Known

We live detached, lonely lives even in the midst of an era focused on social events and connections. For all the “social” media offering to connect us, we find ourselves in dark, solitary, depressing places. We know the realities of being lonely in a crowded room or behind a screen which declares we have 700 friends. We feel unknown, forgotten, un-cared for, invisible. The darkness creeps in easily these days. Darkness that whispers the lie, “The world would be better off without you.”

Our desperate hearts long to be known. We crave being seen and heard to the point that many will do anything, even degrading, embarrassing, horrible things to be noticed for their 15 minutes of fame.

We desire to be loved unconditionally…

…Well at least loved…

…Maybe even liked would do…

…Just recognized by someone in the ocean of people around us…

…Anything.

…We’ll settle for scraps: one night stands, drug buddies who would abandon us to the hands of death at the sound of a siren, a bottle that will make us forget the loneliness in the wee hours of the morning.

But the prince of this darkness lies. We are not alone and forgotten.

There is one who notices. Always. One who sees us. One who listens. One who loves us, and who will always love us – truly, completely and unconditionally. The One the Psalmist speaks of who searches us, knows us – all about us  and loves us anyway. The One who knows where we go, what we say, even what we think, and loves us anyway. The One whom we cannot run away from, who seeks us out and reaches into the dark places to find us. The One from whom we cannot hide or escape. The one who holds us fast. The One who meets us in our darkest hour and turns the darkness to light. The One who made us in that secret place and has ordained all the days of our life. The One who does think about us, when we thought no one did.

Psalm 139

You have searched me, Lord
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. Amen.

 

Our Father sees us, knows us, loves us, holds our hand, and walks us through those dark places.

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Cross the T

This is a true story about two different children, in two different cities, in two different families, living their two different lives.

Before I tell you about the children, I want to tell you no word, no relationship, no Bible story is ever wasted. God promises us that His Word will never return void. It will always accomplish what He determines it is to accomplish.

Isaiah 55:11 – In the same way, my words leave my mouth, and they don’t come back without results. My words make the things happen that I want to happen. They succeed in doing what I send them to do.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here’s what happened with the first child. I was holding my two-year-old granddaughter one day. I was wearing an old Vacation Bible School t-shirt and I really hadn’t given vbs2017much thought about what I was wearing. She looked at it and said, “Grandmama, dat’s church.” On my shirt were words and a T in one of the words had been made to look like a cross. I was so proud of her for making the connection. I agreed with her and said, “Yes, it is church. We love to go to church. We see our friends, and play, and sing songs about Jesus.” This child will never remember a time when she didn’t go to church. I pray she will always desire to go to church. I pray she will come to know Jesus at an early age and will follow Him all of her life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now the second child. A friend told this story to me about a friend, of a friend, of a friend. The family was driving north on I65 one day. They were traveling for a short vacation. Mom, dad and two children, ages eight and six, were passing the time looking church-348806_1280out the windows. As they passed our church, the oldest asked, “Why is there a T in front of that building?” I don’t know the exact conversation that followed, but the parents realized that their child had no idea what a church was and what a cross represents. To rectify this situation, they sent their children to Vacation Bible School that summer. I don’t know if they now attend a church where they live, or if they continue to send them to a VBS.

What I do know is we don’t live in the ‘Bible Belt’ anymore. While there may be a church on every corner, not everyone attends a church. Outside our safe bubble of ‘church friends’ lives a lost world without the first clue that they are lost and they have no idea where to find the answer. We are to share the love of Jesus through our words and actions. We don’t have to go to China or Africa to find the lost. They may live next door. They may work in our office. They may be at the playground with their children. They may scan our groceries. They are all around us.

We have the answer, JESUS! If your neighbor were dying of thirst, you would give them water. If your co-worker were starving, you would give them food. If you saw someone freezing in the snow, you would give them a coat. If someone asked for directions, you would tell them the way. We know the Way, the Truth and the Life and His name is Jesus.

1 Peter 3:15-16a But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Be Jesus in this world.

Love God.

Love people.

 

 

(Special thanks to guest contributor Kelley Cornelius for this important reminder!)

Psalm 29

by Joni Shankles

I admit it.
I am afraid of thunderstorms.

Growing up and living in tornado country, I am an experienced weather watcher.

Let me clarify. I’m not brave enough to go out and actually watch storms. I mean watch in the sense of heightened awareness, of being on guard. I’m better characterized as a weather listener. For me, thunder is an audible signal that danger looms. Where there is thunder, there is lightning. And if the storm is severe, thunder warns me that tornado winds are possible. Better check my weather radar app.

I hide my fear pretty well.
Except that I had bicycle helmets in our tornado closet twenty years before the weather experts began recommending them. Getting trapped in our outside entrance basement with two kids under two years old, watching a tree fall against the door – let’s just say I respect the power of storms.

Psalm 29 is giving me a new perspective.

David issues an invitation for all to ascribe, or give credit, to the LORD his glory and strength, and to worship the LORD “in the splendor of his holiness.” To help worshipers understand God’s power over all creation, David uses the imagery of a storm.

David compares thunder to the “voice of the LORD”, an audible reminder of God’s power and majesty.

The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD thunders over the mighty waters
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is majestic. (v. 3-4)

David compares the “voice of the LORD” to the intensity of lightning, and to the power of winds in a storm to shake, twist, and break trees.

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. (v. 5)

The voice of the LORD strikes with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the LORD shakes the desert…
The voice of the LORD twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple, all cry, “Glory!” (v. 7-9)

David is saying: When you hear thunder, when you see lightning, when you see the power of stormy winds, it is the voice of the LORD inviting you to worship, to cry, “Glory!”

This is a game changer for me.
Thunder as the voice of God, not the voice of doom.
Thunder as an invitation to worship, not as a trigger for fear.

Psalm 29 reminds me that God is more powerful than any storm. It reminds me that God reigns over all creation, even thunder, lightning, and wind.

“The LORD is enthroned as King forever.” (v. 10)

And the psalm closes with a promise I can cling to whenever storms arise.

The LORD gives strength to his people;
the LORD blesses his people with peace. (v. 11)

For now, I live in tornado country. Storms will happen.

Psalm 29 reminds me that I can be prepared, but I don’t have to be afraid.
I can hear God’s voice when thunder rolls.
And when I hear it, I can choose to worship.

Father, I give you the glory due your name. You are enthroned as King forever. Your power is greater than any storm. Help me to hear your voice in the thunder. Let worship be my response to storms. When storm winds blow, thank you for the gift of your strength and the blessing of your peace. Amen.

psalm 29

We the People…

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Preamble to our U.S. Constittution is such an inspiring and noble statement of intent. Our forefathers who had dealt with tyrannical control sought to create a lasting and worthwhile means of government.

Today that new nation they established is probably not exactly what they thought it would be. I guess it just shows that We the good People of America may not be as good as was hoped. We the People of 2018 exemplify the antithesis of the Preamble: injustice, turbulence, self-focus, degradation, and enslavement to sins by our own choice.

As a science minded person, I see our founding father’s work as a giant experiment that we are still observing 200 years later. And what does that experiment reveal?

As noble as We the People would like to think we are, we have succumbed to the slippery slope of sin. We have slipped further than we thought possible, and there is no end in sight. Our greed, selfishness, and immorality have yielded a rotten fruit.

We the People cannot rescue ourselves. For years we’ve hoped to turn the decline around: new Presidents, new political parties in control, new laws, new social programs, protests, marches. All our best intentions have failed because we are flawed people, sinners in need of a savior. We need Gandalf to ride in on his white horse and rescue us.

Suicide rates are at an all time high. Despair permeates our precious United States of America. Looking through human eyes we see a bleak picture.

Where is hope to be found?

Psalm 33:18-22 – “But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.”

The situation is not bleak when you look at it through the correct lens – the lens of scripture. Scripture tells us we can’t rescue ourselves. It tells us Jesus is our Savior. It tells us God loves us No Matter What. It tells us we are never too far gone, that Father God will forgive anyone who repents and asks for forgiveness. It tells us that we are His Beloved.

When We the People turn our eyes to heaven, seek God’s ways, and live obediently we find hope. We find unconditional love. We find a rescuer. Not as a nation, but as invdividuals created uiquely by God.

The change begins with me not we. Am I willing? Are you? Willing to lay down self and choose God’s ways? To obediently follow, when it goes against the norm of our society?  To become a loving servant and follow in the steps of our Savior?

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

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My Story, His Glory

by Guest author Hope Hill (Re-printed with permission.)

A little over 3 weeks ago I noticed a gray cloud forming and moving across my left eye. One thing you need to know about me is that I am not a person who runs to the worst case scenario. I don’t go to the doctor on a regular basis (sorry mom). But all of that is because aside from the occasional cold or filling I have never been really sick. The blessing of health for someone like me is often overlooked and not appreciated until something happens. So I did what you are not supposed to do….I googled it. And all of my worst fears came true. I was reading about retinal detachment, permanent blindness and other eye-threatening issues when fear started to rush over me.  I noticed that I was fitting nicely into all of the right categories for a major eye problem.

The next day I phoned my optometrist to schedule an emergency appointment because a wise man once told me to never wait if there is an eye problem. As I walked in I started to explain my issue to the doctor. She took some tests, and I waited. I then waited a little longer. And even longer. Until finally the doctor came in and touched my shoulder. Uh-oh – this isn’t starting out great. She proceeded to tell me that it looked like a retinal detachment but I would have to see a specialist to determine the intensity of the issue. My worst fear in this situation came true. I was going to have to have emergency eye surgery that day. WebMD – 1   Hope – 0

Then came the tears. A bunch of tears. After 3 more hours of seeing different doctors to figure out just what kind of surgery was awaiting me, it was time. I was having a full-blown Vitrectomy. I will spare you the details of the surgery because that is definitely not the point of the story and super gross. What is important to know right now is that I have a gas bubble implanted in my eye. For 10 days I had to keep my nose pointed to the ground and sleep on my right side, so that gravity will use that bubble to hold my retina in place. If you do not do this properly the gas bubble can damage your eye and could cause blindness.

The medical term for my state (looking down) is called posturing. The word posturing suddenly captured my attention. I knew I had read it in the Bible, but I just couldn’t remember where. So two weeks later when I was allowed to sit up, I began my research of the word “posturing”.  I found many Biblical references to the posture of prayer. Abraham fell upon his face before God. (See Genesis 17:3, 17.) Moses prayed with his hands outstretched. (See Exodus 9:27–29.) King Solomon knelt in prayer. (See I Kings 8:54.) Jesus prayed looking up into heaven. (See Mark 6:41, John 11:41, and 17:1.)

Communication with God does not require a certain physical position, but postures do give expression to the attitudes of our hearts. Wow! What has the attitude of my heart been? Well, I didn’t know the answer to that question right away so I decided to sit in silence, face down, for one hour to hear from God. ONE HOUR, PEOPLE! First of all it is hard for a busy body like myself to be confined to the house, facing down, listening to podcasts. But now the Holy Spirit wants me to be quiet for one hour.

After many mental lists were made (ladies know what I mean) I began to really be still. As I began to listen a thought popped in my head to read the story about Jesus visiting with Mary and Martha. So I scrambled to my Bible app to read the story.

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

Woah. I am a Martha. As a ministry assistant my entire time is spent running around preparing for events, meetings, etc. And even though all of those things are great and needed, I can’t let the preparation distract me from sitting at His feet. So is it a coincidence that I had a surgery that forces me to posture myself? Is it a coincidence that I am unable to be at work, events, and meetings? No, God is not a coincidence. Romans 8:28 tells us that God works all things together. It is important for us to sit at His feet each day and get a fresh word from Him. God sees and knows what we are going through. He wants to remind us that in whatever situation, He is there, and He wants to be exalted. Every impossible situation is a perfect opportunity for Him to display His power and magnify Himself.

All of this sounds really good when you are not blind in one eye. Even though I heard that awesome Word from the Lord, I was still upset that I had to go through this process. Not because I think I am above it, but because I know He is bigger than it. I wanted God to heal me before the surgery, take away the pain and discomfort and show up big in the situation. But it was at that moment I failed to understand that the greatest expression of our mission can be born out of the deepest pain. It’s the same way that a crucifixion was necessary to bring eternal hope – to transform sin and death into life and liberty. The same way this trial was necessary to transform my life and my ministry. My question to you is what has been your blindness, your darkest hour? Have you allowed God to transform it into the victory and the calling that He intends for you?

I encourage you not to waste a single heartache but to seek for God’s plan in the middle of it. He doesn’t let us suffer needlessly. And your suffering may be the catalyst to what is next!

“For we live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7

Hope Hill – https://hopehill828.wordpress.com

The Unending Journey

“Are we there yet?” – the whine of any child who has ever been on a car trip.

While adults may not whine about it, we’ve all experienced that feeling of the never-ending trip. Will we ever arrive? When we left home we didn’t realize it would take this long, nor have this many twists and turns.

volkswagen-569315_1280.jpgOur journey with God is a lot like a road trip. As we pull away from our old home to journey forward with God, we often believe it will be a short trip too. He’s going to do a quick remake of our life and we’ll have a happily ever after. But as days become weeks and years we realize it is a slow and constant process – this life is the never-ending journey. We will never arrive as long as we live.

How many times in our journey with Him do we come through a trial and pruning with the unspoken feeling that God must be through remaking us into His image because we can’t imagine what else He could possibly prune out of our life? We feel as if we are an onion that has been peeled to its very core.

In a short amount of time, however, we sense another layer of our “old man” being peeled away.

The day we set out to follow Christ, whether we were 8 or 38, we began a journey that will never end. He will chisel off the rough places, sand out the flaws, shape up the imperfections, and patch the holes until the day we die. That’s what regeneration and restoration are all about. It’s an ongoing process of remaking us into His image.

God’s got a grand adventure planned. God’s attitude toward us is not slap-on-a-new-coat-of-paint-and-send-her-on-her-merry-way. His mindset is apparent in Genesis 12:1 (MSG) “God told Abram: “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.” He had in mind to take Abram to new places, unknown places, places of adventure and scariness I’m sure. Places that caused Abram to grow a faith that was later credited to him as righteousness!

The destination and the route we take is in God’s hands. As He did with Abraham, God does with us. He calls us to go to a land He will show us – an unknown destination. We don’t know where the road may take us or what may happen along the way. We imagine there will be joys at the right hand of God. We fear that he will take us somewhere we don’t want to go. But do we realize that He will be beside us every step of the way?

accident-car-communication-2224He doesn’t send us off on the journey alone. The last phrase of verse 1 is the icing on the cake – “for a land that I will show you!” Girls, he’s not sending us away on a journey all by ourselves. He’s going with us! The only way my husband can show me the way on our road trip is to be in the car with me. That’s where our Father God is – in the seat beside us, taking us on this grand and sometimes scary adventure, trying to give us directions to this “land that I will show you” if only we’d listen to Him.

The journey is life-changing. We never stop to think of the inner impact the journey will make on our lives and the changes that will take place within us. As we journey with Christ, externally we may change our location, those who accompany us, or the job we do. But the greatest change is His molding of our inner man. He is transforming us into the image of Christ from the inside out. So I pray for you, and for myself, the words of Paul:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being. Ephesians 3:16 

 

We weren’t created as statues. We were created as flesh and blood people that change from day-to-day, year-to-year, minute-by-minute, endlessly, until we pass from this earth.  The change, the re-making is intentional on God’s part. Scripture tells us:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians. 4:22-24

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

Transformed. Made new. Renewed. That’s us.

On this never-ending journey of life with our Beloved, let’s embrace the word change. Let’s be pliable clay in His hands, willing to be mashed down, re-formed, made into something new! Even in the painful circumstances that try our faith, let us desire the touch of our Master Creator who isn’t finished with us yet.

The breaking and re-making. The new places on the journey and the hard places that tax us to our limits. These are part of the journey we signed up for. Let us be willing, not weary, travelers. Coming to know God and allowing Him to mature us in His ways is lifelong. We never arrive as long as we live. We are always “becoming” until the day we die. Becoming more faithful. Becoming more Christlike. Becoming more patient. Becoming more loving. Becoming more joyful, peace-filled, kind, gentle, self-controlled….

When we feel He’s shown us our deepest core, there are still other layers below. The journey is never over Girls! Enjoy the adventure of it all!

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The God Who Runs

by guest author Joni Shankles (Reposted from Joni’s blog with permission. Read more from Joni here.)
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Rebellion.

Selfish demands.
Surly words.
Shameful choices.

We’ve all played the rebel, rejecting the rules to get what we want, to experience something new.

Regret.

I was so stupid.

We’ve all suffered the consequences of rebellious choices, finding ourselves in a mess we can’t escape on our own.

Rejection.

I’m no longer worthy.

And sometimes, we fall into despair, feeling ashamed and blaming ourselves again and again.

What can we do when we’ve failed, when we feel cut off from the good life we knew before, separated from God and those we love?

Jesus told the Parable of the Lost Son to show rebels like us what to do.

When you’ve chosen your own way, when you’ve suffered the consequences, when you don’t even feel worthy to be called a child of God….

Get up.
Turn around.
Go back to your Father.

I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went to his father.
Luke 15:18-19 CSB

Jesus told the Parable of the Lost Son to show us how love responds.

Love sees.
Love runs.
Love forgives.
Love restores.
Love keeps searching.

But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:20-24 CSB

God is not a father who writes us off.

God is the Father who sees.
He is watching for the moment our hearts turn toward home again.

God is the Father who runs.
He closes the gap to embrace us as dearly loved children, not hired workers.

God is the Father who forgives.
He is filled with compassion and shows us mercy when we repent.

God is the Father who restores.
He celebrates our return, welcomes us home, and demonstrates His love, providing more than we could ask or imagine.

God is the Father who shows us that our worth is not earned, but inherited. Our worth comes from our relationship, initiated and sustained by the Father.

We need to remember that when we’re not playing the rebel, we are easily tempted to play the judge. The rebel demands his own way. His judgmental brother demands he pay for it.

The Father loves them both.

So his father came out and pleaded with him…“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:28, 31-32 CSB

God is the Father who keeps searching.
He invites the self-righteous to trust His judgment and join the celebration.

God is a good Father.

He sees.
He runs.
He forgives.
He restores.
He keeps searching.

We are God’s children.
We belong to Him.
When we fail or when we have it all together, we can trust His love.
And His love never fails.

See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are! 1 John 3:1 CSB

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At the Table: Where Life and Truth Meet

by guest author Joni Shankles

Most of us have asked the question, “What is my purpose?”

For me, that question has often taken a paralyzing turn. I think, “What is MY purpose? What is the one thing I’m supposed to be doing with my life to glorify God…and what if I miss it?”

Like most women, I fight feelings of inadequacy and fear.

I can scroll through social media and think, my life isn’t as interesting as hers.

I can look through Pinterest and think, my house isn’t as beautiful as hers.

I can read blogs and think, my thoughts aren’t as profound or funny as hers.

I can even watch a video Bible Study and think, I don’t know as much as she does and I don’t look as good as she does, so no one would ever want to listen to me.

How can I ever find my purpose?

I have to put down my phone and pick up the Word.

In the Word, I read Matthew 22:36-40.

“Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”

He [Jesus] said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

In the Word, I read Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I’m learning to find my purpose in these three commands:

Love God.

Love people.

Make disciples.

 

These are the priorities of Jesus.

Jesus loved God by doing everything His Father commanded.

Jesus loved all people, especially the ones others rejected.

Jesus made disciples by sharing the truth while he shared His life.

Jesus spoke the truth to crowds on occasion, but He lived the truth before His disciples daily. He demonstrated that the best way to learn to live the truth is to watch it lived in others. At the tables of tax collectors, sinners, and friends, Jesus shared the truth and showed how to live it.

This is the ministry of Jesus.

We all need someone in our everyday lives to teach us the truth and show us the way to live it. Screens won’t do.

I am realizing that much of the truth that I know and live today, I learned first around a table with godly women who were willing to share their lives with me. My life changed, my marriage changed, and my kid’s lives changed because these women made room at their tables and invited me to join them.

beautiful-businesswomen-career-601170.jpgI think about the women around the tables during my decade of Tuesday morning Bible Study. I think about Mrs. Bobbie, who got up from her table of friends to walk across the room to hug me and tell me she loved me every time she saw me enter. I think about the women who let me sit and listen and ask questions only when I was ready. I think about the women who invited me to lunch, who shared stories of everyday life, of marriage and kids and struggles where truth meets reality. I was changed week by week, not because of the truth I heard from a screen, but by the truth I saw lived out by women across the table and around the room, women I saw in my daily life in the carpool line, at Walmart, and at sports events. I could trust these women with my questions and know they would pray for my deepest needs. I learned to parent by watching these women navigate through daily challenges. I can’t tell you the names of all the Bible studies we did in those years, but I can tell you name after name of the women who loved me, prayed for me, worshipped with me, and lived the truth out before me.

In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to excessive drinking. They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands, so that God’s word will not be slandered. Titus 2:3-5 CSB

 

I think about my friend Ann, who has been making room at her table for me and my family for more than twenty years. At Ann’s table, our kids did their homework together, celebrated the day’s victories, and shared disappointments. We met at Ann’s table to eat her home-cooked meals, play games, and laugh at hilarious moments only Ann could adult-business-businesswoman-515169create. With neither of us having parents or other family in town, Ann’s family and mine joined forces to celebrate big occasions and holidays together. When unexpected repairs made our house unlivable, Ann took us in for three weeks and we both cried when our house was habitable again. At Ann’s table, my children gained a second mother and we all learned the healing power of laughter. And because Ann invited us to share the chaos of daily living, I learned that hospitality is not about what is on the table, but who is sitting around it.

A joyful heart is good medicine…Proverbs 17:22 CSB

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:13 NIV

Don’t go to your brother’s house in your time of calamity;

better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away. Proverbs 21:10 CSB

 

I think about my friend Tracy, who always joked that at her table we could solve the problems of the world (and for a while, we did solve the problem of me wanting more blond in my hair). The problems of the world came to Tracy’s table when she opened her heart and home to take in foster children. Through the eyes of these precious children, I watched deprivation become plenty and despair become hope. At Tracy’s table, I close-up-coat-eating-139681.jpgwatched God’s supernatural love heal physical and emotional pain. When Tracy invited me to join her at fast food tables for visits between her foster kids and their birth parents, I learned more about forgiveness and the painful process of reconciliation. And as Tracy’s table got bigger and bigger, I learned about the beauty of adoption and began to appreciate more and more my own adoption into God’s family and my place at His table.

Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. Isaiah 1:17 CSB

You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children. Romans 8:15-16 CSB

 

people-2567915_1920I think about my friend Pam, who is always ready to meet me at the table of our favorite Mexican restaurant. At these tables, we have studied the Bible chronologically over chips and cheese dip. In dark times, we drop everything to meet at the table for companionship and encouragement. We share our lives. Pam’s wise counsel is one of my most precious treasures. At the table with Pam, I have learned that God redeems all things.

Listen to counsel and receive instruction so that you may be wise later in life. Proverbs 19:20 CSB

This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:16 CSB

Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. Psalm 130:7 NIV

 

dinner-2330482_1920I think about the women I met in the Romanian cities of Timisoara, Hunedoara, and Hateg. I think about the tables in their homes where they welcomed me and shared what they had. I think about how we gathered with other women in their churches to worship, singing songs together in our own languages. And I think about the tables at their churches where we gathered afterward for a shared meal and time of fellowship. At tables in Romania, I learned a little bit more about what heaven will be like, where people from every tribe and every people gather before God’s throne to worship, and where one day we will all gather at the table for the wedding supper of the Lamb.

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!

Revelation 7:9-10 CSB

 

What do these incredible women in my life have in common?

They know their purpose. They love God, love people, and make disciples.

They refuse to be immobilized by insecurity. They stop falling for the trap of comparison that says, “But I’m not _____(fill in the blank with the name of any popular speaker or writer).”

They share their real lives, inviting people like you and me to the table to share life and truth.

As I reflect on the most critical times of my spiritual journey, I realize I didn’t need someone famous, I needed someone real. I needed someone in my daily life whose heart belonged to God and whose life reflected a desire to live the truth. I needed someone whose love for me and desire that I become more like Christ would cause them to drop everything and meet me in my time of need. I needed someone face to face, someone who could see beyond the mess I was to who I could become. I needed someone to listen to the Spirit and catch a vision for how God could be glorified in me.

rustic-334080_1920.jpgI needed to come to the table.

At the table, I learned to love God more.

At the table, I learned to love others well.

And at the table, I was discipled and learned to do the same.

At the table, I didn’t just hear truth, I watched it in action.

 

So, these days, I’m learning to ask myself another question.

I’m learning to ask, “Where are my people?”

If I know the purpose of my life is to love God, love people, and make disciples, then my guiding question becomes, “Where are the people God has given me to love and disciple as I grow in my love for God?”

It’s time I die to the pride that is the root of feelings of inadequacy.

It’s time I stop being afraid I will look foolish or fail.

It’s time I stop sitting on the sidelines playing it safe.

It’s time I realize that God isn’t holding my favorite Bible teacher or blogger responsible for discipling the people who are longing for a seat at my table.

It’s my turn to do the inviting.

It’s my turn to do the discipling.

It’s my turn to find my people.

 

What about you? What do you need?

Do you need to know your purpose?

Focus on the big three:

Love God.

Love people.

Make disciples.

Do you need to know where to find your people?

You are likely to find them gathered around a table – in your home, at your place of worship, in your workplace, or in your community.

And like me, you will discover this:

The truth you need and the ministry you were made for are waiting at a table near you.

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The Journey: Learning to Yield

Teenage Driver!

That term strikes fear in the hearts of most moms of junior high schoolers. They see the child before them and cannot fathom that child behind the wheel. But before those moms can blink twice it seems, they find themselves in the passenger seat beside an eager 15-year-old. While mom is praying in fear, most first time drivers have the “I got this!” attitude going. After all, what’s all the fuss about. Mash the gas. Stop at stop signs. “I’ve driven tons of times on the PS3,” they declare.

But when reality starts settling in for them, they realize its not always as easy as it had seemed with a game controller in hand rather than the steering wheel of a 1 ton vehicle.

One of the most challenging things for young drivers is learning to yield. A stop sign is definitive: see it, do it. But a yield sign is ambiguous: see it and make split second judgment calls. A yield sign offers you a choice and carries with it a responsibility. It involves a quick and weighty decision. Lives hang in the balance if it is ignored or misjudged. Even moderately large cities have high-speed interstate highways that present young drivers with practice in yielding – practice that involves risk and reward. 

Just as yielding while merging onto a highway is a skill learned and developed over time and with maturity, so is yielding spiritually. Our first spiritual yielding is to His call to “Come follow me,” just as He called the apostles He walked with throughout Judea and Galilee. Little by little we learn to yield spiritually.

We yield our logic to pursue faith.

We yield our bodily desires and inclinations to become His temples on earth.

We yield our way and choose to do things His way.

We yield our weariness in order to watch and pray when He prompts.

We yield our fears to be ambassadors for the King to an unappreicative people.

We yield our rights to ourselves, and throw ourselves on the goodwill of the Father who loves us unconditionally.

We yield our hopes and dreams to accept His plan.

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Scripture offers up these directives on yielding:

Yield yourself to the Lord.

“Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord and come to his sanctuary.” (2 Chronicles 30:8 ESV)

Don’t yield to anything that would hinder the gospel.

“Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” (Galatians 2:4-5 ESV)

Do not yield to unrighteousness / Yield to righteousness.

“Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God…. 19 …for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.” (Romans 6:13 & 19 KJV)

We become the servant of the one we yield to.

“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (Romans 6:16 KJV)

So as you drive down the road this afternoon, with or without a teen driver chauffeuring you, allow those bright, caution yellow Yield signs to be a spiritual reminder to yield your ways to Him every moment, every day. 

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)

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Legalism?

Christians and non-Christians alike are familiar with the Ten Commandments, and people who were raised in the church know so many shoulds and shouldn’ts that we often struggle with legalism and perfectionism. No one wants to be accused of legalism.

Legalism has become such a distasteful concept in society that modern Christians tend to shy away from anything that could make them look as if they are rigidly following the rules. In fact, contemporary Christians often exhibit behaviors that make them appear just like the rest of the non-believing world. Their underlying message seems to be, “Live how you choose, but carry a Bible, go on the mission trips, and make sure you have the right “look” to be accepted as a modern Christian.” Who wants to be a Pharisee, right?

While living a life by the letter of the law or to fulfill our need to look perfect can trip us up, the thought behind those actions is a holy one: it’s important to live a life obedient to God’s dartboard target aim goal achievement conceptword. It’s as important to play this game of life perfectly as it is to pitch that perfect game of baseball or to get that shut-out in football. No, not as important – more important. In fact the Hebrew word for sin in scripture (chata’) means “to miss the mark.” We tend to give ourselves credit for getting pretty close to the mark. In the game of darts that doesn’t fly: a miss is a miss. In reality, it’s the same way with sin. A miss is a miss; a sin is a sin.

In John 14:23-24 Jesus tells His disciples, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” Our level of obedience to Christ clearly reflects the depth of our love and commitment to Him. It’s not a bad thing to want to live a totally obedient life and follow the rules! In fact it is a precious, loving gift to the Father to walk uprightly and honor Him!

If we dig into scripture and really look at Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees, we find it isn’t because they are rigidly obeying laws, it’s because their inside didn’t match their outside!

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without dishes-197_640neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.'” (Matthew 23:23-28)

Dirty dishes! White-washed tombs! Their behavior didn’t reflect their heart. They put on holy masks and tried to look good before people, to be acknowledged, and to be honored publicly. They obeyed the laws, all the while having hearts full of selfishness, greed, envy, … sin. The Father had chosen His people, the Israelites, way back in Genesis. He had intended them to bring blessing to others (Genesis 12:3), but now these Jewish leaders were looking out for themselves instead. 

And so we come to us. Today. We are to be Ambassadors for Christ. To spread the Gospel. To show God’s glory. To bless others.

In this world of darkness, living a life filled with the light of Christ is more important than ever. If we only offer our stories, scripture verses, and other words of encouragement we are short-changing the people God has placed around us to minister to. Don’t get me wrong, our testimony and uplifting words are very important; we are commanded to share the good news in Matthew 28:19-20! However, if words are all we have to offer, with no obedient lifestyle to back it up, we’re presenting a half-hearted gospel. Our obedient life is living proof of the change the gospel has on a human heart. The world needs what we have, not just what we say. These words of Jesus Christ enlighten us:

pexels-photo-262042“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

How many souls have rejected Christ because I spoke the story of the gospel, but I lived out another story: the same story of fear, depression, worry, desperation, sin, and failure that they were living. While my words seemed hopeful, the reality seemed like a myth. Instead of being a light on a hill, I was like a flashlight with no batteries – not effective for the job I was created for. A help to no one.

Today scripture charges us to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3) We are a representation of Jesus to the world. Are we reflecting His humility, gentleness, patience, and love for all in our behaviors?

In Colossians 19b-14 Paul calls us to live out a worthy life. He states, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into His kingdom of light! Let us live as children of light as Paul lays out in Ephesians 5:8-20. Let us not fear living blameless, pure lives above reproach in this warped and crooked generation. (Philippians 2:14-15)
 
Following the rules only becomes damaging legalism when we equate adherence to the laws of scripture with salvation instead of offering the grace and love of Christ to ourselves and those around us. Therefore we must speak up to share the gospel with the lost world: Jesus is the only sacrifice for sin. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ ” (John 14:6) We must walk uprightly in every behavior. We must also get involved in people’s lives to love them well instead of standing back and pointing out their error, but offering no help. We must be patient, offering grace and mercy to those who fail, but also calling others to a higher standard of obedience.

Walk as children of light!

 

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