On Choosing to Believe

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed…John 20:29

Sometimes faith is close, natural like breathing. When His presence is sure and steady, fierce and joyful, we rest in knowing that He is near. Like the cloud and the fire that led the Israelites, we can see Him in the unfolding of our day…His love enveloping.  And when we’re standing before a burning bush, the heat of it comforts. We may not see His physical presence, but we can feel that He is there…without question, without trying…we know He is with us.

But sometimes faith isn’t easy.  On some days, we are less like Caleb (confident in our calling, sure of His guidance) and more like Thomas, in need of reassurance, or like the writer of Ecclesiastes…a little weary of life, wondering what it’s all about.  If we are honest and strip away what we think we should always feel…we can admit that, sometimes, choosing to believe is hard. When life is pressing in or maybe the presence of God isn’t quite so tangible…when our prayers feel hollow and our passion isn’t sparkling…this is the time when we must exercise our faith. It must not be about our emotion, but about Him. About what is True in and out of season. Our Rock and our foundation…knowledge that He is still the same. That our feelings don’t dictate who He is or His love for us.

Remember how people in the Old Testament were often making altars when they had significant encounters with God? They needed to be able to remember what He had done…how He had blessed…His faithfulness.  When a hard time came, they’d be able to see that altar and say–Yes. He Is.

He pours so much grace into our lives…will we remember the blessings if He lets us walk a while through a wilderness? Will we choose to love Him~with our hearts and with our actions– even if it’s hard to hear His voice? Even if we don’t immediately feel His pleasure in our offerings? Will we say ‘Yes. He is.’ no matter what?

I think that we are so accustomed to a pace of immediacy…so used to getting what we want in the blink of an eye…and God is above our time-frames. His time is limitless, His vision stretches backwards and forwards into forever…and so He is not bound by our frantic scheduling, striving, and I need this now (or by tomorrow, for sure!) perspectives.

Sometimes He asks us to wait on Him, to be of good courage. To trust that He will strengthen our hearts, that His grace is sufficient in all things.

So if this is a time when faith doesn’t come so easily…when His whisper is hard to hear amidst the hurricane and earthquake…please don’t quit. Remember the love that has comforted you in time of need. Remember His goodness. Remember His mercy. Look back at the altars of your life and worship.

Don’t stop praying, even if it feels like you’re not making a connection. He has not stopped listening. It’s time for you to trust that He is there, however you feel.

Don’t let discouragement close your eyes. Open them wider, keep seeking Him. Stop outside and look out how big, how wide, how endless the heavens seem to us…they are out of our reach but in His hands…those skies were spun by His Word and it is that same power that is working for your good.

Don’t stop reading His Word. He is still speaking to you through His revelation…and just like you don’t feel the benefit of vitamins at the moment you’re taking them, you might not always feel ignited by the Words you read. But the vitamins nourish your system and His Words are life to your soul…and this faith that we are exercising comes by hearing His Word.

Let your love be found steady, your surrender complete. Your willingness to follow when it’s time to dig deep and sacrifice…

Sometimes, just like a loving parent, He may take the training wheels off…He may see if we are steady enough for a bigger bike. For a new terrain. To teach someone else how to ride.

Abraham raised the knife over his only son. Noah started cutting lumber without a cloud in the sky. Esther walked into a King’s court with no guarantee of walking back out again. Our Savior felt forsaken on the cross, but He did not abandon His love-mission for us.

Sometimes faith is putting one foot in front of the other and choosing to trust that He is there, even if the weather is murky and there are no clear signals.

And if you keep walking, you’ll find that not one breadth of your road wasn’t upheld by His hand. Not one day of your life was overlooked. Not one word went unheard and not one tear went unnoticed.

He promised and so I say with confidence: He is with you.

These are the days when we look ahead to what is hoped for and we don’t grow weary in doing good, in being true to His heart, because He has been true to us in and out of our shaky faithfulness to Him.

And one day, we will remain in His presence and there will be no separation, no glass darkly through which to see Him. He will be our light and He will be our temple. We will hear His voice and He will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Fully restored, our communion with Him. Fully restored and never to be broken again.

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see…this trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children…God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the same time, discipline is not much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.

So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out.

And run for it!

Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander…

May God make us into what gives Him most pleasure, by means of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Messiah. All glory to Jesus forever and always! Oh, yes, yes, yes!

~from Hebrews 11,12, &13 (the MSG)


{text originally posted in October of 2011}

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Music-Monday (when we need to be restored)

…He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake. -Psalm 23:2-3

When we feel worn down and empty, the Father offers this hope: rest, peace, and restoration. That line captures me tonight….He restores my soul.  Because, sometimes, aren’t we just aching from the inside out? When our souls are dry and fragile, He is the One who will refresh us and re-energize us…it is His touch that will bring us back to health…His Spirit that re-fuels and strengthens us.

We can take respite in His presence. Your soul can find rest in Him, no matter the circumstances you are in, because He is – in His great wisdom and love – taking care of you. We can trust Him with our souls, with our families, with our dreams – with everything in our lives. In Him – in Jesus all things hold together…including you. Including your life. You don’t have to do it all. The weight of your world is not meant to rest on your shoulders…it is already in His hands. His strength, His grace, and His provision changes things. You don’t have to hold it all together…you just have to trust that He IS holding it all together for your good and for His glory.

If you’ve been carrying the weight of it all and if you’re tired to the bone, please don’t wait another minute. In the middle of the busy-ness, in the middle of it all — speak to Him, ask Him to lead you to those still waters and green pastures. Our peace is not dependent on our circumstances but on His presence. He is near to us when we call on Him (Psalm 145:18)…and no matter where we are, He will restore us when we open our hearts to Him.

“For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17.

My soul, wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him. {Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him!}

He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;
I shall not be moved.
In God is my salvation and my glory;
The rock of my strength,
And my refuge, is in God.

Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us.-Psalm 65:5-12

Scripture & Song (You Are Not Alone)

“Within Your temple, O God, we meditate on Your unfailing love. Like Your name, O God, Your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; Your right hand is filled with righteousness…For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end.”  –Psalm 48:9-10, 14

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress…He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” –from Psalm 46

“Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord Himself, is the Rock eternal.” –Isaiah 26:4

“…I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” –Isaiah 46:4

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” –John 14:27

“And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” –Matthew 28:20

A Light Not Overcome (Beatitudes, Part 14)

overcome

When the news broke on Sunday night that twenty-one more Christians had been executed for their faith, I sat in silence. I was speechless in the jarring juxtaposition between a game of charades with my family and that image of men kneeling in the sand, a moment away from death.

Families lost their husbands, fathers, and sons because they were men of the cross.

And it isn’t easy to face it. It isn’t easy to see this pain and this escalating persecution…it isn’t easy to bear witness to the unmerciful hands of hatred and evil. It’s one thing to know that, theoretically, there is persecution in the world. It’s quite another thing to see it before our eyes right after we tuck our kids into their beds.

The thing is, though – this isn’t new. These are not isolated events. Organizations like Open Doors track and minister to oppressed and persecuted Christians around the world – they estimate that 322 Christians are killed because of their faith each month. But unless we make an effort to know what is happening around the world, it is too easy for most of us to simply not think about it. We aren’t directly affected and we feel helpless to make a difference…and, maybe, we don’t quite understand why God allows it all to happen. So it is easier to stay focused on our own lives.

But, friends, I think that this is the time to shake ourselves awake, to throw off complacency. We must see this unfolding season with eyes open, praying for wisdom and understanding.

Because I think that these are the moments when we decide – do we believe Jesus? Do we believe Him when it isn’t just theology and Sunday morning church, when it becomes clear that the cost of following Him actually changes our lives? When it comes to seeing the reality of what it can look like to follow Him even unto death, will we choose to trust Him?

This is when we must know in Whom we have believed so that our actions are a result of our faith in Him. This is when we must trust that the Light who was not overcome by the darkness shines still — undeterred, unfaltering, undefeated.

*******

Jesus spoke words of warning and promise, preparing us for days just like these.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:10-12)

Later, in Matthew 24, Jesus teaches the disciples what the end of the age will bring. He tells them plainly: Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. (Matt. 24:9)

And this is a crossroads for many of us – because He goes on and says At this time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

We cannot brush over these verses, thinking that they will never apply to us or to our families. When we read the Word of God, it is clear that this world will be shaken before the coming of God’s Kingdom. We are in a battle, daily, against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil”…and as the day of the Lord’s return draws nearer, we cannot know what hardships we might be asked to endure.

In John 15 and 16, Jesus speaks again of persecution so that we will not be caught off guard: If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me….But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.

Although Jesus was speaking to the disciples – and His words came to pass, for many of those followers were put to death for carrying His name – I believe the principle applies to us, too. If the day comes when our choice to serve Him carries consequences of persecution, we will bear witness – through the power of the Helper, the Holy Spirit – to His name and to His love. And no matter what happens to these bodies of ours, our souls are safe in His hands.

Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:27-31)

*****

Even if the people we know by name – our families, our friends – never go through this kind of persecution for their faith in Christ, our brothers and sisters around this globe are facing danger every single day.

We are one. Jesus prayed for our unity. Our love for each other – love that should cross borders, languages, and cultures – points directly to Him, for we are His body.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many…But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. -1 Cor. 12

Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also. – Hebrews 13:3

We feel helpless, like we can’t help those who are hurting – have we forgotten that if we have even a little faith in our God, He is mighty to move mountains? Are we deceived, somehow, into believing that our prayers for each other can’t make a difference? Do we forget that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective? We cannot physically reach those around the world, but we can boldly come before the throne of grace – we can reach God and God can reach the captives and the broken-hearted. Only He knows the plan and purpose for each life on this earth – and although we may not understand why some will face persecution, even to the point of death, we can pray for His peace and His strength for our brothers and sisters in all these things. We can pray that they will have the assurance that He is with them, always. Matthew 18:19-20 says this – Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.

These are the words of our Savior and I have to ask myself and I have to ask you…do we believe Him? Do we trust Him enough to turn our belief into movement, into prayer, into interceding for each other?

*******

And our calling does not end with praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ. I tripped over Matthew 5:44 as I was reading through these passages, because Jesus was telling me to do the exact opposite of what I was feeling at the time. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

It is one thing to know, theoretically, that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It is quite another to see those men, faces hidden, swords in hand – and to pray for them even while they plan and plot more evil against innocent men, women, and children.

I stalled on this verse…and I remembered how Jesus was hanging on a cross, body beaten and battered – and how He prayed for the men who sent the whip across His back, the nails through His hands and feet. He prayed that they would be forgiven.

And He was there, to begin with, so that I could be forgiven.

I was reminded that the lives of those who hold the weapons, those lives being controlled by evil – they are being completely destroyed by sin. Their souls are in darkness, enslaved to the enemy.

And didn’t Jesus come for every single person? Do we really believe that His mercy is for any who will call upon His name?

It is not impossible for a man, even one who has persecuted and killed in the name of his religion, to find redemption in Christ Jesus.

If it were, we would not have these words of Paul in 1 Timothy….This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.

One encounter with Jesus changed Paul – and I believe that Jesus can still encounter men and women, wherever they are, and His grace can transform them. Jeremiah tells us this message – “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”

Will we let the love He has shown to us…the forgiveness He has given to us…transform our hearts and teach us the ways of grace until we can pray that all- even those who hurt and despise us –will come to the knowledge of salvation? (1 Tim. 2:4)

************

Why do we choose to follow Him, even when we know that first we lay down our will…and may be asked to lay down our very lives? Why do we choose to trust Him, when He may lead us through the valley of the shadow of death?

Although I could give you scriptures to explain it – I think I’ll start with my own life, my own reasons.

There was a time when I was afraid (of nearly everything) and convinced that I was worthless. I believed I was a failure, my sins and their consequences the theme of my life. I had no hope and no joy.

But Jesus reached out to me. And His love – His grace and His gentleness – transformed my heart and gave me new life. He set me free from fear that crippled me, from condemnation that overwhelmed me – His mercy called me beloved and chosen. On a day-to-day basis, He is my strength and my peace. I have seen miracles in big and small things…I have seen glimpses of His glory and I am left changed. I will follow where He leads because I know that He is with me.

He became the Man of the Cross for me. I don’t carry around my shame, my sin, my guilt, my broken pieces – because on Calvary, He bore them all for me. He gave up His life, willingly, so that I can have life in abundance.

So even if the promise was only His presence here in this lifetime…friends, it is enough.

But there is more in store for us, because we are not made only for this time and place. Like Paul said – to live is Christ, but to die is gain…for when we depart from this life, we will be with Christ– face to face, forever. His death may have looked like a battle lost, like light overcome – but He rose in power, the authority over hell, death, and the grave in His hands – and He went to prepare a place for me, for you, for all who will believe in Him. The Light was never overcome and never will be.

In all of this – in the uncertainty, in the gathering storm clouds, in the darkness – Jesus is our hope! Our promises in Him are the Light we live by, the anchor for our souls. We cannot forget the words of Matthew 5:10 – Blessed are those who are persecuted….rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.

The twenty-one young men who lived out their last days refusing to deny their faith in Christ? Their eyes closed to this earth, but they opened to see the Savior and I know that they heard the Father say – well done, my good and faithful servants. Enter in to the joy of your Lord. To the world’s eyes, it may look like they were defeated on that beach – but, in reality, they won their battle there — they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Rev.12:11) Those men of the cross will be given the crown of life (Rev.2:10)…and The Lamb will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev. 7:17)

There, in His presence, they will wait for the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. They will wait for the day when sin, death, and satan are destroyed and evil is no more. They will wait for the day when all things are made new, the curse broken, and darkness is a thing of the past. For there, in that unshakable kingdom whose architect and builder is God (Heb.11:10), there is no night. Our weeping will forever pass, and this Morning will bring only joy.

And as we, too, wait for that day –may we live by faith and not by sight…our actions speaking our trust in His Word and in His promises. May we make up our minds now to follow Him, finding that He is ever-worthy of our trust. May we learn to pray for the body of Christ and those who come against it…may our hearts be softened so that we mourn with those who mourn, willing to step into what is uncomfortable so that we can love like He does. No, it isn’t easy – but it is our calling and He is our help, our comfort through every step we take to follow Him.

May we have a deep, unshakeable confidence in Him – the One who already has our victory firmly in hand, the One who has already overcome the world and makes us more than conquerors with Him. Let’s believe Him. May we live in expectancy of His return, working for His glory and looking for His unshakeable Kingdom, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. (Rom. 13:11-12)  May we understand that we do not have to endure and stand through our own power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. May we live in freedom, unashamed and unafraid to share the gospel of Jesus Christ – no matter the cost. May we live boldly in His love, starting now. May we be people of the cross.

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For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.

 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you.  All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. -2 Cor. 4:6-18

*****

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.- from Romans 8

Scripture & Song (Once & For All)

Radical obedience to Christ is not easy…It’s not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And He is more than enough for us. –David Platt

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. –Matthew 16:24-25

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

Music Monday: My Portion & My Strength

Dear friends,

It has been a day here. I’ve been debating whether or not I should talk about it – and I land on yes, because maybe…just maybe…you have had one of these days, too.

It hasn’t been an external battle but an in-the-heart kind of struggle…even while still being so grateful for everything in my life, I have felt unsettled today. I’ve run short on patience and frustration has come quickly, whether with our sometimes-working dishwasher, the apple juice I spilled all over the counter, or with my kids. I haven’t felt that internal peace that keeps me centered and focused…usually I try to stay present in the moment, my eyes on the long-term and not on the right this second situation…but today, the doing-things-but-not-getting-anything-done syndrome that sometimes plagues all of us is bringing me to the sit-in-the-floor-and-cry-while-pulling-my-hair-out syndrome. I have wavered between insecurity and fear, self-condemnation and regret. And, of course, since I know that I really have no reason to be out-of-sorts – and all of the things causing me irritation are truly inconsequential – I have felt guilty for all of the above short-comings. Which makes me feel worse. And brings on more of the waterworks.

It’s not a pretty cycle, y’all.

What do we do when we get caught up in a day like this? How do we stop the cycle?

The only way I know to find victory over the ‘I do what I don’t want to do and don’t do what I want to do’ battle that Paul describes in Romans 7 (which, honestly, he could have written specifically about me today) is by falling on our knees, God’s Word in our hands, our hearts yielding to His. When we are in trouble, we cannot delay coming to Him – we must throw up our hands and cry out for help!

Listen to what Paul says: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

When our emotions try to master us, when we are weak and unprepared for the spiritual battles we face – we must call upon God, who gives us the victory through Jesus! Listen, it may be nearing the end of this Monday, but it is not time to throw in the towel on this day. You may have had a rough day, a rough weekend, a week or a month or a year that has tasted like defeat – but it is not too late to cry out to God. It is not too late to pick up that shield of faith, which will extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. It is not too late to ask Him to steady your feet with His gospel of peace, to wrap His truth around your life, to remind you that His righteousness makes your heart secure. It is not too late to wield your sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and is mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,  casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,  and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. (2 Cor. 10)

Do not close your eyes tonight without knowing that you are set free from sin and condemnation – no matter what your emotions say, no matter what accusations the enemy sends your way. What matters is what God says – and He says that you are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Rom.3:24) He says that therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the laws of sin and death. (Rom.8:1)

We can struggle and we can have hard days – but, friends, we cannot quit because Jesus has given us new life in Him! Paul’s words speak directly to my heart again in Philippians 3 – But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

I don’t know what you are going through. I don’t know if your body or your heart is broken, if you are fighting a battle of the mind and will or if there are people in your life causing you pain. I don’t know if it’s a circumstance you can’t change or a problem that feels impossible to solve.

But I do know this – we serve a God who is good, a God who is mighty in power. We serve a God abounding in mercy, great in His faithfulness. We serve a God to whom nothing is too hard and not even one single thing is impossible. We serve a God who equips us to stand firm against the power of darkness, sin, and the enemy, every single day. We serve a God who cares about our struggles. He comes alongside us and empowers us through His Holy Spirit – He gives us peace that surpasses understanding and the fullness of His joy…joy that can’t be taken away, joy that gives us strength.

And through it all – through it all – (even when we feel most unloveable) nothing separates us from His love.

Listen, after this day of feeling (I’m borrowing Paul’s word here) just wretched inside of this heart and head, it is the pure gift of grace that still meets me when I fall on my face before my Father…and His grace will meet you, too, wherever you are.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one.

Christ Jesus who died – more than that – who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. {Don’t miss that wonder-full truth – our Savior, on these hardest of days, is praying for us!}

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:31-39)

Oh, may this truth be our hope and our confidence! May this be the joy that refreshes and renews us, that sets our feet dancing to the rhythm of His heart-beat. Our victory does not depend on us – but in whom we place our trust – the Savior who has overcome the world, the Lamb of God – Jesus – who has taken away our sin and defeated death, hell, and the grave!

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The morning comes with new mercy. Let’s run on, friends.

Love,

Christie

In the Middle of the Mess (Hope for When We Fail)

I could hear it in my daughter’s voice when she called for me – the familiar tone of “uh-oh”. She looked up at me and said, “I was making something for you, but I made a mess. I didn’t mean to spill it…I’m sorry.”

Following her into the kitchen, I saw the problem – glitter, purple and gold, was all over the floor.  She had pulled out the craft supplies within her reach, by herself, without asking for permission. Scissors, glue sticks, and stickers were scattered – sparkles spread over everything.

“I was making this,” she said, and presented me with her artwork – a paper-towel canvas embellished with her name spelled out in glitter-letters. “I’m sorry,” she said again – and I reached down to hug her. I saw her mistakes, yes – but I also saw her intentions. I saw the desire to make something good, something beautiful for me. I saw the love that motivated her actions.

“Thank you for this picture – it is wonderful. I love it. And I forgive you for the mess. You do know that you’re supposed to ask when you want to use all of this stuff. Next time,” I told her, “just ask me so I can help you.”

The smile returned to her face and, putting her masterpiece up, we began to clean up the layer of sticky, sparkly glitter.

***

Sometimes we do this same thing. We want to do good things for God – so we make fast decisions and quick moves, forgetting to ask our Father for direction, forgetting to wait on His help. Situations come up—and we speak our minds to others before we talk to Him.

Sometimes we give in when temptations come around. Sometimes we fail to do something that we know we are supposed to do. Sometimes we make wrong choices.

We make mistakes. We fail. We make messes.

But this does not give us cause to give up. This does not give us permission to stop doing good work. This does not mean we are failures. And it certainly does not change God’s love for us.

***

I think of Peter, his rash foot-in-mouth ways, and see so much hope for us. This fisherman-disciple was a proficient mess-maker…but he was also a man of bold faith, a man chosen and used by God.

We get a glimpse of his heart in Matthew 16, when Jesus asks His disciples – “But who do you say that I am?” Peter speaks up before anyone else can figure out an answer and says this – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

When Jesus responds, it is with blessing and hope for Peter’s future: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

This moment must stun and thrill Peter – he is being called into the work of God.

Of course, like most of us, he seems to forget at times that only God has sovereign wisdom and power when it comes to the building of His kingdom. Peter has that beautiful interaction with Jesus and, soon after, the Savior begins to talk about how He must suffer, die, and be raised from the grave. Peter is horrified – he actually took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” Jesus then turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

I flinch, reading these words, because I have been guilty of this so many times…when we can’t understand how God is working, don’t we sometimes jump in and try to ‘fix’ it all ourselves? It’s a matter of learning to trust Him. Peter and I have this in common: a need to listen and truly hear the voice of God, understanding that His plans are higher and better than our own. It is our calling to surrender to Him, even when His purpose is unclear.

Peter goes through this again in John 13, when Jesus is washing the feet of the disciples.

Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

What I love here is the fact that Peter does not run away and hide from the fact that he has made a mistake. He does not let pride silence him. He acknowledges his error and tries again – for he could not bear to be cast aside by his Lord. His heart cries out – take all of me!

***

Peter’s leap of faith and plunge into doubt in Matthew 14 is a familiar story to many of us – the disciples are out in a boat, a rough wind rocking the sea. Jesus walks out into the middle of the sea to meet them – and they do not recognize Him, fear convincing them that the figure walking on water is a ghost.

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.  But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

This wasn’t Peter’s last bold declaration to be followed by a plummet into fear. Jesus warns him in Luke 22 that he will be tested…Peter proclaims that he is ready to be imprisoned and even to die for Jesus. “Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.”

Jesus is arrested (Peter angrily cutting off a man’s ear along the way) and just as He said – Peter denies having any part of Him. Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”  So Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Can’t you feel the weight of sorrow Peter must have felt? At this most crucial moment – his faith faltered.

But even after this most bitter failure, Peter was loved by Jesus. One of my favorite moments of mercy is displayed in two little words after the resurrection of Christ. The angel gives a message to the women looking for the body of their Lord –

“But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Mark 16:7)

Jesus knew that Peter’s heart was in a mess…and He reached out to him in the middle of it. He was not willing to leave Peter in regret and sorrow, in broken shame.

He goes to him, calling him by his full name each time and – asking not once, not twice, but three times – if Peter loves him. For each regret-filled memory of denial, he was given a chance to say – Yes, I love you.

I believe that Jesus wanted Peter to understand that he was known – mistakes and all – and that he still had a place in building God’s kingdom — Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” Jesus lets Peter know that he will, one day, give up his life for the sake of God’s glory, and then He speaks two familiar words to him – “Follow Me.”

Grace, friends. He gives us more than we can even comprehend, doesn’t He?

Yes, Peter misspoke and mishandled…he made promises he couldn’t keep.

But he also kept trying to fully follow his Lord. He believed, even when others didn’t. He may have lost his footing in that water, but for a glorious moment – he was walking on the waves with Jesus.

Peter was willing to take risks. He was willing to learn from his mistakes. Most importantly – Peter loved the Savior. He did not allow self-condemnation, regret, or fear keep him from that beckoning “Follow Me.”

Instead he acted in obedience, the Holy Spirit transforming him into a man that would preach the gospel and stand up in courage, time and again, for the glory of God.

We get to hear from Peter himself in his letters and he reminds us to make every effort be found blameless, spotless, and at peace with the Lord…but I like to imagine that he had a little smile on his face when he wrote the next line in 2nd Peter 3:15 – bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation…for he knew it quite well, the patience of our Lord. He experienced the mercy of God and he was well-versed in grace.

Just as we are.

For didn’t He see when our hearts were a mess? He reached out to us – He came, Himself, into the middle of our need to become our redemption.  He has never been willing to leave us broken and in shame.

If you find yourself in the middle of a mess, confess it and accept the forgiveness that He is willing to give. Satan will try to turn your focus to your failures so that you will not live in the freedom of God’s forgiveness. 2 Corinthians 7 tells us this — For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. There is no more condemnation in Christ, not when He has borne the weight of our guilt.

Our actions do have consequences – the Lord disciplines those He loves, helping us to mature and to become more like Him in this world that needs men and women reflecting His righteousness, His unselfish love. But He remains faithful in love and grace, even in the hard harvests of our lives.

Just as He knew Peter’s heart and had a plan, a purpose for His future – He knows you. When we make mistakes, we do our best to learn from them – asking for His help, for His strength to grow in faith as we answer the same call He gave to Peter – Follow Me. You, too, have a work to do in building His Kingdom.

So don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to step out of the boat. Don’t let pride or worry or what anyone else might think keep you from surrendering all you are to all He is.

We are not defined by our mistakes, but by His mercy.

*****

You know, thinking back to the night glitter took over my kitchen, I just can’t think that it was a coincidence, seeing as I needed this reminder of His grace…as we began to clean, I looked down at the glitter-covered floor and I could see a giant gold heart within the middle of that mess.

And I had to hug my daughter again, a smile on my face.

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