From Love to Self-Control: God at Work in Me, Even Me

If there is one thing that my years of Biblical studies have taught me, it is this:

God ALONE is true, holy, just, and trustworthy.

This is faith.

Faith in His son Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord.  Faith in His word as absolute truth.  Faith in His Holy Spirit – Christ in me.

He alone is worthy of my praise.  He alone is my source of strength and hope.

I have learned that I cannot trust self.  My thoughts and desires will only lead me to pain and suffering for me and those around me.

Full submission to my creator God, who loves me and has a purpose for me, leads me into the abundant, full life that makes living life in this dark and fallen place worthwhile.

Love and Purpose.

Knowing who you are and whose you are makes all the difference.  I pray that you will study what God’s word says about you, His beloved, and that you will walk in full belief and confidence that you are deeply and eternally loved by the God of all creation.

Ephesians 2:4-10 [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

You are not under condemnation (Rom. 8:1).  You are God’s beloved child (John 1:12).  Take time to soak and rest in that.  Let God minister to your heart and fill it with love overflowing so that you have something to offer – a light to shine in the darkness as you reflect His holiness.  Listen to this One who loves you.  Obey what He has planned for you to do.  It will be difficult, but He is with you.

Matthew 5:13-16 [13] “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. [14] “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. [15] Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. [16] In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (ESV)

The fruit of God’s Holy Spirit made evident in the life of a follower of Jesus, a child of God, is encouragement to my faith.  God made manifest in the life of me, even me.  Be encouraged today in the Lord.  He has great things for you to do.  Submit to Him.  Press on.

Let’s Open Up God’s Word

One of the primary ways that God speaks to us is through the Bible.  It is a challengingly simple book.  An oxymoron I know.  But it is true.

Little children learn its lessons.  Everyone who comes to the word humbly, ready to be taught will receive wisdom from heaven in its pages.  Those who are faithful with what God has shown them, who are humble and teachable, who desire to honor God, can dig even deeper in its depths as there are unlimited treasures to be found.  It is the Living Word.

John 1:14 [14] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (ESV)

If my desire is to build my relationship with Jesus, wouldn’t you say it would be good to spend some time talking with Him and listening to what He has to say?

Yesterday my husband said to me, “Let’s just be honest, it is optimistic to say that most Christians spend an hour a week reading the Bible.”

He may as well have drawn a knife out and stabbed me in the heart.

I so desire that my brothers and sisters really seek God first.  One hour a week is NOT first.

In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus teaches us about giving to others, how to pray to God, how to fast, how to lay up our treasure in heaven, and how not to be anxious.

Matthew 6:30-34 [30] But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31] Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [32] For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. [33] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  [34] “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (ESV)

2 Timothy 3:16-17 [16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV)

We are called to encourage one another.  So let me encourage you in this.  God has more for you!  God has a full life, a good life for you regardless of your circumstances!  Did you hear that?  REGARDLESS of your circumstances.

We either want what God has to offer, want to please Him with our lives, want to serve Him out of a deep love and gratitude or we don’t.  It is that simple.  No more excuses.

How can I offer godly advice to others if I don’t possess it myself?  How can I raise up my children in God’s ways if I don’t know them and live them myself?  How can I obey God when I don’t know what to obey?  How can I keep from being deceived if I don’t know the truth of God’s word?  How can I be ready and watchful for His return if I am unaware of the prophecies that He has so graciously given and preserved for us?

God’s word is a deep treasure.  He wants to meet with you and talk with you there as you spend time alone in His word.  He has much to teach us.  He has much for us to do in this dark lost world.  Remember you are the light that He desires to shine so that others can be saved.  So go sit a while at the feet of your Savior.  Open up your Bible and ask God’s Holy Spirit to teach you.  Then go and share with someone what you have learned from our Almighty God.  Be encouraged.  Press on!

Like A Tree Planted By Water

My father planted a tree many years ago, a pin oak tree on his property by his house.  He commented to me the other day about how very large this tree has grown and how he has never seen this type of tree grow so tall.

About 15 years ago my dad and I dug a koi pond just beside this tree.  Lately there has been a hidden leak in the liner of that pond that has been slowly watering and fertilizing the pin oak for several years now.  The visible difference in this tree that was being well watered by the pond is remarkable.

[1] Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; [2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. [3] He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (ESV) Psalm 1:1-3

[7] “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. [8] He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (ESV) Jeremiah 17:7-8

Blessed is the man.

Who delights in the law of the LORD and medicates on it day and night.

Who trusts in the LORD.

That tree was gaining sustenance from the pond.  God’s word tells us to do likewise and gain sustenance from His Word.  God became flesh.  His word became flesh and dwelt among us.  He is our daily bread.  He is our living watersHe provides us His Holy Spirit to sustain and guide us.  Our sustenance comes from His Word.

One of my regular duties that I detest is meal preparation.  I shouldn’t complain as it is much easier for me than for most, however, I see the toil and the never ending need for it.  Every day it takes time and effort and resources to provide the needed food.  It is the same for our spiritual food.  It takes time and effort and resources to feed properly on the Word of God.  If we expect to grow tall like that pin oak, we need to be consistently feed and watered with it.  It is our spiritual food.  It keeps us from being anxious in times of trial and drought.  It allows us to continue to be effective in our efforts for God as His servants – to bear fruit continually.

So send out your roots by the streams of living water that Christ Jesus has for you and drink deeply every day.  If you persists in this, you will become a spiritual giant, visibly displaying God’s glory and power to all those around you.  Be encouraged.  Press on.

 

It’s Not About You!

That was the opening line of Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life.  Yet even in that one small statement the focus is still God’s creation rather than God himself.  Current Christianity has been so twisted so as to be individual focused rather than Creator glorified.

How should I live my life?

What do I need to stop being such a sinner?

How has God shown me His faithfulness in my life?

Well beloved, God IS faithful.  And yes we are to take note of that as we live FOR Him.  But the purpose of our Bible Study, the purpose of our Worship, the purpose of our fellowship, the purpose of our celebrations, the purpose of our grief should all be pointing to God and Him glorified.

All life, all time, is about Him and His kingdom, His glory, His worthiness.  God the Father, Jesus Christ, and God’s Holy Spirit are to be the central focus of life for Christians.  It is God who has created this world and created us.  He is calling us to faith in Jesus Christ that results in our receiving and being sealed by God’s Holy Spirit enabling us to live in a way that brings glory to God and that serves God each and every day.  It is about lowering self and raising up His great Name.

Do you think of yourself as a slave/servant?

For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. (ESV) 1 Corinthians 7:22-23

We are both free, from our slavery to our sins, yet bound by our calling to Christ to serve God and to do His will.  We were purchased by the blood of Christ to be God’s children and heirs in Christ Jesus.

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (ESV) Galatians 2:19-21

Look up the names for God and for Christ Jesus that are used in scripture.  See who God is, and why He is so worthy of our worship, praise, and honor.  And then see why it is so utterly ridiculous that we should think of self in the ways that we do.

I’m sure that many of you have seen the eternity/life object lesson using a long rope representing eternity and our life here as being one small thread on that never ending rope.  Beloved God loves you and has plans for you.  But those plans are not about you, they are all about Him and His kingdom and His glory.

It is funny how we can pick out and memorize the scriptures that are all about us; that make us feel good, that serve us in our time of need.  And those scriptures and promises of God to His beloved children are true and gracious anchors in our lives, yet there is so much more in the Bible that we seemingly pass over and fail to understand about who this gracious, loving God really is. 

It is a dangerous thing for us to steal even a tiny bit of the glory that belongs to God.

“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;

                                I will take you by the hand and keep you;

                I will give you as a covenant for the people,

                                a light for the nations,

                                to open the eyes that are blind,

                to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

                                from the prison those who sit in darkness.

                I am the LORD; that is my name;

                                my glory I give to no other,

                                nor my praise to carved idols. (ESV) Isaiah 42:6-8

My glory I give to no other.

I pray that you will seek God as you read and study His word.  I pray that my short life and yours are poured out to do nothing other than bring great glory to Him alone.  May we exalt the name of Jesus above any other name.  At the tower of Babel, men had determined to do just the opposite, and here we are approaching a time when men once again are striving to make their own names great before all people.

Church, humble yourself.  Exalt God.  Without Him you cannot take your next breath.  Lift high the name of Jesus.  Be encouraged.  Press on.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (ESV) Matthew 6:33

Abide In Me, Hold Fast, Be Ready, Don’t Be Deceived

For the last couple of years in our women’s ministry of our church, we have felt God telling us that Biblical illiteracy within the body of Christ is a huge issue.  Bible studies that feed us with drops of milk rather than the meat of His Word have added to the problem.  If I were to guess, I would say that over 50% of the people who attend each Sunday have not opened their Bibles during the week. (And that is probably a very generous number)  They feed off of cute sayings and Biblical quotes they see on Facebook, or on 5 minute devotionals, or those scriptures that their children have studies and need to memorize in Sunday School.  I was once the same.  I am no longer.

I noticed that mature Christians simply insisted that I needed to read the Bible for myself.  So I dug in.  It wasn’t perfect in terms of consistency nor in terms of comprehension, but I persisted and wanted to know more.  Asking God to meet me there and to teach me.  What a gift this has been in my life.  Now I do the same for others – you simply must be studying God’s word daily to deepen your knowledge of Him, His Word, His plan and your faith.

I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.  But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (ESV) 1 John 2:26-27

One year I attempted to read through the Bible in that year.  I failed the first time.  I fell behind the schedule, got frustrated, and then quit.  But since that year, I have committed myself to reading through the Bible every day with a goal of completing the entire Bible in the year and starting afresh in January.  I learn new things about myself and about God each year through this process.  Yet it isn’t enough.

I have also learned how to really study God’s word on my own with the guidance and wisdom of God’s Holy Spirit within me.  And God has made tremendous study tools available to this generation.  At the tips of our fingers are all the tools we need to really seek out His truth in the scriptures.  And the biggest factor or barrier for people is that this simply takes an investment of TIME.  There are no shortcuts on this one.

Enter all your excuses and other priorities here.  It is your choice.

It is in this study of His word that His word has come alive for me.  He has revealed great treasures of truth, the beautiful structure of His Word, how it is precisely knit together into this wonderful living Word of truth and beauty.  66 books written by 40 authors over 1500 years and it is all one unified purpose and work.  It is written outside our scope of time.  Over 25% of the Bible is prophecy and much of it is yet to be fulfilled.  If that doesn’t excite you, I’m not sure what would.

The creator of this universe and all that is in it, including you, has given you a glimpse into His plan for the future.  Aren’t you just the teensiest bit interested in finding out what is going to happen?  I sure am.  And contrary to folks who will claim that the text is too difficult to understand and that no one really agrees on it, the truth is that God has written it in such a way that you must invest time.  You must seek Him in these pages and ask Him to reveal it.  Yet He has given it to those who seek so that we CAN know the important aspects of what is coming.  He encourages us to hold fast and persevere.  He commands us to be ready and watching for His return.  He warns us that we will be easily deceived if we do not know the truth of His word.

What are you waiting for?  Stop reading this and go open your Bible.  Ask God to teach you and then stick with it every day.  It takes time.  Press on beloved.  This is vital.  Be encouraged.  He is with you.

Full Confessions vs Hiding All the Evidence

My granny Flossie taught me a lot in life.  One of the funniest was to “hide all the evidence”.  Ok, so she wasn’t always about 100% honesty!  She was a jewel in my life.  She battled with maintaining a healthy weight, and I KNOW that I inherited her sweet tooth.  She would take us to DQ for treats, and the one requirement she had was that we not leave a trace to be found in her car; no napkins, no spoons, no lids, no straw wrappers, nothing.  I cannot go to DQ without remembering my times there with her.

I tell you that story to preface what happened to me yesterday.  It was my weekly “hike somewhere new” day, and this particular week, I went alone.  None of my usual sidekicks joined me, which as it turns out was probably for the best as the day didn’t go as planned.

I started my day off, packing my lunch and bringing everything I would need for the hike.  Healthy food, plenty of water, hiking poles, camera, backpack, change of shoes, hat, etc.  I left my house early.  The park I was heading to was an hour and a half away, and I wanted to get an early start to hike in the cool morning temps.  Upon arrival, I immediately went to the park office to request a trail map and ask a few questions.  My questions revealed that it was turkey hunting season, and I couldn’t hike the trails until 2pm.

So being the very adaptive gal that I am, I just decided to make the most of my day as I had no where I had to be that afternoon.  I would simply start walking around the areas of the park that I could access.  There was plenty of space to get several miles done.  I stopped around 11:30am and had the healthy lunch I had packed earlier that morning.  I decided that because I’d driven so far to check out the trails here, it made no sense to leave now, but I had a couple of hours to kill so I headed into the nearby town to check it out – see what it had to offer.  This is where it happened.

DQ

I drove around for about 20 minutes and saw nothing but an old down town, churches, and residential areas.  I was certain that there had to be more here – an area of town with regular stores, gas stations, fast food, etc.  I was right.  There was.  Bring on the justification.

Need I remind you that I had just hiked all around for over 3 hours.  (Justify, justify,  justify.)

DQ

They have chocolate there.  And ice cream.  And you can get those mini blizzards.  They are just a few bites – not diet blowing, just enough to get a bit of sugar.

Oh, the ways of the evil one.  He had me in his sights and I played right along.  I was Eve in the garden looking at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Sadly I chose as Eve did.  What God said was not good for food, I deemed as desirable and good.  But unlike Eve, I was not deceived.  I’d gone down this path many times before.  What tasted good and pleasurable to my tongue, was damaging to my body, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

I just wanted a little.  But apparently rather than ordering a mini, my mouth ordered a medium.  And when I saw the error as the clerk handed me the wrong size, I did not protestI’ll just toss out what I don’t want.  But you all know what happened.  There wasn’t any of it that I didn’t want.  I am going back to hike 3.5 more miles.  I’ll just burn it off.  (Seriously, “Justify” should be my middle name.)

Watch out below, she’s coming in hot!  Full speed ahead on the regret train.

I had every intention at the beginning of my day to only put good nutritious food into my body.  I had every intention of just seeing what the town had to offer.  I had every intention of “just” taking a couple of bites.  And then, I had every intention of hiding all the evidence.  All because I had a little bit of empty time and saw a DQ sign; my weak will was outdone by my flesh.  I have prayed over and over again and asked God to give me the strength and to help me stand firm against this temptation in my life, BUT I DIDN’T RESIST.  I went right along with it.  I didn’t see the trap that I walked into.

God will help me when I take steps of faith and resist the temptation.  But He’ll also let me just have my way when I don’t.  I need to put up some hedges in my life.  I need to have accountability to others in those areas where I am tempted.  I need to not drive around mindlessly without a purpose.  I need to know my weaknesses and be aware of the traps and danger zones in my life.

Some people are ok with just a little sugar.  I am not.  It isn’t good for me as it drags me right back into “I must have more” land.  I know myself well enough to be honest about it.  But just speaking the truth about a situation won’t fix it.  Action is required.  And sometimes it has to be drastic action.

Jesus said if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29 ESV)

Temptations to Sin

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matthew 18:7-9 ESV)

We need to hate our sin.  We need to be repulsed by it.  We need to kill it and destroy it within our flesh.  Drastic action.  We can’t just play around with sin thinking it is ok.  Sin leads us to death.  Choose full confession of sin and agreement with God.  Don’t try to hide the evidence to avoid being found out.  Be honest with those in your life about it.  God can see it.  He already knows.  You will stand before Him and give an account.  There will be consequences.  Ask Eve.  Your sin always affects others in your life.  Always.

So in the words of our gracious Savior, “Go and sin no more.”  He is with you and will give you what you need to have victory, but you must stand against it.  You must take action.  You must hate your sin and love your Savior.  DQ isn’t evil.  My desire for something sinful is the evil that I must rebuke.  Sin entangles us and destroys us.  Temptations must come to strengthen us, but caving in to those temptations is not the answer.

If you have chosen poorly like I did, confess it to God.  Start working on your hedges.  Call a friend who will stand firm with you and talk you away from the sin when you are being tempted.  Stand against it.  God is with you.  Give Him the glory for your victory.  Be encouraged.  Press on!

Love and Truth Speaking: Being a Part of the Body of Christ

..so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16 ESV)

We all need people who are able to be honest with us and to tell us the truth about a matter, even when that truth might be difficult for us to receive.  It is those people in our lives who love us most, who we respect, and who offer godly wisdom who can help to stabilize our faith and help us grow in God.  We not only need them in our lives, but we need to be that for others; our spouse, our children, our close friends, etc.

When this life throws you a curve ball that you didn’t see coming, it is best to have already had your anchor firmly set so that the storm doesn’t destroy you.  The anchor of spiritual disciplines, the truth of God’s word and promises, knowing who you are and whose you are, and having a network of faithful support around you – being an active part of the body of Christ.

When the church refuses to speak the truth in love for the edification of those who hear, we are not able to grow, our ministries become ineffective, God is not honored or glorified, and the body suffers.

Jesus never covered over anyone’s sins.  He gently laid them bare before them, and encouraged them to repent – go and sin no more.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:3-5 ESV)  Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 ESV)

In every way we are to grow up into the likeness of Jesus.  We need to be humble, teachable, and repent of our sins.  Humble enough even to ask others to call you out if they see you sinning; to help hold you accountable in those areas of your life where God is changing how you think and act.  Part of being in the Body of Christ (the church) is finding others who draw you closer to Jesus and will always speak the truth to you with love.  We were created to live in community in order for us to serve others and to be served.  It is through living together that we learn how to forgive, how to encourage, how to offer love, grace and mercy.

Jesus wants His bride (the church) to be pure, unified, ready, and waiting for Him to return.  He wants the church to grow as He causes it to grow.  To be joined together, serving and strengthening one another.  When we are all filled with God’s Holy Spirit, seeking Him, and taking up our crosses daily to serve Him, it is then that we are working properly and God’s greatest works will be done.  Each member of the body is important.  Each of you has something that God has created and purposed for you to offer in service within the church.  Stop being children who are tossed about by every wind of the world; politics, sports, money markets, jobs, relationships, materialism, entertainment, you name it.  When you don’t attend church or only attend without committed serving, the body is missing out on your part.  Others will not grow as they ought.  Blessing will be lost.  Opportunities are gone.

But, as we walk by faith, allowing God to direct our path and being obedient to all that He is purposing for us today, the body is strengthened, God is glorified, and the church will grow.

Speaking the truth in love is always challenging.  You must be completely in line with God; self has been removed as motivation and prayer to seek God’s filling has preceded the speaking.  Love is the only appropriate motivation for rebuke and God’s word is the only truth to be given.  And when we choose to obey God, to speak the truth in love, He is pleased and will bless our efforts.  When we are humble enough to accept such truth, He multiplies our faith and causes all things to work for the good of those who are called and who love Him.

Get some godly accountability in your life.  Allow others to speak truth to you for your own benefit, and to stabilize your faith.  Learn how to do so for others.  Be engaged actively in the body of Christ – His bride the church.  God wants to bless you.  To God be the glory.  Be encouraged.  Press on.