On Sharing the Gospel

 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery,[b] as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-5

We often put so much pressure on ourselves when we consider sharing the Gospel.  We worry if we’ll say that right things, or get stumped by a question we can’t answer.  In our desire to represent Christ well, we freak out and get silent, shamed by our own sin.

But there’s never any shame in sharing the Gospel of Christ.  It’s not supposed to be hard. It’s not supposed to be scary. Just as we breathe by the grace of God the oxygen He provides, so too, should we share the glorious news of Christ Jesus as Savior.

When Paul and his companions brought the Gospel to Thessalonica, they knew their purpose.  Because they had joyfully received the salvation of Christ, they were driven to share it with boldness!  Not for their own honor, not for praise among men, not by any personal motivation.  

Having undergone incredible adversity and rejection, they continued to move forward with confidence, no matter what they might have been thinking. It wasn’t strategy, logic, or even fear that compelled them.  It was love. Love received by them from God through the forgiveness of sin, and desirous love for the lost bestowed on them by Christ.

 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle[c] among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:6-8

They loved like a mother loves her infant child.  They sought to care for, endure, and speak into the people in Thessalonica because they loved them.  They shared deeply of what Christ had done and also shared deeply of themselves! They opened up and got vulnerable. They were real people who likely tripped over hard questions, said stupid things, and feared potential judgement from the people they were sharing with.

It sort of puts things into perspective doesn’t it?  I know I am so guilty at times of looking at the apostles as “super” Christians, infallible Bible scholars with infinite debate and oratory skills.  Especially with Paul and all that talk about learning under Gamaliel and being a Hebrew of Hebrews. They were all so well qualified, right?  

Me? Well, I’m just a pretty girl from Texas who got saved at five and never took a Bible class, and that’s all I need to make me qualified.  I let Jesus become the Lord of my life. At five years old, I knew very little, if anything, about the sinful nature of man, or anything about the Bible.  But what I did know was that Jesus died for me and saved me from my sin, and I wanted everyone else to learn what I had learned! I wanted to run up and down my street, knock on every door, and share with everyone about Jesus and how He had saved me.

Oh, the faith of a child!

You don’t have to be a Bible scholar!  You don’t have to be “called”! The moment you accept Christ you are meant to share it!  You’re meant to be real with the people you come in contact with, give of yourself with love and compassion, and let everyone know that you are who you are because Jesus saved you. 

That’s not supposed to be hard, my friends.  

9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-12

They followed the example of their savior and leaned on Him.  They portrayed Christ in their own bodies by diligently and faithfully allowing Him to work through them.  Everything they did mirrored their personal recognition of who Jesus was to them, how He had saved them from their sin, and empowered them to serve others as He did.

When Christ is in you, it’s okay (and even encouraged!) to let Him do the talking! I promise you, He will say what needs to be said.  You can’t screw it up. Christ will be glorified.

13 And we also thank God constantly[d] for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men[e] but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,[f] 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

When we speak the Gospel of Christ, He will defend it Himself.  No hindering will stop it. And people we find Him. They will find Him and follow Him regardless of the cost because they will see the fruit of His love fulfilled and advanced through you.  

The testimony of your own life with Christ is all you will ever need to share His Gospel.  Just like when you found Him, He will work through you to find others. So, don’t let fear of failure, lack of Bible knowledge, or insecurity of calling deter you from giving your whole testimony of what the Lord has done for you with every person you can.  That will be for His glory and joy as well as your own!

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.
1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

 

For the Joy

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

God’s been talking to me a lot about these verses.  They keep coming up as I pray and listen to the Lord.  Jesus endured so much pain and suffering for us. And I know that it is the sin in us and the love in Him that sent him to that place of suffering on our behalf.

Yet I feel the burden of guilt and shame all the time.  He breaks me free from it and then before I realize it, I’ve picked it up again.  I grow weary and tired with all that I start carrying on account of sin.

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly 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

He wants to give me rest.  He wants to relieve my burdens.  He wants me to be free and carry the light load of His yoke. The only way that happens for me is if I continue to look at Him and learn from His example.

I think about Gethsemane.  I think about His suffering that night, all alone, full of the weight of what He had come to do. His friends fell asleep.  His Father listened and gave strength, but didn’t take the cup away.  

I want to do that.  I want to be like that.  I want to see the joy set before me.  I want to despise my shame and endure as Jesus endured.  

Sometimes I just get afraid that God will say no.  I decide that somehow God wants me to suffer. But did He want Jesus to suffer?  Did He really? NO! He didn’t. It was our sin that sent Christ to the cross, not the Father.  It’s the Father’s love that made it even possible. And it is for that love Christ endured.

That same love is in me.  That same power. That same God.  He is in me and working in me. And He alone is able to despise the shame, instill the courage, and win the victory through me. 

11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus[d] from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Romans 8:11

That’s a lot of pressure off my shoulders.  That great cloud of witnesses is watching and cheering the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in me.  There is never shame or fear in carrying that! I can run with confidence. I can run for the joy set before me.  

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31

 

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.

 

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

 

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.

Having A Broken Spirit Sucks

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
   the Lord answered me and set me free.
6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
   What can man do to me?
Psalms 118:5-6

What can man do to me?  Well, in two words: a lot.  Especially when that “man” is yourself.  I’ve despised myself so many times. I’ve beaten myself up for the tiniest mistakes.  I’ve thrown up false humility in the presence of the Lord just to seem like a “good Christian”.  I’ve hated God in my heart because I didn’t get my way. I’ve thrown tantrums of fury over pure folly.  And, perhaps the biggest sin of all, at least in my own heart: I’ve hated myself.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalms 51:17

But having a broken spirit sucks.  What if depression, and scars from the past, and broken promises, and failed outcomes have you thinking that there is surely no one more broken in this world than you? What a horrible feeling to strive and strive and fail and then hate yourself for it.  What a horrible feeling to hate your past and your mistakes and your brokenness.

But if I believe the Bible, and I do, then God actually likes my broken spirit.  My broken and contrite spirit means I’m ready to repent. I’m ready to admit that I don’t know near what I think I do, especially in regard to God’s plan for me. God’s intimate knowledge of me is far better suited to make proclomations about my character than I am.  I’m not getting anything passed God. He KNOWS me. He made me. He knows my heart and my mind. He knows everything. I can’t fool Him or trick Him.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
   and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
   behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
Psalms 139:1-4

And even knowing every part of me, He chose to die for me, to give me life, and to make me His!  KNOWING everything about me, what I would do with my life, how I would fail, how I would succeed, how I would struggle, He still chose me. His response to knowing everything? He says triumphantly, “Daisy, YOU ARE WORTH IT! I LOVE YOU.  YOU ARE MINE!” We all are, when we have submitted to Him.

I guess that’s real love, isn’t it?  We always want to have someone love us unconditionally, and that is exactly what God has given us.  He loves us without restriction. Without remorse. And He’d do it all over again.

That brings me back to my self loathing and depression.  What am I supposed to do with these feelings when I can’t love or forgive myself?  I am weary. I am exhausted from the thought of one more step. I have been driven hard by my own expectations.  I’ve suffered and strained under the burden of life’s challenges, most of which I never had any control over in the first place.  

And yet, through my struggles, through my fear, through my self described failure, the Lord responds with victory.  Which is more real?  Which is more true?  My feelings of failure, or His proclomation of victory?  Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
   but the Lord helped me.
Psalms 118:13

Yes, I’ve been pushed hard.  Yes, I’ve been falling and holding on by the smallest thread of hope, and my fingers quickly began to slip from even that tiny shred of faith. How do I go forward?  How do I hold on? It is impossible for me.  Hopeless for me.  But not for God. Nothing is impossible for God.  Nothing is hopeless with God. Nothing. Not even me.

14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
   he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation
   are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
16     the right hand of the Lord exalts,
   the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”
Psalms 118:14-16

The Lord deals with me valiantly.  Valiantly! I’ve maintained the weakest grasp of that wisp of hope because the Lord has been my strength.  And He is infinitely strong. I can look back now and see the millions of times that His strength brought me through trial.  His strength, His faith, His love, His salvation. They saved me. They save me still.

I shall not die, but I shall live,
   and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has disciplined me severely,
   but he has not given me over to death.
Psalms 118:17-18

I can proclaim the Lord’s goodness.  I can proclaim that He has treated me valiantly!  He has given me victory. Though I have been disciplined, though I have felt the pain of unrepentant sin, He has brought me through it.  He has created in me a clean heart.  He has urged me lovingly, patiently, toward repentance and communion with Him without shame or fear.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
  and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
   and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
   and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalms 51:10-12

His discipline restores me.  It repairs my brokenness and brings me through to victory.  Though it is painful, it is transforming. Though I suffer for a little while, I will have my reward, both now and in the age to come.  Abundant life is mine to take.

Jesus is my righteousness. I am not hated for my sin.  I am loved despite my sin. The gates of righteousness have been opened for me, because the Lord has opened them.  He has become my salvation and I have no need to fear myself or my wickedness. I can proclaim His victory in me instead.  

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
   that I may enter through them
   and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
   the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
   and have become my salvation.
Psalms 118:19-21

For more on trusting God and being thankful, you can check out my blog post here:  On Being Thankful