“Catch the Wind”

 

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These are strange days. Do you feel it? Do you feel the uncertainty of this season, the cacophony of voices constantly clashing around us? Do you feel the opinions flying fast and furious, fear tightening its grip, discord having its day?

But deeper than all of that – beneath the surface of frenzy and friction – do you see the hearts longing to know that they are seen and safe, that the future is secure, that someone is for them? Do you see hearts looking for hope?

It can be hard to know the right thing to say or the right actions to take because, in a time when it seems like everyone is choosing sides over something, we are still called to be peacemakers. We are called to act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. We are called to love as we have been loved.

I think this brings one conclusion — we need wisdom greater than our own. We need vision that sees further, deeper, and clearer than our own. We need a love that is wider, deeper, longer, and higher than our emotions or opinions. We need ears to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Over these strange days, our God is still sovereign. His are still the words that are not returned void. His purposes still stand. His heart is still set on kindness that brings repentance. He is still looking for every lost sheep…His love is not wavering, His mercy has not run dry.

We know that His kingdom is unshakeable. We know that our Savior still meets every heart that longs for rescue and calls out to Him. We know that there is love that never fails.

So you and I, we are hope-bearers and we must not be distracted or deterred from this calling.

When we aren’t sure how to proceed, what to say, how to act — this is when we press in to His presence.  We open His Word and let our roots deepen in Truth that endures…we open our hearts in prayer and let Him change us until our lives flourish in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We abide in Him and He abides in us — this Holy Spirit, comforter and teacher, lives within us. And this is what my heart is yearning for, what I know I desperately need – to  walk in step with Him, finding my source of help in His sustaining grace.

In and out of changing times, the victorious light and love of Jesus remain unshaken. Secure in His faithfulness, we are to take this life day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. We lean in and we listen for His voice…we wait on the Lord when we are unsure of our next step. We live interruptible lives, open to changing course and trusting that He will lead us when we ask Him to order our steps, to show us His way.

Maybe it won’t always look logical. Maybe it won’t always make sense. But this is faith — walking in the Spirit instead of our own reasoning.

May our part in these strange days be one of remarkable, bold grace. Let it be our part to share peace that surpasses understanding, compassion that reflects our Jesus who gave Himself to bear the pain and sorrow of all people. Let it be our part to hear the cries of the hurting, not turning away, but drawing close in the power of God that works in us to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to proclaim liberty for the captives. Let it be our part to act in fearless and unintimidated obedience when God leads us into action. Let it be our part to share unwavering truth in love. Let it be our part to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, to care for those who are forgotten and lonely. Let it be our part to intercede in prayer, knowing that God honors and responds to the prayer of His people. Let it be our part, above all, to never stop sharing the good news of a Savior who gave His life so that we can find forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

Let us be brave. Let us be strong in the power of His might.

We have been given the freedom that comes with redemption, the abundant joy of God’s presence, His strength in our weakness — so let it be that our lives are living epistles of His hope. In these strange days, may it be said of us that we have loved like we were first loved…whole-heartedly, holding nothing back, freely giving what has been given to us.

“…that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”-John 3:6-8

If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.-Galatians 5:25

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.-2 Cor. 3:17

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.-2 Timothy 1:7

We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.-1 John 4:6-19

 

Together We Follow: Genesis 14:17-24

We last saw Abram in a moment of victory. With improbable odds, he took on a rescue mission to save his nephew, Lot, from kings who had conquered and kidnapped the people of Sodom.

Despite the greater number of men, weapons, and experience that his men faced, Abram was victorious in the battle.

We pick up after the victory, when Abram meets Melchizedek – priest of the Most High God, King of Salem (a place later to be called Jerusalem).

 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:“Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

And he gave him a tithe of all.

Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”

 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’—except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”

As I’ve thought about this moment in time, I tried to put myself in Abram’s shoes. This is not a period of time in which many know the Most High God. Abram came from a family and a place that worshiped idols…. we aren’t told that he encountered anyone else on his journey so far who professed a relationship with the God he had come to know.

What encouragement, then, it must have been for Melchizedek to come to him. What unexpected grace and confirmation of God’s faithfulness it was to have this priest of the Most High minister to him.

We can’t know what Abram was feeling or what, exactly, his heart was in need of after facing such a battle to win back his family.

But even while Abram was still in the fierce fight, God was already moving to spread a table before him…God was already guiding Melchizedek to prepare for Abram’s visit…God was already providing what Abram would need.

Melchizedek gave nourishment for body and soul — bread and wine, blessing, reminder of the One who had given Abram the victory.

And so when the king of Sodom offered Abram the spoils of battle, Abram said no. He knew the One who was making a way for him in this strange new land. He was seeing, day by day, the power and goodness of his God…and he wanted no confusion about the source of his strength.

I believe that our Father takes delight in preparing good things for us, in being the One we look to for what we need. Whether we are in the heat of battle, in a place of peace, in a moment of victory, in the day-to-day paths we walk — God is the One who nourishes us, who knows what we need before we can even realize it ourselves.

God sent Melchizedek to meet Abram, to refresh and encourage him…as I thought about how loving this was, it dawned on me — for you and I, God came Himself. Through the work of Christ on the cross and the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives, we have an ever-abiding comfort and sustaining power. The Father looked ahead and saw our needs…and for us, He prepared an open invitation to His table, to His Word, to His presence, to the throne of Grace.

This is the love of our God toward us — He Himself became our bread and wine, our living water that satisfies every thirst, our blessing, our portion.

It’s my hope that we will center our trust and our dependence upon Him so that we will understand, more and more, His faithfulness to sustain us…and when anyone looks at our lives, they will know – everything we have and everything we are has come from our Father.

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Together We Follow: Genesis 12:10

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Into the unknown, Abram followed God. Not knowing where the road would lead, he set off into the future. He believed the promise of blessing. He believed the promise of a homeland. He believed the promise of family and purpose. He believed God – so, with Sarai at his side, he left behind what was familiar…he chose the uncertain path, staking his life in the One who would go before him.

They entered into Canaan. They traveled through parts of the land, getting to know this new place. They made altars. They made camps. They began to settle in, with worship in their hearts.

And then?

Genesis 12:10:  At that time a severe famine struck the land of Canaan, forcing Abram to go down to Egypt, where he lived as a foreigner.

Famine.

How could this be?

In this place of promise, there was need. In this place where God had led them, there was barrenness. Where they expected blessing, hardship showed up.

Abram had another choice to make — would he keep Canaan as his goal? Would he hold onto what had been promised or  would he give up hope? Would he still accept what God had given, even when the gift held such a difficult season?

I don’t know about you – but if I’d been there with Abram and Sarai, I’m quite certain this turn of events would have unraveled my confidence in our decisions. I might have tried to turn back for the familiar home I’d left behind.

But Abram didn’t do that. Instead, he went into Egypt. And Genesis doesn’t say that Abram abandoned Canaan, finding a new home in that neighboring nation…no, he lived as a foreigner there. He wasn’t settling there, but only staying for a while.

Did they wonder why God allowed famine to come to Canaan at this time? I don’t know if Abram questioned it, but I do wonder at the timing. Knowing that God is good and His purpose was to reveal Himself to Abram and all of his descendants, I wonder what this famine was used to accomplish in the heart of Abram.

Perhaps He knew the time had come to show Abram that it wasn’t the blessing that was most important, but the Giver of the gifts. Perhaps God wanted Abram to learn that no matter the circumstances, He would remain with him.Perhaps He wanted to teach Abram that each step – when taken in obedience  – leads us closer to His full purpose. Situations may not look like what we imagined they would…but He uses each circumstance to strengthen, discipline, and deepen us.

This is how Abram kept his course – by looking to the One who had laid out the road before him. In times like these, we have to keep our eyes fixed on the Author and Finisher of our faith.

The enemy could have used this famine as a tactic to distract, discourage, and deter Abram from his relationship with God…I feel it’s pretty likely that he would have been working, all the while, to undermine Abram’s trust in God. I can almost hear his voice, whispering – go back. Go home. It’s safer there. It’s easier there. He brought you this far and for what? For famine? For failure? 

And they could have gone back…but they had set their hearts on the promises of God. They were no longer looking for what had been, but for what would be. A life fashioned from their own hands was no longer enough to satisfy their hearts — now that they had seen Him, now that they had heard His voice – they were looking for a home built by God.

Nothing else would satisfy.

*******

Have you ever been in a spot like this? Have you obeyed God, walked in His way, and found obstacles in your path? Have you listened and planted, worked and waited – only to have a field barren of harvest?

When He is silent…when the answers aren’t immediate…when the answers are not what we would have chosen…do we still trust Him?

What if we never see the reality of God’s promise or the harvest of our labor in this life-time?

Can we trust that His eternal vision sees the outcome we cannot? Can we trust that He is using our lives in ways we cannot yet understand, for this present time and the age to come? Can we hold onto what is yet unseen, trusting the reality of our eternal home that we will one day call our own?

Can we trust in His faithfulness, even when it feels like we have taken a detour that makes no sense, a circumstance that feels like setback, a fall that feels like failure?

I think we have to re-define our definition of success when it comes to our lives. Merriam Webster’s first explanation is this:  the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.

But what if success is actually, simply, the delight of our Father?

What if success is being content in all circumstances because of His presence?

What if success is laying ourselves down and picking up a cross, following Him?

What if success is seeking first the Kingdom of God, putting His name above our own?

What if success is finding joy and beauty in even the smallest moments of our lives?

What if success is being transformed more and more into His image?

What if success is the overflow of His love into the people He has placed on our path?

What if success is giving all – whole-hearted, whole-soul, whole-life to Him, with only the aim of pleasing Him?

What if success is walking with Him, not for what we will gain, but because we love Him?

What if success is developing faith that believes Him, chooses Him, reveals Him through our lives?

What if success is one day hearing ‘well done, good and faithful servant’, as we enter into the City of God?

Isn’t this the kind of success in which a heart can still sing in the midnight, in the storm, or in the famine?  Isn’t this the kind of success that brings real life?

I believe, with all my heart, that this is the only kind of success that satisfies our souls in every season of our lives.

We won’t understand every road we take, every turn or stop…but it isn’t our role to control the outcome of all that we do – that is the work of God and only He can do it in a way that will be both for our good and for His glory. It’s our role to keep trusting, to keep following, to keep obeying the One who loves us.

*****

If this is where we are right now — earnestly seeking to follow God and finding ourselves, still, in famine or fire, storm or desert, disaster or silence – I hope that we will remember that the One who called us to this place hasn’t gone anywhere. God is still here with us, even when it feels like we are walking away from what we thought would be our future…in the waiting and in the wandering, He is here.

So let’s learn this from Abram: don’t give up and don’t go back.

Don’t let the enemy dissuade or deter you. Don’t let anything talk you into going back to the way things were before…set your eyes on the One who will complete the work He has begun in you. No matter what – His promises are sure. He will do what He says He will do.

Hold onto tightly to your hope. Hang on, with all your heart, to your faith. Famine or plenty, Egypt or promised land, calm or storm, darkness or day – He remains. He stays the same…and He is the satisfaction of our souls.

 

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold.-1 Peter 1:6

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.-Hebrews 11: 13-16

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…

…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 Corinthians 3:8-10, 16-18


 

Together We Follow: An Interruptible Life (Genesis 12:1-9)

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Genesis 12:1-9

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.  I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites.

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the Lord, who had appeared to him. After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the Lord, and he worshiped the Lord.  Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.

This is what I love about the call of Abram: God didn’t call him because of his background or his qualifications. We aren’t even told that Abram was particularly upright in the way he lived or trying to find the God of his forefathers. All we know for sure is that his father had not worshiped the one true God (Joshua 24:2). There, in the crowded city of Ur, they did not remember God.

But God remembered mankind. He remembered His promise of blessing to Adam, to Noah, to Shem. He still wanted a relationship with the people He’d created. He wanted to restore the communion that had been lost.

So He chose a descendant of Shem – not because of who Abram was in that moment, but because of His own faithfulness, His own enduring compassion for the men and women on this planet He’d shaped.

God spoke something new into Abram’s life – a calling, a command, a commitment. He reached out and initiated a relationship that would bring Abram and his descendants into covenant with Him…in this way, God would reveal Himself, again, to the world. Through an on-going relationship with Abram and his family, there would be a revelation of God’s character and His heart. He could communicate what He wanted for their lives. He could be their God and they could be His people — this would be the restoration of communion for all the world to witness.

And as for Abram?

God didn’t force him to obey. God didn’t coerce him into leaving Haran.

Abram heard God’s voice and he chose to respond in faith. Abram chose to believe Him.

He chose to lay down all of his old expectations, his former life, who he thought he was and what he thought was in store for the future…he allowed God to create something different and totally new in him. When God invited him into this transformed life, turning everything topsy-turvy, Abram said – yes.

I want that kind of faith, the faith that says yes to the journey before the destination is revealed…just because God has asked me to go. I want to stay yielded…interruptible. I don’t want to hold on so tightly to what I know and what I plan that I leave no room for God to make something new out of me, to re-direct me to His purposes.

Because just like He revealed His heart to the world through Abram’s obedience, He still reveals His love through His people, through the surrendered lives of His sons and daughters.

Lord, help us to hear You when You call us.  Help us to leave space for Your Spirit to work within us, to transform us. Help us to trust You enough to surrender what has been when You are ready to do something new in our lives. Help us to boldly live out a yes when You ask us to act, to move, to follow You.

The Power to Redeem…(Scripture&Song for the days when we need a reminder of our freedom & hope)

Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of His strength? ‘It is I, proclaiming victory, mighty to save.’…in His love and mercy He redeemed them; He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.”-Is. 63:1b,9b

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remember your sins no more.” -Is. 43:25

“I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoiced in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness…” -Is.61 10

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! -2 Cor.5:17

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. -Eph.1:7

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.-Col.2:13-15

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.-Heb.4:16

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in Him!”-Lam.3:21-24

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“…it was a testament to how God truly sets us free from everything that the enemy has in store for us. I love the idea that the enemy thinks that he is trapping us, but God in turn flips it on its head and says – ‘Actually, that’s gonna’ be the thing that I get the most glory from. That’s gonna’ be the thing that I redeem them from…even though we all have moments of regret or shame or failure…His love that He so lavished on us, His power has nailed all that to the tree. It’s done, it was finished at the cross and now we can walk in true redemption.” -Lauren Daigle*

*quoted from the Relevant Magazine podcast, discussing the inspiration behind ‘The Power to Redeem’

A Light Not Overcome (Beatitudes, Part 14)

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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?

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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)

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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

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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

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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