Live a Life of Love

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Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

Live a life of love.  It almost sounds easy.  It offers a warm and inviting, harmonious fix to our relational problems.

Why then would I want to live my life more selfishly? Real life loving requires strength that I don’t have, if I am honest.
Am I really taking to heart the life of Jesus and the instructions to imitate His life of love? He lived love.  If our wonderful Lord Jesus gave up his “rights” to reconcile me back to God, someone that did not deserve such mercy, why wouldn’t I want to be transformed to have this same sacrificial mind and heart?  Christ Jesus is the maker of all things; nothing exists without Him.  He is the Son of God, and He alone stands preeminent above every other power or authority.  And, yet, Jesus did not choose to live for Himself or grasp at the “God” rights.  His love was a giving, extravagant kind of love.

The very sad reason I chafe at living a sacrificial life of love is that I default easily to loving myself more, more than Jesus, and more than the people around me. I want easy comfort.  I don’t like relational messiness.  I don’t want to give sacrificially and extravagantly like Jesus did for me.  I often set standards that must be met before I will love freely.  I live like love should have to be earned.  But, I don’t know any of these perfect people.  Life can get really messy.  The person I want to love has weaknesses and failures.  I am ashamed that often I demand so much from others, which seems especially terribly when I have been given the truest love generously and without a price tag.  pleasing-fragrance-grace-god-ephesians-5-2I have this ongoing need to have these self-centric desires removed and to return again and again to my first love, Jesus–every single day.  So, that out of the joy of His love for me, the comfort of never being abandoned by Him ever, the confidence of every spiritual gift given to me to fulfill His purposes for me, and the resurrection power of His living Spirit working in me, I will have a quiet heart to do His will and live a life of love to Christ first above all, as well as in my relationships. I am dependent on Jesus to love like He loves. When it is easy and also when it is hard, my strength will come from Him as I live in Him and for Him. I could never live a life of love without the presence and power of Christ living in me, and gloriously that is exactly what is offered through His triumphant and generous grace.
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All Things: From,Through, and For Him

God was wisely sovereign when I heard the words on my birthday, “Your chest x-ray is abnormal.”  I had already been struggling with debilitating vision.  Now, I was being told that my lungs were being damaged by an overactive immune system which was attacking this much needed organ for breathing.  Over the last three years I have been struggling with unexpected and weird, even rare, health issues.   And, yet, I am being cared for with a sovereign wisdom that is perfect.  I don’t have to understand the why or know what will happen next; I just need to know my God, for then I will most happily trust and rest in His active care.

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God’s ways are inscrutable, because, honestly, I cannot even come close to knowing what the right questions should be to ask. God surveys all time in one gaze. He knows and sees everything, all at once, all the time. I can’t even begin to go there. I remember some of my past. For, today, well, I am here in the moment. And I have no ability to tell you what is going to happen next, because I frankly don’t know; and even what I suspect might happen doesn’t necessarily mean it will. Not so with God. He is beyond time. He is present in all time. And He controls the minutiae of every day in the universe as well as the invisible world beyond that which we can perceive. There is so much I just don’t know! How can I even begin to control what I can’t understand?


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Not only is God wisely sovereign over everything, but He is also dedicated to completing His work in me; so that I am made able to finish the works that He Himself ordained for me to do (Philippians 1:6).  I am confident that I will not have one unfinished task, because of His divine promises to me, His faithful love over me and His power to accomplish what He says He will do. God is able and trustworthy, so I am assured that He will complete everything concerning me.  When I actively believe these truths about my God, it makes me happy and at peace in and with my God, even smack dab in the middle of difficult days.  God always acts in a way that is beautiful and above reproach, and He is laying up His goodness for those who trust in Him.  “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” (Psalm 31:19).   The apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica sharing how he prays for them, “…that by His power He may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.” Paul writes in another letter, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?  He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  So, if God is for me, then I am being held by the safest, strongest, and most worthy hands.


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Who I am and whatever I possess originates with God.  I didn’t create me.  I didn’t decide when I wanted to be born, or where, or into which family.  I have absolutely nothing to do with my existence.  Which is kind of crazy to wrap your mind around, because when things go wrong in our lives it is common to feel that you deserve a bit better in your life.  But, I don’t even exist on my own.  The breath in my lungs doesn’t originate inside of me.  God is generously giving you and me every breath.  It is all from God.  So, when I think about the good life plans ordained for me by God, and more specifically the tasks He has ordained for me to do, I must consider that none of which I was created do comes from me.  Everything comes from God.  It always starts and ends with God.  Even when I do the things I was designed by God to do, I am only giving back to Him what belongs to Him anyway.  God is not any richer by my giving to Him.  God is not needing anything that I can do for Him.  It is similar to a child giving a birthday present to their parent which they purchased with their parent’s money!  My behavior and good gifts will never put God into my debt; everything always comes from Him!  All glory, honor and power belongs to Him.  

Doxology

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36

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(All images used are believed to be in the public domain.)

Once and Forever: the solution for not being “good enough”

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The ancient people of God were bound by the law.  Daily, it screamed out their failures in unbiased, unrelenting terms.  The law was perfect and pure.  It revealed wisdom.  Although the law was good in every part, the human heart defaulted to self reliance every time.  And so the law was broken over and over again.

Heart proud, the people were distanced from what their heart needed most–God’s presence and power.  (photo credit: ravenwhimsey)

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Every day this constant need for reconciliation was met at an altar.  Every day the heart was reminded, for each day brought a new need for reconciliation.  Continually needy, the ancient Israeli priests would begin afresh the work of mediation between God and His people.

The High Priest
The rites of purification had been completed.  The man’s wrinkled skin had been scrubbed clean in strict rituals.  The old man had been a priest for many years, and the rules had remained constant and rigid, never changing at the break of dawn.  The separation between God and the people remained fixed, for there was never enough soap to cleanse away their inherent disunion with complete holiness.  The distance between the people and their God was so vast that there would not be a way to reach the other side at all had not God El Elyon (God Most High) become God Yahweh (a personal, covenant-making God) intiating a covenant with his people that provided access.BALT9F  “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” Leviticus 17:11.  Yahweh had made a way for His people to have a personal relationship with Himself through the blood of an atoning sacrifice.  Their brokenness and bent toward sin made a daily sweet fragrance of sacrifice an ever-attending need; so, atonement, a perpetual sacrifice for their constant need, was a constant “must have” for the people of God.

There were daily sacrifices, special one-time sacrifices, and then there was the special Day of Atonement. On that one day, a chosen high priest would enter behind the enormous veil that separated the people of God from their holy God to make atonement for the people’s sin.HP1  The high priest entered the Holy of Holies robed in priestly garments: bearing the weighty ephod of gold upon his shoulders representing the government of his people; the beautiful ephod, woven in blue linen threads,  which covered his heart, bejeweled with precious gems, representing each of the tribes of Israel; the breastplate of judgment, the Urim and the Thummin,  lay weighing against his heart representing the verdicts of acceptance or rejection; the sash girding his waist reminding him that he came to serve.  The entire costume was both physically and symbolically heavy.  The Law prescribed every detail; and access to God demanded a strict adherence to the code, every detail whispering that these were garments of holiness to be worn by the mediator.

Now it was time for the priest to enter behind the thick veil of the Holy of Holies and make atonement for the peoples’ sin.  The priest’s heart trembled. The circle of high priest’s garments were adorned with embroidered blue, purple and scarlet pomegranates with little golden bells stitched between, 33bec4402072917157ba3c8e7792f670and he purposefully listened for the tinkling bells circling the skirt of his robe as he walked toward the veil.  The musical sounds would be the only indication to the rest of the people as they waited for him that God had kept His covenant with them when he sprinkled the blood on the Altar.  Let the musical bells sound in worshipful praise; for if the blood did not provide acceptable access to God, the priest would die during the sprinkling of the blood offering.

Walking through the tabernacle courtyard, the old man’s eyes lifted to the flickering flame of the almond blossom cups branching off the hammered, pure gold lampstand.   His heart was raised in hope knowing that this constant flame was a visual reminder to assure them of God’s presence among them.  God had given them so many reminders. Each part of his day as a priest was filled with reminders of a God who desired to be known and loved by His people.  Tabernacle05-06

Born broken in sin, bent toward self-reliance, the priest marveled at the visual, repeated reminders of their need for God’s presence and power.  Though ritualistically purified, the old man approached near to the bronze basin of water to cleanse his hands and feet yet once again.  LAVER9SHe watched as the water splashed from his hands; so many washings, yet he was never holy.  God was so very separate from them, and God’s brilliant holiness was once again on the old man’s mind.  The chasm between man and God was wider than any earthly canyon; and yet, he mused, God remembered his people and provided a way of access to Himself.  Still, he trembled knowing that these offerings for atonement were continual, for none of the people, including himself, could ever stop sinning.  The cavernous gulf between God and his people never closed, for their perpetual unrighteousness seperated them from the glorious, shining worthiness of a completely holy God.

He waited as the anointing oil was administered covering his body, again for purification.  Again and again, the message was clear:  I am holy; you are an unclean people.  Everything was designed to remind them of their constant need for God’s presence and power, and their inability to gain it own their own.  
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The aroma of incense flowed upward filling his nostrils.  The incense was also always perpetually burning reminding them of their constant need for intercession with God.  The incense of the altar was never to go out; they were visually instructed as to how much the people desperately needed their God.

Constant need.  Each step toward the Holy of Holies reminded him of how much he needed God to give him access.  Every ritual reminded him of how he could not enjoy God’s presence without God making a way.  He was still dirty and would keep being dirty.  Only the acceptance of the atoning sacrifice would give him access to God and forgiveness of the transgressions against their holy and just God.  Healing of their sins would require the spilling of blood from an unblemished sacrifice.  His heart ached.  How he longed for complete deliverance from this body of death.  The sacrifices were never enough.  The work of the priest was never done.  No one was ever good enough.

“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take aways sins.  Therefore, when He came into world, He said:  ‘Sacrifice and offering You do not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.  In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you had no pleasure.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come-in the volume of the book it is written of Me-to do your will, O God.’ Previously saying, ‘Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the law), then He said, ‘Behold I have come to do Your will, O God.’ He takes away the first that He may establish the second.  By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:4-10.  

The ritualistic symbols and priestly duties were only a foreshadowing of God’s plan for a better mediator.  No bleeding bull could take down a proud heart.  No precious baby lamb, no matter how wonderfully unblemished,  would forever change the bent of a rebellious heart.  No the only way to sanctify the heart was to give the owner a new one!  The only way to take away the hard rock heart and inscribe righteousness on a living, breathing heart was to give new life.  The old covenant was made obsolete, because of the weakness of our flesh.  The Law was good and without fault, but we were the messed up ones who could not keep it.  A new covenant was offered that would abolish the old one.  This time the offering would be a final propitiation for sin.  However, it would be very, very different this time.  The real body of a man would be offered, an earthly life lived just as we live, tempted, but never sinning.  A life lived in complete obedience fulfilling all righteousness 24/7.  The unthinkable would take place–this sinless life would be made to be sinso that a final, forever atonement could be made and all of the holiness could be given to the sinner!  There is only one man that could fulfill all of the requirements, and He is the Son of God.  So, God, did the unthinkable.  Yahweh kept covenant faithfulness and steadfast love with His people by sending His one and only perfect Son to reconcile us back to Himself through a new and living covenant of grace.  God gave His Son; the Son gave His life; and the Holy Spirit was given as the seal of this new covenant of redemption.  “It is finished!”  cries powerfully of this unbelievable reconciliation accomplished by the death of the Son of God.

It is the new covenant of Christ’s own blood that washes me, so that I am no longer defiled.  I will not get dirty again.  No more washings.  When I come before God, I confess my sins.  I claim my unworthiness, attesting to the fact that I will never, never be “good enough.”  All of my sins, past, current, and those I will still wrongfully do are covered by the atoning blood of Christ.  The judgment of God rejected Jesus on the cross blackening the sky, and the Lamb of God took all of my rightful condemnation and bled out; and yet God saw the righteous blood and was pleased to accept atonement in full.  We know this because death was not the final word.  The thick veil covering the Holy of Holies was dramatically torn from top to bottom opening the way to God’s presence.  Death did not hold the Son of God, but He had the authority over death and was raised the third day just as He proclaimed it would be.  I am now clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and every time I choose to enter into his Presence and Power, I have the victory of resurrection grace.  There is a way across that  cavernous gulf between God and his people.  Because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, nothing can separate His people from His love or from the glorious, shining worthiness of a completely holy God.  Jesus is our perfect sacrifice, our perfect mediator, forever interceding on our account; and now there is no need for anything more. “But Christ, because he lives for ever, possessses a priesthood that needs no successor.  This means that he can save fully and completely those who approach God through him, for he is always living to interced on their behalf.  Here is the High Priest we need.  A man who is holy, faultless, unstained, beyond the very reach of sin and lifted to the very Heavens.  There is no need for him, like the High Priest we know, to offer up sacrifice, first for our own sins and then for the people’s.  He made one sacrifice, once for all, when he offered himself.” Hebrews 7:24-27.

Once for all, the constant need for a clean heart has been satisfied.  Our hearts are no longer distanced from what the heart needs most–God’s presence and power. Hang onto this sure hope, “…since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22).  Our hearts are happy and we bring a daily sacrifice of praise to Jesus, for there is no more distance between us.

              Our constant need has been satisfied once and forever in Christ’s life.
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Truth to Hang Onto on Difficult Days

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This morning the spring winds were especially blustery.  As unseen winds pushed up against my house, eerie howls encircled the windows of my home leaking in creepy noises.  I heard strange thumps and groaning creaks as the house bemoaned the gusty punches.17854851_1401467119876040_4599875741995813320_o In our front yard, a large limb from our street tree snapped under the pressure and fell hard to the ground.  My neighbor’s children were playing basketball outside next to it when it happened.  I am extremely grateful that none of those precious kiddoes were harmed!  I am writing with a grateful heart this morning and have an unexpected desire to hug those little people.  But, it also reminds me that the breaking of the limb evidences the strength of the wind, that though unseen, it still can damage what is not strong enough to endure the persistent pressure.  

In the same way, the persistent pressure from life’s turbulent stresses can cause us to bend and even break, to fall hard, and to realize real damage to our souls.  If I don’t have a strong root in truth, my weaknesses will succumb to the blustery beatings.  On those difficult days, what can I hang onto?  What is the truth that cannot be shaken?

In one of his letters, Paul addresses the problems of life and how to continue faithfully through them.  Here is what he wrote:
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Okay, when I am experiencing the strong winds of difficulty, what is the truth that firmly holds and keeps me unmoved?  What can I rely on?  I need to know and understand God’s heart toward me, so I have taken the same Pauline words and re-written them using my own words striving to understand how this applies to my everyday real life.  God’s Word tells me that I can know and believe that I will experience trials and testings that are common to the human experience.  None of my trials are a special exception, but are just normal like everyone else’s.  But, I need to know this, my God is faithful; so, I can trust Him.  My God sovereignly rules and will impose boundaries on my trials, so that I will not be tested above and beyond what is right (even though it may not feel like it, this is the still the truth.)  I also need to know that God promises to provide a way out of the trial with His help, so that I am able to walk in faithful obedience while enduring the stormy, gale-force pressures and difficulties I will encounter again and again.

This is truth that cannot be shaken no matter how fierce the winds blow!  Matt Chandler speaks about the good news of the gospel applied to trials in this way:

The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is regardless of our circumstances, we get God, and he’ll be enough. On the day of trouble, we’ll cry out, and we will hear, “Here I am.” When marriage is difficult, and we cry out, we will hear, “Here I am.” On the day the doctor says, “Can you come in? We need to talk,” we will hear as we cry out to God, “Here I am.”

He will not abandon. He will not quit, and he will not cut out his children. He is ever present, ever chasing, ever hoping, ever putting his Holy Spirit’s power into us to sustain us and hold us up regardless of life’s circumstances. This is how he blesses those who are saturated in grace. He is present. He is enough.

So, when the difficult days come-and they will-remember the faithfulness of our Father and the ever present nearness of our wonderful Jesus, and the resurrection grace and power granted to us by our Helper, the Holy Spirit, and do not be shaken.  Let the Word of truth be a deep root to secure your faith in Christ.

No Delay for Help

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What is a “right” that belongs to you?  What comes to mind?  We joke and jab, “Oh, you just feel like you’re so entitled.”  In particular, I think Americans seem to have a general belief that as individuals we have a claim on certain “rights.” I don’t whole-heartedly believe this myself, but this attitude permeates our culture subtly affecting our personal views. Interestingly, I have observed that it irks us when someone uses a benefit they did not earn or have a right to access.  Then there is the millineum generation who recoils at the frequent accusations against them for having an attitude that one is inherently deserving of privileges. Sometimes, we feel entitled to a benefit because we believe we have rightly earned it. Either way, we grapple with how to claim our expected advantage.  The need to claim a benefit reveals a dependence on the other party.  The rights of entitlement necessitates a relationship between two parties exists where there is an expectation that when necessary one has the right to ask for help.
maxresdefault (2)This idea of entitlement came to mind as I read the Psalms this morning.  In Psalm 70, David is very urgent in his requests before God, to the point it almost sounds demanding, “God, deliver me.  Hurry to help me, LORD! …I am afflicted and needy; hurry to me God.  You are my help and my deliverer; LORD, do not delay.”  David insistently asks for God to help him.  In his relationship with God, the Psalmist believes he has a right to speak to Him in this way.  How does he know that it is okay to be that aggressive in his prayers?

garden-of-the-gods_f_mobiThe very next Psalm gives an insight into the writer’s thoughts, “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!  In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!  Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.”  Here, the Psalmist reveals his foundations for coming so boldly in prayer.  He argues, “I have a relationship with you that involves covenantal promises.  You agreed to save me.  You agreed to be my protection.  Because of your word and promise to me, I have the right to come and ask for the benefit of your help.  Not only that, you initiated relationship with me, and I have put all my trust in you. I know you are righteous and will only do good, so I know you will do good toward me.  You have the power to change my situation, so I am asking you to advocate for me.  I want to you to be my safe place continually.”  The Psalmist takes a stance of sweet assurance based on his covenantal relationship with God.  He is not in alliance with another god to be his resource; it is to His own God, a very personal God, that he turns to for help.

542924312_fd0f3c488fEarlier today, with crumpled blankets pulled to my chin, I snuggled in the quiet dark of the morning not wanting to face another hard day.  My husband laid close beside me, his hand holding mine.  He listened patiently as I shared the struggles of living with a chronic disease.  I did not call up my friend’s husband to pour out my heart to; or turn to any other man, but my own (this suggestion sounds ridiculous, I know.)  My point is that I did not feel that it was inappropriate to talk like this to my husband, exactly because he is my husband.  I am in heart union with this guy.  Years ago, we made solemn vows to each other, to be there for one another, no matter what.  The marital promises were strict and binding “…till death do us part.”  Now, I was laying claim to those promises without any shame.  It did not seem weird to me to be talking about the ugly bits of life, like trying to get up each morning when I really don’t feel well.  I am entitled to that privilege based on my relationship to my husband and the promises we made to each other.  Best of all, I know he loves me, no matter what.

In the same way, the Psalmist does not feel weird to go to God with his desperate cries for attention. 147023388e45710f85848a48ec302727 God had made a promise to help him.  God has a heart of tender love toward his needy child.  God is good and will do good.  The LORD God is powerful and has the ability to bless and benefit those who belong to him, and this is on a daily basis! God’s faithfulness to all of his promises prompts intense prayers of reliance, and his love assures the heart in hope for He truly cares.  Come.  Come again and again.  God has given the command to save, and his righteous help will never disappoint.
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So, today, I will go to my God,
who is faithful, good, powerful and true,
and ask for His righteous help,
because I know His everlasting love to me,
because I trust His never failing promises.  

Alive in You

2f5648382740548387acff1d05daa755 (1)Dear Jesus, I love you. I can’t do life without you.  There are so many times that I am enticed to handle life on my own and end up in a sinful mess.  Forgive me for not living the miracle of new life through you.  I confess that I present myself to serve my own sinful desires instead of you.  Forgive me and cleanse me from the sin that so easily entangles me.  I am sorry and grieved for my sin.

Sometimes I feel disempowered and unjustly treated in political arenas, business contracts, etc. …
Often I struggle with knowing I am loved by others…
Or other days I feel criticized for what I consider good, and I can’t see the “kernel of truth” in the message…
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No matter the temptation to handle life on my own, be near me.  Remind me through your Holy Spirit that I am crucified with you (I am dead, “powerless”) and my “old life” has been rendered inoperative.  I died with you on that day on the cross, but I also was resurrected with you, Jesus.  d674ba538084102ec3cd7918106f6d34 - CopyI am alive in you, Jesus, and have been given a new heart, a new life; and I am filled with the power of your Spirit within enabling me to do whatever you ask of me.

Let me learn of you!  Let these truths transform my life!  Teach me, Spirit of the Living Christ, that I am set free from sin.  I serve you, Jesus, with my life; and my life in you bears fruit in holiness, only because I live in You, until that day You bring me safely home to enjoy your glory forever.9c3c86cf8d619b7d03375cd944b05641

 
Thank you for your justice & mercy.
Thank you for your faithfulness.
Thank you for your love.
Thank you, Lord Jesus.

Making it My Own

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He was pierced for Sheila’s trangressions,
He was crushed for Sheila’s iniquities;
the punishment that brought Sheila peace was on him,
and by his wounds Sheila is healed.  
(Isaiah 53:5)

The ancient words written by the prophet Isaiah didn’t really  read quite like that.  He didn’t know me.  He didn’t use my name in the text.  But, the text was written about me.  It was also written about you.

“…and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.for the trangressions of My people He was stricken.” (Is. 53:6, 8).

You see, when I dare to personalize peace, I also must look at the heinousnes of my crime, “the evil that excites the severity of divine wrath,” as the old Puritan would say.  How hard is it to go low to the depths of humiliation to say what God already knows, “I am a sinner.  I have sinned against You, God. “?

It is ugly.  It is not what I like to think about.

Still, it is the truth about me.

And it is true for all of us, for God says, “each of us has turned to our own way.” Oh, we must admit we love our own way.  We so love to be in control, and for the most part we tend to think we do okay choosing our own way.  Preoccupied, we forget about God.  We wake up each morning figuring out how to make our own selves happy.  We do not rise in thankfulness to worship God by finding our deepest satisfaction in Him.

There rises on  a hill a great piece of evidence against us to remind us of our guilt.
The old Puritan prays,
“Show me the enormity of my guilt by
the crown of thorns,
the pierced hands and feet,
the bruised body,
the dying cries.
Thy blood is the blood of incarnate God, its worth infinite, its value beyond all thought.  Infinite must be the evil and guilt that demands such a price.” (Valley of Vision)
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You see, what I may call insignificant, God doesn’t.  We tend to grade our behavior by our own self-made, shifting standards of morality.  We joke about our “one weakness.”  Not God.  Our holy God is just and completely righteous.  He does not dwell in the gray, and His immutable character is eternally the same.  But, it is the purity of His love and justice that demands that all wrong be made right.  Where we might wink at wrong, God understands the devastation of evil.

The old Puritan’s pen scrawls hope for the guilty,
“Yet thy compassions yearn over me,
thy heart hastens to my rescue,
thy love endured my curse,
thy mercy bore my deserved stripes.”

The ancient prophet Isaiah writes, “…and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin…
After He has suffered,
He will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by His knowledge My Righteous Servant will justify many,
and He will bear their iniquities….For He bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.”

God sent Jesus so that I can have peace with Him.  I see the love in this indescribable gift of forgiveness. “For God so loved Sheila that He gave His one and only Son, that when Sheila believes in Him she shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for Sheila.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Truth must move from our head to our heart; we must make it our own. Do you believe? Our own hearts must confess our sinful turning away.  Our own hearts must trust that only Jesus’s blood can cover the sin and set us free to live reconciled to God.
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The Crime of Stealing Glory

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To be recognized and esteemed by those around us is a struggle fought deep in the heart.  So, although one may believe in Christ Jesus as the Son of God, the love of being known and esteemed in this world swallows up the greater healing of being known and loved by God eternally.  So, the heart must confess its desire for lesser glory:

O heavenly Father, our mighty God, give to me a heart like Your suffering Servant who came to fulfill all the Scriptures and all of Your holy will.  For Your Son Jesus is the exalted King above every name, and He came as Your Servant sent to save the world.  In Jesus is all of Your glory seen.  You, Father, commanded all that Christ Jesus, Your anointed would say, all He would speak.  Jesus said, “What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”  
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Reshape my heart by Your Spirit so that I will not love the fading glory that is in this world more than I love the Glory that comes from God.  Of Christ, our glory, it is written, “And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.”

 Forgive me, O God, for any claim to Your glory.  Humble my heart in the hope of the cross. How dare I substitute shameful glory for the surpassing worth of Your great name!  Let me walk in those footsteps to Calvary and only desire to do what You have spoken.  Thank you for covering these sins of mine in the gushing red flow of Christ’s suffering.  Jesus Christ is Lord.  Let my life live outloud the worth of this name.   

 

I cast my mind to Calvary
Where Jesus bled and died for me.
I see His wounds, His hands, His feet.
My Savior on that cursed tree
His body bound and drenched in tears
They laid Him down in Joseph’s tomb.
The entrance sealed by heavy stone
Messiah still and all alone
O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
Then on the third at break of dawn,
The Son of heaven rose again.
O trampled death where is your sting?
The angels roar for Christ the King
O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
He shall return in robes of white,
The blazing Son shall pierce the night.
And I will rise among the saints,
My gaze transfixed on Jesus’ face
O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
Songwriters: Dean Ussher / Marty Sampson / Benjamin Hastings
O Praise The Name lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

Truth Traded

This is a true story that happened long, long ago that is recreated every day in every life.  It is an ongoing story.  This is the story of how truth was traded for a lie.  It is an exchange of life for death.  It is why we experience loss, pain, and everything else that is less than perfect.  But, in the beginning, it was not so.  In the beginning, everything was good.  God had created everything that had been made; and all was perfect, a delightful world full of goodness and truth.

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Into this delightful paradise, a beautiful creature approached an exquisite woman.  It was Eve the woman God had created to be with Adam.  It was an interesting interaction.  Although this creature was a snake, it wasn’t scary.  So with cunning finesse, the snake began to skillfully question the very words of God.  Oh, and just as carefully, the snake avoided calling God by His name.   For Yahweh was God’s personal name meaning, “I Am He Who is and Will Be.”  In a small, but subtle move, the deceiver deftly attempted to demote God.  Did not the daughter of God consider this?  A creature who did not acknowledge God as God—was it not a reason to leave this guileful conversation?  Doubt and confusion swirled in the carefully crafted intrusion, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”  thumbnail-dgrs-440x440

The daughter of God was created to love Yahweh with all of her heart, soul, mind and strength.  Her love for Yahweh was to be supreme, and His words were to be her joy and life.  Nevertheless, in a great reversal, Eve listened to the contagious lies spoken by the artful creature; and she herself then turned and judged the words of her Creator.  So, with a few modifications, she answered, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Wait, oh daughter of God!  Your Creator God delegated his authority  and commanded you to rule over the earth.  Rule over this damning creature!   Instead, suppressing the truth, Eve exchanged the worship of God for self-gratification.  The serpent seized the opportunity to rule over the world with his darkness.  Stealthfully, he answerd, “You will not surely die.” Ironically, the serpent’s bold contradiction would bring death.

downloadGod alone is the standard for absolute truth.  We are to worship God in truth in our inner being, the deepest parts of our heart!  Made in His image, we are to reflect His character, His magnificent glory! Oh, Eve, do not turn away from all that is good! Let your heart rise in thankfulness to your Creator.  All of Him, His words, His works are good and right and greatly to be praised.

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” the serpent continued. 997347adc71a10b71c4c43f8d584b3e6 The serpent watched Eve closely as she considered an alternative way to be like God.  Could this be?  Is there more than one way?

 

The beginning of wisdom is the fear of Yahweh which is a beautiful humility that honors and worships His greatness.  There is only one way to wisdom, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear God, and turn away from evil.

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In a soul-crushing turn, Eve despised wisdom and leaned on her own understanding.  “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…

feelingsvstruth-pull2Relying on her own experiences and desires, Eve actively pursued her own satisfaction.  Eve did not allow her experience to be shaped by God’s words alone.  She trusted her own feelings and experience to guide her; and convinced that she was right, she influenced her husband to do as she had done.

Adam and Eve’s eyes were immediately opened to their nakedness.  They attempted to cover their bare bodies.  It wasn’t their clothes that they had lost; it was their righteousness.  Their sin left them unacceptable and totally exposed before God.  They no longer had truth in their inner most heart, and now this man and woman had a wrong fear of God, a fear of being known by God.  But, God did see, and know, and did call for them.  Would they tell Him what He already knew?  Would they humble their hearts and tell God the truth?  No.  They no longer enjoyed his presence, so they sought to hide from God.  It was their sin that now separated them from God.

The deceiver would rule the world for a very long time, and darkness entered the world holding it in its bondage.  Sin and death were a new reality. It would take a snake-crusher to free the world from the power of darkness held by the soul-crusher.

This story is enacted every day.  Every day the deceiver brings doubt and confusion to persuade people from God’s life-giving Word.  Every day humanity judges God’s Word rather than coming under its rule and authority.  Every day, people choose to rely on their own experiences and feelings to guide them rather than holding on to every word of God as truth and life.il_fullxfull-423058173_fwo7

But, this story does not go on forever.  The snake-crusher has come to deliver us from the tyranny of sin’s deception. the-serpent-under-the-right-foot-of-mary-300x197 Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  There is only one way.  There is only one absolute and supreme Truth.  Life is only in Jesus.  Anything else is an alternative choice that leads to an inescapable death.  One day, the ancient serpent who leads the whole world astray will be eternally punished.  This is the second death and it never ends.  Jesus Christ will make all things new.  In the new heavens and earth, “nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful  or deceitful.”

The Runner’s Reward

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The shallow, fast breaths hint at the difficulty.  The runner’s arms begin to droop as fatigue washes over the body, and the knees falter in their stride, striving to hold up the exhausted body.  A thought of aborting flashes,  “Quit now!”

That runner was me last night.  Running long and hard, I felt weak and the challenge of finishing well seemed impossible.  The race wasn’t just any ordinary race.  Everyone runs this race called Life; but the drive that pushes each one to the finish line is dependent on the desires of the runner.
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“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”  Straighten up and run.  Run tough.  Keep going.  The race is known for its continual hardness.  Make the path straight.  Consider how to prevent turned ankles and other injuries. Keep your eyes fixed on the reward.

Do the brutal realities of life make it a race too challenging to win?  Resolve weakens.  Our life is compared to a hard race, so hard, in fact, that many are defeated and lose heart.

Our Father God talks straight to us:  The hardship is necessary.  I do not act as a coach, but I am your Father your who loves you completely.  The training and discipline is given because it is necessary for you to finish well.  You will finish.  You will see victory.

When our Father God allows hardship that requires our exertion and exercises our faith, it is to prevent spiritual flab and to grow our faith. “But he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11).
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During the training, the pain makes us feel weak.  However, endurance yields a greater good.  What is the energizing principle?  Is it pain-free living?  Then suffering will beat you.  We are promised the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Our loving Father wants us to know a peaceful life, so he continues to perfect all that concerns his children, exposing what is weak, and  teaching us the right and good way.  “And the highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it.  It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.”  Our Father guards us with his strong love and protects us.  He has given us everything we need to finish the race.

Grace is God’s benevolence poured out on his children.  There is always more grace for the believer.  “But he gives more grace.  Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”  More grace.  Always more grace.
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When you feel overwhelmed…His grace is the higher Rock to securely stand on.
When you feel broken…His grace heals the broken-hearted.
When you feel hopeless…His grace removes the shame through His love poured out on us.
When you feel afraid…His grace gives courage.
When lies have sucked you in…His grace tells the truth and sets you free.

So, today I turn in child-like faith, with trust and dependence, to the Father for help.  His Father’s heart is always for His children.  His grace is always more than our greatest defeat. God is treating you as sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them.  Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?”  (Hebrews 12:7-9).

So I am reminded of how to run the race.  Endure.  Trust the Father and live in practical obedience.  “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Hebrews 12:15).
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Why even run?  The great motivator to run this particular race is the reward.  Come on!  Let’s run together!  Fix your eyes firmly on the reward.  And the reward? My eyes longingly gaze on the beautiful face of my Beloved Jesus, who is my soul’s lover and my heart’s greatest reward.  The more I trust him, the more I know of His infinite beauty, the more I need him. His love is strong and enduring; and because he loves me, I love him.  And although I am weak, He is strong and always my ally.

I remember in hope that my beloved Jesus endured exceptional suffering for a greater reward.  What joy gave him the reason to endure the evils of the cross?  You and I were the reason. Because Jesus loved us, he endured losing God His Father so that he might reconcile us back to God.  Jesus endured  suffering to receive us as his reward.  Look to Jesus “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:2).

Can we not trust a God like this?  Are we not strengthened to run to obtain the prize?  Love has suffered.  Love is now poured out in our hearts.  “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  More than that we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5).