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 Worker Approved

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

For a very long time, and sometimes still, I have felt that the work I’ve done for the Lord was insignificant.  I longed to be known for my good works. I longed to be recognized for my “accomplishments” for the Kingdom of God.  Embarrassing, right?

I’ve come so far over the years, though, and that is something only God could do.  Is my ministry more famous or more recognized now? Nope. Is my work for God more relevant now? Nope.  My work is generally the same. It’s only me that’s changed.

So, Paul’s advice to Timothy was to be unashamed, approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth.  Hmm. So working for God means being the perfect pastor, right? Or maybe the perfect evangelist? We know a lot of their names.  The ones on tv must be pretty good. They are surely unashamed and approved or God wouldn’t let them be on TV, right?

Wrong.

Obedient submission to God is what grants us the ability to be unashamed.  To have the faith to accept that God’s answer for my salvation is from Him and not from me. The righteousness of God, given as a free gift, unearned, undeserved, that’s what lets us approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Having Jesus as our high priest, Jesus as our righteousness, Jesus as our savior, Jesus as our King. That’s what gives us the right to be unashamed.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So how do we know we are approved?  “We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

And look at what Paul says in Romans:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:1-3

Approval doesn’t come from anything we’ve done or are doing!  It comes from faith. Abraham believed God. That’s approval. When I believe God and what He says, that’s approval.  That’s it. Nothing more. Faith brings God’s approval.

So, when I act according to God’s will for me.  When I trust that He is going to use me as He sees fit, that He will give me opportunities to trust Him and serve Him, and revere and worship Him, that’s when I’m working for God.  He’s given me gifts and tasks to use for His glory and not my own.

Did He ask you to hug that lady at the grocery store, and you obeyed?  That’s God’s work. Did He ask you to give up your career and serve refugees in the Middle East and you said, “ok”?  That’s God’s work. Buy someone’s groceries because you felt stirred? God’s work. Preach a sermon because the Lord has burned it in your heart to share what He has taught with His people? Yep, God’s work.

But here’s what’s not God’s work: quitting your job to become a missionary because that sounds like a great adventure.  Or, going on a mission trip to Nicaragua every year because the church body will know how holy you are. Or, teaching a Bible Study because you want people to think your smart.  Or being the front man of the church band so that you can maybe get a record deal or you love the attention. The list can go on forever.

So many things in this world sound good to us.  King David thought building a temple for God was a great idea, but did God ask him to build it?  Nope. Did God let David’s son Solomon build the temple? Yes.

God will partner with us even when we’re wrong.  He’ll partner with us in folly just to teach us how to hear His voice better.  Was building the temple folly? Of course not. But did it last? Nope. God will let us “work” for Him in a million different ways, just to teach us, just to show us that it all comes down to Him in the end.  Nothing else.

Have faith in Him, the One who made you, the One who calls you. To work for God is to submit to His rule.  You must stop obeying your own heart and the picture the world has offered you of what ministry is supposed to look like.  You’re never going to find it that way. And you’re not going to accomplish much for the Kingdom, either.

Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Trust Him. That’s it. Only trust Him and do what He says.  That’s how I’ve changed the most over the years. I’m much quicker now to want to glorify Jesus, instead of myself.  If God asks nothing more of me than to point my silent smiling face to the King of Kings, then that’s what I’ll do. That is being a workman approved.  

Jesus, give me the faith to trust You.  Help me to stop looking at myself. Help me to hear Your voice and obey Your commands.  Thank you for how far You’ve brought me. Teach me and help me to go further for You and for You alone.  

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18

 

Psalm 51

The Lord has been speaking to me in Psalm 51 for the last few months.  Snippets of it come to mind and are uttered from my mouth when I pray everyday.  I know the Lord is bringing it to my heart to teach me of His love and forgiveness.  For my whole life I have doubted the His love and forgiveness, even as I walked in faith to believe those promises.  Honestly, I’m amazed that such a dichotomy of thinking could be found in my heart, and yet I know very well that it is true.

I doubted God’s love because of shame in my own heart for my sins.  Because of the bad decisions of my past, because of the sin I committed against the Lord, and continue to commit against the Lord each day, I thought there was no way that God could possibly even want to forgive me.  I’d think, “No way. Not this time. This time was bad. God hates sin. He surely hates me. I hate me.”

But thankfully, that’s not how God works at all.  While I would try to tell myself this, and try desperately to trust in the forgiveness of God, I couldn’t marry God’s hate of sin to my own iniquity.  As I keep learning, however, God is not willing to leave us in dark places, or in lies of the enemy, if we are willing and earnestly seeking Him and longing to know His truth.  That’s where the marriage between doubt and hope really come together.

I doubted my own ability to be forgiven.  I hated myself for my sin, and so I couldn’t think of anyone else not hating me as well.  Yet, over and over again, the Lord would speak into my heart that I am forgiven.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
   and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
   and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Psalm 51:5-6

He knows that I was brought forth into the world full of the potential for great sin.  And He is willing to teach me the wisdom of trusting Him in my heart regardless of past, regardless of my circumstances, regardless of my sin.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
   wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Psalm 51:7

He will and has made me clean!  By the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, I have been purged and made clean in the eyes of God.  I am whiter than snow to Him now, because I have freely accepted His ability to cleanse me and forgive me.  Again, this is where hope comes in. I hope in the promise that God’s salvation is truly mine to receive. And the Lord builds my faith to continue to trust Him regardless of the lies the enemy tells me about how evil I am.  God knows I my heart is evil. And only He can forgive me.

9 Hide your face from my sins,
   and blot out all my iniquities.
10 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.
Psalm 51:9-12

When I ask Him, it is His delight to receive and honor my request to be cleansed and forgiven and brought into His Presence.  He can daily restore in me the JOY of His salvation given to me with love. Only then can I see that He truly does love me. He truly does cleanse me.  He truly does forgive me. And because of that, I can move forward, not only in confidence of His forgiveness but also with the experience and faith to share this Good News with others!

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
   and sinners will return to you,
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
   O God of my salvation,
   and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
   you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:13-17

Sounds like a pretty solid plan.  I think I’ll take it.

All Because of Good Intentions

And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
   as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
   and to listen than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
   and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
   he has also rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

I feel really sorry for Saul.  He was handsome and strong and a head taller than everyone.  He looked good. In the eyes of the world he was the perfect leader, and yet he was an utter failure.  I think that’s why God chose him. Had Saul submitted to God when he made his decisions, he would have been blessed by the Lord.  But Saul had a lot more confidence in worldly strength than he did in God.

It’s sad, because on the surface it appears as though Saul did inquire of God.  He constantly inquired of the Lord after he made a decision to do something, he had the Arc of the Covenant with them, and he even had a priest traveling with him, ephod and all.  “…The people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3 including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord in Shiloh, wearing an ephod…” 1 Samuel 14:2-3 But appearances and tradition are never what God wants from us.   Saul never looked to God until after he’d made up his mind what he wanted to do. He decided his plans were great (probably because he’d been chosen by God, so who needs to ask God again, right?) and then asked God for a blessing after he’d made up his own mind. He did it when he performed the sacrifice to God, instead of waiting on Samuel.  And he did it before going into battle with the Philistines.

Saul’s son Jonathan, on the other hand, boldly moved forward to defeat his enemies by trusting in the power of God to provide the victory even against all odds.  We know this because Jonathan sees an oportunity to attack the Philistines in a really strategic way, and moves forward to act with only his armor bearer to help him!  But where Jonathan differed from Saul is in this: Jonathan inquired of the Lord before He asked. He felt confident that his plan was solid, but he still asked God to make it clear by asking for a sign, and didn’t move until he’d gotten the clear sign of God’s promised victory.  (See 1 Samuel 14 for all the details.)

And so we go back to poor Saul.  This earthly king, chosen by God, who looked the part well and surrounded himself with all kinds of powerful heroes in order to ensure his military victories.  He made sacrifices. He had the Arc. He had his priest. He even had a prophet. The people loved him! After all, they constantly deferred to him, saying, “Do what seems good to you!” (1 Samuel 14:41)  He had everything he needed to look and act like the best darn victorious king who ever lived. And that was his downfall. It became all about him and not about God.

Justifying our bad behavior for the sake of serving God is a terrible crime!  How many times have I justified an act of my own choosing because I had decided it was best without looking to God for wisdom and permission first?  Seriously! If I’m being honest with myself, I do it all the time! Even though the Lord has told me that I need to limit nutritionless food to honor him with my body, I justify dessert because I’m celebrating or I crave it, or I’m free in Christ.  I go on fad diets, justifying the extremes in order to get quick results. I make plans for vacation because I need a break instead of needing sabbath rest, or I read a book instead of read my Bible because I’m tired, or I don’t have time.  If I think about it too hard, I think I could quickly fall into shame over it all!

But that’s not why I’m here.  That’s not why God put me on this planet.  He put me here to worship Him, to partner with me in love and friendship, and to have us be together in all things.  He wants me to be unified with Him and with His Church. I make presumptions that I know what God wants from me, so I don’t need to inquire of Him, and that only leads to rebellion. Rebellion to my solitary purpose in Christ is a stepping stone for sin and more rebellion.  And that disobedience from good intentions leads me further and further away from my King, which is definitely not God’s good plan for me!

I look again to Samuel’s words to Saul after yet another huge failure with good intentions that would lead to God’s rejection of him as King:

And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
   as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
   and to listen than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
   and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
   he has also rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

Sadly, Saul’s response to this fall from grace is to blame the people he was leading.  

Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 25 Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.” 26 And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

His intentions were so pure, weren’t they?! (Yes that’s sarcasm.) And yet, how many times have I been blind to my own excuses and good intentions? So. Many. Times.  I’m so thankful to have the sealed promise of the Holy Spirit within me to convict me of my wrongdoing and correct the flaws of my thinking. Our Lord is not content to leave us where we are.  When we sin against Him and go to Him for guidance through repentance, He is quick to show us what we’ve done and what we need to do differently. It hurts. It’s no fun. Frankly, it sucks. But it is so good, too! Unlike Saul, I have the glorious forgiveness of Messiah, Jesus, to pay for my failings and shortcomings, to pay for my sin, and to give me life and victory.  And He is so quick to forgive and to teach, that the mercy that flows through Him to me would spill out of me into others, and thus share the fruit and life that comes from submitting to the will of God.

 

To Go From Knowing to Doing

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:18-19

Lord, I’ve been afraid of a lot of things lately and I didn’t even know it.  It’s a true tragedy to realize that the enemy has convinced me so often that the fear I’m feeling is not fear especially in regard to the judgement of God.  I have spent 45 of my 49 years of life as a believer in Jesus, and I guess I thought that I had established a deep understanding of God’s love and forgiveness.  I’ve certainly asked for it enough times! Sin sneaks up on me and the next thing I know I’m calling out to You, God, asking You to please, please forgive me.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:8

I know you love a repentant and contrite heart. I know that You are most pleased when I choose to submit to Your will for my life instead of choosing to rebel.  I know that Your plan for me is so much better than anything I could plan for myself. Frankly I KNOW a lot of things. But knowing and doing are two very different things.  And I don’t do near as much as I know.

Lord, how else can I bridge that gap except to call upon You?  You are my Creator. You are my strong Tower. You are my bridge to salvation.  You can be my bridge between knowing and doing.

So, help.  I need help, God. I’m tired of being afraid.  I’m tired of letting fear, disguised as a million different things that seem ok, rule my choices and my life.  I want to walk in the confidence of your forgiveness so that I can walk through life without fear of judgement.  If I am going to believe that the judgement of my sins were poured out on the cross of Christ, then I’m not supposed to walk in guilt any longer.  I am forgiven so I don’t need to be afraid of You, God. Let Your perfect love cast out all fear in my life as I submit to Your sufficient and all encompassing forgiveness.  Perfect Your Love in me, Lord Jesus, so that I can help show others how to have the peace of Your forgiveness. No one who trusts You will ever need to fear the judgement of their sins.  Silence the enemy and all the lies he spreads that say we’re not worth it, or we don’t deserve it, or what we did is too horrible. Help all people to find and recieve Your free offering of life and love without judgement, by Jesus on the cross. It seems a very fair punishment for anything anyone could do.  Help me to accept it more fully. And help others to find it and be free of guilt. Amen.

But I call to God,
    and the Lord will save me.
Psalm 55:16

When I am Faithless…

I seem to start a lot of my conversations with, “I’m sorry, God.”  Lord, I know full well that repentance is a fine and necessary thing.  But Lord, I’ve neglected to accept Your punishment for my crimes against You as already PAID IN FULL.  I’ve walked around, suffering and moaning with the failures that surround my day. I am sad and I hear myself say, “I know I’m just suffering the consequences of my own actions.”  So sad. And I know that I often do have to suffer the consequences on occasion. But I have neglected to fully receive from You that the consequences for my sin were paid on the cross of Christ.

I have victory.  I am forgiven. I have let the enemy convince me that I have neither!  I have walked in grieving and loss. I have walked in guilt and shame. I have walked in all the things You conquered for me in Your payment for my sins on the cross.  You rose from the dead! You PROVED your victory. You proved it and proclaimed it and then sealed it as a promise in our hearts by giving us–giving me–Your Holy Spirit.

But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”
Ruth 1:11-13

Why do I ever think You’ve left me to my fate?  Why do I act the way Naomi did when everything she depended on in the physical world had been taken from her.  Distraught, she cried out in her misery, but not to You, God. She cried out in shame and worry and hopelessness.  How many times have I felt that same way? I’ve walked in the sorrow of my circumstances instead of the peace of Your Gospel.  

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
Ruth 1:16-18

Ruth, on the other hand, who had nothing, and by worldly standards was fated to a worse fate than Naomi, chose to trust in You.  As a foreigner she had no hope without You, and so she chose by faith to walk to the very end trusting You regardless of how things looked.

I’ve always thought I knew the story of Ruth and Naomi.  I’ve always thought of Naomi as so faithless. And today I saw that I have been walking like Naomi, in faithlessness.  But You are faithful even when we are faithless. Thanks for that, God. Please give me more faith. Teach me to trust You more and hope in Your salvation.

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:11-13

 

Lost in the Land of Shadows and Dirt

The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.
Judges 6:1-2

It’s crazy what disobedience can do to people.  Disobedience fills us with fear, shame, and guilt, and drives us out of all the good things God wants to give us.  Disobedience causes us to stop trusting in God’s provision and start trusting in fear. We let fear become our leader instead of God.  And it takes us nowhere good. For the Israelites, disobedience to God led them to do evil in the sight of God, which ultimately led to their self inflicted exile out of the Promised Land and into the mountains to hide in caves.  They went from the Land of Milk and Honey to the Land of Shadows and Dirt.

“For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in.
Judges 6:3-5

God allowed the Israelite’s enemies to take over the land He had given to them so that they would repent and recognize that the Land and God’s protection were by His sovereign hand alone.  As the people of God walked away from the worship and trust of Yahweh, The One True God, they also walked away from His blessing and provision. The people began to worship the false idols and put their trust in those things to provide for them and it had them living in the dark in caves!  How often have I found myself living in a cave because of my own lack of trust in God. I fall into fear and doubt and worry, and then there I am: in the dark instead of the light, afraid and hungry.

And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.
Judges 6:6

So, what do we do when we have thrown ourselves into the dark? We cry out to God!  He is our rescuer and our salvation. If we know God, then we are all too familiar with His love and mercy and His longing to restore us into a right relationship with Him.  But God isn’t content to just save us, though that would surely be enough for us! Instead, He lovingly teaches us and guides us, so that we will understand how to avoid going into the dark again.  

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
   his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

For the Israelites, God’s compassion and deliverance came from a curious source.  And over and over again we see God do this. As it says in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “God chose the foolish things to confound the wise.”  That’s just how God rolls. And the Israelites needed to see that even though they were weak and afraid and living in caves, He could rescue them from their own failings and bring them back into the inheritance that He had planned for them from the beginning.

And so God chooses Gideon whom He calls “a mighty man of valor”. Gideon who hid from his enemies in a wine press to beat out his wheat. Gideon, who doubted and questioned even after the miraculous sign of the appearance of the “Angel of the Lord”.  Gideon, who even after he agreed to do as Yahweh commanded, took it upon himself to do it under cover of darkness so no one would see him do it! (reference Judges 6:11-40)

Yes, God chose Gideon, because Gideon bodily encompassed everything that the Israelites had become.  Gideon was afraid, in the dark, and doubted God. And don’t we all do the same thing? Don’t we all fall short a thousand times a day?  Don’t we all fall back on fear and hide in the dark? Thankfully, our God knows that about us, and just like Gideon, He will patiently teach us again and again that He is faithful and He will save us.  Our inheritance is ours for the taking if we will simply cry out to Him from the darkness and trust Him.

 

  

Look to the Victory!

Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. 2 It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.
Judges 3:1-2

God, it’s so easy for me to get caught up in the battle that rages all around me.  I guess that makes sense. It’s a big battle raging all around me! Hard to ignore!  But I keep forgetting that the war is won. The spiritual carnage all around me can be so oppressive.  It creeps up on me with complacency, discouragement, worldly delights, a critical spirit, and with shame.  Instead of looking at the victory, I look at the battle.

Thank you, God, that You’re not content to leave me that way.  Gently but firmly, You take me in Your hands and walk me through the destruction.  You place my feet on the conquests of Your own shed blood. You teach me the ways of war.  Your train me diligently. You personally dress me in Your own armor, the armor of Jesus, and You carry me forward as a wrecking ball of Your majesty.  

Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;
Psalm 144:1

Why does my heart grow weary?  Why do I stumble? Why do I struggle?  Why do I doubt?

The victory is mine to inherit.  You’ve told me so! It is already won.  But You will continue to teach me. It’s not my power that brings victory, it’s Yours.  I’m sorry for trying to take responsibility for defeating an enemy that has already been made a footstool beneath Your feet by the power of the blood of the Lamb.

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Psalm 110:1

The enemy will continue to fight until You put a final end to his reign of terror.  And until then I must be in the midst of the chaos. Help me remember that You bring order from chaos.  You are teaching me with each battle how to claim my victory! You are teaching me how to lead others. You are teaching me to keep my eyes on You and my faith in Your power and not my own.

You’ve let the enemy keep fighting for a little while so that I can participate in the victory as well as the spoils. I will know war and be taught by trial how to fight, just so You can look at me with a big grin on Your face and say, “We did it!”  I marvel at Your love and desire to let me partner with You. But partnering in battle means partnering in the suffering as well as the victory. Thank You for counting me worthy to suffer for Your name.

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Philippians 1:27-30

I know it’s only going to get worse.  The more I learn to fight, the harder the barrage against me becomes.  But with my eyes trained on You, trained with the experience of battle, I can trust You deeper.  I will have the victory. Let’s give them that “clear sign of their destruction” one more time.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
   I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.
Psalm 23:4-5

So, let’s eat!  The war is won.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
   Forever.
Psalm 23:6

Choose Today Who You Will Serve

I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’
14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:13-15

I have earned nothing that You have given me, Father.  Nothing but Your grace has provided for me. And when I’ve tried to provide for myself it has only led to rebellion, suffering, and pain.  Even knowing that, Lord, I still look to things besides You to find my joy and my deliverance. I have put other gods before You, Jesus. And I’ll probably do it again.  I’m pretty miserable at trusting You and following You, and in that way I’m no different than the Israelites.

But just like the Israelites, You have given me a leader.  You’ve given me someone to follow, someone to lead me in the right way.  Someone even better than Joshua. He is called Faithful and True. (Rev. 19:11) He is called Jesus, Yeshua, and he is my salvation.  When I was a very little girl I said yes to following Him. And since that time I have strayed and strayed away. But every time, He has been faithful and true to me.  He has never left me nor forsaken me.

What I have learned is that following You is a choice, Jesus.  Each moment I choose who I will serve. My heart longs to please You and follow You, but my sinful nature pulls me away time and time again.  Like Paul said, I do what I do not want to do, and do not do what I should do.

It can be easy for me to get hard on myself.  I know that You have given me Your Spirit and I look at my actions and wonder how I could ever disobey You with Your Spirit so alive and active within me!  Yet I do. I look at the Israelites and say to myself, “Well, they didn’t have the Holy Spirit. No wonder they strayed away from God all the time!” But I don’t have that excuse.  Thank you for Paul’s example and of others in scripture who had Your Spirit in them and still failed You miserably at times.

Lord, the Israelites obeyed You and trusted You when You were right there with them, guiding them and protecting them, just like the Disciples did when Jesus was with them and helping them, and teaching them what to do.  And when You weren’t tangibly present they struggled to obey and over time they abandoned You altogether, serving themselves and the idols of their own making.

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16:1-15

Jesus said that it was better for Him to go so that we could have the Helper.  Thank You, Jesus, that You have made a way to be forgiven by the cross, You have made a way for life by Your resurrection, and You have made a way to obey by the gifting of Your Spirit.  So, today I choose to serve You, Lord. I choose to let Your Spirit guide me. I choose to submit to Your greater authority and be filled with your forgiveness, your life, and your obedience.

Do not be conformed to this world,[a] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

I will no longer be conformed to this world.  I will let my mind be renewed by You and stop trying to renew it myself.  I will stop living in condemnation of my failures and strive to forgive myself and follow You. Thank You God.  Thank You for Your help, Your guidance, Your love, Your forgiveness, and Your life.

I am Yours, Jesus.  Today I choose to follow You.

 

Yeshua is Salvation

I recently learned that the first use of the word “salvation”, that is “Yeshua” aka Jesus, happens in the Torah when Yahweh rescues His people from the Egyptian army at the crossing of the Red Sea. While on a general level I could see the similarities to Jesus, this morning I had an even deeper understanding of the parallels of this story with the story of Salvation through Yeshua for all who would believe.

The Israelites had been enslaved by Egypt.  They were oppressed and despised. Humanity is enslaved by sin.  The world is ruled by, oppressed by, and destroyed by sin. It takes over our decision making, it rules our thoughts, it inspires anger and vengeance, and dependance on self instead of God.  

God brought a deliverer to Israel with Moses.  And God brought a deliverer to humanity with Jesus.  Through Moses, God parted the Red Sea to make a way for the Israelites to journey toward the Promised Land and have victory over the Egyptian slavers. God used Jesus to bring salvation to the world, by taking on the sin of the world on His own body and having victory over it, to clear the way for people to enter the journey toward the Promised Land of the New Jerusalem.  

Moses interceded for the people with God.  He communed with God on the mountain, brought the law of the Ten Commandments to the people, and told the people what God wanted from them.  Jesus intercedes for all people with God. He came to earth as a man to intercede for people to God. He fulfilled the Law once and for all by conquering sin and death on the cross for all people who would accept it.  He came back to life to lead all people who would believe Him to the Promised land of eternity with God.

The Israelites wandered through the desert learning the lessons of God, and growing in their faith and trust in God’s protection, provision, and salvation.  Humanity wanders a world still ruled by sin, learning the protection, provision and salvation of Jesus. Just as God led the Israelites along the way through the desert, so too, God leads the way for all who trust in Him, through the Holy Spirit, to navigate through the desert of a sinful planet until we can finally arrive at the Promised Land of eternity with Christ.

Finally, the Israelites are led into the Promised land by the conquering of idol worshipers, and false gods and practices, while allowing any who chose to side with God to have the salvation He offered to His chosen people as equal inheritors.  God partnered with the Israelite army, but in the end it was always God who provided the victory, not any special work or tactics of Joshua and his military prowess. We are allowed to partner with Jesus in the conquering of sin and death, by being made co-heirs with Christ, and this is given not by our own power, but simply as a gift of God by his grace.  As followers of Christ, we can have victory over the sin and death in our lives but trusting in God to win the battle for us.

And finally, the Israelites receive their promised inheritance, just as we too shall recieve our promised inheritance with Christ.  Pretty cool.

Note: I didn’t include scriptural documentation because I have assumed a Biblically savvy audience.  For Biblical context references, feel free to contact me privately, and I will provide them.