Desperately Seeking Jesus

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been one of the craziest years in our lifetime!  Political polarization.  Racial injustice.  Riots.  Murders.  Masks.  Earthquakes.  Fires.  Flooding.  Volcanic eruptions. Zoom meetings.  

In times like this, we are all looking to God for answers.  But how do we hear Him?  What do we even ask him?  And what is His response?

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1

Sounds about right.

We desperately seek Him.  We want Him.  We know we need Him.  We cry out to him and yet the air is dry and thick around us.  It doesn’t feel like it’s even possible to hear from God in this mess.

But here’s what David did in Psalm 63:

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands.
Psalm 63:2-4

If I can’t feel God now, I will look for Him where I have seen Him.  I will remind myself of who He is.  I will remember that His Love supersedes all fear, all trials, all division.  I will remember and I will give myself to Him again.  Fresh with praise, I will seek the Lord and the promise of His unfailing love.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:5-8

And my praise turns to meditation.  It turns to the recollections of faithfulness that have been the hallmark of my relationship with Christ.  At night my mind stops wondering about the world and rests instead in the peace of God’s unending faithfulness.  

It’s so hard to feel God when we are in the midst of worldly trials.  Pain and conflict or hard to surrender to God because our flesh isn’t going to stop hurting just because we trust God’s faithfulness.  

Yet, in the agony, in the tumult of the storm, God is still with us.  

As David began to reflect on who God was instead of what God could give him, he began to feel a praise-worthy peace in his soul.  God had proven himself faithful to David.  Always faithful.  David could trust that even though his situation was dire and his weary, desperate heart was parched with raw emotion and fear, God would remain ever faithful.

We can trust that, too.  Even with the world falling down around us.

The trials will not stop in this lifetime.  Not until Jesus returns.  So we cling to Him.  We hold onto His promises.  We remember His faithfulness in our own lives.  We look back on our journey and see His provision and salvation.  We see Him.  And we know that in our current struggles he will remain faithful, just as he always has. 

The riots.  The politics.  The fear.  The desolations of this world.  They don’t matter anymore to the one who finds his peace in the shelter of the Almighty.  God’s wings are broad enough to cover all who would seek refuge there.  

But those who seek to destroy my life
    shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
    they shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
    all who swear by him shall exult,
    for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Psalm 63:9-11

And so we can rejoice.  God will have his way.  He is speaking.  He is acting.  He is doing all that He has always done.  He is faithful and His steadfast love is better than life.  So reach out your hands to the ones who are drowning, to the ones who are desperately crying out for salvation, and bring them to the Savior.  

Because at the end of the day, most of our questions to God can be paired down to this simple request: “Will you save me?”

And God’s answer is always, “Yes.”

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

The God of Jacob

The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:7

I have put all my trust in the God of Jacob.  But why the God of Jacob?  Why not “The God of Israel”.  That’s the question I can’t stop contemplating.  When you stop and think about it, something very specific is being magnified in that verse.  It’s the God of Jacob who is my fortress.

Jacob came out of the womb holding his twin brother’s heel.  His mother named him Jacob because the name meant to grab the heel of another person, or literally to supplant or trick someone out of something.  And Jacob’s name characterized him from the beginning.

Let’s look at him for a moment.  What is Jacob known for?  He tricked his brother out of his birthright.  He tricked his father-in-law out of his livestock. He was lied to and treated unfairly.  He was terrified and hid from his brother for years out of fear of retribution.  And then he wrestled with God and demanded a blessing.  

So, to recap: Jacob was a liar, a trickster, a scaredy cat, and a control freak who thought it was perfectly fine to make demands of God, steal from his family, and hide and run away from his enemies.

And it’s the God of Jacob that is our fortress.

Is it sinking in yet?  The God of Jacob is our fortress.  The God of the trickster, liar, coward, narcissist, control freak is our fortress.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with God about how unworthy I am.  I get hard on myself.  I’m overly critical.  I’m a perfectionist that fails at perfection on a daily–no, hourly–basis.  To chase a rabbit for a minute, sometimes I think that the only reason God loves me is because of Jesus.  Seems like a fair statement.  

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21

So before Jesus I wasn’t good enough for God.  Right?  Not quite.  

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

So, he died for us while we were his enemies, while we were sinners.  Before He died for us He loved us.  And we know that because of Jacob.  (And a million other people in the Old Testament who were equally awful.)  We know that God loves us before and after our salvation.  

The God of Jacob is our fortress because God made a promise to Abraham and God doesn’t break His promises.  

 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty;[a] walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram,[b] but your name shall be Abraham,[c] for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
Genesis 17:1-8

The next time you think God isn’t with you because of what you’ve done, I want you to remember this one simple fact:  The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  

And who are we?  We are made by God with an offer to accept the rights of God’s promise to Abraham.  God made a way for us (and we know that way to be Jesus) and in that we have salvation from our enemies, even if your enemy is yourself.  

The God of Jacob is our fortress. It’s liberating, isn’t it? 

Be Still

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalms 1:2

I’ve had a season of introspection.  I think a lot of us have.  Isolation in uncertain times does that to a person, I guess.  My thoughts have kept me from some things and for a time I beat myself up over it, but as I talked to others and listened to their struggles I discovered that I wasn’t alone in that either.  

Being alone isn’t as lonely as it seems, I suppose.

I could have gotten lost in my work.  I could have buried myself in a never ending pile of distractifying, unfulfilling, money making.  But I didn’t.  And I kind of hated myself for it.  Being unproductive with no excuse is definitely guilt inducing.

I could have drowned my fear and anxiety in the solace of sweets and baking and endless bottomless glasses of wine.  Let’s be honest, I did that a little bit, and then I felt a guilty about that, too.

I could have plugged my ears and stomped my feet and sang songs really, really loud until everything went back to normal.  Yes, I did that, too, and felt the sorrow of denial in the days that followed.

I started thinking about all the things I had been doing to try and be normal, to try and carry on, to try and adapt and take advantage of my time in lock down.  None of it mattered.  Like the false bravado of a little yapping dog, it had no real power to protect me, or soothe me, or heal me.  

Even the things I thought I could do for God seemed to fall short in my mind.  I wasn’t writing.  I wasn’t reading the Bible enough.  I judged my prayers as selfish and unsatisfying.  I beat myself up for not helping other people better navigate this crazy pandemic.

But I just couldn’t muster up enough of anything to do much.  I just sat there.  In the stillness.  In the nothing.  I didn’t want the fear, the shame, or the guilt.  I didn’t want to be busy.  I just wanted it all to be over! 

I don’t like pandemics, and injustice, and death, and unemployment.  I don’t like any of it. It’s not the Kingdom of God and I want the Kingdom of God more than I want anything, and all I can manage to do is say, “I can’t do anything about this, God!”

But there is value in the stillness.  God is unveiling it bit by bit.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  The treasure comes in surrender.

Beautiful, honest, end of myself surrender.

My meditations have become Jesus focused.  I started reciting Psalm 23 in my head over and over again every night when I went to sleep.  It’s led to better sleep.  It’s led to deeper trust.  Each time I recite it, I pray the words to the Lord.  I meditate on the truth of his love and steadfastness.  

I’m memorizing more scripture.  I just want it all in my head.  I want to breathe it in and live by it.  I know the Word.  I’ve been studying the Bible for years.  But I want more than that.  In my surrender I want to revel in the knowledge that Jesus is my everything.  

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

The Word made flesh became the flesh made words, and in those words I have begun to meditate day and night.  

I need my Jesus and I found Him palpably again in the flesh of His Word.  I’m losing my desire to judge my inaction or the inaction or injustice of others.  I just soak Him up in myself.  I let Him be enough.  I let Him be everything.  His Glory, His Fullness, His Might is coming alive in me in a deepness I have yet to fully know.  

It’s hard to believe that such scary times could bring such a deep closeness with the Lord, especially since I honestly kept thinking about how miserably ineffective I had been in regard to my Christian walk.  I was so caught up in judging my inaction and insecurity, and judging my sporadic moments of faith and action as not near enough to prove my love to my Savior.  And yet His answer all along has been, “Be still and know that I am God.”

I’m working on memorizing Psalm 46 right now.  I’d gotten the first part down a couple years ago and then gave up because, well, memorizing is hard.  I’m back at it now, though, with renewed trust that the meditations of my heart are now drawing me closer and closer to the Lord of Hosts.  He truly is my fortress and my strength.  I don’t need to do anything else.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:10-11

Peace and Security

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers,[a] you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4

We’ve all seen the info-graphics online.  X number of people have died since the outbreak.  X number of people have recovered since the outbreak.  X disease has killed more or less than the virus. X number of unborn babies have died since the outbreak. Cancer takes x number of lives every year.  Influenza kills x number of people every year. There’s a graphic out there to compare a million facts about death lately.  

Death is on our minds and we can’t stop thinking about it. 

But people have always been dying, haven’t they?  Death is the inevitable finish to life. And right now a lot of people are shaken to their core by the contemplation of a pandemic so powerful that it has shut down the world in order to save lives.  

Here in America, there’s been talk that it’s a political ploy to steal our freedom.  We have certainly lost a lot of freedom. And if you’ve invested all your hopes and dreams on the freedom of America, then of course you’re going to be shaken.

In our Western Church we’ve put a lot of emphasis on our freedom to freely worship God.  We are allowed to congregate and propagate and investigate without fear. We have incredible access to resources and teachings.  We can talk to strangers in coffee shops about our faith or share the Good News on the internet. Nothing has stopped us. Until now.

Undaunted, we push forward with our freedom of religion.  We get on Zoom calls. We have live gatherings on YouTube or Facebook.  We call people to repent and to pray and to trust and have faith. We are all about keeping up the freedom in our meetings. And maybe people who would never walk into a church building might actually get to hear what it’s all about for the first time in their lives.

What are we going to do about it?

Our president asked for prayer that the virus would pass over us on Passover.  Wouldn’t that be something? And all the world will see how blessed we are as Christians that God will protect us from this “China Virus”.  We are proud to be Americans where we have God on our side! Dang straight! God will protect us! God will protect our people. God will destroy our enemies and we will walk across safely on dry land, just like the Isrealites.  God will have the virus pass over us just like the Angel of Death passed over them in the final plague of the first born sons.

Except our first born son was slain. Our salvation from our slavery happened on the cross 2000 years ago, when our First Born Son, our One and Only Son, endured death for our sake.  The dry land we walk across it the dry land of Jesus Christ.  

Our faith is not in worldly protection anymore.  Our triumph is no longer freedom as man understands freedom.  Instead we stare with bold defiance at the face of our enemy and proclaim the victory won for us through Christ Jesus.  

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

We can triumphantly say our “Passover” has already happened!  Let’s not cheapen it with miracles meant to make us feel better. 

Our lives are so free that we have lost sight of the freedom we have found in Christ.  No matter what we must endure, no matter what affliction looms over us, we can claim our freedom and trust in our Savior, not our country or our healing or our protection.  

Our King, King Jesus will remain.  Nothing can steal His victory and the freedom He won back for us on the cross.  

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

So, it’s time to stop talking about death as it relates to death.  No more infographics. No more statistics. No more comparisons. No more compromise!  We are all going to die, my friends. Stop trying to beg God to save you from this inevitability of physical death.  Ask for your life in only so much as it would please Our Master. Stop mocking the healing God gave us that day on a cross on Golgotha and that bright and beautiful morning of His resurrection, by demanding something else!    

There is an eternal death, my friends, and Covid-19 can bring it the same way cancer does, the same way war does, the same way starvation does.  And Jesus Christ has already answered that death with life. No new salvation will ever be offered. No cure, no peace, no abortion law, no food for the hungry can replace the salvation of our One True King.  

When you die–and you will die–will you die to yourself, considering your own needs worthless compared to what the Lord has called us to in order to glorify the King?  Or will you cry for peace and security and watch the world fall back into death once again?

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

Turn From Your Wicked Ways: 2 Chronicles 7:14

I’m perplexed.  A large group of Christians in this country are rallying around the scripture of 2 Chronicles 7:14.  People I know and love are gathering together to pray and humble themselves and receive healing for this land. They’re asking that God would make the pestilence that is the coronavirus miraculously pass over America on Easter weekend. 

God loves our prayer.  He loves to hear from us and consider our thoughts and desires.  He chose to partner with us and that means He chooses to listen to us.  He loves it when we pray. He loves it when we have faith to make bold and audacious requests to Him.  He can do it and we believe it! Look at this scripture. There are some big promises here.

11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished. 12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. 16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 17 And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, 18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’

19 “But if you[c] turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will pluck you[d] up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 21 And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ 22 Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’” 2 Chronicles 11-22

We are promised healing but we have defiled the house of the Lord.  I think repentance, not healing, needs to be our focus.

If we love God then we know He will use this contagian for His purposes.  He will use it! I keep seeing and hearing how He’s using it! Families are coming together. People are reaching out to each other with intentionality and love.  People are helping one another. Social distancing has brought a lot of good attention to our need to connect with people. And people are connecting!

What else will He do?  I can’t help but think of my years of chronic health problems.  For years people have prayed for my healing, but if I had been healed instantly every time, I would have lost so much!  I’ve learned how to draw close to Him in those times. So close. And in those times He has proven His love and care for me.

Now I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t pray for healing.  I want our land to be healed! But I want repentance more! I want to see this virus drive people to God.  I want to see God use it as a shepherd’s crook, pulling people close to Him. I don’t want one sheep to be lost.  

He will be coming soon to reclaim and rebuild His Kingdom, so how can we ask Him to allow the coronavirus to pass over us, when we know that it has stopped the worship of so many idols?  How can we ask Him to spare us, when we’ve taken part in the love of worldly freedom and arrogance? How can we ask Him to stop shaking the Earth, when we know He’s giving people one more chance to turn to Him?

 I would rather die of Covid-19 than see my neighbors spared the opportunity to drop to their knees in desperation and cry out to God for salvation.  Because I think that is what it’s going to take.

If people remain comfortable, if people can claim peace and security and watch the miracle of God’s protection from the coronavirus, will they repent?  Will they really? Will they turn to God and be saved because they were spared? Or will they continue in their wicked ways, oblivious still to the One True King.

Suffering, discomfort, fear:  these things will drive people to seek God.  I know this from personal experience. People will seek him because they have nothing else.  Let’s not ask God to deny them that opportunity.  

 Aren’t they worth it? 

I pray that we as Christians could stop asking for peace and comfort and healing, and start asking for the conviction of God to overcome us that we would repent of our sins and live as Christ: sacrificing our own comfort that those who are lost may be found.

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life[g] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Matthew 16:24-27  

 

  

Socially Distant

Social distancing.  What a statement! We live in a world that is as socially distant as it’s ever been.  Phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, Marco Polo, Skype, Zoom calls, Tik Tok. It’s called social media for a reason.  It’s social communication. Aren’t all of these social conveniences supposed to be the very definition of social? But it’s social at a distance.

We are a culture of social distancing.

We’re a vast global community, celebrating our technological advances, and our interconnection.   We can see and speak and interact instantaneously to someone on the other side of the world. And yet, we’re lonelier than we’ve ever been.  We lack nothing in our ability to reach out. Yet, our social networking has brought us more social distancing than any virus ever could.

 We once lived in villages together, alone on a vast planet of villages, separated by days or weeks or months of arduous journey.  We only had our village. We took care of each other, worked together, protected one another, lived together. Our lives in our villages were intertwined.  Connected.

Now, even together, we live alone.

Last night I wrote a Facebook post saying, “I’m extremely lonely.” The responses were the clearest representation of our social truth right now.  We’re all lonely. But not for why we think.

This novel coronavirus, as it spreads across the world, has pointed out the terrible truth of what our world has become. While we were looking at our phones and meandering through grocery store corridors plucking fanciful delights into our rolling baskets, we lost our village.  We lost our community. We lost ourselves.

Our villages have turned into metropolitan mega areas with larger and larger populations.  Our technology has given us thousands of friends, thousands of neighbors, thousands of things to talk about, and stolen every last drop of our identities.  We are giant hives of drones in active nothingness.

We are alone in a whirlwind.

We are lost.

My cry for help was a cry for all people right now.  

Help us, O Lord!  We are a people lost and alone and nothing can save us but You. This virus, this terrible virus that takes our breath away is the final burning anger of a world who has lost the breath of Life that is You, Jesus.  Breathe into us today with Your life giving breath. You are the great I AM. You Breathe. You Give Life. Restore your Creation, God. Restore Your people. Breathe into us again.  

Psalm 62 

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
How long will all of you attack a man
    to batter him,
    like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.
    They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
    but inwardly they curse.
Selah
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us.
Selah
Those of low estate are but a breath;
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.
10 Put no trust in extortion;
    set no vain hopes on robbery;
    if riches increase, set not your heart on them.
11 Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
12     and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
    according to his work.

 

Are You a Child of Promise?

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty;[a] walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.
Genesis 17:1-4

Have you ever thought of yourself as part of a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham?  Not a topic of conversation at the water cooler lately? Maybe it should be. If you have faith in Jesus Christ as your Salvation, you are the living fulfillment of God’s promise.

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[c] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:7-9

It can get pretty easy sometimes to build a case for or against yourself to God.  You put more money in the offering plate or you don’t; you remember to pray for a missionary or you scroll through social media; you share the Gospel with your neighbor, or you close the garage door as fast you can.  You either begin to pat yourself on the back or condemn yourself to Hell.  Like God is going to judge your eternity based on those things.

That was the problem people were having back when Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians.  They were getting caught up in circumcision (among other things) because God had commanded circumcision of Abraham and his offspring as part of His promise.  

9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
Genesis 17:9-11

Abraham made an agreement with God and it had been followed faithfully by the children of Abraham.  They set themselves apart through this physical act. And so the law began, and man began to learn the heart of God for humanity.

But the act of circumcision was not God’s promise.  The act of Salvation through God was God’s promise.  All humanity had to do was trust God with that promise.  It was Abraham’s faith that God called righteousness.  His faith.  Not his actions. Though his actions were an outward sign of his faith.  But if he had relied on his own actions, he would never have had any faith, and never been counted as righteous by God.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Galatians 3:10-11

The only physical act that could count to us as righteousness was something only God could fulfill: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus’s perfect act of obedience was faithful to the Law and fulfilled the Law. In this act He offered all of humanity full reconciliation with God through faith and the “circumcision of the heart” that comes from that faith.

12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit[e] through faith.

Galatians 3:12-14

Christ did what we could not.  Christ gave what we could not earn.  Only faith in Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham gives us the eternal life and inheritance that we long for and were promised.

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Galatians 3:19-22

The law was a type of placeholder for Jesus. The law came to give us a way to show obedience to God through faith in what God had given.  But the law couldn’t give life. It could only give death (through disobedience).  

Faith in Christ, however, brings life.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Galatians 3:23-29

There you go.  If you have faith in Christ as your Savior, you are a living, breathing, heart-circumcised, testimony of God’s faithfulness to His promise. You are a child of promise.

 

I Changed my Mind, Let’s Talk About Suffering

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:14-17

I was going to talk about being joint heirs with Christ.  I was going to talk about how Jesus elevates us to an equal place with Him.  I might have even talked about how the Lord sees men and women equally, and calls us all “sons” with the same privileges that entitles us to.  But I changed my mind. 

I changed my mind when I got to verse 17 in Romans Chapter 8.  

17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:17

Did you catch that last bit?  The part about suffering? Ya, the hard part.  How did Christ suffer? How do we suffer with Him?  Why do we have to suffer? 

Admittedly, this is a subject I’m well acquainted with.  I’ve suffered a lot. I’ve suffered with severe depression.  I have PTSD from past trauma I have endured. I’ve had one physical ailment after another: cancer, Guillain-Barré syndrome, chronic blockages of my intestines, sepsis (more than once!), pneumonia, hospitalizations, severe arthritis. The list endures as Christ endures.  Because of Christ I endure.

Suffering is not fun.  But there is peace in the suffering when we suffer with Christ. Because I’ve suffered a lot, I know this peace well.  Retrospectively, I consider it a gift well earned. I’ve seen things. Felt things. Learned things. All from suffering.

2 Count it all joy, my brothers,[b] when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Who ever wanted to count suffering and trials as joyful?  Joy is for celebrations, for victories, for fun times. It certainly isn’t a go to feeling for suffering.  And yet, there it is. Right there in the Bible. In the Holy book of Jesus. In the inerrant Word of God.  

But here’s what it doesn’t say: We won’t have pain, we won’t struggle, we won’t anguish over it, or feel afraid. Think back to the Garden of Gethsemane.  That’s that time before the cross where Jesus sweat drops of blood. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never sweat drops of blood. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

For the joy set before Him, Christ endured the suffering.  He looked beyond His current circumstances, beyond the pain, beyond the fear, beyond the shame.  He focused on the outcome.  

Suffering is a tool for perfecting our faith.  It refines us and tempers us. In the suffering we see the endurance and peace only Christ can give us.  But we also receive the greatest gift in suffering, the gift of hope.

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

Hope is a powerful thing!  The hope of what will come from our suffering  creates such a faithful witness to the world! When we hope in Christ’s enduring love, we can accept the enduring suffering that comes from this evil world.  

We can endure, because we have hope!

Lord, help us to endure the suffering that the world brings us.  Thank you for being the perfect example of what suffering looks like, and also the ultimate example of victory that You are.  We have been promised Your victory, Jesus. We are your joint heirs. We will endure for the joy set before us, because we have your Holy Spirit.  We have Your love and your freedom to endure whatever suffering this broken world pours on us. Let us drink from your cup of suffering and receive the supernatural peace that only You can provide.  We love you, Jesus. Help us rejoice in our suffering for what it will teach us and train us for. Amen.

 

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

 

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