July 28, 2010

All This and More

Ok, my Bible searching skills are clearly a little rusty today. I very much wanted to write about the time when Jesus tells his disciples that they will do all the works that he did--and more.

But I clearly do not remember the phrase used in the NIV because I just tried a whole lotta searches and... nuthin.

I know it's in there... but I can't take any more time to search, so please take my word for it (or comment with the exact passage if you know it!)

But it is true... Jesus told his disciples that they would do the miracles he did... and then some. Why the "and then some?" He's not saying the disciples are better than him, is he? Nope, not at all. But I believe Jesus knows, to some extent at least by this time, that he will be leaving the earth and returning to the Father, and so the only people who will remain to do the miracles are... the disciples. So of course God will use them to do His good works of breaking through with the Kingdom (ie miracles).

Now, here's the important question... do you think that Jesus spoke those words only to the disciples? Or do you think that he spoke those words to all peoples who followed him?

Did you answer yes? I answered yes. Do you know what that means? That means that God expects us to do miracles (with His power, not ours) right now! Today! He has given us the authority given to Jesus to cast out evil spirits, to heal the sick, to restore sight to the blind... in Jesus' name, with God's power, through the Holy Spirit.

Chew on that one for a minute.

I wrote yesterday at my other blog about a miracle that happened in my life. This was an instance when God kinda swooped in and did the work without human help--although I know prayer was involved. But have there been times when miracles have happened through the hands of other people? Yes! I haven't seen many limbs regrown or people back from the dead (ok I haven't seen any) but God gave us the ability to do this!

If you google "Miracles" you will find stories of contemporary people who have experienced life-altering moves of God. And yet, in my life I don't hear too many first-hand stories of this. Why not??? What is holding us back??

I think this post is just the first of many, because I am very interested in the Power of God and how He wants us to tap into it, in order to do miracles, so that He may be praised. So perhaps it's ok that I feel disjointed today, because I think as a culture we're a little disjointed when it comes to an awareness of the ability we have to ask God for amazing things. I hope this changes. I hope to develop the faith that we need to move mountains. I hope you do, too. Then we can all blog about the miracles that God is doing in our lives, each and every day.

July 22, 2010

Return to Me

I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me,
for I have redeemed you.
              - Isaiah 44:22

You know, when I typed in "return to me" to my Bible search, I expected a few certain verses. But this one was new to me. "Return to me, for I have redeemed you." Wow. 

This verse spoke to me because I immediately thought about what we do when we're in the wrong and we know it. You know, let's say you're 17 and your parents tell you not to go out driving past curfew, certainly not with 8 other kids in the car, and definitely not faster than the speed limit. And of course you do. And, because you can't see past the other 3 people in the front seat and you're going 65 mph on a back road, you blow a stop sign and get sideswiped by someone you didn't even see coming.

What do you do? 

Well, I'm gonna think that one of your first thoughts is that you are going to leave home. Immediately. Without even going home to pack. Why? Because you just know how much trouble you're going to be in when your parents find out. And wouldn't living on the streets be better than the shame and punishment you would find at home?

That might be a bit of a hyperbole, but I firmly believe there are people in the world right now living in terrible conditions because they were too afraid/stubborn/rebellious to deal with something in their lives, and they figured that leaving home would be the best thing to do. Or put it this way--perhaps someone hasn't left home, but they've abandoned their family by crawling inside a fifth of vodka every night. Or by going to girlie shows. Or having an affair with the gardner. 

In each of those ways they've "left" what God has described as a well-balanced life, haven't they? And what happens when they realize the inability of these behaviors to fulfill their desires? Guilt, shame... and often a jump even deeper into that life. Why? Because once you're into a bad habit, a destructive lifestyle, the voice in your head tends to be one that vacillates between justifying what you're doing, and calling you a reject, a loser, a whore.

There's nothing that says redemption in those words.

So we hide from ourselves, we hide from God, and we keep doing what we know we shouldn't.

And I'm not just talking about someone who lives a life of drug-dealing or prostitution. We each are doing something in our lives right now that God would like us to stop doing. I can almost guarantee that. I know the habits I have. I know that I eat through my emotions, and mask my real feelings with sugar. And even as I reach for the ice cream I'll think "this is wrong, you don't need the calories, you're not even hungry." Followed by "Hey, it's my ice cream. I can do whatever I want." And then, after I've made my way halfway through the bowl: "You're such a fat loser. Look at you eating all that crap. No wonder no one loves you. You may as well go eat the rest of it now."

Yeah, welcome to my world. But I didn't put this there to get your sympathy; rather to show you that there are times that all of us will leave what we know is right. And the devil, he likes that. You will be assigned a demon to sit on your shoulder and whisper those horrible, untrue words into your ear until you begin to believe it and say it yourself. 

What then are we to do?

"Return to me," God says, "For I have redeemed you."

It's so crazy. We're the ones who left. We're the ones who messed up. And here God is saying "I know, but I got this. Someone has to pay, so I sent my Son to die. It's ok though, because He's stronger than the devil, and he'll come back to life. Jesus will return to me, and through him, so can you."

But... why?

I know, I know, we shouldn't question it, right? But when you've been listening to the lies of the enemy, you need some truth to clear your head. So read the next verse of Isaiah:

Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this;
shout aloud, O earth beneath.
Burst into song, you mountains,
you forests and all your trees,
for the LORD has redeemed Jacob,
he displays his glory in Israel.
              -Isaiah 44:23

What a beautiful verse. Sing for joy for the LORD has redeemed you. And why? Because "he displays his glory in Israel." 

God redeemed you to display His glory IN you. He loves you so much that when He created you, it was with the express purpose of showing His glory in you and through you. And even though we have walked away from Him, He calls to us to return, so that He can continue the good work He started in us. 

Do we deserve it? Of course we don't. But given the option of staying in a downward spiral towards death and destruction, or returning to the One who created us, and receiving His redemption, which sounds better?

And I'm not gonna lie--it won't be perfect right away. God can and will heal people miraculously of addictions, but if that doesn't happen to you, don't despair. Just put your hope in Him and carry on every day, knowing you are getting closer to it. I certainly haven't gotten over my food issues (granted I don't know that I've fully returned to God on this yet) but He has given me some mastery over my eating habits. I'm 6 pounds lighter to prove it. :)

July 15, 2010

Sermon #2

Hi there! In case you haven't noticed, it's been about 2 months since I've posted here. Amazing how time gets away from you when you A) get a computer virus and have to fix the laptop and get a new modem and B) get completely out of the habit of getting up early.

So in an attempt to kickstart my morning habit again, I'm going to give you the second sermon I gave in my leadership class, which I would have posted about the time that I got the virus. It is a bit lengthy I know--remember this wasn't written to be a blog post but rather a 12-minute sermon. But I like the idea of putting this out there. Remember too that I gave this sermon right in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs. :)

Are You Prepared for the Day of the Lord?

Imagine two hockey players. They’re both on the same team. The team has done very well, and is in the finals for the Stanley cup. The are clearly both very excited, and they are each preparing for the games in different ways.

The first player, we’ll call him Jim, showed up early every day for practice. He worked out in the weight room, ate healthy food, went to bed on time, and in general followed all of the directions that his coach and his trainers gave him.

The second player, let’s call him Bob, grew a beard. Now, I don’t want you to think that I have an issue with any real hockey team that happens to be growing beards. This is an illustration. But Bob was a little bit confused. You see, he had heard all of the superstitions about how important it was as a team to grow a beard, and to not wash his socks, and to wear the same jersey every game, and to put his left skate on before the right one. He still went to practice, but he spent just as much time focusing on all of these superstitions as he did on honing his skill.

Which player do you think will do the best in the game? I’ve got to say Jim is a little more prepared for the big game, isn’t he? He has kept his focus on what is good, and important about hockey, and Bob, well, you could almost say that Bob was worshiping at some rather interesting altars, couldn’t you? He didn’t have faith in the right way to act as a hockey player, and spent time instead trying to satiate these images he had in his head of rituals that would suddenly bestow winning skills on him.

So, what does this mean to us? None of us are professional hockey players. We are, however, in a similar situation. Where Jim and Bob were preparing for the final game, we must prepare, in a way for our final game—the day that we meet with God. So my question for you today is: Are you prepared for the Day of the Lord?

“The Day of the Lord” is a phrase that has been used throughout the Bible and in much biblical commentary. There is a very strong end-times connotation to it, from our perspective, because it speaks to the day when Christ will return. It speaks to the rule of God on earth. It speaks to a day when we will all stand before God and account for our actions. Pretty fun stuff, huh?

But The Day of the Lord was not just a new testament theory. The Day of the Lord was known to the Jews of the Old Testament, because remember they were looking forward to the coming of the messiah, who we know as Jesus Christ.

But the problem is that no one knew when he was coming.

And the problem is that the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel were experiencing some peaceful, prosperous times. And what happens when humans, fallen, broken humans, experience peaceful, prosperous times? They often get complacent. They begin to develop a feeling of entitlement. And they begin to assume that The Day of the Lord is when the party gets started, when all the heathens and enemies of Yaweh get smited by the wrath of God, and when the earth will finally belong to the Chosen ones at last.

And then comes Amos. Amos was a prophet during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah, and Jeroboam the 2nd of Israel. Amos stepped up and said “you know, I don’t think you quite get what this Day of the Lord is about.”  Listen to what he says in Amos 5: 18-24, speaking on behalf of God:

“Woe to you who long
       for the day of the LORD!
       Why do you long for the day of the LORD ?
       That day will be darkness, not light.
 19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion
       only to meet a bear,
       as though he entered his house
       and rested his hand on the wall
       only to have a snake bite him.
 20 Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light—
       pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
 21 "I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
       I cannot stand your assemblies.
 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
       I will not accept them.
       Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
       I will have no regard for them.
 23 Away with the noise of your songs!
       I will not listen to the music of your harps.
 24 But let justice roll on like a river,
       righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

I be there were some Israelites who thought “Woe?? Woe to us?? What the heck are you talking about? Why would God be angry with us? Look, we’re doing the offerings, we’re singing the songs, we’re doing everything you told us to do!!”

But the problem, alas, is that the Jews were doing more than that. While they gave offerings to God, they also gave offerings to idols. Amos continues to say:

“ You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.”

Woah. That kinda explains things a little more—to me at least. What is it the children of God were doing? They were creating their own gods, and worshipping them as well. It’s almost as if they were hedging their bets. Almost as if, like Bob the hockey player, they said “Ok, I’ll do what I’m supposed to do, but I’m not entirely sure it’s going to work, so I’m going to do all this other stuff too, because I heard that will ensure that I have a good life.”

So what were the children of God doing to prepare for the Day of the Lord? They were ignoring God’s commandments. What good is singing and sacrifice when there is no justice? What good is giving a tenth of what you have to the temple and then walking past the sick, the poor, and the down on their luck on your way home to spend the other 90%?

Does this sound perhaps like Christians today? Do we as a group worship God, lift up his name, give him our offerings, and then play the lotto, cut corners, steal paper from the office because we “don’t get paid enough,” and ignore our neighbor who actually has less than us? Do we sometimes expect more from others than we require of ourselves? Do we get upset when someone isn’t on time and yet we’re always late? Do we speak ill of someone who hurt us instead of going directly to them to resolve the issue? Do we make idols for ourselves? Idols called Greed, Entitlement, and Pride?

I have to say this sounds sometimes like me. So what do we do? What do we do to prepare for the Day of the Lord, when Jesus returns and we are called to give that account of our lives? Yes we are saved through the blood of the lamb, but aren’t we supposed to do more with our lives than just “get ours” ?

Well we’re in luck, because the Bible answers this question for us. We are told many, many things. Love the Lord Your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. And, one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament, Micah 6:8:

       He has showed you, O man, what is good.
       And what does the LORD require of you?
       To act justly and to love mercy
       and to walk humbly with your God.

It’s about how we act that we prepare for the coming of the Lord. It’s how we treat God, how we treat ourselves, and how we treat others, that prepares us for The Day of the Lord.

And the great thing is that God gets our hearts. He knows that we aren’t going to be perfect. The trick, however, is to keep ourselves from making those idols. The trick is to not be like Bob, trying to find a shortcut through to a better life. The trick is to be more like Jim, to learn the “right” way to live, and to do our absolute best to live that way. To be humble when we mess up, and to try again.

And I’ll leave you with one more illustration, from one of my favorite movies, G.I. Jane. This is a fictional story about a woman who was in the Navy Seals program, the hardest program in the entire armed forces. She and her crew were on a training mission outside Lybia, when they were suddenly brought together and told that a satellite had fallen into the desert, and the combat unit that had been sent to retrieve it needed help out. So these people, who were still in training, were told “we need you to do the right thing, to step up and help these people who need us, because there’s no one else.” “If for one second, the Captian told the Command Master Chief” your people aren’t ready for any reason, you tell me now.” And the Master Chief said “we’re ready.” He then turned to his crew, told them what was going on, and said “ok, who’s not ready.”

No one raised their hands. They weren’t “ready” by the standards of training and examinations and titles. But they were needed. And they stepped up. And they got that other team out of there.

So I guess my only question for you today is “What are you doing to be prepared for the Day of the Lord?” When you are called upon to help the lost, the last and the least, do you? Do you study the Bible daily in order to learn more about how God wants us to live? Or do you try to find the shortcut? Do you try to find that one song, that one ritual which will “make” God give you an abundant life?

God is looking at us right now, people. There are others in need out there. And his Command Master Chief is asking us: “who’s not ready?”

May 17, 2010

The Forgiveness Equation

So my computer has a virus. Booooo. Public Service Announcement time: If you haven't updated/added a virus protection program to your computer recently, please do so now. I'll wait. Seriously, this just cost me $260. I'll wait.


Ok, now that that's done, I've got to be honest and say that I will soooo not be able to post anything new until I get the computer back, which will probably be next weekend (I'm writing this on Sunday night at the office). So for those of you who read this (and I can't tell you how thrilling it is to know there are actually people who read this) I offer my humble apologies for the absence. But I do want to leave you with one last post for the week, especially since you've all been a part of my writing it... the sermon!

I went through about 3 iterations of this thing, but below is the sermon in its entirety. I tend to write verbatim, and then follow it mostly. :) You'll notice bits and pieces (and whole sections) from earlier blog posts, so there isn't much new here. But I do want you to see how it turned out...

The Forgiveness Equation

My verse today is 1st John chapter one, verse 9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Ok, so if you’ve ever had to hear me talk about myself, which I believe you all have had to do once or twice… you’ll know that I have a degree in art. But what you might not know about me is that when I was in school, I was actually quite good at math as well. So today the title of my sermon is The Forgiveness Equation. What I plan to do in the next few minutes is lead you through a look at this verse on forgiveness, and give you an equation to remember as you go about your day. Not that we can create an equation to define God or life in their entirety, but the basic equation for forgiveness is one that we can always use, one that will help us live a more balanced life in Christ.

Now, we have been studying the writings of John in this quarter of VLI, so one thing that we’ve all been told is that to truly understand what John is saying, we should look at the context. Who is John’s audience? If you study the writing style of 1st John, it doesn’t read like a typical letter and in fact scholars believe that this is what is called a “circular letter,” a sort of “Best of John” publication that was passed around among the Christian community. So these words are speaking to Christians.

This works well for me, since I am… a Christian. Now, since I accepted Jesus as my Savior, I could think that I’m done, right? That there’s nothing else I need to do in my life. But the thing is, God wants us to lead wholesome, holy lives. Unfortunately, we miss the mark on that all the time, don't we? We sin all the time. So what can we do? Well, here is where the equation factors in. But first let me give you one more verse, this time from 2nd Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land.

This verse adds a second dimension. If we pray to ask forgiveness AND we repent, or turn from our sins, THEN God will forgive us. Do you see the equation here? In literary terms we’re talking about an if-then statement. IF we pray AND turn from our sins, THEN God will forgive us. To put it in mathematical terms, think about it this way. A + B = C. So, A:Praying plus B:Repentance, Equals C) Forgiveness.

Prayer plus Repentance equals Forgiveness. When you have an equals sign in an equation, the total of whatever is on each side has the same magnitude. Thus 1 plus 2 equals 3. If you remove one of the numbers from either side of the equation, it no longer works. If you only have 2, then you do not have 3.

If we only ask God to forgive us for something that we have done, but we do not have any intention to stop doing it, do you think that God will jump to forgive us?

So what is that balanced equation again? Prayer plus Repentance equals Forgiveness.

Now. What if we get crazy with our math skills here? If you remember your basic algebra, you will know that what you do to one side of an equation you must also do to the other, in order to keep the balance. So take the simple equation A + B = C. Let’s add the number 3 to it. I know, it’s crazy, right? Well, if I were to say (A + B) + 3 = C, would that be right? Nope, because we already established that A + B = C. So what would I need to do to make it even? I’d have to add something of the same value to the other side to make it balance out, something equal to the value of the number 3. What’s equal in value? How about one plus two? That’s three, right? So, and I know this is high-brow thinking here, but if I were to write (A+B) + 3 = C + (1+2), is that equal? Why yes, in fact it is. Because we’ve already established that A plus B equals C, and so now each side of the equation simply has the value of 3 added to it.

So, what value can we add to our Forgiveness Formula?

Well, let’s look at a real-life situation. I might be the only person in the room today who is really really bad at repentance. I will ask God left and right to forgive me, but I’m not the best at saying “and I will never do this again.” I will admit it’s a failing of mine. But let’s say that I do accomplish to ask God’s forgiveness for something that I have done, and I commit to Him to stop doing it. As an example, let’s say I’ve been gossiping about my boss behind her back, and I finally realize that it’s wrong. So I pray and say “God I have no right to speak ill of another person. I am so very sorry, please forgive me.” And I even add “Ok God, I’m going to stop doing this now, I promise.” So, super-cool, I have forgiveness, right? Right.

But what happens in two days when my boss does something absolutely insane again? And when I’m tempted to run to a friend and tell him all about that crazy thing she said or did and how much I can’t believe that I have to work for this crazy, crazy insane person. How do I avoid this?

Let’s look at Hosea 12 verse 6 for the answer: Return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

I love this verse because it tells me what to do in this situation. Return to my God. When I feel the desire to stray into temptation, I must return to what God has called me to do in life, and He has NOT called me to be a gossip, I can tell you that. Then, I must maintain love and justice—I must act in a manner appropriately to who I am as a child of God. And last, I must wait for God. If I reach out to God to help me in my temptations, and wait on Him, he will give me the strength to maintain a Godly lifestyle.

So I’m thinking that maybe here is a value I can add to my Forgiveness Equation, to give it some lasting value. I’m going to focus on the word Maintain. So, if I pray for forgiveness, and I repent of my sins, and then I maintain the life God has designed for me, what will I get? What is equal to the value that is maintaining a Godly life?

To answer that let me tell you about how much I hate doing the dishes. I HATE doing the dishes. If it weren’t for the environment I’d have switched over to paper plates and plastic silverware years ago. And it’s just me in my house! I mean really, it shouldn’t be that hard to wash my own dishes, right? In a busy week I may only be home long enough to eat a bowl of cereal every day. That’s one bowl, and one spoon. If I were to wash that one bowl and one spoon every day, then I would never have dirty dishes, right?

But alas, I own more than one bowl and one spoon. Which means that if I really want to, I can take that one dirty bowl and spoon and put them in the sink, and the next day pull out another bowl and spoon, and another and another, until at the end of the week I have zero clean bowls or spoons, and several dishes in the sink in varying stages of crusty. Eew. I hate washing crusty dishes. It takes forever to get crusty dishes clean. First you have to soak them, then you have to scrub at them. I hate doing that.

But whose fault is that? Right. It’s mine. Because I didn’t take the time to wash my dishes as I used them. Had I maintained a habit of spending the 35 seconds it takes to wash one dish and one spoon, I would have reached the end of the week with a clean sink, and all clean dishes, and no headache. I would have been able to look into the kitchen and have… peace of mind.

Aha! There it is. Peace. If I can maintain a lifestyle in accordance with God’s rules for us, I can have peace.

So if we add peace to the equation we now have this:

If I Pray for forgiveness and repent of my sins, AND maintain a life in accordance with God’s rules, THEN I will receive forgiveness AND peace.

So. Let me reread all three of these verses together:

If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

So what is the equation again?

(Prayer & Repentance) + Maintenance = Forgiveness & Peace.

Our lives are certainly not as simple as a mathematical equation, but sometimes it helps to have some simple guidelines to remember, things that we can repeat to ourselves when we’re in situations where we need God’s guidance.

So when you are in a place where you feel that your equation is unbalanced, when you are missing either forgiveness or peace in your life, perhaps you will need to look to the other side of the equals sign, and figure out what it is that you’re missing. No forgiveness? Perhaps you haven’t truly repented of some recent sin. No Peace? Perhaps you aren’t maintaining the lifestyle to which God has called you. But the great news in this is that all you have to do to balance your equation is do what you weren’t doing. If you aren’t praying, pray; if you’re not repenting, repent; if you’re not maintaining… then maintain. If you can do this, then you will receive both forgiveness and peace. And that is an equation to live by.

Let us pray: Lord God thank you for providing us with simple rules that we can take to heart, ways to remember all that you have called us to do. Thank you for providing us with your forgiveness and peace. Give us the ability to see when we are leaving out a critical part of our equation, so that we may return to a balanced life. In your name we pray, Amen.

May 12, 2010


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

I'm dealing with an issue at work where some people are starting to say that the department I'm in is not exhibiting "teamwork" any more. It's a hard thing to hear, since I feel that I have generally been a "team player" for the 4 years I've been in this department.

But I have to wonder what "teamwork" means to other people. Because for 4 years, I pretty much bent over backwards to do whatever they wanted. Is that really teamwork, or them taking advantage of me? And is the fact that I'm beginning to feel the workload over-much and as such am pushing back on projects actually the reason why they perceive me as no longer being completely team-oriented? I don't know, but I can tell you that it's something I'm thinking about.

Especially when you read that verse in Philippians. I mean really... have I actually just become selfish? Have I decided that I do not in fact want to help anyone else out any more? That I'm better than them?

I don't really have much wisdom for you today. All I have is the same question I ask myself: Are you thinking of yourself more highly than you ought? If not, why might others think so? If so, what must you do to change this?

I'm not even sure what my answer is. But I pray that I will figure it out, so I can move forward accordingly.

May 11, 2010

Rest... It's Good For You

For anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:10)

Hello there! I took a long weekend from work, so I took the time off of doing this blog as well. Not that I can't or shouldn't study the Bible on my days off, but the decision I made was to do this every weekday before work.

But this whole thing of work and not working has been on my mind a lot lately, and especially the idea of rest. Last night I was actually in bed for 8 whole hours. I did wake up once during the thunderstorm, but otherwise I slept well. And you know what, for the first time I feel a little more ready to tackle my work week. And let me tell you, lately I have not felt ready to tackle anything having to do with work!

And I think one of the biggest reasons is that I rested. Now, I still had a fairly busy weekend, and I didn't get as much sleep any other night as I could or should have, but still, just being away from work sometimes is amazing. And necessary.

God Himself worked for 6 days, then rested. If the creator of the universe can decide that He needs a day to not work, who are we to tell him otherwise? The sabbath is a holy day. Unfortunately Sunday often becomes just as busy as any other day, especially if you're involved in a Sunday morning church ministry.

But the point for me today is that we must all find our sabbath. We must all find our rest, our time away from work. Put down the BlackBerry and focus on renewing your mind, body, and soul. Those questions that everybody at work thinks are so urgent? Unless you are a doctor, they can probably wait.

So this week, let's all try to find some Sabbath time. Maybe it's reading the Bible during your nightly bath, or reciting scripture to yourself in the shower. Perhaps it's praying on your walk to work. And perhaps it is truly setting aside a day to just not do anything. Can you believe that resting is an act of worship too? I believe it is. I believe when we rest (not when we are lazy, but when we truly rest) we are saying to God "Ok, I know you've got this covered. So I'm just gonna hang out and enjoy your magesty."

Let's all rest sometime this week.

May 6, 2010

Return to Me

This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Return to me,' declares the LORD Almighty, 'and I will return to you,' says the LORD Almighty. (Zechariah 1:3)

So, I'm still working through this idea of confess, repent and maintain to receive forgiveness and peace. I think this verse does a great job of explaining another side of the concept.

Do you sometimes feel that God has completely given up on you? Like He's at somebody else's party and you're stuck in your house all alone with nothing but 20 noisemakers and the cat?

Do you ever find yourself asking God why He isn't working in your life?

May I offer one point of interest: God never leaves us. Never ever. We leave Him.

Do you remember the illustration I used in Confession Restores Fellowship? I gave the idea of a brick wall being built between you and God. And really, you're the person putting up the bricks, so you're the one who needs to tear them down again.

Confession and repentatance are the key to this. Return to me, God says, and I will return to you. Well, I believe that God used this wording because all of the people were saying "God why have you left us?" But remember, God is omiscient, omnipotent, omnipresent... it's not like He'd come back and say "Dude, sorry guys, I was totally taking a nap. What's up?"

Rather think about this picture:

Have you seen this one before? This is God "away from us." This is God saying "Dude, I was right here with you, and suddenly you pushed me out and shut the door. What's up?"

Have you heard the sermons before on this door? Have you noticed that there is no doorknob on the outside?

Return to God--open the damn door--and God will return to you.

If I ever get a chance to preach a sermon called "Open the Damn Door" I will be so happy. I've been studying up for a sermon I have to give for a class, so maybe it'll end up going in this direction... we'll have to see. :)

Back to the point... God hasn't left us. We've shut Him out.

And who is it that we shut out? The verse said it three times: the LORD Almighty. Um, that would be the Author of Life, the Living Word of God.

And because God has chosen to give us the ability to make our own choices, He allows us to choose to shut Him out. Our sin shuts Him out. Our shame about our sin causes us to shut the door to God. The very voice that He put in us telling us that we're doing wrong causes us to think "if I just shut the door, I won't have to hear this voice again."

But we've got to be ready for the consequences of doing that. For your life suddenly (or slowly) falling apart. For the lack of favor in relationships, at work. For the sense of unrest and unfulfillment. For feeling so very, very alone.

You ever wonder if, as you sit there with your noisemakers and your cat, you never once looked up and said "Wait a minute, I sent out an invitation, but I haven't been answering the door! Maybe that's why no one's here!"


Open the damn door.

May 5, 2010

Adding to the Jesus Math

But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always. (Hosea 12:6)
The word "maintain" shows up in the NIV 21 times. It's not a super-important word. But as I've been studying this idea of confession and repentance, maintaining a lifestyle that would have no need for confession sounds like a pretty good way to go.
It's like cleaning my house, which I'm horrible at doing. Because I can spend one day swiffering, magic erasering, doing laundry and putting the clothes away, washing the dishes, and even sorting the mail.
And 24 hours later it's all gone to seed.
Because.... I don't maintain it. I'll be honest. I'm really terrible at maintaining a tidy house. I've used this example before, where you can put one dish in the sink and it's ok, but a week later a sinkful of dirty dishes is going to be quite nasty, and a big huge pain in the butt to clean.
When ironically the 35 seconds it would take to wash my one morning bowl of cereal before it gets crusty just seems "too hard" for me sometimes.
But look at your spiritual life this way. Yes it's hard to avoid all temptation. Yes it's hard to stay sexually pure in whatever situation you're in. Yes it's hard not to spread that little bit of gossip. Yes it's hard to say no to the extra helping of ice cream.
But what happens after you give in "just this once?" Do you give in "just one more time" and "just one more" and "this is my last one I swear"?
And suddenly your pants are too tight and you've got 34 empty Ben & Jerry's pints in your garbage can.
And losing the weight is a looot harder than putting it on, isn't it? (Note how I went for the safe sin of over-indulging, and not the sexual/STD/pregnancy one)
So here's the deal. I think we have to consider expanding our mathmatical equation that I created in my Jesus Math post. That equation is Confession + Repentance = Forgiveness. And that's the basic one, the one we should all remember. But I wonder if we can do this:
(Confession + Repentance) + Maintenance = Forgiveness + Peace
Because isn't your life a little less hectic when you're keeping on the right path day after day? Yes you have to spend that 35 seconds every morning washing out your cereal bowl. But that saves you from having to spend 20 minutes at the end of the week scrubbing off the crusty cereal.
I haven't even managed Confession and Repentance well. But let's all try to do this thing, Ok? And if we're going to do it, we should do it right.
Lord God I ask you to forgive me for thinking that I could ever take the easy way out, the one-time forgiveness. Please help me to see when I need to confess and repent of a sin, and please also grant me the ability to maintain right living after I have received that forgiveness, that I would not find myself back in the same place, asking you for forgiveness again. Amen.

May 4, 2010

Verse of the Day 2.0

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Ok, so I did not get much sleep and I don't want to end up being late for work, but I wanted to keep true to writing every day. And lo and behold, the verse of the day over at Biblegateway.com was actually pretty appropriate to what I've been studying!

It's funny, the Bible sure is full of a lot of admonitions from God for us to confess our sins and turn away from them.

Do you think that's because as humans we seem to have the moral memory of a gnat? I bet you if I put a verse like this up every single day, everyone who read it could go "oh yeah right I should do that today." And then the next day, and the next.

Ok, there are some of you who've been working on the fine art of not being a sinful blob, but I haven't quite gotten there yet. :)

But when I see how many times God had to remind His people, well, then there's hope for me.

May 3, 2010

Hiding From, or Hiding In?

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD "—and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. (Psalm 32: 1-7)

Ok, so I took this portion of the Psalm out of the poem format (and removed the "selah"s) for a very specific purpose: I wanted the words to be read as statements. Sometimes I think it's easy to see the song in a psalm, and miss the message. I mean, if you're familiar with one of the big songs written from the last line, you've already gotten it running through your head. But what the heck does that line mean, anyway? You are my hiding place???

I want to connect this verse to the passage I studied a week ago: 1 John 1: 5-9. I did a lot of talking about the Light of God and how it sees everything. So how, then, can God be a hiding place? Well let's do this... let's start at the beginning of today's verse...

First realize that he (or she) whose sins are forgiven is blessed. Really truly honestly blessed. That right there should be enough to make us want to confess our sins, right? Because remember, Forgiveness + Repentance = Forgiveness. We should never take forgiveness for granted.

Plus, what happens to us while we "keep silent," while we avoid confessing our sins? Because that's really what we're doing. It's not like God doesn't know about them until we tell Him. Light of God, remember?  So in not confessing, we're actually actively keeping silent. And while we're keeping silent on our sins, our bodies will waste away with our groaning.


Yes, really.

Think about it, if you sin, you've probably put yourself into a negative or unhealthy lifestyle of some sort. And that will wear on the body. Stress and worry wear on the body. In fact doctors have noticed stress as one of the leading causes for a number of physical problems because it weakens the body's defenses.

And I love that bit about the groaning. Because really, don't we complain allllllll the time? I know I do. So instead of whining and complaining and stressing out about all of my problems, what I should be doing is... confessing my sin. Even when I feel that I am the victim in any certain situation. Because chances are that I've been thinking uncharitable thoughts towards that other person, and not loving them the way I'm supposed to. And love is the greatest commandment, isn't it?

So we must confess and repent, so that we may receive forgiveness. This is a constant thing, like doing the dishes. It's really easy to put one bowl and one cup in the sink. But when, the next day, you put another bowl and cup, and perhaps a plate and a crusty pot in that sink, and then the next day you build on that again, well, it's gonna take a whole lot more effort to clean that first bowl, isn't it?

But the payoff of regular confession (we sin regularly, so we should confess regularly) is that we will not only have a balm for the hurt and pain that our sins brought on us, but--and I'm going back to the beginning here--we will have a hiding place in God.

When the world gets us down, and persecutes us or embarasses us for being believers in Jesus Christ, we can take refuge in God. We do not use Him as a permanent hiding place to completely escape the world, that's not His plan. But when we feel that we are being attacked, there is no better place to hide than under His wing. For our God will protect us, and shelter us, and keep us from harm. But if we ignore that we sin and try to hide it, we will not be in a place where we would even feel that we could ask God to shelter us.

So confess your sins. The guilt you've been harboring is too much to bear, and it will show. God knows what you've done anyway.

I think sometimes the hardest part isn't admitting you've sinned but telling God that you'll never do it again. Well, we can't be perfect, but with God's help we can overcome all obstacles. Really, we can. And instead of hiding from His grace, we can be protected by it.

That's the place I'd like to be right now.

April 30, 2010

Such a Time as This

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)

I love the story of Esther. Love, love, love it. I mean, it's a fairy tale... in the Bible!! Think about it. Little girl from the projects is so beautiful she's selected to be one of the king's wives (ok, just ignore the polygamy). She spends months and months living in luxury just preparing to meet the king. Then she hears that her family, her people, are about to be destroyed by the king's right-hand man simply because Haman is distainful of Esther's uncle, who not only refused to bow to him but was given high honors for saving the king's life. So, at risk of her very own death, she goes to the king to beg for her people. But instead of flopping down on the floor and crying for mercy, she gives him an invitation--would he go to dinner with her? Intrigued at the fact that she risked her life for this one request, the king agreed. Then after a wonderful evening she asks only for another dinner, and another. Finally the king is so enamored with Esther's beauty and mystery that he offers her anything she wants, up to half of his kingdom. At this point she asks freedom for her people, and the king grants it, and strings Haman up on the noose that he had prepared for Esther's uncle.

I almost wish the Bible continued with "and they lived happily ever after."

But did you catch the important part here? Esther went to the king knowing that she could be summarily executed if he chose not to acknowledge her. Dude.

I mean, how often lately have you faced death in order to do something that God has placed upon you to do? Or think about it this way, would you be willing to face the death of your reputation? Of your bank account? Of your position in society? Would you be willing to lose all of this, for God's people?

Esther's uncle had the most amazing line in the whole story when he told her look, if you don't do this, someone else will rise up. But that doesn't mean that they'll save your family. You were chosen to be part of the king's retinue because of your beauty, but perhaps God gave you this beauty in order that you would be in this place, at this time, with the chance that our people need.

And I do have to say I love love love that part of what Esther did was make herself beautiful for her endeavor. I mean really, when you think about doing the work of God, do you think that means you have to focus on hair and makeup? Well, I think that we each have an arsenal of gifts, and as women one of our "tools" is our appearance. NO I'm not saying to wear a low-cut shirt to get your way in life. But it's just a known fact that beauty grabs attention. And hear this, ladies... confidence is beauty. Self-assuredness is beauty. So when you go to tackle your own trip to the king, be sure that you are using every tool in your arsenal, especially confidence in Christ, and self-assuredness in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit inside you. That is what will shine, that is what is beautiful, above and beyond your earthly charms. :)

Ok, back to Esther's realization that God placed her where she was so she could do His work. She was the only person in the entire kingdom who could intercede on behalf of her people. It's an extreme story, because few of us will ever be in the exact same situation. But think about this: No one is you, but you. You have a unique blend of work, home, family, interests, gifts, and abilities. No one is exactly where you are but you. Do you think that God might just possibly have a plan just for you? Some situation where he has placed you specifically to do His work? Whether it is saving a country or just one child, whether it is teaching young children or providing the best customer service in the world, whether sharing Truth through painting or being a "safe" person for all the teens at church to talk with, God has placed you where you are for a reason.

Sometimes the trick is having that reason pointed out.

And then acting on it.

April 29, 2010

Don't be a Liar

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

Do you remember another verse that this parallels? Ok, well this is somewhat of a reverse parallel, but nonetheless, here is the verse it reminds me of (this is a paraphrase):

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and alll your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hinge on these two things.

Jesus said that when he was asked which was the "greatest" commandment.

So when you look at the 1 John verse, it's somewhat of a parallel because John is describing how it really is a living out of the two commandments. If you love God, you will naturally love your brothers, because God is love, and God loves us, all of us, and if we love God we will love whom He loves, which is everyone.

Got that? :)

It is a pretty good reality check, this verse. I mean, it's so very easy to say "well come on, this person is just terrible. He's not reliable, he's cruel, he's the worst boss/coach/friend/teammate ever, so I just don't have to try to be a good Christian to him, because he's rejected everything I say; it's just not worth it."

But if you're saying that you follow Jesus, that you're a Chrstian, then a show of an absence of love for someone.... well that makes your "deep and meaningful" relationship with God an utter lie.


Because I'm guilty of this a lot.

Like, all the time.

But thank God we have a God who forgives. Who loves us even when we're the worst boss/coach/friend/teammate ever.

April 28, 2010

Jesus Math

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

I don't know about you, but I very rarely had to diagram sentences growing up. I know we had to underline the verb and noun, the object etc, but have you ever seen those diagrams where there are lines and angles and words on end? It's crazy. I'm rather glad I never had to do that. But.

But--I have realized that in a way our lack of understanding of sentence structure could be contributing to some of our failures as good little Christian boys and girls.

Take the if-then clause for example. The if-then clause is like a mathematical equation. If A=B and B=C, then A=C. Right? So there are three important words there (ok there are only 3 words there period): IF, AND, and THEN. IF says "ok, pay attention to what I'm about to say, because everything hinges on this." AND says "I just said one pivotal thing, but there's more, so make sure you see that what I'm about to say is just as imporant as the first thing." Finally, THEN says "Ok, once you've seen the first two things happen--and only when both of them have happened, you will now be able to experience this next thing."

Does that make sense? So in the equation, I cannot see that A=C without first verifying that A=B and that B=C.

I'm sure you're loving the math lesson here, but I do have a point as it pertains to today's verse.

Here it is as an if-then statement:
"IF we pray AND we turn from our ways, THEN God will forgive us."

And here it is as an equation:
Praying + Repentance = Forgiveness

Some people try to get the Forgiveness right away. Others think that they only need to say the words "God forgive me." Neither of these fits the equation. First, you can't have one side of an equation without the other. So to get forgiveness you must have prayer and repentance. Second, prayer and repentance really must go hand-in-hand. Praying is going to God and admitting you have done wrong. Repentance is saying you don't ever want to do that wrong again. (How many times have you prayed to God to forgive you for doing something that you have no intention of quitting?)

Now I don't want anyone to feel condemned here. I myself have many times asked forgiveness for things that I was about to do, not even something I had just done and knew I'd do again. We're all gonna mess this up from time to time. But it's a heart issue. If you truly want to be more like Jesus, you will want to recognize the sin in your life and turn from it. God will forgive us our sins because Jesus died as punishment for them. If you call Jesus your Lord and Savior his blood will wash you clean. But does that give you carte blanche? No it does not. Because again, we're supposed to be trying to be more like Jesus, not trying to find ways to get away with sinning.

Let me say that again: We're supposed to be trying to be more like Jesus, not trying to find ways to get away with sinning.

So, if I leave you with nothing else today, may you remember this simple equation: Prayer + Repentance = Forgiveness. It might just help you live a more Christ-like life.

April 27, 2010

The Scapegoat

"Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat...

"When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert." (Leviticus 16:6-10, 20-22)

Is it really believable that Jesus died for our sins? Is it realistic that this is something that could happen? Ironically, a lot of the same people who would say that this is utterly impossible--one man taking on all the sins of the world--are the people who believe in aliens, or magic, or multiple dimensions. Now I'm not putting a blanket "these do not exist" statement on those three things. What I'm doing is making a correlation between things that are difficult, if not impossible, to prove.

If you came from a Jewish tradition, and studied the scriptures (the Old Testament) I would think that it might be a bit easier to comprehend. Look at the verses above. What is it that happened in this story? Well, on the day of atonement, along with all of the other sacrifices and ceremonies that Aaron performed, he also took a goat and placed upon it all the sins of the people. Then it was led into the wilderness where it likely died. But the point is that the sins of the people went off into the wilderness, never to return.

So what was it that Jesus did again? He took the sins of all humanity--this time it was all humanity, not just Jews, and he took them for all time, not just the past year--and he took them upon himself. And he died, and took those sins with him, never to return. (ok, JESUS returned. The sins did NOT)

Jesus is often referred to as the sacrificial lamb. Which he is. But he is also the scapegoat for all humanity. The one on whom we pile all of our sin, guilt, doubt and iniquity. And through his death and resurrection, these things have been cast away from us forever.

Now, one important note is that we really have to try to stop coming up with more sin, guilt, doubt and iniquity. Jesus died for things you haven't even done yet, so they will be forgiven, but I wonder how our lives would be if, instead of letting ourselves wallow in doubt during a hard time, for example, but instead thanked God for taking that doubt from us. Because He did. It is gone from God's signt as soon as we repent of it. So why not avoid the need for repentance and go straight into thanksgiving? I wonder if that would change anything in our lives.

Because that is what Jesus came to do--to change our lives, to give us freedom and forgiveness. To bear our sins into the wilderness so that we would not be judged by them. Glory, hallelujah! Thank you God for taking my sins from me, for giving your son to die for the sins I have committed, and the ones I have yet to commit. Thank you for loving me so much that you sent your son as the scapegoat for humanity, to die for things he did not do. Thank you that he took on all of my guilt and iniquity, that he died so that I may live. Help me to remember this before I am tempted into sin again, so that I would refrain from heaping more on the cross. Amen.

April 26, 2010

God Delivers

Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack.

In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.
(Psalm 56: 1, 11, 13)

If you have a moment, you should really read all of Psalm 56. It's not very long. But I pulled out these three verses because they tell the general story of the Psalm: David is being attacked by his enemies without rest, but yet he is not afraid because of his trust in the God who delivers him and helps him to walk in the light of life.

How often do we say that first line, and then stop? How often do you pray "God this is happening, and that is happening, and no one likes me or wants me to succeed and..." but you never move to "But God I place my faith in you and I know that you will see me through this time, because you have already saved me from an eternity without you."

It's a little sad how easy it is to forget the message of the cross. Which, by the way, is the Good News of the Bible. God resurrected Jesus, so that even death has no hold over us, because He will bring us back to life as well. As David said, "for you have delivered me from death." He wasn't speaking only to the fact that he was still alive despite having men chase after him. No, I believe that he is also speaking to the fact that God saves us from an eternal separation from Him.

But how does he? That is something not really covered in this psalm. Why did God save him from death? Why will He save us? What do we have to do?

Well, if you've read any of my posts from last week, I was working my way through 1 John 1:5-9, which speaks to the fact that we will receive redemption from all of our sins if we confess them, and that if we walk in the light of God, we will have community with Him and with others.

I believe that Psalm 56 is a practical application of this. David was "a man after God's own heart" and even though he sinned big time, he always came back to God in repentance and sought God's wisdom and guidance constantly. He wasn't perfect, but He knew who was. And so David trusted in God. Trusted for protection. Trusted for life.

And he saw that the point of life is to walk it, to walk it in the light of life. To walk in God's light which sees everything about us. But we can only do this when we let go of our life, let go of those things which hold us back. Sin holds us back. Sin keeps us from walking in the light.

Can we stop sinning by ourselves? No. Not even if you promise yourself, God and the Easter Bunny that you'll never ever do "it" again. It is by God's grace, and with God's strength that you will stop. It is God who keeps our "feet from stumbling."

So be like David. Lift up your problems to the Lord. Tell him how you are being attacked and put down. But then, be sure to recognize that God is the one who will give you strength and redeem you. Open yourself up to God's work in your life by letting go of that which holds you back. Your sin hold you back.

And if you let go, you will see that you are a new creation over whom death itself has no hold. You will walk in the light of life, and you will be a light to others.

April 23, 2010

Confession Restores Fellowship

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:5-10)

Happy Friday everyone! OK, here's the recap of what i've been looking at in this verse so far: the Light of God sees everything, even those sins we want to hide. If we say that we're not sinners we're big fat liars. Walking in the light means two things: understanding that God knows we will sin because we are human, and knowing that we must confess those sins to receive forgiveness. And today I will discuss what happens when we do or do not confess our sins.

Think about it this way: You have a best friend, who stays at your house to watch the cat while you're on vacation. When you get back, and after she leaves, you notice a huge pasta sauce stain on the couch. You ask your friend about it, and she says it was already there. Now, you know this is not true, because you would never and have never eaten anywhere near your precious white couch. So. Is it fair to say that most likely your relationship with your best friend will be a bit strained for a while?

That's kindof what happens between us and God when we ignore our sins, when we justify them, or when we outright deny that we've sinned at all. It breaks God's heart, and puts a barrior between us. Now if you remember from Monday, there is no barrior that can withstand the Light of heaven, so we're not really hiding from God so much as we are absolutely losing out on all that God is offering us for a whole and fulfilling life.

Plus, go back up to the top and re-read the verse. I'l wait.

Did you read it? Seriously, go read it. It'll take five seconds.

Ok, so did you read that last sentence? If we claim that we have not sinned, we are essentially calling God, the Maker and Creator of everything in existance, a liar. We're saying "Jesus didn't die for my sins, because I don't sin. I can get into Heaven just fine on my own. I make my own rules."

But realistically, we can make all the "rules" we want. It's the Truth, however, that will judge us in the end. We do sin. We sin every day. Many times a day. (ok, I do, I'm just assuming that you do too.) And each time we ignore this sin, we put another brick in the wall.

God can break down that wall at any time, but He wants US to ask Him to. He wants us to take out the first brick. I have a painting I did years ago that showed a wall with a brick that was halfway between in and out of the wall. That painting says one thing to me: "Either you're building the wall up, or you're tearing it down." Every time we go to God and say "I have sinned, please forgive me," He does. He absolutely does. He wants us to give Him our pure and heartfelt repentance, He wants us to change our ways, and He can give us that strength. But what matters is that in the moment, He is forgiving us for what we have done.

This is not a carte blanche to do it again.

Please understand this. God's forgiveness is NOT a carte blanche to sin again. In fact, you may as well go put stock in scaffolding if you think this way, because the wall between you and God is just gonna go sky-high if you think you can just keep going back to God every time you sin, with the plan to just go do it again. What did we say yesterday? Repent. Confess, then repent.Turn your life around.

Because when you confess, and meaningfully say that you want to turn your life 180 degrees in the other direction, you not only receive the forgiveness that washes you clean, but you renew your relationship with God. Because you can see Him now, instead of that brick wall.

Just think about your friend and the couch. What if she had called you while you were gone, or met you at the door and said "I am so sorry. I know you don't eat on the couch but I was watching the game and I sat down and it was such an amazing ending that I jumped up without thinking and my plate flipped over and landed on the couch. I know that you may find it difficult to be anything other than angry right now, but I am asking you to forgive me. I will never eat on the couch again and in fact I will pay for the cleaning costs and I will make it my personal job any time you have a party to keep people who have food in their hands away from your couch."


Do you think you'd find it easier to forgive this friend, instead of the one who insists it was your fault?

Confessing your sins to the ones you sinned against can be painful. But it is in doing this that we tear down the walls between each other, and allow for the renewal of relationships.

Just remember that when you sin against someone, you actually sin against Someone else. You may need to confess your sins twice--once to the person, and once to God. It is then that you will have life and peace and joy restored to you, for the walls between you and God will have crumbled, and His good gifts will be there for the taking.

Be blessed.

April 22, 2010

Confession is a Good Thing

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:5-10)

So far we've talked about 3 things in these verses: The Light of God, which sees everything. The fact that if we say we're not sinning when we are we're liars, and we looked at part one of what walking in the Light really means: first it means that we must have the proper attitude towards sin. We are flawed, so we will sin, but if we have the right attitude and desire to not sin, that is walking in the light.The fourth installment of this particular Bible verse study looks at the second aspect of "walking in the light", which is confession and repentance.

God knows we are going to sin. He sent his son Jesus to die on the cross for us, for our sins. The wages of sin is death, so Jesus died. This means that Jesus' blood is on us. And not that we are guilty of His death, but that it covers us to show that someone has already paid the price for our transgressions. That is very, very cool. And yet, we do not get a free pass. Believing in God and accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior will get us into heaven. But it is forgiveness that will restore our relationships here on earth, that will allow us to draw closer to God. And forgiveness will not come unless we ask for it.

Let me say that again: Forgiveness will not come unless we ask for it.

Did you see the big "If" clause in the verse? IF we confess our sins God will forgive us and purify us. If. Not "at the end of every day he'll just automatically wipe the slate clean." Nope, God will not make us die for our sins, but He does ask that we say that we did them. Own up to it. It's an attitude thing again. If we sin and don't care, then we are not walking in the light. But, if we sin, and we say "Oh, my God, I know that I have sinned, I am so sorry, please forgive me and help me not to do it again," then God will say "you are forgiven." Because God desires our heart most of all. And a heart that cannot confess its wrongdoing is not a heart for God. Someone with a heart for God will stand quietly when the Light comes into their life and reveals any areas of sin, and then asks forgiveness, and seeks to adjust their ways.

Let me be crystal clear. "walking in the light" does not mean not sinning. Jesus is the only man who didn't sin. Walking in the light means saying "I do sin, I have sinned, and I am truly sorry."

And the beautiful thing is that God always comes through on His promises. There are times that He gives us an if-then clause, like with confession. IF you confess THEN God will forgive you. But the great thing is that He doesn't wait until He feels like forgiving you, He doesn't make you jump through hoops, and He doesn't make you feel bad about yourself first. He just forgives.

Now, I did add repentance in there--you don't see that word in the Bible verse but I feel that it is necessary to always follow confession with repentance. Repentance means to turn around, to do a 180 in your behavior, to run the exact opposite way of your sin. Confessing is great. But if you confess knowing that you're going to sin again, that's not really a full-out confession. That's saying "I want you to clean me up so I can go back out there and get dirty again." True confession is saying "I did wrong, I don't want to do it again, I'm going to change my life" and if you're smart you'll end it with "Lord, please help me."

And He will. God wants to help us. He wants us to live without sin, but He knows that we need His help and guidance. And He's always always always willing to give it. He's never in a meeting that can't be interrupted, He's always ready to speak wisdom into your heart and mind, and strengthen your resolve against that which tempts you.

It is here, too, that the most beautiful thing happens. We are clean, we are whole, and our relationship with God and with others is re-established. This will be my topic for tomorrow.

April 21, 2010

Don't Make Your Own Commandments

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:5-10)

Day 3 of using this verse, hooray! What have we discovered so far? We've learned that the Light of God can pass through anything to see us inside and out, and that there are no shadows in which we can hide from God. We also learned that if we say that we are not sinning and yet we are, that we are big fat liars.

So today let's look at walking in the Light. What exactly does that mean? I believe it means two things. First, we must try not to sin. Really honestly try. Yes, we're going to mess up. We're going to mess up so very badly that if any human got to be God for a day they would give humanity up as a bad job in about 5 minutes. But this is what I alluded to yesterday... it's not as much about our sinning, I believe, it's about our attitude towards it.

If I sin, but I think "Meh, God will understand" or "Well, but you should have heard what she said to me" or "I'm just trying to get my due," then I don't have the right attitude about sinning. In this case I sin even more because beyond the theft/cruel words/whatever I also have the sin of pride, where I am essentially saying "I get to make the rules here and what I did does not count as sin even though God spelled out the 10 Commandments pretty well."

I believe that the correct attitude towards a sin recently committed is "Oh my goodness, I just did something wrong, what can I do to make it right?" This, this is what living in the Light means. Because we are human, we are flawed, we are messed up six ways from Sunday, and we will completely ruin each and every one of our own good intentions without a buttload of self-control and a serious dose of Jesus.

To make sure I am clear here--we will sin. We will, we will, we will. But our job really is to try not to. And we will be able to accomplish that more often than we realize when we put our mind to living like Jesus, being kind to others, not stealing from work, not gossiping, etc. But what we must also do is understand that the Light of God will look into our deepest innermost thoughts and actions and will find places of sin, sin that we may not even know as sin because it's just become ingrained in how we "do" life.

So, living in the Light first of all means that we need to do our best not to sin, but to understand and recognize that when we accept Jesus into our hearts, we open ourselves up to the Light of God, and our sins will be brought to light, because try as we may, there will always be instances of sin in our lives. Always. What we must do then, is keep a humble spirit that says "Ok God, I did my best, but I know I'm not perfect. Please let me know where I missed the mark."

And this leads to step two, which I will cover tomorrow: Confession and repentance.

April 20, 2010

Are You a Liar?

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:5-10)

So today is the second day of looking at the same scripture. This is kinda fun so far. I like the idea of breaking it down like this. Of course I'm only supposed to preach on one verse (no I won't tell you which just yet) so I have yet to determine if any of this will make it, but I do want to have a deeper understanding of the context anyway.

Yesterday I wrote about the Light of God (I like capitalizing things, have you figured that out?) So today might seem like a bit of a bummer, but we really must follow up the Light with the Lie. Do you live in the light? Let's make this really easy: If you do anything at all where you're grateful for darkness (Except developing film or watching the stars) or where you find yourself looking around first to make sure that no one is looking... well chances are you're not living totally in the light. You're actually hanging out in the shadows a bit. So if you try to say "Yes, I do live in the light, I'm a follower of Jesus and I just love him to bits and pieces" and you go home at night and watch "just a little" porn or call a friend to "keep her up on the news of the area" or take home "just a few reams of paper" from work... well, my friend, from one liar to another--that is NOT living in the light.

I have learned to justify my actions so very well that it's actually a problem. Let me give you a hint: if you start your "reasoning" for doing something by saying "But I feel" or "But I deserve" or even just the word "but," you're looking for a shadow to hide in. Your brain, your heart, and the Holy Spirit inside you are actually pretty good at telling you when you're doing or about to do something that's against God's will. What's crazy, however, is our ability to completely forget that the Light of God is ubiquitous. It's always "on" and it's always everywhere, shining into the corners and through walls. While the star around which this planet revolves is a good image to use for God and His glory, we must not forget that it is the smallest fraction of the reality that is the Great I AM, the  Alpha and Omega.

So, is it possible to live entirely in the light? Heck no! Not unless you're Jesus of Nazareth, born of the virgin Mary. You know it's not possible, I know it's not possible, God knows it's not possible. But does that mean we give up? That we give in to temptation because we're going to sin anyway? Or must we always flagellate ourselves and cry out to God "we're not worthy, we're sinful scum, we should be punished for our sins." (All of which is true, by the way.)

I don't think so.Without trying to get too ahead of myself here, may I just point out one thing: This verse never says "stop sinning." It says "You're a liar if you say that you don't sin."

So is God concerning Himself with your sin, or your attitude about it?

Hmmm. Words for thought, eh? I'll follow up with more tomorrow. :)

April 19, 2010

Live in the Light

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:5-10)

Hello again! I took about a week off from my devotionals, ironically because I'm going through a tough spot, and instead of bathing myself in the word I chose to sleep later. I don't want to get into all of that just now, I feel as though it will work itself out over the next few days. But today I'm going to start doing a study of this particular passage, and I might keep at it for a few days. I have to teach a short sermon on one verse in here, and I figure I could use a few days to dwell on it in context. So, let's get started.
God is light. When I think about that, I get this image of a Person so great and big and with the very sun shining out of Him that you can't hardly even see his outline. It's kindof a cool mental image I have. We've often seen pictures of Jesus where he's haloed by light, and you have to wonder where that light comes from. Well, "from God" would be a good guess.
But where is that light going to? Now that's a question for us. That light is coming straight at us. You can't stand close enough to God for His light to be that gloriously bright and not be bathed in it yourself.
So what does that light feel like, and what does it do? Well, as God is, I believe that light is multidimensional. In other words, it is able to do more than one thing at once. I think the Light of God is warming and soothing, much like the feeling you get on the first nice day of summer when you just lay yourself down outside and soak up the warmth. But I also think the Light of God is a light so concentrated and directed that it cuts into us, into the very innermost beings of us, and doesn't leave anything ignored. This is a light that is not stopped by clothing, or the walls we hide behind. And it sees everything.
Well shoot. Suddenly my list of sins seems longer.
That's the "down side" to having the Light of God directed at us. God sees everything about us, even those secret sins that we've done such a good job of rationalizing that we don't even recognize them any more.
But God does.
Because with His Light are His Eyes. He will look at everything on which His Light shines. (Which, by the way, is everyhing in the world, but we'll leave that for another day.) So when this light shines into the very innermost depths of our being, so too goes His sight. So God knows. He knows it alllll. You don't have to confess your sins in order for God to know what they are--He can see them plain as day.
Did you think that when the lights turned off, when the world spun you away from the sun, that you could do whatever you wanted?
Because the Light of God doesn't concern itself with things like steel, bricks, mortar, earth, rock, or magma. And, the Light of God doesn't come from the star around which our planet rotates. It comes from God, who is everywhere. Hm.
So what matters most is this: knowing that you live in the Light of God, the light that sees everything and knows everything that it sees, how do you live?

April 7, 2010

Like a Child

"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10:14-15)

If you've studied the Bible or attended church for long enough, you've probably heard or read countless teachings on this. So I may not have anything new to add. I will, however, give you my thoughts.

Children are probably the most rule-aware subset of humans. You may not believe this, but they are. They are rule-aware because children are still trying to figure out the world around them, so they do their best to catalog everything they see and hear. Thus people are generally only "good" or "bad," because they do not have the mental subtleties to see the gray area.

This is quite clear in language. Children who grow up speaking English are stuck with attempting to figure out a language which is based on both the Romance and Germanic tongues, each with their own rationale. So it helps to know things like "I before E, except after C." But there are soooo many intricacies of the language which you and I take for granted now, because we've memorized it. But you will see a child attempting to follow the rules, and getting it all wrong, until they learn. (House-Houses verses Mouse-Mice, for example).

All that to say that when a child "learns right from wrong," they do not question it. Of course, a child's favorite question is often "why?" (typically because they like to have the rationale behind the rules they're learning), but you can often tell a child "Because that's what God teaches us" and they'll be content.

So if you take the time to teach your children God's commands, they will not only learn them, but they will parrot them back to you. Don't even think about lying in front of a child who has just learned that lying is wrong!

Many people read the above verse and talk about how we must be innocent as a child to get to heaven. This is true. But we must also be dilligent to learn God's laws and apply them to our own lives. And, really, children do this better than most any other age group. So you want to inherit in the Kingdom of God? Be like a child. Learn what is right and wrong, and stick to it.

April 6, 2010

In This Moment

Jesus turned and saw her. "Take heart, daughter," he said, "your faith has healed you." And the woman was healed from that moment. (Matthew 9:22)

When does God work in our lives? Must we prove ourselves first? Jump through hoops? Fill out a request form? Wait until He "feels like it?"

For all that we must recognize that God works in His good timing, when He decides to do something now, it happens now. If God decides to grant healing, it will happen in a moment. If He decides to grant you favor, it will happen immediately upon His decision.

Sometimes we don't recognize this, because we may not know all the steps involved. Think about this: What if you're looking for a new job, and you pray and you pray and you pray for a new job, and six months later you finally get one, and it's perfect for you. Do you think God made you wait because He was putting you off? I don't think so. I believe if He chose that job for you, He was simply putting things into motion. Perhaps someone there had to reach retirement age, or secure their own job before they could leave.

God knows what we want before we ask for it, but He will often wait until we ask before He takes action. At that point, however, rest assured that things are happening towards His answer to your prayers.

Sometimes we will see the fruits of our prayer the instant we are done praying. And other times it may be months or even years later. But never doubt that God is working. This is why we should ask God our request, then thank Him for fulfilling it, because He is! If God's answer is yes, then He's on the job, then and there.

That's some good news, isn't it?

April 5, 2010

Look Straight

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." (Luke 22:61)

There are only 47 instances of the word "straight" in the NIV. And a fair few of the New Testament instances use this "then someone looked straight at someone else" phrase. It's really quite interesting to me, because it says in this verse that once the Lord (Jesus) looked at Peter, Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him earlier. And at this time Peter wasn't too terribly close to Jesus, because he was trying to save his own skin by denying he knew the man. And yet Jesus was able to turn and look directly at Peter, so there was no doubt at all whom he was addressing, even though Jesus didn't speak a single word.

God does the same thing for us even now. Maybe when we are in the midst of doing something we know to be wrong, someone we know will see us, or we will see someone else who is reaping the "rewards" of living a lifestyle that is out of the will of God, and this will suddenly look us straight in the face and say "This is what you are going to become if you do not change your ways."

Or maybe you'll see an advertisement for, say, soap, and a revelation from God will hit you right between the eyes. I have received God's word to me by looking at a tree.

The point here is this: God may not always say clear concise words in English (or your native tongue) when He wishes to speak to you, but He is always talking, always sharing His wisdom with us. And because we often forget to listen, He will slap us in the face with something or someone catching our attention in a way that will make our heart resonate with the knowledge that this is a revelation straight from God.

So keep your eyes open.

April 2, 2010

Have Compassion

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. (Mark 6:34)

It is so very easy for us to think about nothing and no one but ourselves. We seek understanding and forgiveness from others, yet we hold them to a higher standard and judge them when they don't come through on our perceived "fair" expectations. Especially when the other person is not a believer, we judge them harshly, don't we, and compare ourselves to them. At least we're not like them, hooray for that.

But then you read something like the above verse. Jesus had compasssion on people because they did not have the knowledge and understanding of God. They did not have the hope that is found in Christ. So of course they could be bitter, selfish people. But what Jesus did is reach out to those people, where they were, in order to draw them in to a relationship with Him.

This is what we should always remember when we see people who do not know Christ, when they treat us in unfair ways, when they ridicule us even for who we believe in. We should remember that they have no shepherd in their life and instead of being proud of ourselves we should have compassion for them. Not pity or condenscension. Compassion.

Because someone had to have compassion for us, back before we knew Jesus.

And aren't we still full of ourselves even now? Perhaps people are treating us with extra compassion even though we know Christ. Don't we then owe it to others to be treated as we ourselves are?

Just chew on that for a day or so. :)