I Start With Myself

Jesus became troubled in spirit and testified, “Truly, truly, I tell you, one of you will betray Me.” The disciples began to look at one another, perplexed as to which of them He meant. John 13:21-22

The atmosphere at the Lord’s Supper grew tense. Jesus announced that one of the twelve would betray Him. In that pregnant moment, I do not believe that each wondered which of his brothers could do such a thing. I believe a dark cloud came over each of them personally as they feared it might be them.  I believe they considered their own weaknesses.  After all, they had been with Jesus for three years to see the stark contrast between holiness and sinfulness.

Three years is a long time to travel with someone. Their relationship with Him was intimate. What they expected Him to do, He rarely did. Each probably thought, “I’m not like Him.” What they anticipated He might say, He rarely said. “I’m not like Him,” they thought again. Whom they didn’t expected Him to heal, He did. “I’m not like Him.” When they expected Him to honor sacred Jewish traditions, He surprised them by doing the opposite. “I’m not like Him.” Believe me, they had plenty of time to understand their own sinfulness in light of the contrast.  They knew pretty quickly that they fell short of God’s glory – resident in Christ.

For Judas, the bait was money. His love for riches was too great to choose faithfulness. But for any one of the disciples, there might have been another temptation to tempt them to walk away.

It is imperative that I know my own weaknesses well. Self-indulgent introspection doesn’t reveal them. Only the mirror of the Word of God does. I must let the Word judge my heart. I must accept what God shows me, and then I must allow God to start changing what I love too much that threatens our relationship. Yes, I could easily be a Judas. I have had Judas moments.

I have known the bitter gall of failure. I have drunk the wine of self-hatred. I have questioned God’s radical forgiveness. But grace won. Failure, repentance, and forgiveness are great teachers. I remember from where I’ve fallen and, because of the grace of God, He will empower me to finish the race well and avoid a Judas kind of detour.

I don’t love others unconditionally without Your help. I can only love YOU unconditionally by Your grace, too. Challenge me and my affections. Amen

“Really? What Did He Say?”

“So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11

I’ve talked with a handful of people who have had Jesus appear to them personally. When they told their stories, the room got quiet and people’s interest level peaked. One of the first questions was always, “Did He say anything?” People, including me, can be so interested in what Jesus said to an acquaintance but less interested in everything He said in the Gospels to me. How many times have I read, “And Jesus said. . .” and passed over it like it was yesterday’s news. How casual I can be as I troll by Deity.

Jesus’ words have a cataclysmic effect. A few words once changed Earth from a lifeless planet to a stunning wonder-world. His Word has always gone forth like an arrow to hit its target with precision and power. His Word can halt the power of Hell. His Word can turn a raging sea into a sea of glass. His Word has brought more than one dead man out of a grave. His Word is the final word on everything and when He speaks, He trumps all other authority.

On a personal level, His Word changes my personality. His Word kills my desire to sin. Reveals the minds of God to me. His Word rewires the way I think. His Word changes my heart so that it resembles His own heart.

Every year on January 1st, I should start over. I should preoccupy myself with every quote of Jesus all over again. Jesus Christ was so sure of His Words. He never spoke anything that wasn’t intended to have a supernatural effect. Since that is true, I need to ask myself…. “Has every word He has spoken had a supernatural effect on me?” If not, I’m missing the very reason I was born. God has preserved me for yet another day so that His Word can thrive in my soul, change something, and send me out speaking that same Word to change the world.

Electrify me so that I react to the wonder of Your voice. Amen

The Battle Of Unbelief

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20:29

It’s hard to trust something or someone that you can’t see.  Jesus knew that and and said that those of us who place all our confidence in Him will be blessed.  Faith can erode quickly when we see no evidence of an invisible God.  I knew what it’s like to arrive at a place where I had no confidence in Him anymore.  I ceased to see the vastness of God but the issue was not about a God who had grown anemic; it was about how the enemy had deceived me through my adversity. He lied and I bought it.  I had fallen into the black hole of unbelief.  I found myself on a dead end street until faith was restored.

Now that I’m older, here’s what I’ve learned.  At the point where belief and unbelief meet at the fork in the road, self-preservation is born.  When I believe God to be impotent, I rise to the occasion to take care of myself.  In arrogance and in fear, I conceive ways to cope in order to survive.  This is all a reaction to the lie that God is powerless.  I do not realize that my plans, oaths, and new alliances will be wasted.

What is the battle plan?  1. Confess my unbelief and my fears.  2. Ask God to comfort me and give me faith.  3. Force-feed the Word into my heart.   4. Go back to the specific place where belief ended and unbelief was conceived; ask the Holy Spirit to speak to me about that tenuous place so that I can understand and learn from it.

Jesus is tender with my wounds.  He is the gentle healer.  His heart is for me but I must be tough on my sin of unbelief.  Healing comes when I find the corresponding truths from God’s Word that confront my specific lies.  I begin to live differently when I recite God’s Words out loud.  (“I once believed _________ but God said ______________.”)  This takes time.  There must be a daily resolve to keep embracing what God says by asking Him to write His Word on my heart.  What follows if I am diligent?  Spiritual prosperity.  An enlarged view of God.  The glorious freedom that comes from living in truth.

You meant it!  “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  I believe.   Amen

Staying In Touch With My Own Fate

I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt. Matthew 18:33-34

One day, God allows me to stand on the precipice of heaven. I see the incredible landscapes, but more than anything, I see the King of Glory in all of His radiant beauty. I cannot look at him for I am unclean in His presence. I cry out above the din of the angelic worshippers. “Lord, my sin! I want to be with You but I am a condemned woman and have no access to Your kingdom.”

“What if I forgave everything you’ve ever done against me?” He asked.

“Would You really wipe away all my offenses?” The thought is too outrageous. Knowing how great the chasm between Him and me, I am hopeless that such forgiveness would exist. Yet, I ask again out of desperation. “If that is possible, please do it. I repent. Please forgive me.”

Jesus comes close and whispers, “I will forgive Your sins and erase Your offenses. I declare You holy, Christine. One day soon, You will come and live with me here. It’s a sure thing.” Overwhelmed by His mercy, I return to my life.

Sometime later, someone close sells me out without a thought. The wound is unexpected, extremely personal, and sends me into a chasm of pain. The betrayal was senseless and no matter how hard I try to figure out the evil done against me, I can’t. I hear the King of Glory whisper in my ear. “Forgive them, as I forgave you. Remember the vastness of your offenses against me.”

But I don’t connect with the memory as I should. My anger is too stirred up against my nemesis and I feel the need for swift justice. “I know! I’ll withhold forgiveness and turn my back to them.” I say to myself. “I will decide when they’re really sorry. Until then, I will make them pay.”

The degree of someone else’s sin against me, no matter how heinous, is nothing like the degree of my sin against God. The key to being willing to forgive others outrageously, just like Jesus forgave me, is to stay in touch with my own fate without my King’s mercy. Jesus said it this way, “He who has been forgiven little loves little. But he who has been forgiven much, loves much.”

Oh King of Glory, My King of glory, show me again what I would be without Your salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Using What I Learned From a Religious Past

He [Jesus] said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Matthew 13:52

Every child of God should be constrained to share their faith and to tell the story of their relationship with Jesus. The storylines differ from person to person. Some have come to Jesus with no history of Christianity whatsoever. They have had no teaching and must get to know their Lord without the benefit of familiarity. This has its benefits though. Their heart is a clean slate upon which God can write.

Others, like me, have come to Jesus with years of Christian history under their belt. We have been saturated in church culture. We know a lot of scripture and can espouse many of the doctrines. Much of this was learned under the heavy hand of legalism, and let’s face it ~ Hasn’t it been tempting to throw it all out and start fresh with Jesus?

In this short parable, Jesus makes it clear that the most effective teacher uses the new and the old. He reaches into the archives of the teaching he was given and realizes that even though the teachers were flawed, the doctrines were usually sound. And if sound, they are treasures.  Part of maturity is to be able to value the truth apart from the messengers who delivered it. While they often marred the face of a gracious God, God used them to build a rock-solid foundation of scripture into the spiritual fiber of their young people.

It took me a long time to value my history in the church. I swung the pendulum the other way and over-corrected. For a while, I threw out the hymns. I also stayed away from anything that resembled ‘hell, fire, and brimstone.’ I shunned all messages that lacked the blend of truth and grace. Eventually, I was able to make a move back to the middle. The hymns became new to me. The scriptures I had memorized were available to me in prayer, also in my attempt to encourage others. I understood their context without having to engage in a lot of study. God opened my eyes to see the treasures and helped me discard what had been unprofitable.

In this ministry and by the grace of God, I am able to teach from the old and the new. God has done a new work of grace in my life but each experience has been built upon, and has been accentuated by, the foundation of learning that has served me well.

This mixture is what we are to pass on to those who come after us. Mentoring must be balanced with love-driven education and experiences with Jesus. Otherwise, knowledge taught outside the context of a relationship with the Savior will become a burden, not a joy. When I sit and learn at the feet of Jesus, my teaching will become contagious and the learning, effortless.

If there is more of the old I need to embrace, reveal it. If there is more I am to discard, let it surface. Be the sifter, Lord Jesus. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Ones Who Feel Worthless

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Luke 15:3-5

Do I value the things Jesus values? Do I love those whom Jesus loves? I can answer too quickly and say, ‘But, of course!’   But, really?

In this parable, the one of great value is the one who has strayed the farthest from home, the odd one of the hundred, the one no one is looking for. Quickly forgotten, he is left to question his own value as, over time, he realizes that no one is pursuing him. What an awful discovery as he looks over his shoulder and dreams of unconditional love calling his name from behind. How devastating to realize that the ninety-nine are happy without him. When he has depleted all his resources and realizes he has lost his way, how will he find his way back?

Jesus’ heart is for the one so far from the fold. Our Savior goes to any length to look for him in order to pick him up, embrace him closely, and carry him home.

It is easy for us to value the Christian-looking people. They are respectable in appearance. The one farthest from Christ can be one who repels us. Tattoos, piercings, Goth style clothing, a past that makes us blush, and language that downright intimidates, can send us trying to evangelize anyone but them. But these are the ones for whom Jesus came looking.

The heart of God is one that seeks ~ not waits ~ for sinners to come home. God sent Jesus to ‘seek and to save’ those who are lost. Is this how I feel about those far away from Christ? They need arms to carry them home. They need to discover that they are being sought after. If I don’t go looking, they will assume that God is no more interested than I since I call myself a Christian. I teach others how to perceive God and that is a sobering reality.

Who has wandered from the fold that has all but been forgotten? Is anyone looking for them? Can it be you? Will it be me?

A compassionate search party. Make us one as Your church. In Jesus’ name, Amen

The Freedom Of Pouring Out One’s Soul

While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death.  Hebrews 5:7

How many people exist with whom you can speak freely – without a filter? With whom can you pour out your heart and know that divine wisdom is hearing it, filtering it, and responding to it? Precious few. To speak freely is a gift rarely experienced.

‘Pouring out’ in Hebrew means what it portrays. To empty oneself of something. I’ve been surprised just how often this phrase is used in scripture.

  • Consider the night Jesus was betrayed. He left three of His disciples to pray and watch as He poured out His heart before God.
  • A dependent prayer is described as the ‘pouring out of one’s soul’.
  • God also says that ‘He pours out His wrath’. That’s sobering.
  • And how about this? God says that He will ‘pour out His Spirit on the house of David’ and they will finally be able to see ‘whom they have pierced and weep bitterly.’ Zech 12:10

Do I feel free to pour out my heart freely to God.  Or do I feel I have to weigh my words with Him and phrase everything just right?  Do I sit on my anger and try to pretend I don’t have any? Is prayer a time when I can truly empty the contents of my soul and know I have placed my heart in safe hands? God extends this kind of freedom to me and I’m held safely in perfect Love.

I am riveted on the beauty of two things; 1.) Lifting my heart to God, tipping it, and pouring out the contents. And, 2) envisioning the effects of Him pouring out His Spirit upon me.  This is certainly where Jesus got His strength on the night of His arrest.  He poured out His anguish and God poured out His strength upon Him for His final hour.

Both are beautiful. While I would certainly feel better having poured out my soul, the benefits would be miniscule in comparison to what would happen if God poured out the power of His Spirit on me. Nothing in my world would stay the same.

Pour out Your Spirit upon me today. Let me see Your glory. Touch my lips so that I can pour out words that will transform something mundane into something divine. In Jesus’ name, Amen