Stand firm in this…

Last night I sat at a dinner table with a new friend. As we learned to know each other, she talked about first coming to this area as a young woman and being in awe of the beauty of our hills and valleys. When she married and became a resident of our county, as she raised her family she tried to instill in them an appreciation of the gift of living here.

Those of us who have lived here all of our lives sometimes forget we have such a gift. Every now and then as I drive 39, I wonder how many thousands of times I’ve driven that same stretch—could it even be tens of thousands? And so often, I do take it all for granted and don’t even see the beauty God created for us here as I race through busy days and occupy my mind with the challenges of the week.

Are we prone to do the same with the amazing, freeing truth that Paul wrote about in Colossians? He wrote, “But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it” (Colossians 1:23).

What truth? Go back two verses: You were once God’s enemies (strong language!), but he has “reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ… and brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”

His enemies. A bad spot to be in. But because Christ went to the cross, we now live in God’s own presence and He has wiped out the record against us.

I am reminded this morning of what a wonderful gift it is to live here in God’s presence, with no blame brought against me. I don’t want to take this for granted. If you belong to Christ, stop for a moment and drink in the beauty of this place where you now live.

This is the Good News that Paul said was changing lives all over the world (Colossians 1:6, 23).

Stand firm in this. Don’t forget or take it for granted. It changes our lives!

Born to be Brave

What’s holding you back?

What’s holding you back from the life Jesus died to give you?

Let’s ask another question first: Have you had a glimpse of the life Jesus died to give you?

So many times we are caught in the whirlwind of our days that we lose sight of Jesus’ plans for us: He came to save us from empty lives and give us lives full of heaven’s resources, purposes, power, and joys.

I don’t want to miss all that because I get so distracted by the temporal tempests that can blow away my days like the wind dispels smoke.

I have been thinking about the few small loaves and fishes that a nameless, ordinary boy gave to Jesus. When that boy offered his lunch to share, he could not have imagined the outcome. He only knew that he was willing to let Jesus have his lunch and Jesus could do whatever He would with it.

Most of us probably feel like that child, with so little to offer that we think it will make no difference or have no impact. Our little bit is indeed insignificant. But what Jesus can do with our little bit– that is what will make all the difference!

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone speak of God giving them a clear, fully detailed vision of the life He has planned for them. He does show us the next step on the path. He knows where He intends to take us, even though we can’t see it. He knows how He is putting together His masterpiece.

He knows what He intends to do with those loaves and fishes. We can’t see the whole picture. We just need to be willing to take the next step into that life.

What’s holding us back?

* What’s keeping us from following Jesus’ commandment to pray for and do kind things for that person who has hurt us so deeply?

* What keeps us from helping foreigners in our midst as God has told us to do?

* In this season of lilies, what keeps us from trusting God to provide everything we need?

* What keeps us from putting aside things in our lives that take our focus off God?

* What keeps us from declaring our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven while we live in a kingdom hostile to God’s children?

* What keeps us from believing that God can use our little loaves and fishes?

What keeps us from taking the next step toward the big, unlimited life He has for us?

As we take each step, He’ll unfold that life. And like the lunch for thousands of people, what He does will be beyond anything we imagine now.

What holds us back?

In Bob Goff’s book Everybody Always, he wrote, “Jesus never asked anyone to play it safe. We were born to be brave.”

Scripture says our new birth and life came from the Spirit of God—and yes, we were born into this new life to be brave.

At this birth, you inherited the Spirit of the One who gave you this life. And that Spirit is not one of fear or insignificance or helplessness. The Spirit in you is one of power, love, and self-discipline.

Following that Spirit brings life and peace.

What’s keeping you from taking that next brave step?

***

Scriptures: 2 Timothy 1:7; Romans 8:6; John 10:10; Ephesians 2:10

 

Photo Credit: Emily Leonard

Still daring

After a hard week, at the beginning of another when I am trying to gain strength and determination to take on the next days that look equally challenging, I read this:

I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The faithful love of the LORD never ends!
His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him!”
The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD.
Lamentations 3:21-26

I am reminded of who and whose I am. My identity changed when God rescued me and moved me from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His Son.

And now the Lord is my inheritance. I think of the first words of the verse that asks, What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world… What have I gained? Certainly not much of this world.

But I have gained all of who God is.

And I have gained His words and thoughts, written to me. As I start reading, I am reminded:

He carries me through every moment of each day. Psalm 68:19
He showers His children with kindness and mercy. Ephesians 2:7
Even in the hard times, He is shaping us to be those great oaks He has planted for His glory. Isaiah 61:3
He called me, and He is faithful to do everything He says. 1 Corinthians 1:9
He will keep me strong to the end. 1 Corinthians 1:8
He has dressed me to be—and live!—as His child. Isaiah 61:10
I can expect new mercies today! Lamentations 3:23

I page through His written words to me, and the promises and assurances leap off the page. These few are only a small sample. A deluge of compassion and love has saturated my morning.

This is the God who is my inheritance as His daughter. This is what I have gained.

After a hard week, at the beginning of another that looks equally difficult, I sit down to search for God and wait quietly and depend on Him. And I read this: “The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. They are new every morning. The LORD is my inheritance.”

And so I still dare to hope.

Once… But now…

May is bursting with celebrations of life. My calendar has marked three birthdays, two anniversaries, several graduations, Mother’s Day, even celebrations of lives well-lived. Father’s Day will soon be here. As will Memorial Day. Nature is bursting with life, too. In only a few days over the weekend, irises unfolded, the peonies began to show pink and red cracks in their buds, rhododendron bushes drooped heavy with blossom, and many flower beds suddenly sprouted joyful colors of all types of annuals.

I’ve been thinking, though, that I am guilty of taking many of these things for granted. Why wait for someone’s birthday to ponder how much we love and appreciate them? Why have only one day a year when we celebrate mothers and fathers and those who have paid a heavy price for our country’s freedom? Why do I so often run past the glories of nature and the balm they offer my soul when it is weary?

Likewise, in this new life I now live, the Spirit has gently nudged me to celebrate every day. Because Jesus’ salvation changes everything.

For many years, I thought salvation was only about being spared from eternal punishment after I die. Once I settled that question, though, I went plodding along through life—and not much changed. Phrases like those in 1 Peter 2—that tell us since we’ve tasted God’s kindness to cry out for the full experience of salvation—well, phrases like that puzzled me and I’d just skip over them.

But salvation, the full experience, changes everything. God’s plan for rescue goes so much further than just a different verdict on judgment day! His plan is meant to affect every aspect and every moment, from right now on to judgment day and far beyond.

That’s what Peter was talking about when he wrote about crying out for the full experience. And I want it!

It all started with the wonderful rescue:

For he [the Father] has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness
and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son,
who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.
Colossians 1:13, 14

That is cause for celebration! We understand the forgiveness of sins and the ransom Jesus paid for us. We are so grateful for that.

But this week, let’s celebrate the first part of those verses. We have been moved from one kingdom to another. We have been given a new life and a new identity. And we want to grow into and experience our new reality—to the fullest!

The Scriptures are full of statements of truth about our new identity and this new place we live. These are the results of our salvation*:

Once you were God’s enemies, but now you are His children.

Once you were separated from God because of your evil thoughts and actions, but now you are holy and blameless and stand before Him without a single fault.

Once you were dead, but now God has given you a new life—with heavenly dimensions!

Once you deserved God’s anger, but now His mercy has forgiven you.

Once you were a lost sheep who wandered away, but now you are safe in the care of the Shepherd, the Guardian of your soul.

Once you had no identity, but now you are God’s people.

Once you were slaves to sin, but now you are free from that slavery and are slaves to righteous living.

Once you were full of darkness, bit now you have light from the Lord that produces what is good and true.

And one that sums up everything: Once you lived without God and without hope, but now you live in the presence of the God of all hope.

What a change has been wrought in our lives because Jesus rescued us! No wonder Peter wrote, “Now we live with great expectation…”

Celebrate that life. Every day. Don’t take it for granted. Live in your new reality, the new truths of your life.

And let’s cry out to the Father for the nourishment that will grow us into the full experience of what His salvation means.

* * *

What is your “Once I was… but now…” declaration? Would you share it with us in the Comments section? Don’t agonize over trying to come with up a perfectly crafted sentence. Just let us know what one thing immediately comes to mind as you think about what it has meant to your life because Jesus rescued you.

I’ll start us off. Here’s the first one I thought of:  Once I was afraid of God, but now He is the fountain of all life for me.

Oh… and another close second: Once I was terrified of the future, but now I am secure in my Shepherd’s arms.

Let’s celebrate our salvation!

 

 

* From: Colossians 1:21, 22; Ephesians 2:1-6; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 2:10; Romans 6:17, 18; Ephesians 2:12,13; Ephesians 5:8; Ephesians 2:12; Acts 26:18

Evil, Birthdays, and FOMO

FOMO. The word is not in the old dictionary that’s still hanging out on my shelf after my college years. It has only appeared in our English language in the lifetime of my grandchildren. Yet this word has already found a place in respected online dictionaries like Merriam-Webster, although I think Mr. Webster would have absolutely no grasp of the culture that created this word.

I thought about this word as my life, speeding along this year of 2019, rounded the curve of a milestone birthday this past weekend.

And FOMO has infected me as I keep pondering three verses that the Spirit highlighted for me when I recently read again one of my favorite books—1 Peter. These verses have been on my mind every day for almost a month, so it’s high time to be sharing these thoughts with you.

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.
(1 Peter 2:1-3)

Did your mind shut off after reading Get rid of evil behavior? Or did something snap awake as you went on to the next sentence? That’s what happened to me. Evil behavior—yes, I’m done with that. At least, I want to be. But look again at the examples Peter then lists. Those things keep nudging their way into my life, often in the most subtle ways. As I write this, I’ve been awake less than an hour of this new day, and already I’ve battled one—no, two—of those things Peter links with the word evil.

How stealthy and cunning our enemy is, as he works to lure us off God’s path! So stay alert today, sisters and brothers.

The second thought about this passage is that Peter writes of having a “taste” of the Lord’s kindness. To understand this, go back to the preceding paragraphs. Peter has just written about God’s wonderful salvation—that long ago, the Creator already had a plan to rescue us from the evil that infected the world, save us from an empty life, cleanse us, and re-birth us into a new life that will last forever.

Oh! To my soul, that seems much more than a “taste.” That’s life-giving food and water to me.

Yet Peter calls this only a taste of all God has for us. There’s more, so much more. There’s a “full experience of salvation.”

Now, are you feeling tremors of FOMO rising in your heart and head?

FOMO is the new word—acronym, buzz word, or slang, whatever you want to call it—for the Fear Of Missing Out. In these days dominated by the internet and social media, we are bombarded by all kinds of information about the world and other people’s lives. And for some people, FOMO sets in: a fear that something exciting or wonderful is happening somewhere, and I am missing out.

What Peter wrote centuries ago has triggered a case of FOMO in me. Another birthday has come and gone. (For those of you who haven’t discovered it yet, here’s the law of earthly birthdays: The higher the number, the more quickly the year evaporates.)

Yes, I am living a life that will not end. But in this season of my life—in this earthly season—I don’t want to miss out on the full experience God has for me.

God’s “plan of salvation.” We hear those words and think of Jesus Christ dying for us, forgiving our sins, and promising us eternal life. Yet through Peter’s words here, God is telling us that’s only the beginning, only a taste of everything He has planned for those who come to Him. He says, There’s a whole lot more, my children!

Do you want the full experience of your salvation? I do.

Peter writes, “Cry out for this nourishment.” That’s what I’ll be doing in the following weeks. Come along with me. No matter where each of us is on the salvation journey, God has so much more planned.

This week, cry out for the Spirit to cleanse your life of evil behavior, and ask that He guides and nourishes us as we grow up into the full experience of our salvation. God’s Word reassures us that He rewards those who seek Him and draws near to those who draw near to Him. He’ll be here with us.