Faith in What?

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Whenever faith tries to base itself on good living, whether the focus be on external morality or on inner spiritual purity, the result is the most sophisticated of all pagan religions.  Though it claims belief in God, in practice such religion places no trust in the Lord Himself but only in its own theology.  As thoroughly orthodox and as Biblical as this theology may be, it does not represent faith in the living God but in faith itself.  Heaven help this religion of good works when it falls on hard times.  … True faith depends not at all upon itself, nor upon its own system of piety, but rather upon the Lord alone and His faithfulness. … To have faith is to trust in the faithfulness of our God, knowing that faithfulness is first and foremost not a human but a divine attribute. …   Genuine faith is not the faith to do anything at all, expcept to fall to the ground and die. …Consider the roots of a plant.  Do the roots worry, or think at all, about producing flowers or fruit?  No; they never see what happens above the ground.  They never even see the sun or the sky.  All they see is the dark womb of the earth, and their only job is to soak up moisture and nourishment from it, to feed in the dark underground of faith. … Paul describes as “taking pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart” (2 Cor. 5:12).  Assuming that the opposite of sin is virtue, they conclude that a righteous life is one that will always be producing the visible fruit that is its own reward.  Yet in the vocabulary of the gospel, the opposite of sin is not simply virtue but grace.  As Paul puts it in Romans 5:20-21, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job

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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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.

Beautiful Grace

The desire of God’s heart of grace isn’t just to make us pretty externally, but to create new & authentic beauty from the ashy, charred, deep parts of the soul.  Physical health, material wealth, & personal happiness are nice, but not what I need most.  My heart being changed by His loving heart of grace is what matters most.beautiful-cherry-blossom-09

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).

The Unraveling of Peace

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(Photo credit:  Marc Adamus)

God planted a garden.

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. (Genesis 2:8)

Cain built the 1st city on the planet.

Cain also had the distinction of having the very first birthdate in mankind’s history.

Sadly, Cain was also the first criminal having murdered his younger brother in anger.
So this is how it happened that God removed Cain, alienating him from Himself and the earth.  Leaving the presence of God, Cain remained determined and took control on his own terms.  Doomed to be forever restless and experience frustration and futility, Cain discovered being separated from God mattered in ways that he could have never imagined.  It began an unraveling of peace.  option2
Cain remained forever on the outside of things and continually wrestled with his own insecurity.  So, in response, Cain built a city, constructing his own alternative reality, as a way to run from the curse.  In truth, it was a denial of God and His spoken Word.  Attempting self-salvation, to satisfy those gnawing longings of the soul, Cain sought to create his own enduring greatness in his own prideful way.  Blaspheming the things he did not understand, Cain abandoned himself to destruction.Pride is a battle that never ceases, and the heart is the bloody battlefield.  From the dawn of time, the story of human pride has marched defiantly through the corridors of history leaving the refuse of destruction and the unraveling of society.
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Yet, there is hope.  God’s plans are not last-minute attempts but an ancient, long-established, settled victory.  Incredibly, God takes the very symbol of our rejection of him-a city built on pride- and redeems it, declaring, “You shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” (Isaiah 1:26). 

What is the cost of Shalom?

God paid an unimaginable price to reconcile us back to Himself.  Even while we were without hope and alienated from the life of God, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13). he-has-now-reconciled-in All of sin’s curse and punishment is taken once for all by His Son Jesus on the cross.  The God we have rejected offers us redemption.   “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.” (Isaiah 25:8).

No longer outcasts, God keeps us in His peace and gives to us a song of praise: “We have a strong city; He sets up salvation as walls & bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
(Is. 26:1-3).
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Sight of Glory

My Prayer for Today
Please, dear Jesus, do not let me diminish the greatness of your salvation; for my desires betray me, and I must be rescued from my own heart’s reign.  Keep my heart from straying, from soaking in and absorbing the temporal enticements of this world.  Oh, how I am reminded by the prophet Isaiah that I barely understand the weight of glory that surrounds the I AM.
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God, you are both immanent and transcendent. Perhaps, I gravitate toward your immanence (talking of Your love & kindness, stressing your nearness, accessibility and my oneness in Christ) but spend less time remembering Your transcendence (stressing your holiness, your inapproachability, your total ‘otherness’ and distinction from us). Let me see the fulness of your glory! Open my heart’s eyes to see like your servant Isaiah.  Give me understanding so that I might know ALL of your wonderful glory!  I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted us ; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  John commented,”Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory and spoke about Him.” ( Is. 6, John 12:41).  You created us and are separated from us in your glorious holiness.

Isaiah was given eyes to see your rightful judgment on those who would not worship you, our Creator God, as the one and only God.  And Isaiah, gripped with agonizing and extreme feelings of fear, wrote, “Therefore I am filled with anguish. Pain grips me, like the pain of a woman in labor. I am too perplexed to hear, too dismayed to see. My heart staggers; horror terrifies me. He has turned my last glimmer of hope into sheer terror.” (Isaiah 21:3-5).  This is the rightful response to God’s holy judgment by the one who has eyes to see it.
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O Jesus, I bow my knee to your worthy name! I am nothing apart from your great salvation!  That you would consider me blows me away, but I am even more humbled and awestruck that you have pursued me with your relentless grace.
Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; I wait for You all day long.  Your glory is too much for me! I love you and delight in your glory!  There  is indescribable joy in knowing that you have made a way for me to know you!
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Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!

White as Snow

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Blood stains the brilliant white of the snow
My sins are scarlet; where shall I go?
Seeking to entrap, death chases me
I am guilty; where can I flee?

Let us reason, my LORD pleads,
Return; your Advocate will intercede
For a broken heart I will mend
A contrite spirit will not offend.

 
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Heinous scarlet shall be like glistening snow
Crimson stains purged clean, your heart hallowed
Exacting judgment meted on the cross
Innocent blood covers the ugliest dross.

Grace is free and resurrection power is given
Obey the Spirit for true and joyful living
Make no room for selfish lust or slavish fear
Your Redeemer overcomes in glory and draws you near.

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Dreaming with a Bigger Lens

vangogh-stars-quote1           (PC:  Rebecca Barray)

Dreams are often wishes unfulfilled.  Our longings take concrete shape as our minds explore endless ways to create what our visions for justice, push for discovery and desires for beauty beg for.  Made in the reflection of the infinite, God wires us with aptitudes and investigative minds able to innovate, design, build, create, examine, explore and solve; and it would seem humanity is a tireless and thrilling resource for more of whatever our restless mind can imagine.  Because dreams are not easily navigated, the formidable limitations that hold us back, whether our own inabilities or weaknesses, or the less controllable ones like being born in the wrong century or the wrong neighborhood, can kill our dreams.   As poor, destitute Fantine would sing, “But the tigers come at night, With their voices soft as thunder, As they tear your hope apart, As they turn your dream to shame.”  Dreams often remind us of what we are not.

Dreams were never meant to define us.  All people everywhere are defined by their relationship to God.  Because we were intended for oneness with God, God is to be central in all things; and the inspiration of our dreams must be motivated by the realization that our longings will only find a satisfying reality when they are in correct alignment to Him .  Hundreds of years ago, the apostle Paul spoke in the meeting of the Aeropagus in Athens saying, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”  The reality of whatever we are hoping for is made a real hope in the resurrection of Christ, the glorious central figure in all of reality.

Another interesting aspect about dreams and hopes are how they shift and morph along the sands of time.  What you dreamed about as a kid probably is not your current big dream.  slide_442010_5844780_freeSimilarly, as our culture has shifted its focus on what matters most, we discover  it is reflected in our own aspirations.  Dr. Tim Keller states, “In ancient cultures what mattered most was honor and making your community proud by fulfilling your duty. The world was conceived as a testing ground to see whether you would be faithful to truth, beauty, and causes higher than your own emotions and interests.  Today, however, our cultures are highly individualistic. There is no duty higher than plumbing the depths of your own desires to find out who you want to be. In modern narratives, the protagonist is usually a person who bravely casts off convention, breaks the rules, defies tradition and authority to discover him or her self and carve out a new place in the world. In ancient tales the hero was the person who did just the opposite, who put aside inner dreams, aspirations, doubts, and feelings in order to bravely and loyally fulfill their vows and obligations.”  So it is that our lofty goals often mirror our world’s changing reflections.  (PC:  Rhiannon Logsdon)

The coming of Jesus brings hopes to our dreams.  What do you dream about?  What keeps you up at night pondering and planning?  Each part of our life is to be laid in submission to the King’s command, and yet the eagerness of the King is for his people’s eternal joy.  Do we dare to place our susceptible aspirations and most secret, heartfelt longings into the hands of the one who breathed life into us, offers rescue from our sinful destitution, and assures that in Himself is life full of love and acceptance?  Is it hard?  Are we afraid of disappointment? The beloved preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “If you reject Him, He answers you with tears. If you wound Him, He bleeds out cleansing, if you kill Him, he dies to redeem. If you bury Him, He rises again to bring us resurrection. Jesus is love manifest.”  In an individualized society, do we dare to turn over our dreams?

Jesus offers an alternate way of living human.  Jesus asks us to have the same mindset that compelled him to completely empty Himself and become a human.  Though completely equal with God, Jesus did not grasp after it.  Though a king, he became a servant of all. manger2013 Jesus deliberately gave up the biggest, living dream ever, lost it all, in order to gain something greater–the redemption of his people.  Now Jesus tells his followers to do the same, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” The Word became flesh and lived right here among us, and we saw his grace and glory.  This glory is life overflowing, and it spills over onto us to give us what we need; grace and truth is spilled out, ever-present, ever-holding on to us, overflowing like a river in us, giving us grace, over and over, grace upon grace.  828fdc9db1c33ecb221f6a7dc7bed7c5

Jesus also provides us with a new filter for the longings of our heart.  Jesus leaves us with His Spirit, the power of the crucified and resurrected Christ.  The Lord tells us that we may ask anything in His name, and He assures us that He will do it with every desire and every dream processed through that precious name for the glory of God.  We ask for His fame, not ours.  Our desires and dreams are put through that filter–His fame, His worth, His wisdom, His honor, His glory.   And we find that our dreams were never really big enough, our lens were too small to capture the story of glory that is now ours through Christ.