve done.  But we’ve, been promised eternal salvation. Eternal. It is active and working in us on a daily basis. Jesus is our salvation. So, it isn’t like Jesus was our salvation and now He’s not.  He is and always will be our salvation, working within us eternally, shining His salvation upon us as The Good Shepherd.

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
John 10:27-30

We can trust in the Salvation of the Lord because he promises it to us.  And He has taught us to hear His voice, and obey His words. We’re safe with Him. There is never any reason to fear, because Jesus is faithful.  His Salvation is constant and eternal.

 

Love to Forgive

 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3:12-13

Bearing with one another is hard.  I get so irritated with people. Someone parks too close to my car in the parking lot.  A customer service person ignores my multiple attempts to get her attention. My teenager talks back.  No one comes to the table when I tell them dinner is ready. Some stranger next to me at the movies is scrolling facebook while the movie is playing.  I could spend the next ten pages listing out examples of people who irritate me.

But God is telling me to forgive those people just as the Lord has forgiven me.  So, how do I do that? The answer is in that second part, “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  Forgiveness is the most beautiful example of God’s love, and the testimony of forgiveness tells the one forgiven that Jesus also wants to forgive them.  It’s like becoming an ambassador of God’s forgiveness.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:20

I’m not making this stuff up!  We are supposed to be representing Christ to a lost and broken world.  Does that mean we can’t be irritated? I don’t think so. I think it just means we don’t act on those feelings, but instead act on the righteousness of Christ that we have become.  We need to represent Jesus and His forgiveness. How else will people know His love?

Forgiving irritating people is hard enough.  What about forgiving people who have hurt you?  How do you forgive a rapist? How do you forgive a murderer?  How do you forgive yourself? These are harder questions, but the answer is still the same.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Colossians 3:14-15

Love is hard. Really, really hard.  But representing Christ by forgiving people is what makes His love most known.  

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Without love, we show the world nothing.  It is the ultimate embodiment of who God is and what He has done for us.  To share the love of Christ with the world, we must love the world. And if we love the world, we must forgive just as Christ forgave us.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

In the fullness of every Believer in Christ, is the Spirit of the Living God.  He is capable of doing more and more than we could ever even fathom. As Ephesians 3:20 says, “He is able to immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His great power at work within us”.

God doesn’t ask us to forgive on our own.  He knows we aren’t capable of that. That’s why He gave us His Spirit: to seal us as His own and to help us do the impossible.  It’s not by Power, Not by Might, but by the Spirit!

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

We have a promise from God to be able to forgive.  He doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. We’re not alone.  We have the Spirit of the Living God pulsing through us. And God can and does forgive all who would accept it.  Therefore, we can too.

Jesus, teach me to forgive.  Give me the power and courage to trust You to help me forgive people.  Help me forgive myself. Help me to testify to Your love through forgiveness. It’s so hard, God.  But You have promised me that I can do all the things You ask of me because of Your power at work within me.  So, help me get out of the way so You can work, God. Help me put aside pettiness and insecurity and anger, so that Your pure love and forgiveness can be channelled through me.  Shine Your light through me, Father. Amen.

A Legacy of Prayer

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
   and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
2 Attend to me, and answer me;
   I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
3 because of the noise of the enemy,
   because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
   and in anger they bear a grudge against me.
Psalm 55:1-3

I listened to a sermon tonight about prayer and it got me thinking about the legacy of prayer that has followed me since my childhood.  From the time I was a little girl I can remember falling asleep every night talking to Jesus. I wasn’t necessarily taught to do that, but from the time of my salvation at 5 years old, I knew that I could call upon the Lord and He would answer me.  I wasn’t raised regularly attending church, and by my adolescence I had revolted defiantly against organized religion and church attendance, but I still had this intimate ritual of conversations with the Lord before I fell asleep. It was my only safe place at times.  When the angst of teenage life overcame me, I could feel the Lord beckoning me into His lap and opening His ears to my every cry and complaint. I never doubted it.

I realize now what a gift from God that was.  That’s not how things should have gone for me.  But God didn’t care what “should” have been my story, but instead cared about me and the plans He had for me from the very beginning.  He knew that prayer would be my only life line at times. He knew it would shape me into the woman I have become. And He knew that without that prayer life, my husband never would have found Jesus.

If you know me, or you regularly read my blog, you know that I got married during a time in my life where I wasn’t walking with God at all.  The man I married did not know Jesus, and instead was a devout Muslim from Saudi Arabia. I think that may be as opposite of Christian as it gets.  

But I call to God,
   and the Lord will save me.
17 Evening and morning and at noon
   I utter my complaint and moan,
   and he hears my voice.
18 He redeems my soul in safety
   from the battle that I wage,
   for many are arrayed against me.
Psalm 55:16-18

And that’s what I did.  I cried desperately out to God for help.  I knew that without God I had nothing.  My trust in Jesus grew as my relationship with the Lord was rekindled out of desperation for my husband’s salvation, and with my growing faith I grew bolder and bolder in my requests to God. I became desperate for my husband to know Jesus, and no amount of arguing would sway him. I had no recourse except to admit to God that I had been foolish and brought myself into that anguished place of falling in love with and marrying someone who didn’t know Him.  What else could I do but pray?

In those days, my husband was not a good person.  At times he was cruel. His words tore at my heart.  His arguments waged a war on me that tore me down to the very bones.  He was relentless in his attempts to convert me. His barbs of persuasion drew spiritual blood on a daily basis.  I don’t know how I survived it, except that the Lord had given me this gift of prayer intimacy that drew me into His arms when my world seemed darkest.

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
   he violated his covenant.
21 His speech was smooth as butter,
   yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
   yet they were drawn swords.
22 Cast your burden on the Lord,
   and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
   the righteous to be moved.
Psalm 55:20-22

My husband had become a cruel tool of the enemy, but the Lord heard my pleas for help and answered me.  When the war raged around me, I sought comfort in the arms of the Lord. It didn’t take long for me to be stirred to invite others into my mission to pray for my husband’s salvation.  I was desperate and prayer was all I knew. Prayer and John 3:16. That was my entire Christian resume. And it was more than enough. After enlisting thousands (really!) to pray for my husband, the Lord granted my request and spoke boldly into my husband’s life and he found salvation.  

God hears our prayers.  He never needed me to be a grand apologist or theologian.  I didn’t need arguments or clever words. All I needed to do was cast my burdens upon the Lord and have faith in His love for me.  I knew one thing for certain: Jesus loved me, he loved my husband, and together, through prayer, we could bring my husband into the Presence of God.  It truly was a miracle the day my husband came to Christ. Only God can bring revelation to a proud and stubborn Arab Muslim from Saudi Arabia who grew up with the nickname “the little Imam”.  

Prayer has power, not because it is some sort of magical spell to invoke the Spirit of God, but because our God is a God of partnership and promise.  He promised Abraham that the world would be blessed through him, and God has kept that promise. He kept it with me, and He’ll keep it with any who would trust in Him.  So, don’t give up on prayer. And don’t give up on those you love who need Jesus. Partner with the Lord in prayer as I have done, and see what partnership with the Creator of the Universe can look like.  

Lord, I pray for faith to trust You more.  I pray for all who are struggling with prayer and the fear that their prayers never get past the ceiling.  Renew hope in those who are suffering and doubting. Give them Your peace and call them to prayer. Show us how faithful You are, Lord Jesus!  Show us Your salvation through prayer and petition. Teach us to pray more. And teach us to trust and obey You in all things. Thank You for saving my sweet husband.  And thank You for the powerful anointing in ministry You have given him, all because I asked for him to know You. You invited him in and he accepted You. But You didn’t stop there.  You gave more than I could ask or imagine. You give good gifts to Your children when they ask You. And You gave me a beautiful gift that day that You showed my husband Your face and invited him into Your family.  Thank You, Jesus. You are Salvation for all who believe. Thank You for the faith to believe You over and over again. I love You, Jesus. Thank you for teaching me to pray.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

Here is the sermon I mentioned: Sermon on Prayer

Beneath the Throne of God

I had this vision a few months ago.  It was very powerful for me, and I’ve decided to share it.  May it bless any who read it.

I saw the throne of Christ, and seated on the throne was the Lord.  Like in Revelation, He was a lamb, His neck broken and bloodied from being slaughtered, but He was (of course) alive and majestically sitting on His Throne.  Hovering above Him floated the Presence of the Lord as an ethereal Light that filled the room but specifically spot-lighted Jesus. Beneath the throne, a small, frail child hid, his tiny arms circled around scrawny legs drawn up to his chest.  He was frightened and hiding in the shelter of the Most High God (beneath His throne) but he was afraid to come fully into the Lord’s Presence as if the Light of the Lord would burn him up.

Jesus poked His broken head over the edge of the Mercy Seat and looked lovingly at the child, a gentle smile on His face.  Still, the child was too frightened to come out. At this point the Holy Spirit came in the form of what I could only describe as also a little child, though His Presence was like the wind, completely imperceptible with the eyes, but somehow utterly relatable, available, approachable, and safe.  The Lord allowed me to perceive the Spirit on His hands and knees crawling under the throne of God to meet the little child exactly where he was and lead him out from under the throne into the full Presence of the Lord.

I felt the Lord say, “Don’t be afraid.  Your fear has you thinking that even though you have found your protection in the shelter of the Most High God, you think that you will be burned up by His Presence if I see You.  But look, I see you! And my Spirit will meet you where you are and draw you out. Your sin has already been burned up by My Presence. You have nothing to fear. Come and experience the fullness of My Presence and be comforted.”

Lord Jesus, draw us out from under Your throne and into Your Presence.  We want to trust You and be with You.  Help us to overcome our fear and shame to be closer to You, Jesus.

At the King’s Table

What is man that you are mindful of him,
   and the son of man that you care for him?
Psalm 8:4

It is easy to be reminded in this world how unworthy we are of the love of God.  For a follower of Christ, every moment of our lives is a battle between the desires of our flesh and the desires of our heart.  We long to serve and obey the Lord and yet we fail so miserably at every turn. Crippled from the start, our tendency is toward sin in all its forms.  It’s been that way since the fall of man. And the more we grow in our relationship with the Lord, the more we recognize our complete depravity without Him.  Who are we, that God loves us so much? Who are we, that God would call us His children? Who are we, that God would come into Creation as one of us, in a decayed body bent toward sin, and suffer and die just to save us?  Who are we?!

While reading about David’s victories in 2 Samuel, it quickly becomes clear who we are to God.  Considering that David is the prophetic forerunner of Jesus, we can safely look into the actions that David took as opportunities to reflect on what Jesus has done for us.  First, we have received the blessing of victory through Christ. The phrase: “And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went” appears twice in 2 Samuel Chapter 8, first in verse 6 and then again in verse 14. God gave David victory because David’s heart was filled with love and faith in God.  Our victory is received by that same faith in what Christ has won for us through His death, burial, and resurrection.

David didn’t deserve his victory anymore than we do, but God honored David for his faith and trust in Him.  Even more importantly, God honored David because of God’s promise to Abraham. And God doesn’t go back on his promises.  Now take a look at David’s treatment of Jonathan’s son.

And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” 8 And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”
2 Samuel 9:7-8

Doesn’t that sound a lot like Jesus.  I can just hear our Lord saying, “Don’t worry, kid, because of my promise to Abraham I’m not going to destroy you.  Instead, because you trust me, you can join me at my table forever.”

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
   the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
   and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
   and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
   with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
Revelations 19:6-9

Just like the sweet, crippled son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth, we are inheritors of the promise.  David loved Jonathan and therefore took his son into his own court, and fed him from his own table.  God loved Abraham and therefore took any who would believe in Him, brings them into His courts, treats them as his own children, and feeds them from His own table. Beautiful!

So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table.
2 Samuel 9:11

Lord, I want to have confidence in Your provisions and promises.  I want to know You are my father and that You love me. I want to feel the power of Your promise and love for Abraham and receive the promised blessing of that promise.  I want confidence in Your love, Lord. Fill me with Your unending and precious favor. Thank you for adopting me as your child. Thank you for giving me Jesus and letting me be a joint heir with Him and all You have given Him.  Let me come into your presence with thanksgiving always. I will praise You, God! I will trust You by Your power at work within me. Amen.

 

Idolatrous, Murderous, Adulterous Me

So Michal let David down through the window, and he fled away and escaped.13 Michal took an image and laid it on the bed and put a pillow of goats’ hair at its head and covered it with the clothes. 14 And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” 15 Then Saul sent the messengers to see David, saying, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” 16 And when the messengers came in, behold, the image was in the bed, with the pillow of goats’ hair at its head.
1 Samuel 19:12-16

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve hated myself for all the idol worship in my life.  I’ve made so many things idols: my smart phone, chocolate, decadent food, a tv show, a computer game. The list goes on and on and on.  How I’ve hated myself for these terrible sins against my Lord. And then this morning, before I began to read the Word, I asked God to give me new insight into David’s life while he was deeply oppressed and victimized by King Saul.  Jesus did not disappoint! (He never does! I don’t know why I think He will sometimes.)

I came to the passage that I opened my blog with today.  Basically, Saul is trying to kill David (again) and so his wife helps sneak him out of the house by cover of night and then takes a household idol and uses it to make it look like David was just sick in bed.  Ya. A household idol. In the house of the guy who took out entire armies, and killed giants with a sling, and ripped lions and bears limb from limb because of his great faith and trust in God.  He had, at the very least, one pagan idol in his home big enough to simulate a grown man in bed.

Honestly, I don’t think David actually worshipped the household idol, but rather he worshipped the beautiful Michal that loved him.  David was always a sucker for a beautiful woman. His idol was his bride and the attention he received from her. Any time I look at David I’m reminded that the “man after God’s own heart” still struggled with sin.  All the time.

Boy am I thankful for David.  The Lord has used him to remind me of just how much He loves me, despite my idolatrous ways.  The Lord delights in my repentance and loving disciplines and teaches me. He never abandons me, but instead lifts me up and helps me try again.  Just like He did with murderous, adulterous, idolatrous David.

I guess I’m in pretty good company.